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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This week, as the weather begins to warm up and fresh Spring days begin to show the heat of Summer, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share the stunning image above. The image, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936 shows a beach which all Sydneysiders and indeed many people around the world are familiar with – Bondi.
The photo above is a very different view to the Bondi of today, with few people crowding the beach and no tourists posing for photographs! One thing which does remain the same though is the red and yellow flags marking out safe areas to swim and demonstrating that surf life savers are patrolling the beach.
Surf lifesaving actually began its life, in Australia at least, in Sydney. At the turn of the 20th Century Manly Council employed two fishermen, the Sly brothers to patrol the beaches from the sea and then in 1905 appointed an actual life guard, Edward Eyre. The first official life saving club though, established in February 1907, had it’s home at Bondi. Soon many other clubs had been set up around Sydney and even further afield and in October the new life saving clubs were all brought together in the Surf Bathing Association of NSW.
These surf life saving clubs played, and continue to play, a vital role in protecting swimmers using our beaches. They patrol, supervise and also establish which areas of a beach are safest for swimmers. These safe places are, of course, demonstrated by the use of the red and yellow flag, though original patrol flags were actually blue and white. The red and yellow flag was probably based on the International Code of Signals for ships at sea. The signal for man overboard was a red and yellow flag, divided diagonally, and it seems plausible that this became the inspiration for the flag we see on beaches today. This red and yellow life saving flag was introduced in 1935.
The image above is a stunning view of an famous part of Sydney’s history. Pyrmont Bridge is well known to Sydneysiders and visitors alike, being at the heart of Darling Harbour and its famous tourist district. Yet the view above is also a view which many will never have seen – the amazing bridge open, and viewed from the water.
Pyrmont Bridge is an amazing structure, and today has the honour of being one of the worlds oldest electrically operated swing bridges, having been built in 1902. Yet the bridge we see today is not the original bridge at all. Pyrmont Bridge has, since the mid 1800s, provided a vital transport link between the city itself and the growing western suburbs. Yet the bridge spanned Darling Harbour, which was then an important working harbour, with many wharves and warehouses. Tall ships needed to be able to enter the harbour and so the bridge needed to be designed in such a way that it opened to allow these ships to access the wharves. A wooden swing bridge was the answer and the first Pyrmont Bridge opened in 1857.
Then, in the late 1800s, it was decided a new bridge was needed. In 1891 a competition was held to design the new bridge, but the winning entry would never be built. It was a design for a bridge built entirely of metal and deemed to be far to expensive to actually construct. Instead, the design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works, was chosen. His bridge was built mainly of timber, with just a the central swing span being metal. Construction on the new bridge began in 1899 and the beautiful swing bridge we see today was opened in 1902.
As the 1900s wore on, the type of ship bringing goods and visitors to Sydney changed, and the larger container ships no longer used the Cockle Bay end of Darling Harbour. By 1981 the Pyrmont Bridge was no longer in use, falling into disrepair and in danger of being demolished. Thanks to a public campaign though, the bridge was saved and restored as part of the redevelopment of Darling Harbour. The bridge, and Darling Harbour itself were reopened in 1988.
The image above is a stunning glimpse across the water and towards South Head and its cheerfully painted lighthouse, a place which holds an important place in the history of Sydney, and the colony of NSW. Yet for many Sydneysiders, the lighthouse is simply a picturesque attraction.
The Hornby Lighthouse at South Head was constructed in 1858, but the story of the lighthouse itself begins a year earlier. In 1857, two ship wrecks caused a tragic loss of life for people travelling to Sydney Harbour. The first wreck, that of the Dunbar, occurred in August just off South Head and resulted in the loss of over 100 lives. Then, just two months later, the Catherine Adamson was lost, this time off North Head, resulting in the loss of twenty one lives. The public recognised that the entrance to Sydney Harbour, although seemingly a good, broad entrance, was a dangerous one. Ships could easily miss it, or mistake other rock formations as the entrance, resulting in terrible loss of life. Thus the public quickly began to agitate for a lighthouse which would denote the actual entrance to the harbour, eliminating a great deal of the danger involved in sailing to Sydney.
The Hornby Lighthouse is quite a small lighthouse, built on the extreme point of Inner South Head. It was constructed in 1858 and opened by Sir William Denison, the then Governor of NSW and named after the family of his wife, the Hornby Family. The light was usually known by the alternative name though, the Lower Light, which was used to distinguish it from the Macquarie Lighthouse, which was not far away along South Head Road. The Hornby lighthouse, which has long been recognised by its cheerful red and white painted exterior was designed by the Colonel architect, Alexander Dawson, and is actually built of beautifully dressed, curved sandstone blocks. The light itself stands 9 metres above the ground level.