St Mary’s Cathedral

St Mary's Cathedral Front copy

This week, in honour of Easter, The Past Present is focusing on one of Sydney’s most famous and iconic religious buildings – St Mary’s Cathedral. The centre of the Catholic faith in Sydney, St Mary’s is a grand Gothic revival building, constructed out of the local Sydney sandstone.

St Mary’s has a fascinating history, dating back to the Colonial era in Australia. When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney there were many Catholics on board, but it was not until 1820 that official Catholic Chaplains, Fr John Therry and Fr Philip Conolly arrived to serve this community. The following year the foundation stone of St Mary’s Chapel was laid by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. When Bishop John Bede Polding arrived in Sydney in 1835 St Mary’s Chapel became his Cathedral. He became Archbishop Polding, the first Archbishop of Sydney, in 1842.

The grand Cathedral we see today is not the same Cathedral though. In 1865 the Cathedral was consumed by fire. Later that same year Archbishop Polding engaged William Wilkinson Wardell to design a new Cathedral. In 1868 the foundation stone, blessed by Archbishop Polding, for the replacement Cathedral was laid. The grand Cathedral that we see today was fully completed according to Wardell’s designs in 2000 when the spires which he had planned were finally built.

Moore Street


Moore Street Front copyThis week, The Past Present is focusing on the postcard image above. Moore Street may not be a street which many of our readers are aware of their familiarity with, as most people are much more familiar with its modern name, Martin Place.

Moore Street, which at the time ran between Pitt and Castlereagh Streets, was well in use in the 19th century. Yet it truly came to fame in 1863 when proposals began to suggest the building of Sydney’s General Post Office in the area. The northern exposure of the site was onto a small laneway which ran between Pitt Street and George Street, but during the construction of the General Post Office it was elected that the main facade would face North, onto this tiny lane. Soon enough the small lane was widened, creating a proper street which connected to Moore Street. In 1892 the new street was opened and named Martin Place in honour of the Premier of New South Wales, James Martin.

Both Moore Street and Martin Place were important centres of business and in 1913 the main office of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was even constructed on the corner of Moore Street and Pitt Street. Other banks soon followed. In 1921, reflecting the increasing importance of the area to Sydney’s business, Moore Street was widened and renamed Martin Place. This extended the existing Martin Place, with the street now running between Castlereagh and George Streets. In the 1930s the street was further extended, until it ran all the way up to Macquarie Street.

Chinese Produce Seller

R. W. Moody tanners, curriers and welting manufacturings on Cranbrook Street showing close contact between residences and wool industries in Botany. Vegetable peddlers and cart typical of Sydney and suburbs

R. W. Moody tanners, curriers and welting manufacturings on Cranbrook Street showing close contact between residences and wool industries in Botany.
Vegetable peddlers and cart typical of Sydney and suburbs

This week, in honour of Chinese New Year, The Past Present is focussing on this beautiful photo from an unknown photographer, taken in 1936. Although the focus of the photographers interest was the tannery belonging to R. W. Moody, today The Past Present is focussing on the Chinese vegetable peddler in the foreground.  Once, up to a third of the Chinese community in Sydney was occupied in growing fruit and vegetables, while others provided accomodation and services to these market gardeners.

The first known Chinese settler in Sydney was Mak Sai Ying who arrived in 1818 and settled in Parramatta, eventually opening a public house called the Golden Lion. Following the end to convict transportation people were brought from China to work as indentured labourers for rural estates and by 1852 over 1500 Chinese had arrived. Of course, then came the gold rush and Chinese people arrived in large numbers to try their luck, though many returned to China later. As mining became less profitable for the Chinese many who remained in Australia turned their attention to the growing and selling of fruit and vegetables. Market gardening became a common occupation for the Chinese, especially as many of the Chinese in Australia had rural backgrounds.

There were more people involved in the market garden trade than just the growers though. The market gardens supported a whole variety of industries, from the gardeners who worked the fields to the people who owned the hostels where gardeners would stay when they brought their produce to the city. Although market gardeners and fruit and vegetable sellers are now seen as almost synonymous, market gardening was extremely labour intensive and although the growers may transport their produce to the sellers, they rarely sold it themselves. Often the fruit and vegetables were either sold by associated hawkers who travelled from house to house, or by green grocers and even large city markets, including Sydney’s Belmore Markets.

Brickfield Hill

Brickfield Hill (George Street)

Brickfield Hill (George Street)

The postcard above is a glimpse into the early history of Sydney, and of the Australian colony itself. It shows ‘Brickfield Hill’, which was of great importance in building the city. The area is now part of George Street and, as the name suggests, it is a small hill.

