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.

Martin Place

martin place 2This week, the Past Present turns its attention to Martin Place. With plans to redevelop the ‘heart of the city’ featuring on local news programs recently, it appeared the perfect time to more closely investigate past changes to this iconic Sydney location.

The history of Martin place is full of change and redevelopment. In its earliest incarnation, Martin Place was a far cry from the grand pedestrian precinct we recognise today, instead being a narrow lane which connected Moore Street to Pitt Street. Despite plans to open up the Northern Frontage of the newly built GPO, the narrow lane way remained until fire destroyed many of the properties along the lane. Following the fire a widened street was created, called Martin Place after Sir James Martin. The street was still relatively short though, until in 1921 Moore Street was widened and also renamed Martin Place, extending the street quite significantly. Further extensions were made over the following years, and eventually, when these were completed in 1935, Martin Place ran the full length between Castlereagh Street and Macquarie Street.

Martin Place of this era, though a much grander street than the early lane way, was still a long way from being the area we recognise today. At this time, the street was promoted as the financial and insurance centre of the city, and it was full of not only thriving businesses, but also cars, as the image above shows. In fact, the famous Cenotaph, which had been completed in 1927, was almost a median strip, separating the busy traffic which traversed the street. Then, in the late 1960s, proposals to close Martin Place to traffic began to become increasingly popular. The first stage of the new pedestrian plaza was opened in 1971, with the entire plaza completed in 1979.

Sydney Hospital

Macquarie StreetThis week, with the flu season well and truly upon us, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to examine the history of medical care, particularly the establishment of hospitals.

When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, it brought with it the naval surgeon John White, who was to be the head of the medical services in the new colony. He and his medical assistants set up tents at Dawes Point, which became Australia’s first ‘hospital’. Not long after, the tents were replaced with a more permanent building, and in 1790 this was again replaced with a prefabricated wood and copper hospital building which was brought to Australia with the Second Fleet. The hospital building wasn’t the only thing which the Second Fleet brought though. There were so many sick convicts newly arrived in the colony that tents (some accounts say up to 100 of them) needed to be set up, in addition to the existing hospital, to look after them.

As the colony extended beyond Sydney itself, hospitals were built in other areas of settlement, at Parramatta, Windsor and Liverpool. Sydney itself though was struggling to deal with epidemics and emergencies. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie arrived, he quickly recognised the urgent need for new hospitals. The question was, how to fund the desperately needed general hospital. Macquarie came upon an ingenious solution, given three colonists a short term monopoly on bringing spirits (including the all important rum) into the colony, in exchange for the three constructing a general hospital on Macquarie Street. The hospital, which was opened in 1816 was officially called the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (and in 1881 this changed to Sydney Hospital) but it was popularly known in the colony as The Rum Hospital. Yet the foundations were substandard and the walls themselves were built from rubble which made an ideal home for pests like rats and bedbugs. The hospital was also too big for the Sydney population, and eventually some wings were transferred for other uses. Today, the Northern Wing of the original hospital houses NSW Parliament while the Southern Wing is The Mint.

Darrell Lea in King Street

king street

This week the Past Present is looking at an iconic place in Sydney’s history, and one which is associated with something many of us love – confectionary. The intersection featured in the image above is that of King and George Streets, in the heart of Sydney. This is, of course, the place where the famous Darrell Lea store once stood.

Harris Levy was born in 1876 in London and was the son of a boot maker. When he was 12, the family emigrated to Australia and Levy took a job rolling cigars in Western Australia. This wasn’t the life Harry was looking for though and his parents paid for him to learn to make confectionary. Then, in 1905 Levy married Esther Goldman. In 1916 the couple and their growing family made their way to Sydney where they opened a fruit store in Manly, on The Corso. In winter, the fruit trade was slow, so Levy began to make toffees to supplement the fruit trade. The confectionary was incredibly successful and in 1924 Levy opened a small milk bar and confectionary shop in Castlereagh Street, making his products in the rear of the shop. Then in 1930, with Depression era rents being so low, Levy was able to take over a shirt shop in Pitt Street, transforming it into a confectionary shop. Levy changed his name to Lea and called named the company after his youngest son, Darrell. Darrell Lea was born.

A confectionary company may seem at odds with the shortages of the Depression, but Darrell Lea made a decision to sell at half the price of their competitors, making chocolate, which had been a luxury item, more affordable. Low prices led to a huge turnover of product, so the confectionary had a reputation for always being fresh and high quality. Soon enough the company became a huge success and more stores began to be opened, including a Melbourne store which was established in 1940. The most famous store though stood at the juncture of King and George Streets. Harry Levy died in 1957.

