Picnic Grounds on the Parramatta River

Picnic Grounds Paramatta River Front

With the weather heating up and the holidays almost upon us, it is the perfect season for a waterfront picnic with family and friends, and indeed over the coming weeks many such picnics will be planned. The image above, from a postcard dated about 1910, is an idyllic if a little mysterious view of what was clearly once a popular picnic venue on the Parramatta River. With its muted colouring, and blue water and sandy beach, it seems the perfect venue for a family picnic, yet the exact location of the photo is unknown.

Picnicking has long been a popular way to while away a few hours, enjoying beautiful scenery and a tasty al fresco meal. In fact, the first known picnic’s took place all the way back in the Medieval times! Yet early picnics were vastly different to the picnics many of us enjoy today. Many early picnics were an evolution of elaborate and remarkably formal outdoor feasts and celebrations, and they were closely associated with hunting gatherings. Far from spreading a rug on the ground and enjoying a simple meal, they often took place at formally set tables and included sumptuous foods, many of which were served hot!

Then, in the 17th and 18th century the picnic began to evolve. Instead of being a formal meal, they began to be something a little like the American idea of a ‘pot luck’, with all of the participants bringing a dish to share. In fact, that was what the word picnic actually meant! By the 1860s though the meaning had changed again, with the word picnic meaning to eat outdoors. It was this late 19th century era when picnics also began to become popular, not just for wealthy people, but for all classes. Even the seminal cookbook, Mrs Beeton’s, provided ideas on how to host a picnic, and what sorts of food would be needed.

Of course, if picnicking was becoming a popular pastime, places to enjoy such picnics were also becoming necessary. Although many Australian’s were happy to enjoy an informal picnic at the beach or in the bush, others preferred established picnic grounds, like the one pictured above. These picnic areas often included other basic amenities, like toilets, tables and running water, which made them popular destinations.

The question is – where is the picnic ground featured in the postcard above actually located, and does it still exist?

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Luna Park

Luna Park and North Sydney pool Front

The image above is a glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s beloved icons, Luna Park. Luna Park, from humble beginnings as a workshop site for the construction of pieces of the Harbour Bridge, became one of Sydneys most visited and popular attractions in the 1930s and onwards. How did this transformation occur?

In 1932, with the completion of the Harbour Bridge, the workshops which had been on the site now occupied by Luna Park were demolished and the North Sydney Council opened tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time Herman Phillips, David Atkins and Ted Hopkins were looking for a new location for a theme park. Phillips, Atkins and Hopkins had been the minds behind Luna Park Glenelg, in South Australia, but they had been having a lot of trouble with the council and local residents. The group eventually won the tender for the old workshop site in Sydney, and immediately afterwards, placed Luna Park Glenelg into voluntary liquidation. The rides from Glenelg were dismantled and transported to Sydney, being reassembled at the new Luna Park.

Luna Park Sydney opened in October 1935 and found almost immediate success with Sydneysiders and visitors alike. Each year, during the Winter period, the park was closed to visitors while rides were overhauled and the park was generally ’spruced up’. This gave visitors the feel that things had changed during the yearly three month closure, and kept the park feeling fresh and new. During World War II, and well into the 1960s the success of the park simply continued to grow.

In 1969 though, the lease on the park was sold, and investment in the rides and infrastructure began to wane. In 1979, a fatal fire on the Ghost Train resulted in a temporary closure of the park. In 1982, the park reopened, but for the next several decades, this pattern of changes in management and decreased investment continued. In the 1990s, the Government took control, listing the park on the register of the National Estate, and making changes to ensure the parks continued success. In 2002 the lease was granted to a new company, Luna Park Sydney PTY, LTD, and in 2004 they reopened the park to renewed success, which continues to this day.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of one of Sydney’s most famous international tourist destinations – Bondi Beach. Bondi has long been a destinational place for people to visit, Sydneysiders and tourists alike, but many who visit the iconic beach little realise the amazing history encapsulated in the area.

Bondi was once known as the Bondi Estate, and belonged to Francis O’Brien. The entire area, including the beach, was part of this estate but in 1855 O’Brien decided to open up the beach and surrounding area to the public. He opened the area as a picnic ground and pleasure resort, but many times threatened to stop access to the beach itself. Part of his reasoning, and indeed the public view at the time, was that swimming at Bondi was dangerous because of the threat of sharks and stingrays. Then, in 1882, the government itself took over the beach area, and official declared Bondi Beach a public beach.

Bondi quickly became one of the most popular stretches of beach in Sydney, with people flocking to enjoy the pristine water and white sand. Bus services were run to Bondi Junction by private operators and in 1906 the first electric tram service began to take beach goers directly to Bondi. By 1929 it is believed that 60,000 people were visiting Bondi Beach on an average summer weekend! Even in the early 1920s, when cars were not as common as they are today, upwards of 1000 cars could be found parked near the beach on a fine summer day. Today, thousands continue to flock to the beach and parking remains a significant problem.

A Day At The Beach – Bondi

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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.

Ettalong Beach

This week, with holidays well underway, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share the image above, Ettalong Beach. The image above provides a snapshot on the history of a holiday destination which has long been popular with Australians looking for a little sun. Even in the colder winter weather, many will still head to beach resorts, like Ettalong, these July school holidays.