When the first fleet arrived in Sydney Cove and came ashore they pitched canvas tents which were to provide housing for convicts, soldiers and even storage, but when these tents were pitted against the Australian Summers frequent thunderstorms and heat, they proved inadequate. The colonists tried to build more permanent structures using local wood, particularly Cabbage Palm, but these dwellings had a tendency to warp and rot due to the poor quality, unseasoned nature of the wood.

Governor Phillip envisaged a town built of sturdier stuff but unfortunately, he could only find one man, James Bloodworth, skilled in brick making in the colony and at the time, no clay deposits had been discovered. Then, later in 1788, a group of convicts clearing land in the area of what is now Chinatown found deposits of workable clay along Cockle Creek. Bloodworth soon set about establishing two of the important industries of early Sydney, quarrying and brick making, but within a year the easily accessed clay deposits had run out. This forced them to move further up the hill, following the clay deposits. The area became known as Brickfield Hill and historically, the public brickworks were bounded by George, Campbell, Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets. By 1840 the public brickworks were becoming a hindrance to the expansion of the city and a hotspot for crime. In 1841 the Government ordered their closure, but the name Brickfield Hill remained in use. In fact, it was a postal address right up until the introduction of postcodes in 1967!

Over The Fence – Glebe

Rows of chimneys etc in Glebe

Rows of chimneys etc in Glebe

This image, one of many documenting Sydney in 1936 which were taken by an unknown photographer, is an extraordinary piece of photographic work. The image is dominated by the repetitive houses, chimneys and backyards, each almost identical to the one before. In the alley behind a couple of dogs can be seen, while a woman is captured chatting with her neighbour, who is almost hidden from view, other than her arm and part of her dress. It is a scene which would have been repeated throughout Sydney, and in other built up areas of Australia.

The photo also captures a piece of Australian heritage which is fast disappearing. The image, showing the rear of terrace houses in Glebe, captures not only the row of chimneys which the photographer notes, but also the row of outhouses, or as Australians tend to refer to them, dunnys.

A dunny is an outdoor toilet, situated at the rear of the property. In the 19th and well into the 20th century Australian toilets were situated outside, away from the house. They were often a can or pit, and were probably very smelly, which may account for their relative distance from the house! The lane behind the houses, where the women are talking, would have been a ‘dunny lane’, built to allow the nightsoil collecter or dunnyman to collect the used can, remove and replace it. As the 20th century progressed and indoor plumbing became the norm, many of these old outhouses were demolished. In fact, so many have disappeared that those that remain have sometimes had heritage orders imposed to prevent these important parts of our architectural and cultural heritage disappearing entirely.

Martin Place Flower Sellers

Flower Sellers in Martin Place, Sydney

Flower Sellers in Martin Place, Sydney

This image of Martin Place in the early 1900s is a fabulous glimpse into the past, and a link with the present. Martin Place has always been a hive of bustling activity, full of people going about their daily work. This activity has made it a popular place for people selling goods like flowers, as the postcard shows. Flower sellers were plying their trade in Martin Place (then known as Moore Street) in the 19th century, often setting up their stalls near the stairs of the General Post Office. In the 20th century, this trade in flowers continued to thrive and flower sellers can still be seen selling their colourful blooms today.

Argyle Cut, Circa 1919

argyle cut watermarked

Today, as we traverse the various areas of Sydney, moving as quickly as possible from one area to another, we little think about the difficulties of creating some of the roads which we use. The Argyle Cut, pictured in this postcard image (from a postcard sent in 1919) is the major link in the road connecting Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove and took 20 years to complete, at great expense and even risk to life, yet as we pass through the Cut, few of us think about its history.

Although the Argyle Cut itself wasn’t begun until 1840, Argyle Street had existed in some form since as early as 1807. The road was officially built in 1810 and ran between George Street and the sheer rock face which later became the Argyle Cut. Here the road stopped, and a set of stairs carved into the cliff face had to be used to reach Cumberland Street by foot. From there people could then reach Millers Point and Darling Harbour (then Darling Island) but they had to complete part of the journey on foot, making it impossible to move vehicles and cargo directly between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour. Those wanting to move between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour by vehicle though had to take the long route around either by the North or the South.

With Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove being hubs of activity, it was not long before a more efficient way to travel between them became a priority and in 1840 a team of convicts were set the task of excavating a tunnel through the rock at the end of Argyle Street to Argyle Place. When the supply of convicts dwindled work stopped for a time, but the tunnel was completed in 1859 using paid labour and gunpowder. The rock which was excavated was used in building the early stages of Circular Quay.