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.


Narrabeen Bridge

Narrabeen NSW Bridge front

The image above beautifully captures the history of a place which many Sydneysiders are familiar with, visiting for its excellent beaches and surfing. In fact, so famous are the beaches that Narrabeen is even mentioned in the Beach Boy’s song Surfin’ USA.

Narrabeen has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders wishing to visit the seaside, or to go boating on the beautifully still waters of the Narrabeen Lagoon. In fact, the area was widely promoted as an excellent destination for people wishing to improve their health, being far enough from the city to be advertised as ‘country’. Yet early visitors to the area had no choice but to ford the Narrabeen Lake, as although there were basic roads in the area, there was no bridge over the lagoon.

Then, in in the early 1880s, a timber bridge was constructed across the lagoon. As the image above shows, the first Pittwater Road Bridge was quite narrow, and although it was suitable at the time it was built, by the 1920s was too narrow for the increasing traffic and sometimes created a bottleneck, of the kinds we are all too familiar with today. It wasn’t just that the bridge was narrow though, often anglers used the bridge to fish from, and both sides of the roadway could be lined with hopeful fishermen. An iron barrier was installed in the 1940s to protect the fishermen on the eastern side of the bridge, and fishing was banned entirely in 1945. Of course, many locals simply ignored the ban! Finally, plans to build a new, more substantial concrete bridge were made and in 1954 the concrete bridge which we see today was constructed.

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.

Pittwater and Palm Beach


Cottage along Palm Beach Road, midway between Newport and Palm Beach. Inside waterway (Pittwater)

The image above, taken from the Past Present’s amazing collection of photographic negatives, is a stunning glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s more exclusive areas. Today much of the Pittwater area is an area of luxurious homes, fashionable beaches and trendy cafes. Yet once, as the image above shows, the area was much quieter.

Palm Beach itself, which is one of the most exclusive areas of Pittwater today, was named after the many Cabbage Tree Palms which were to be found in the area. The original owners, the Guringai people used the cabbage tree fronds to construct fishing lines and patch leaks in their boats.

The first European to be granted land in the area was James Napper, who in 1816 was granted a huge area of 400 acres, including Palm Beach, Barrenjoey and most of Whale Beach. Other early European use of the land was made by fishermen, who caught and dried fish, and by smugglers, who recognised that the area was an ideal place for illicit trade. In order to discourage smuggling, in 1843 the government acquired land at the base of the headland on the Western Pittwater shore, and built a customs house. In 1881 the acquired further land on the Northern most point of the headland, and built the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, which still stands today.

It wasn’t until the 1900s that residential development truly began to occur. In 1900, 18 large blocks advertised as good grazing land were offered for sale, but none sold. Then, in 1912, the land was again advertised for sale, but this time the blocks were much smaller and there were many more of them. They were advertised as offering fishing, sailing, golf and rowing, and all of the blocks sold. Yet the area was isolated and had poor transport options, so development remained slow, with many blocks remaining empty, and used simply for camping and picnicking. In the wake of World War Two, development sped up, and the area known as Palm Beach began to transform into the exclusive suburb we see today.

Queens Square

Queens Square Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike are familiar with, yet little think about. Queens Square is today simply a public square and many Sydneysiders may not even be aware that it has a name.

Queens Square is found at the place where King Street, Phillip Street and Macquarie Street come together. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie arrived in Sydney, he began the process of transforming the fledgling penal colony into a township.  He oversaw the reorganisation of streets, and the establishment of public spaces and parks in line with British town planning. He established a town common in the form of Hyde Park and saw that the key civic features of a township, including Churches, schools, a hospital and a courthouse, were built near this common.

The centre of the township, the civic square, was established just by the town common, and this civic centre was called Queens Square. The square is bounded by some of Sydney’s most important buildings, including The Sydney Mint, the Law Courts, Hyde Park Barracks, and St James Church (which was originally to be the courthouse). Even today, it is still considered by many to be the centre of the city of Sydney.

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.

Circular Quay Shipping And Ferries

The ferry boats and shipping circular quay sydney front.jpg

The image above is a remarkable view of a place which most Sydneysiders and visitors alike will be very familiar with – Circular Quay. The Circular Quay of today is a popular place with tourists, yet before it took on its current role, the area was a hive of a different type of activity entirely. Indeed, although ferry services have long departed from and arrived at Circular Quay, the area was once also a busy working harbour.

When the European colonists arrived in Australia in 1788, they found a natural harbour, and landed at Sydney Cove itself, a large area of which came to be known as Semi-Circular Quay and then simply Circular Quay. The Quay itself was constructed between 1837 and 1844 by creating an artificial shoreline at the southern end of Sydney Cove itself. Wharves were quickly constructed and, reflecting the status of Circular Quay as the centre of commerce and shipping, in 1844 Customs House was built. At first, the wharves were mainly clustered at the southern end of Circular Quay, but by the 1860s, Circular Quay was dominated by the infrastructure of trade and shipping – wharves and warehouses.

By the 1870s though, commercial shipping was moving away from Circular Quay. The ships were becoming to big and Darling Harbour, with its added advantage of a railway line was more attractive as a commercial harbour. As the commercial shipping moved out though, passenger services began to take over the wharves at Circular Quay. In 1879 the first ferry wharf was constructed and by the 1890s ferry services were beginning to dominate the harbour. By 1900, Circular Quay, which now also had a tram station, was the centre of the ferry service. Today, these ferry services continue to be a focal point of Circular Quay.