Steele Point

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The image above is an idyllic view to serenade the end of the warm weather. If you look closely, you can just make out a group of figures, exploring the rocky foreshore. Yet, although Neilson Park remains popular with Sydneysiders and visitors alike, Steele Point itself is today much less well known.

Steele Point is today a seemingly little known area of Neilson Park, yet it has an important and fascinating history. Neilson Park was previously part of the Wentworth Estate, known as the Vaucluse Estate. Neilson Park officially became a public park in 1910 when the NSW State Government took over more than 20 acres of the Vaucluse Estate. Yet Steele Point itself was taken over by the Government much earlier.

In the early 1870s a costal fortification was constructed at Steele Point, the Steele Point Battery. It was built of sandstone and was at least half below the ground, with the material excavated in digging the rooms, tunnels and gun pits then mounded up around the emplacements to hide them from the view of those on the harbour itself. The Steele Point Battery was an important link in the chain of coastal fortifications built in the 19th century around Sydney Harbour to protect the settlement from seaborne attack.

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Milsons Point And The Horse Ferry

Milsons Point Horse Ferry Sydney Harbour Front

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a piece of Sydney history many are unfamiliar with. Today, we are all familiar with the Harbour Bridge, and take for granted the fact that we can easily cross the harbour by car, train, bike or bus. Many of us are familiar too with the history of the stunning bridge itself, yet we little think of what came before and how people, let alone vehicles, crossed the harbour before the bridge was built.

Before the Harbour Bridge, there were only two ways for people to move vehicles like horses and carts, or later, cars, from one side of the harbour to the other. The first was to travel to Bedlam Point and use the punt which crossed the relatively small distance of water. This was a little inconvenient for many, as it involved travelling quite a distance. The other option was to use one of the horse ferries operating on the harbour itself, like the one shown in this postcard.

When we think of a vehicular ferry today, we tend to think of cables pulling the ferry across the span of water. Yet this was completely impractical for the harbour itself, as the span of water was much too great and there were many ships which needed to move beyond the ferry point. A cable would have prevented this. Instead, steam ferries like the one in the postcard were used, transporting everything from passengers to horses, carts and produce between Dawes Point, Blues Point and Bennelong Point. There was, of course, a fee involved and each different type of passenger and vehicle was charged differently. The fees were so specific that there was even one for a ‘Chinaman with two baskets’

When the Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 there was no longer any need for the ferries and the wharves were demolished and the boats put to other use. The remains of only one of the horse ferry wharves can still be seen, off Hickson Road in the Rocks.

Circular Quay Shipping

Shipping Circular Quay Sydney front

The image above is a stunning view which shows the vast alterations which some of Sydney’s most famous places have undergone in the last century. Circular Quay is a place which Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike are usually familiar with. Being a hub of ferry traffic, and of course, so close to the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, today Circular Quay is a popular place for people to visit and explore. Yet once, as the image above shows, it was a very different area, thriving with a different sort of activity.

The Circular Quay which we see today is substantially different to the foreshore which greeted the First Fleet when they made landfall in the area in 1788. Circular Quay, was we now know it, was constructed between 1837 and 1844, in order to create an artificial shoreline which would be appropriate to accomodate shipping. Wharves were built on the southern shoreline and, in order to reflect the importance of the new harbour as the hub of Sydney’s shipping, a Customs House was constructed in 1844. The Governor’s Residence, which had been located closer to the shoreline at Circular Quay was relocated to Government House in the 1840s and Macquarie Street was extended to Fort Macquarie at Bennelong Point (where the Opera House is today).

These changes allowed Circular Quay to quickly develop into a commercial working wharf, covering the area between the extended Macquarie Street and the shoreline. The shipping industry was mainly dominated by the wool trade, which in Australia was thriving. Warehouses, wool stores and bond stores began to be constructed and by the 1860s, the entirety of the Circular Quay foreshore was dedicated to commercial shipping. By the 1870s though, the artificial harbour at Circular Quay was too small to accomodate the growing number of ships and Darling Harbour began to take over as the hub of trade, while ferry services began to dominate Circular Quay. As the image above shows though, Circular Quay remained a working harbour into the 20th century.

Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries Limited Athol Gardens Front

The image above provides not just one, but several fascinating glimpses into the history of an area of Sydney which was long known to locals and visitors alike as a pleasure ground. Today, Athol Bay continues to be a popular place for picnicking, walking and even getting married, but once there was far more to the area.

