Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney 2 Front

The image above is a stunning view of a well known and important feature of Darling Harbour – Pyrmont Bridge. Yet many people who may cross this bridge on a regular basis have no idea of the extraordinary history of the bridge, or indeed that it is one of the worlds oldest surviving and working swing bridges.

The first Pyrmont Bridge was built in 1857 and made entirely of timber. Just like the current and second bridge, the first bridge had a swing span which allowed ships which would otherwise be to tap to enter Cockle Bay which was then a busy port.

In 1891 a competition was held to decide on a design for a new Pyrmont Swing Bridge, but the winning entry, built entirely of metal, was deemed far too expensive to actually build. Instead, a design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works was adopted. His design was for a bridge built mainly of timber, but with an iron swing span which was supported by a central pier when opened, and two additional piers when closed. Construction on the bridge began in 1899 and the new bridge, complete with an electrically powered swing span (one of the first in the world) was opened in 1902. The bridge was finally closed to traffic in 1981 and was almost demolished following this closure. Thanks to the intervention of various organisations and the public itself though, the bridge was saved and in 1988 was opened to pedestrian traffic.

Shark Island – Part 1

shark-island-sydney-harbour-front

The image above, featured on a postcard from the early 20th century, reveals an island situated in Sydney Harbour. Yet this is an island which many locals are likely unaware of – Shark Island. Yet Shark Island, or Boambilly as it was known to the Aboriginal people, has a fascinating history.

Located just at the entrance to Rose Bay, Shark Island is a beautiful island, known for its shady trees and pretty grottoes. Shark Island is not so named because its waters are a haven for sharks. The name is derived from the fact that the island shape, very vaguely, resembles a shark. Yet despite the absence of waters teeming with dangerous sea life, Shark Island was a dangerous place. Throughout the 19th century there were a number of shipwrecks, and many people drowned in the waters off Shark Island. So great was the danger that in 1890 a navigational light was erected on the island. What’s more, in the 1830s, the Island became a temporary quarantine station. Cholera had broken out in Europe, and Shark Island was used to prevent the disease gaining a hold in the colony. Then, in 1871, the Island was again used for Quarantine purposes, this time for animals. Imported cattle and dogs were housed on the island until it was sure that they posed no risk to the animals already living in the Colony. Yet Shark Island was also known for its beauty, and being only a short distance from the shores of Rose Bay, many Sydneysiders wanted to use the island for recreational purposes.

Come back next week to find out about how Shark Island transformed from an animal quarantine station to a popular public reserve.

Dawes Point – Part 4

Dawes Point From McMahons Point Front

Dawes Point From McMahon’s Point

As we have been learning over the past three weeks, Dawes Point is a fascinating place, with layer upon layer of history to be discovered. From the first observatory and a vital contact place for European Colonists and Aboriginal People, to a fortified defence post, Dawes Point has served Sydney in a variety of ways. Yet, perhaps one of it’s most vital roles came in the 20th century.

In 1902, the Dawes Point battery stopped being used as a defensive point. With Federation, there had been the formation of a regular Australian Army, and Dawes Point was no longer seen as necessary to defence. Following this era, the main role played by Dawes Point for the next years was as a landing place for ferry services crossing the harbour. These services date right back to Billy Blue, who began a ferry service in the early 1800s, and even ferried Governor Macquarie across the harbour! By 1900, Dawes Point was the landing place for the Horse Ferry. There were also public baths in the area of Dawes Point, and of course many buildings which were now unoccupied. In 1909 the Water Police moved into the guardhouse, and we also know that, from 1918, the Officers Quarters were used by the Department of Repatriation as a tractor training school for returned soldiers. Other areas were reserved for public use, including a promenade.

By 1925 though, all the buildings were empty and awaiting demolition to make way for a new crossing of the harbour, the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many of the buildings, including Francis Greenways contributions, were demolished and the cannons were removed and placed at Taronga Park Zoo, where they remained until 1945. Other buidlgins, including the Officers Quarters were used as offices and accomodation for the engineers building the bridge, Dorman and Long. In 1925, Dawes Point also became home to one of two u shaped tunnels. These tunnels, one on each side of the harbour, contained massive cables which held back the bridge arches as they were being built. When the bridge was complete, the cables were no longer needed and removed, and the tunnels were filled in. Dawes Point is also the site of the Southern Pylon of the famous bridge, which soars above the heads of those visiting. During construction of the bridge, the area was of course closed to the public, but following the opening of the bridge, the area was opened as a public park, which today remains a popular area, especially for watching the Sydney Harbour fireworks on New Years Eve!

Dawes Point – Part 3

Sydney Harbour From Dawes Point 2 Front.jpg

The image above, which reveals a heavily fortified Dawes Point, is a glimpse into the history of an area which all Sydneysiders know, but often overlook when thinking about the history of Sydney. Yet Dawes Point is a place with layers of history, which have built up over the years of Aboriginal and European occupation. Today, we associate Dawes Point simply with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, yet before this time, Dawes Point played a very different role in Sydney’s history.

By 1791, the value of Dawes Point as a strategic and defensive position had been fully recognised. The earlier observatory was demolished, and the area of Dawes Point was taken over by fortifications, barracks, powder magazines and even artillery, with the earliest gun at Dawes Point actually originating on the ship Sirius. In 1801 improvements were made to the fortifications, and in 1819, famous convict architect, Francis Greenway, was tasked with completely redesigning the fortifications. Although the original plans for his fort do not survive, we know from contemporary accounts and archaeological evidence that his fort was built in the castellated Gothic style. At the time, aspects of the new fort were criticised, such as a decorative guardhouse above the fort which people felt was a target, not a defence!

