McMahon’s Point


The image above is a beautiful snapshot, capturing a moment in time at one of Sydney’s historic suburbs. McMahon’s Point is today a popular harbour side suburb, it’s streets lined with the exclusive, luxurious and expensive homes of the well to do.

This was no always the case though. Once, McMahon’s Point was, like so many suburbs of Sydney, home to the working classes, who lived and worked in the harbour side suburb. In the early 1800s, the area which would become known as McMahon’s Point was home to boatbuilding yards, ferry wharves and of course the many workers cottages of those who kept this industrial suburb buzzing with activity.

It was not until the later 1800s that the suburb became known as McMahon’s Point, named in honour of Michael McMahon. McMahon moved into the area in the 1860s, and building not only a family home, but a successful business. He was a brush and comb maker, and his work was so outstanding that he was granted a government contract and even won a bronze medal at the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1867 in Victoria. Yet McMahon was not just important as a businessman. He was also a politician, who proclaimed the rights of those living on the northern shore of the harbour to fresh water, and reliable transport. He was a fierce defender of the rights of his constituents, and served not just as Mayor but also an Alderman of the incorporated Borough of Victoria, of which McMahon’s Point was part.

Dee Why and Curl Curl

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The image above is a beautiful snapshot of places which many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are quite familiar with – Dee Why and Curl Curl. Both of these areas are popular with beachgoers, for their beautiful beaches and well established beach culture. Yet the Dee Why and Curl Curl of today is also vastly different to the places which are captured in the photograph.

Dee Why and Curl Curl are today, mainly residential areas with row upon row of houses, and of course the associated shops and amenities. Yet the photo above shows a Dee Why which was relatively unsettled. In fact, the caption describes settlement in this area of Dee Why and also Curl Curl as ‘sparse’. Settlement began at Dee Why and the surrounding areas early in the 1800s, with William Cossar given the first grant in 1815 (though the grant was not confirmed until 1819). By 1825 though, James Jenkins owned this grant, and, along with his daughter Elizabeth, owned all of the foreshore land all the way from Mona Vale to Dee Why itself. Elizabeth Jenkins was intensely religious, and very impressed by the Salvation Army, and in 1885 she gave them 30 acres of land at the Narrabeen Lagoon. She later gave them more land at Dee Why, and eventually transferred all of her land to the Salvation Army, in return for an annuity. She died in 1900, and after legal battles with her nephew Phillip, the Salvation Army continued to control her land, paying the annuity to Phillip until his death in 1931, after which, the land passed more completely to them.

Even before Phillips death, the Salvation Army decided that it owned far too much land and that the money raised by selling the land could be used for the good of the community. In 1911 the subdivision of Salvation Army lands began, coinciding with subdivisions by other land owners around the same time. It was about this time that the actual town of Dee Why began to develop. In 1911 there had only been five homes or dwellings in Dee Why, but by 1915 this number had grown to 125. However, most of these houses were used as weekenders or holiday homes. It was not until the 1920s that more permanent settlement at Dee Why began, with the establishment of a school, Dee Why Public, in 1922. Then, in 1924 the Spit and Roseville Bridges were opened, making access to Dee Why much easier, and settlement again grew. By 1932, when the photograph above was taken, settlement was slowly growing, but still sparse outside the town centre. Yet over the coming decades, people continued to move into the area and build homes, until the Dee Why we recognise today was established.

Sirius Cove Part 2 – Curlew Artists Camp

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a beautiful bushland area in Sydney. Sirius Cove, and Little Sirius Cove which is pictured above, remain beautiful waterfront locations in Sydney, though perhaps a little less undisturbed and forested than they once were. Yet even more fascinating than their beautiful character is the history which pervades Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove.

One of the most famous episodes in the history of Sirius Cove was the artists camp established on the shores of the harbour in 1890. The camp, which was actually located in Little Sirius Cove (pictured above) was established by Reuben Brasch, who was a wealthy Sydney identity. He manufactured clothes and also owned a department store in Sydney, but on weekends he and his brothers used the camp which he had established as a peaceful getaway.

Soon enough though the camp and its beautiful surrounds also began to attract the creme de la creme of the Australian art scene. In 1891 Arthur Streeton moved into the camp, having moved to Sydney from Melbourne. It was not long after this that Tom Roberts joined him at the camp. The pair offered art classes in a Sydney studio as a way to supplement their income and pay their way, but as plein air painters, camp life was ideally suited to them. The rent for staying in the camp was low, but the camp was well organised and comfortable, with a dining tent, dance floor and even a piano. Other artists also visited the camp for varying lengths of time, including Julian Ashton and Henry Fullwood and for a time the camp was a popular place for musicians too. Then, after 1900 most of the artists moved on and the camp became popular with those interested in outdoor life and water sports. In 1912 the camp closed for good, with Taronga Park Zoo soon after moving to the ridge above the site.

Sirius Cove – Part 1

The image above is a beautiful, peaceful glimpse into the history of one of Australia’s significant cultural sites. Sirius Cove, and the nearby Little Sirius Cove, are significant areas to Sydney’s history, and the greater history of Australia in general. Yet so many who visit the area have no idea of the extent of history contained in these beautiful foreshore areas.

Before European colonisation of Australia, the protected and beautiful foreshore areas of Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove were the traditional lands of the Borogegal People. The most famous of these Borogegal People was Bungaree, who grew up in the traditional lands of his people and would have been very familiar with Sirius Cove.

Yet it wasn’t long after European colonisation that European history began to be linked to the beautiful Sirius Cove. In fact, the name of the cove itself reflects its first role in European history. In 1789, just a year after European colonisation, HMS Sirius was careened at Sirius Cove. Sirius Cove was perfect for careening (or learning away barnacles etc from the ships hull) as it was a convenient cove, and relatively sheltered. The ship, which was the flagship of the First Fleet, was wrecked less than six months later.

Of course, the most famous episode in the history of Sirius Cove is the artists camp which was established in 1890 at Little Sirius Cove. Come back next week to find out about the history of Curlew Camp.

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!