Colonial Sugar Company’s Office



This week, with what would once have been Commonwealth and Empire Day nearly upon us, The Past Present decided it was a perfect opportunity to examine one of the buildings in Sydney once firmly associated with Colonial industry – the building of the Colonial Sugar Company. The building featured in the image above once stood in O’Connell Street, but was demolished in 1962.

The Colonial Sugar Company, also known as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (or CSR as we know it today) has its roots back in 1855, when the company was founded by Sir Edward Knox. Knox had come to Australia in 1840 and tried his hands at a number of different industries before purchasing a sugar refinery and distillery in 1843. He leased this to the Australasian Sugar Company but, when that company failed in 1854, he decided to found a new company, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. CSR began its life in Canterbury at a refinery originally owned by the Australasian Sugar Company, but moved many of its operations to Chippendale within just a few years as there was a better labour source. Water supplies to the refinery were a matter of considerable consternation though, both for the sugar refinery itself and for locals living in the area and in 1875 the company began to build a new refinery at Pyrmont, where industry thrived and there were less residents to complain about water and pollution. Eventually, CSR became so successful that not only did they own an enormous area in Pyrmont, but they had set up refineries in other Australian colonies, and also in New Zealand and Fiji.

A Very Different Martin Place

martin place
This week, with so many Sydney residents and visitors making the trip to Martin Place for the recent ANZAC Day commemorations at the Cenotaph (built in 1927), The Past Present is sharing a very different view of this famous street. Today, Martin Place is a pedestrian plaza, but once it was a busy street in the heart of Sydney’s central business district.
In 1863, with the proposal to build the GPO, there came proposals to create a grand street on the northern frontage, where at that time a tiny lane way ran. Nothing was done about creating this street though until fire destroyed many of the buildings on the northern side of the lane in 1890. A new, much grander street was opened in 1892, though it did not run between George and Macquarie Streets then, but just between Pitt and Castlereagh. In 1921 Moore Street was widened and renamed Martin Place, extending the road substantially, but it was not until 1935 that Martin Place reached the full length of the street we see today.
Martin Place was, for many years, marketed as the financial and insurance centre and the hub of the city. Older buildings were demolished and the sites auctioned to create new, grand buildings, many of which accommodated major banks and insurance companies. The street was busy, bustling with people but also with traffic. As this image shows, cars were certainly not in short supply in Martin Place! This continued to be the case until the late 1960s, when proposals to make the stretch between Pitt and George Streets a pedestrian plaza, closed to traffic. The plaza was opened in 1971 and was such a success with the public that permission to extend the plaza was granted. The final section of the pedestrian precinct was officially opened in 1979.

ANZAC Parade and the ANZAC Obelisk

ANZAC Parade
This week, with ANZAC Day and the Centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign nearly upon us, it seemed appropriate to look at one of many cards in The Past Present collection relating to war and the ANZACs.  There were many to choose from, but this image of ANZAC Parade in Sydney was chosen because so many people are familiar with the street, yet may not know it’s history.
ANZAC Parade is a major road in South East Sydney which was originally known as Randwick Road. The road was an important part of the road network to Randwick and was also how people entered Moore Park in the 1860s, but it was then just a sandy track. Although always an important road, the stately and formal Parade we know today was built during the ‘Great War’ as it was then known, World War One. In fact, ANZAC Parade, and the ANZAC Obelisk which is pictured in the postcard above was one of the first memorials built to the ANZACs, being officially opened in March 1917, well over a year before peace was declared.
Many may wonder why this road, seemingly no more important than any other, was chosen as the memorial. The route was very significant though, being the parade route which was taken by the 1st Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) when they left their camp at Kensington Racecouse to embark for overseas service. The road was constructed to feature a beautifully maintained flower bed in the centre strip, though this has long since been replaced by grass. The Obelisk, one of the earliest memorials to the Australian soldiers who left to serve overseas, predating both the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park and the Cenotaph in Martin Place, has sadly been moved from its original, prominent position. Once, the Obelisk marked the beginning of ANZAC Parade and was part of ANZAC commemorations, often pictured covered with flowers and wreaths, but it is now less prominent and partially obscured by fencing. It was moved 300 metres south in order to allow for construction of the exit portal from the Eastern Distributor onto ANZAC Parade itself.



The image above is an evocative glimpse into the past of a place which today most Sydneysiders associate with bustling activity and crowds – Darlinghurst. Yet Darlinghurst, which sits between Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross and Surry Hills, was once a place bustling with a very different type of activity. 