Then, in the 1850s, fears of a Russian attack, associated with Britains involvement in the Crimean war, caused the fort to once again be altered. By 1856, members of the Royal Artillery had been stationed in Sydney, at Dawes Point Battery, and of course new buildings had been constructed to house them. An officers quarters and new barracks buildings were constructed at this time. It was also at this time that new guns were installed. Five cannons were added to the fort, and these can still be seen at Dawes Point today, though most are no longer in their original positions. A lower fort, of which little is known, was also built at this time, and underground powder stores have been discovered during archaeological excavations. It is believed these powder magazines also date to this period. Over the following decades, and up to the time of Federation, Dawes Point continued to play a significant role in military activity, and more buildings were added to fulfil various roles. After Federation, and the creation of the regular Australian Army, military presence at Dawes Point was discontinued, with occupation ending in 1902. Little remains visible of the fortifications, though a sentry box which is today adjacent to the Ives Steps and Wharf would have originally been used to observe the harbour and foreshore.

Dawes Point Part 2

Sydney Dawes Point From Fort Macquarie Front

The image above, which shows Dawes Point in the early years of the 20th century. The image is a glimpse into the past history the area which today, for many Sydneysiders, is firmly associated with the 20th century and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Yet Dawes Point is one of those extraordinary places in Sydney history which has layered history, dating right back to the earliest years of the colony, and before.

Dawes Point is so named because of its association with Lt William Dawes, who established an observatory on the point. He recorded meteorological observations and was the official time keeper for the colony, as well as observing the nighttime sky. His scientific records are incredibly significant records of early colonial history, and are even important to the international scientific community. Yet Dawes Point did not remain a scientific institution for long.

Dawes Point is able to supply excellent views up and down the harbour, and it wasn’t long before the strategic possibilities of the area were recognised. Even during the years of Dawes Observatory, there was a signal station and powder magazine located on the site. The signal station was built on the site to allow the communication of messages from The Gap at Watsons Bay, to Sydney, and from there up the Parramatta River, to the Governors residence. Even the first proper road was built from Dawes Point to Sydney’s Government House to enable quick communication between the leader of the colony and the signal station. When news came of conflict between England and Spain, the basic defences at Dawes Point were formalised. The observatory buildings, which were made of wood, were demolished in 1791 and permanent fortifications were built on the site to defend the new colony from other European powers. Dawes Point Battery, as it was known had armaments, powder magazines, guardhouses and officers quarters. Even the guns from the ship Sirius were relocated to the point to enable defence of the new colony.

The Dawes Point Battery continued to be an important part of Sydney’s defences over the next years. Come back next week to find out more.

Dawes Point As It Once Was

Sydney harbour From Dawes Point 1 Front

Sydney is an amazing city, with a stunningly beautiful harbour. It also conceals layer upon layer of history, from pre-European colonisation Aboriginal history through to the relatively modern. Sometimes, this history is even disguised, hidden under famous landmarks which dominate our minds, and hide the history of the place before their time. Dawes Point is one such place. This week, we begin the first in a series of posts uncovering these amazing layers of history.

Dawes Point is steeped in history. Today, it is firmly associated with The Sydney Harbour Bridge, whose southern Piers and Abutment Tower can be found on the point. Yet there is a wealth of history which predates the bridge. Before European colonisation, the Aboriginal people of the Eora nation called Dawes Point Tarra and the point itself was part of the land belonging to the Cadigal people. After European colonisation, Dawes Point was first associated with Lt William Dawes who in 1788 established a hut and observatory on the site. He named the point Point Maskelyn, after the Astronomer Royal, but the point soon became more commonly known as Dawes Point.

Yet it was not just Dawes work as a scientist which is significant. Dawes Point, and Dawes himself are associated with one of the earliest recorded cultural exchanges between the British colonists and the Eora people. A young Cameral woman, Patyegarang, had become friends with Dawes and the pair learned to communicate. Dawes recorded many of the Eora words and their English translations in his notebooks. This is one of the first recorded friendly interchanges between the colonists and the traditional owners of the land they had colonised.

Come back next week to discover the next layer of history to be discovered at Dawes Point

The Rise, Fall And Rising Again Of Balmain

Balmain Sydney 1 Front

This week, The Past Present is sharing a postcard image of a place in Sydney which has undergone vast changes over the history of European colonisation – Balmain. The area is one which many Sydneysiders would be familiar with, yet the postcard view above is remarkably different to the Balmain we see today.

Grants in the Balmain area began quite quickly after European colonisation, with the first being given in 1800 to the colonial surgeon, William Balmain, after whom the area is still named today. Yet true settlement of the area was much slower, as Balmain was difficult to access, with no transport to the area. When ferry services began to the area (with Henry Perdriau establishing a steam ferry service in 1842), it became much easier to access the area, and the suburb really began to thrive. At this time, people were reliant on ferries, steamers and other ships for travel, and a thriving community of ship builders soon moved into the area too, bringing not only work, but workers who wished to live near the shipyards. With new families moving to the area, services were needed to support the growing community, and soon enough shops, churches, schools, police services, and even a hospital were established. In 1860, Balmain Council was even opened.

By the 1880s many claimed that Balmain was the leading social suburb in Sydney, complete with clubs such as those catering for rowers and cricketers, and institutes such as the Balmain School Of Arts. Yet it was also this same suburb that was, in the 1880s, increasingly overcrowded and poorly organised. Soon enough the suburb went into decline, businesses and industries closed down and people moved out, being replaced by younger, poorer families. By 1933 nearly 40 percent of workers living in Balmain were actually out of work. It would not be until the 1970s that the gentrification of Balmain began to occur, leading to the affluent and popular foreshore suburb we see today.