Ettalong Beach has been known for almost as long as European colonists have been in Australia with Governor Phillip visiting the Central Coast and stopping at Ettalong Beach in 1788 and again in 1789. At the time of this first visit, it was noted that there were a large number of Aboriginal people on the beach and in the surrounding area, but this population was quickly decimated by European diseases, particularly smallpox.

The first European to permanently settle in the area was James Webb, who took up a formal grant of land in 1824, a grant which eventually grew to include most of the Woy Woy area. Other early Europeans in the area were men who collected and burned the huge number of shells to be found in the Ettalong and Woy Woy areas. These burned shells provided the lime necessary to build the colony. Still other settlers were boat builders, who used the Brisbane Water area to build and launch hundreds of boat between 1829 and the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the area in the 1950s.

Then, in the 1880s, the railway was extended to the Central Coast. By 1888 Woy Woy had its own railway station and by the 1890s, the Central Coast was something of a tourist wonderland. Woy Woy and the nearby Ettalong Beach became known for fishing, oysters, boating, picnicking and bathing, and people came from far and wide to enjoy the seaside resorts. Boarding houses, hotels and pubs began to spring up, and even seaside theatres were built at Ettalong, Woy Woy and Avoca. The main attraction though was, of course, the beach itself and Ettalong in particular was known for its beautiful beach.

Vaucluse Bay – An Informal Pleasure Resort

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Vaucluse Bay. Section less fully developed than most other bays. Native brush and trees shown. used by some visitors as less formal resort area.

With the holidays drawing to a close, many Sydneysiders look to spend Australia Day and the final weekend of the school holidays closer to home. Sydney has a varied range of beautiful parks and wonderful beaches, many of which have a long history as ‘pleasure resorts’, both formal and informal. The evocative image above, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936, shows Vaucluse Bay, a ‘less formal resort area’, according to the photographers description.

According to the description by the unknown photographer, Vaucluse Bay is a ‘section less developed than other bays’, one of the reasons why it apparently became a popular, informal resort for many Sydneysiders. Yet the reason why Vaucluse Bay is so undeveloped in comparison to other bays is in itself a fascinating glimpse into history, for Vaucluse Bay was once part of the grounds of Vaucluse House.

Vaucluse House began life as a more simple stone cottage built in 1805 by an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Henry Browne Hayes. It was he who named the property Vaucluse after a village bear Avignon in Southern France. In 1827 though, the cottage and property were purchased by the famous explorer William Wentworth. Soon, he began the process of improving the property, first building a range of outbuildings, including a rather grand Gothic revival style stable, which still stands today. He also began to extend on the cottage, adding bedrooms, a dining room and drawing room. By the 1830s, he had even completed a boathouse on the bay itself. The Wentworths were also committed to creating beautiful grounds for the increasingly grandiose (though never quite completed) house. Wentworth died in 1872, and was interred in a mausoleum built on the Vaucluse estate.

The house, and Vaucluse Bay itself, continued to be private land until 1911 when extensive public pressure caused the state government to resume over 20 acres of harbour front land. By 1912, the Vaucluse Park Trust was granting public access to the bottom level of the house and in 1915 regular visiting hours were established. Soon, Vaucluse Bay and the grand house it once belonged to were a popular, if relatively undeveloped, tourist resort for Sydneysiders. In 1980 the entire property was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust.

Clifton Gardens

clifton-gardens-sydney-1-front

This week, with the weather rapidly warming up and many Sydneysiders heading for the beach, it seemed the perfect time to share this beautiful image of Clifton Gardens. Today, many Sydneysiders head out of the city in search of the seaside, but once, pleasure resorts such as the one pictured above were all the rage, and much closer to the heart of Sydney than many might expect!

In 1828, the first grant at Chowder Bay was given to Thomas Graham, the assistant to the Government Botanist, Mr Fraser. Graham recognised that the land at Chowder Bay was quite fertile, and soon established a four-acre orchard. By 1832 though, Graham was broke, and the property was sold – 15 acres of it to Captain Edmund Cliffe. Many believe, and it certainly seems reasonable to assume, that Cliffe was the one who called the property Cliffeton, a name which appears to have stuck well beyond his death in 1837. The property continued to be improved upon and altered, but the biggest change came in 1853 when CF Hemmington opened a pleasure ground. Hemmington already operated a pleasure ground called Fairy Bower in Manly, and he named his new pleasure ground at Cliffeton (as it was then known) Fairyland. Being right on the harbour, there was plenty of water access and people could visit by steamer. It wasn’t until the 1870s and the construction of the Clifton Hotel that the area became truly popular though.

The Clifton Hotel was built in 1871 by Duncan Butters and just a year later, Butters was also granted a publicans license making the Clifton Hotel one of the first two licensed hotels in the entirety of Mosman. Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a licensed hotel increased the popularity of the pleasure ground exponentially! Then, in 1879, David Thompson purchased the Clifton Gardens Estate and enlarged the hotel. He also added a wharf and dance hall which further appealed to Sydneysiders visiting the area. In fact, so popular was the music and dancing, and so rowdy did it become, that in 1882 Thompson’s license was amended – he was no longer allowed music and dancing at Clifton Gardens at all! By 1885 he had managed to regain a full license though and reopened the hotel as a massive, 40 room hotel. The dancing pavilion was also upgraded and reopened and was advertised as the largest and best of its kind not just in Sydney, but in the Australian colonies!

Yet swimming was not yet an attraction at Clifton Gardens. Come back next week to find out what happened next!