Before European colonisation, Darlinghurst was part of the traditional lands of the Gadigal people and even after colonisation, these people continued to extensively use the land right through to the 1840s. Although Darlinghurst was very close to the early settlement areas of Sydney, it was actually not settled until comparatively late. Darlinghurst was a place of shallow soils and rocky sandstone outcrops which made it less attractive to early European settlers as a home, but it was not entirely ignored. The rocky outcrops were extensively quarried for sandstone to use in construction of many of the early Sydney buildings. The early quarriers were convict gangs, while in the second half of the 19th century prisoners from Darlinghurst Gaol (now the National Art School) were put to work. Quarrying wasn’t the only activity to take place in Darlinghurst though, with the first water mill in the colony built there in 1811 and the four windmills featured so extensively in early paintings of Sydney appeared soon after. 

Darlinghurst may have begun its European life with the lower eschalons of Sydney society, but in the 1820s the area began to be transformed. Governor Darling named the area in the late 1820s (quite probably after his wife, Eliza Darling) and between 1828 and 1831 he made 17 grants of land in the newly named area. These were all made to wealthy colonists and there was a stipulation that all houses had to be worth 1000 pounds or more, and had to be set in landscaped gardens. Governor Darling even had to approve the design before construction could begin! As a result, Darlinghurst not only became associated with the wealthy, but also had a landscape of fine houses and gardens overlooking the town which Governor Darling imagined as an example to the more ‘debased populace of Sydney Town’. By the mid 1880s though, many smaller terrace houses had been added to Darlinghurst and eventually Darlinghurst was transformed from a strictly wealthy suburb to a suburb which contained areas which many considered to be slums. There was a wide mix of classes and indeed reputations, with the respectable residents living alongside criminals and gangs. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Darlinghurst really began to become a more sinister place though, with gangs and criminal elements beginning to become prominent. Today, Darlinghurst has returned much more to its early 20th century reputation though, with a mix of wealthy, often family residences alongside the many pubs and brothels. 

York Street – The Home Of Australian Circus!

York Street Front copy

The image above, showing York Street in the very early 20th century, is a beautiful glimpse into Sydney’s past. Many Sydney siders will be familiar with York Street as it is one of the major streets in the Sydney CBD, though of course the view is very different today. What many may not know is that York Street is, in many ways, the historic home of circus in Australia!

When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, entertainment was certainly not something they were concerned with and for many years there was little in the way of theatre. In the 1830s regular theatre performances began to take place, but they were held with some difficulty and although there were occasionally circus type acts, they were certainly not the norm. In Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) Radford’s Royal Circus was opened in 1847, but after two years Radford was insolvent. However, two of his equestrians, Golding Ashton and John Jones kept the theatre style alive.

Ashton (whose name you might recognise) worked in Melbourne for a short time, but then he and a small group of equestrians headed for Sydney. John Jones arrived in about 1850, bringing with him Edward La Rosiere, a tightrope walker and they opened to great success at the City Theatre (near the present day State Theatre). Later the same year though, Jones and La Rosiere moved into their own arena, an roofless arena in the yard of John Malcom’s Adelphi Hotel in York Street. The circus was known as the Royal Australian Equestrian Circus and was in many ways the first permanent circus troupe in Australia. Malcolm soon recognised the potential of the circus though and it was renamed Malcoms Royal Australian Circus. The Arena, which was many times altered over the ensuing years, was declared unsafe and demolished in 1882, but by then the circus had arrived and its future in Australia was assured.

Bridge Street – The Early History

Bridge Street Front copy

The image above shows a street which today remains remarkably intact as an example of the 19th century architecture of Sydney, Bridge Street. Although the view has changed since this postcard was printed in the early 20th century, many Sydneysiders will no doubt recognise the area from the streetscape which remains.

Bridge Street was not always known by the name we recognise it by today, but was originally known as Bridgeway. The name relates to a bridge – the first to be built in the new colony. This bridge was built over the Tank Stream, the stream of fresh, clean water which attracted Governor Phillip to Sydney Cove in 1788 when Botany Bay was first rejected as a place for the new settlement. The bridge was a simple construction, made of timber and built by convict labour in 1788. Later, this first bridge was replaced by a stone bridge.

By the earliest years of the 19th century Bridge Street had become the place to live. The elite of the colony chose to establish properties which adjoined or were close to the grounds of Government House. Bridge Street itself was a public street stretching from George Street to Macquarie Place, where the public right of way ended at Government House. The elite were not the only occupants of the area though with the Government Convict Lumber Yard on the south west side of what was then still known as Bridgeway. In 1810 though Governor Macquarie awarded a contract to construct a general hospital in the area of the lumber yard and by 1833 the lumber yard had ben subdivided and was sold. Shops soon began to be opened along the street, particularly in the area of the old lumber yard. In 1845 the original Government House was demolished and Governor Gipps moved to the new Government House. This opened up Bridge Street which could now be extended to Macquarie Street.