Sussex Street

The image above is an extraordinary glimpse into the past of a street which is familiar to so many of us Sydneysiders – Sussex Street. Being one of the major streets in the CBD of Sydney, it is a street which sees hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles every day, yet the vehicles it sees today are vastly different to those clogging the street in the postcard image. In fact, Sussex Street today is indeed a vastly different place to that shown in the busy image above.

Sussex Street is, compared to many others in Sydney, quite small running for just 1.7 kilometres between Hickson Road and Hay Street. Yet its relatively short length is crammed with history, and historic buildings. Sussex Street has long been a centre of activity and business in Sydney, just as it continues to be today. The street runs adjacent to Darling Harbour, and as a result many of the buildings along the street were once, and still are, associated with harbour activities. Hotels, Warehouses, Commercial Stores and even the Hunter River Steamship Navigation Company once lined the street, and today their buildings are often preserved by heritage listings.

Spring Street, Sydney

Pitt And Spring Streets Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into the history of Sydney. Showing bustling streets full of pedestrians, horses and carts and cars, it also captures a fascinating time in Sydney, when the new automobile, and old fashioned horse power coexisted side by side.

Yet few Sydneysiders are likely to be able to tell you exactly where this intersection, of Pitt and Spring Streets, is. In fact, Spring Street, although still in existence, is just a small laneway today. Yet once, it played a fascinating part in the history of Sydney’s water supply.

When Captain Arthur Phillip (also known as Governor Phillip) arrived in Sydney he selected the site based on what became known as the Tank Stream – Sydney’s vital fresh water source. The Tank Stream was mainly fed from a swamp in the area of todays Huge Park, but there was also a number of springs along the course of the stream. One of the largest of these springs was in the locality of Spring Street.

George Street Sydney

George Street South Sydney Front

The image above showcases an extraordinary view of a street all Sydneysiders know, whether they love it or not. Yet few Sydneysiders realise that this street has such a long and fascinating history. Indeed few would realise that this street is the oldest in Australia!

George Street was the first street to be built by the colonists when they arrived in Sydney Cove. Yet it was not a carefully planned street, or even truly ‘built’. Early in the history of the colony Governor Phillip began to have public buildings built along a fairly level ledge of land to the Western side of the Cove. Soon enough a rough path was being worn along which people travelled between the buildings being constructed and the Cove itself. This is how George Street began its life.

Of course, several of the main streets of Sydney were laid out by the early 1800s. This included George Street itself. By 1803 the military had completed the building of several roads, removing many trees in their way. The stump of one was nine yards around (a little over 8 metres) and took 16 men 6 days to remove. A hole had to be specifically dug in which to roll the stump and it took 90 men to roll it into the hole. This tree was once in the area of George Street.

William Street

william-street-sydney-possibly-cobb-and-co-front

This week, The Past Present turns attention to the major streets in Sydney. We take for granted roads like the major thoroughfare William Street, yet in the early history of Sydney, streets were unpaved, or unevenly paved, dirty places. Others still were private roads which essentially were for use only by residents of their destinations. The image above, showing William Street, is just a glimpse into the history behind some of our grander streets.

William Street is one of Sydney’s major thoroughfares, linking Kings Cross to Hyde Park, where the street becomes Park Street. What’s more it acts as a border between Woolloomooloo and Darlinghurst. The earliest history of William Street dates to the 1820s, when Surveyor General James Meehan made public his grand plan to promote orderly development in the Surry Hills area, along a grid system. His proposed route for what became William Street was in conflict with the route proposed by Surveyor Thomas Mitchell, who proposed a grand thoroughfare which would extend on the existing Park Street. He also proposed that the street should detour through private land to avoid a significant sand hill, but in his absence (while surveying away from Sydney) the landowner, Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay, ordered the street go ahead straight over the sandhill. Mitchell had suggested naming the street after the then king, William, and this part of his plan went ahead without any change.