European use of the area now known as Athol Bay began in 1831 when Robert Mllard and Richard Linley were given permission to use four acres of waterfront land as a shipyard. Although they were officially issued a deed to the land eight years later, they actually never built any boats! In 1837 though, the Ferrier family were also given a grant in the area, and it is this family and their home which gave the area its name. The family soon built a stone house, which they named Athol, as well as constructing a wharf and establishing an orchard and gardens. The Ferrier family owned the area until 1904, but after 1853, they let it out to various tenants.

During this time, the area around Athol Bay became a popular pleasure garden, with Athol Gardens Hotel being built by 1863. The hotel, and later dance hall, provided amenities and entertainment for the many picnickers who visited the area. Sydney Ferries purchased the popular Athol Gardens in 1906, and two years later a new dance hall was opened. Then, in 1912, an area on Athol Bay was dedicated for use as Zoological Gardens, and in 1916, Taronga Zoo opened. Soon after, Sydney Ferries opened a new wharf at Athol Bay, for use by visitors to the Zoo and Athol Gardens alike. By the mid 1900s, the popularity of pleasure grounds was waning, and fewer people were visiting the Athol Gardens themselves. However, even today, the area remains a popular place for picnicking, walking and taking in the spectacular harbour views.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Lady Macquarie's Chair Front

This week, with New Year just around the corner, it seemed the perfect time to share this image taken in the vicinity of a prime location for watching fire works. Yet although Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is well known as a tourist destination, many people little spare a thought for the history of this iconic location.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, which is also sometimes known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, is the site of one of the best vantage points of the harbour. In fact, it is renowned as one of the best views in Sydney. The extraordinary view down the harbour is indeed the reason behind the historic background to the area. In 1810, convict labour was used to carve a solid rock outcrop into a chair for, as the name suggests, Lady Elizabeth Macquarie.

Elizabeth Macquarie was the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the governor of the colony between 1810 and 1821. According to local folklore Lady Macquarie enjoyed watching the busy harbour and the ships coming and going. Reputably, her favourite vantage site was what became known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, and the chair itself was carved to provide her a more comfortable place to watch the goings on of the busy harbour.

Luna Park Workshops For The Harbour Bridge

Milsons Point possibly showing Luna Park site front

The image above is a stunning and vastly different view of an area of Sydney residents and visitors alike know well. Luna Park is a popular and iconic part of Sydney’s foreshore, yet as this image shows, it was not always so.

In the 1920s, when the Harbour Bridge was under construction, the site now occupied by Luna Park was a very different place. The construction of the enormous and extraordinary bridge required not only a huge amount of man power, but also workshops and railway sidings. The steel required to build the arch and approach spans was mainly imported from England, with just over 20% being imported from Newcastle. The steel was then fabricated into the steel girders and other required parts for the bridge in two workshops. These workshops were located on the site of Luna Park, and can be seen in the image above.

In 1932 when the Harbour Bridge was completed, North Sydney Council invited people to submit tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time, the personalities behind Luna Park at Glenelg in South Australia were looking for a new site for Luna Park to be relocated to.

Come back next week to discover how Luna Park developed.

Neutral Bay

Neutral Bay Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a rather idyllic view of a beautiful suburb of Sydney. Today Neutral Bay is a popular north shore suburb, especially for those who want the best of city life, without being in the city itself. Yet the history of the area reveals a fascinating past which many, even residents of the area, may not know.

Neutral Bay has long played a role in the protection of Sydney, and Australia more generally. Yet unlike other areas of Australian coastline involved in defence, there are no fortifications to be found. Neutral Bay was a very special place, a place which, as the name suggests, acted as a ‘neutral harbour’.

Just a year after European colonisation of Australia, in 1789, Governor Phillip decreed that the deep water bay would be the place of anchor for all non-British, ‘neutral’ ships visiting Sydney. The idea of Neutral Bay was to allow ships, particularly those of British allies, to visit Sydney, and more importantly, replenish their stores of fresh water from a nearby creek (paying, of course, for the privilege). Yet the location for the neutral harbour was very carefully selected – too far from the colony for convicts to easily ‘jump ship’ or for unknown enemies to gain a strong foothold in the colony’s heart.