The first part of William Street was proclaimed in early 1835 and not long after a rush to subdivide the area of Woolloomooloo began. By the 1850s, Woolloomooloo was essentially an expensive suburb, with houses, streets, shops, and even a horse bus running from the city along William Street. From 1879 steam trams began to operate, transforming William Street from an essentially private street to a major thoroughfare. With the coming of the steam trams, more subdivision occurred, but this time the new residents were not the wealthy. Cottages began to be interspersed with the earlier mansions, and by the 1890s, Woolloomooloo was a working class area of Sydney, complete with labourers, seamen, drifters and prostitutes. In 1908 the Royal Commission for the improvement of Sydney was formed, and found William Street to be wholly unsuitable for modern heavily laden vehicles. In 1916, the council resumed nearly 100 properties at the south side of William Street and the street was widened and upgraded between 1916 and 1923. Then, in 1969 the Woolloomooloo Redevelopment Plan was adopted, which again sought to recreate William Street. Most of this work did not go ahead though, due to resident protests.

Douglas Pratt and Duke Street, Sydney

Duke Street

This week, The Past Present is doing something a little different. Normally, the focus of posts is the place depicted in an image, but the image above has another story to reveal. The image, which comes from a postcard, was drawn by Douglas Fieldew Pratt, who was once a famous postcard artist.

Douglas Fieldview Pratt was born in 1900 in Katoomba, the son of the resident minister at the Congregational Church. In fact, he was apparently born in the Manse! As a young man his first job was working as a jackeroo near Singleton, and this is when he developed a love for the Australian landscape. It was this love which was to underpin his later career as an artist. In 1922 he moved to Sydney and became a surveyor, and it was when he was working for the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board in 1925 that his ability as an artist was first recognised. One of his colleagues saw his sketches and suggested he work to develop this wonderful skill. He also sold some paintings that year, and these two events encouraged him to take classes at the Royal Art Society and Sydney Long’s Etching School. Pratt used a variety of mediums in his work, ranging from oil paintings to simple pencil sketches, but it was perhaps his etchings and pencil drawings which became most famous. His first exhibition was in 1928 at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney, but he went on to exhibit Australia wide, and there are representatives of his works in galleries in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

The strangest thing about his work though are his postcards as nobody seems to know the story behind them. It seems that they were produced in the 1930s or 1940s, and there is a series of at least nineteen different images  that I can find. All depict Sydney and all are black and white letterpress prints of detailed sketches. The mystery though is were they commercially available as postcards in the various public shops, or only available as souvenirs at art galleries?

Trams In Sydney

Spit tramThis week, The Past Present is sharing a postcard image of a road many Sydneysiders are familiar with, Spit Road. Yet there is a feature of this card that many Sydney residents may wish was still in place – this postcard features a tram.
Once, Sydney had a vast network of tramway which, at it’s height, was the largest tram network in all of Australia and one of the most extensive in the world! The first trams in Sydney were horse drawn, and travelled between Sydney Railway station and Circular Quay, but the track stood up from the road and caused accidents, so campaigning led to its closure in 1866.
By 1879, the tramway had been replaced by a steam tram system and this was a great success. The system rapidly expanded, covering more of the city itself, and even extending to some of the inner suburbs. Electrification of the lines began in 1898 and most lines were fully electric by 1910. At their height, the tram lines travelled to places as varied as Watsons Bay, Manly, Balmoral, Chatswood and, as the postcard shows, also to The Spit.
The system began a gradual decline in the 1930s and the last of the original Sydney tram services ceased in 1961, with the last route to close being that to La Perouse.

The Barracks Behind The Name – Barrack Street

Barrack Street

Sydney siders are fortunate to have many attractive streets lined with beautiful historic buildings, or at least their facades. Yet often, we spare little thought for the history of these roadways themselves. This week, The Past Present is turning its attention to just one of these fascinating streets, Barrack Street.

Barrack Street, which today is lined simply with buildings, once ran along the southern wall of the military barracks built by Governor Macquarie. Originally, the roadway was known simply as Barracks Lane and, when the barracks were still in operation, many would leave the barracks through a gate in the southern wall to use the lane way to reach either George or Clarence Street, which the lane ran between. Yet the barracks, which were in the centre of the growing Sydney town, occupied a large and very valuable plot of land. Government began to consider alternative places for the barracks and in the 1840s, a site was chosen. The site, a sandy spot on South Head Road, is now occupied by Victoria Barracks. Today, Wynyard Park is all that remains of the site once occupied by the Sydney military barracks, other than the name, which acts as a reminder in itself. Ironically though, the name Barrack Street was officially given to the road in 1849, a year after the barracks had actually closed.