Trams On The Harbour Bridge

The Harbour Bridge Showing Tram Road And Rail Tracks Front
The image above is a stunning glimpse of the history of one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Today, the harbour bridge bustles with cars, trains, pedestrians and bikes, yet once, trams were a vital part of the thrum of activity. In fact trams were once at the heart of Sydney’s transport! With construction underway on new tram tracks in Sydney, and now Parramatta, it seemed the perfect time to explore the history of trams in Sydney.
Sydney once had an enormous network of trams, which we now hear more often described as ‘light rail’. In fact, the Sydney tram system was, at its height, the largest network of trams in Australia and one of the biggest in the whole world! Sydneys first trams were horse drawn, being a vital transport link between Sydney Railway station and Circular Quay. Yet this first track closed after a public campaign in 1866, because the track itself stood above the road and caused accidents.
By 1879 though, trams were back and seemingly here to stay. A steam tram system was growing up in Sydney and it rapidly expanded, covering first much of the city and then extending to closer suburbs around Sydney. Electrification of the lines began in 1898 and most lines were fully electric by 1910. At their height, the tram lines travelled to places as varied as Watsons Bay, Manly, Balmoral, Chatswood, The Spit and, as the postcard shows, across the Harbour Bridge.
The system began a gradual decline in the 1930s and the last of the original Sydney tram services ceased in 1961, with the last route to close being that to La Perouse.
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When Central Was New

New Railway Station Sydney NSW From Elizabeth Street (Central) Front

The image above, of the ‘New Railway Station’ is an amazing snapshot into the very beginnings of a station which so many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are familiar with – Central Station. Today, Central Station is such a vital link in the Sydney train system that we little think of how it began, or what came before.

Central Station is today the busiest station in NSW and the major terminus station for many services. Yet the foundation stone for the station was not laid until 1902, and the station itself did not open until 1906. Before this, there was another terminus station, in an entirely different place – Redfern. The Redfern Station, known as Sydney Station, opened in 1855 as what could best be described as a tin shed. In 1874 a new, more permanent station built of brick and stone was opened, on the same site. As Sydney grew though, a bigger station was needed to service the growing train network.

The plans for the new station, on the north side of Devonshire Street, were approved by Parliament in December 1900, but construction could not begin until the area was resumed. This included moving the remains and headstones from the Devonshire Street Cemetery, which cost over £27,000. Construction on the station itself began in 1902, with the foundation stone for the iconic Clock Tower being laid a year later. In 1906 a gold key was turned in the booking office by Premier Carruthers, and this officially opened the station, with the first train service, the Western Mail train, running through the station at 5:50am. In 1914 platforms 16 to 19 were added, and construction continued throughout the First World War. In 1921 the Clocktower began operation at 10:22am on March 3rd, and the two additional floors of offices were opened.

The Argyle Cut

Argyle Cut Front

Today, as so many of us move around the city, following overpasses, and taking tunnels, we little think about the hardships of times gone by, not just for those traversing the city, but for those building some of our iconic roads. The Argyle Cut is the major road link connecting Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove. Today, many of us pass through this amazing, short tunnel, but few of us spare a thought to the great amount of time, expense and risk which went into building it.

Argyle Street has, in some form, existed for more than two centuries. The road was officially built in 1810, leading from George Street towards Millers Point, but it came to an abrupt halt at a sheer rock face. A set of stairs was carved into the rock face at this point, which people could use to reach Cumberland Street and from there reach Millers Point and Darling Harbour, but they had to do it on foot. As a result it was impossible to move carts, vehicles and cargo directly between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour.

Yet both Darling Harbour (then Darling Island) and Sydney Cove were major hubs of activity, and a more efficient way of moving between the two soon became a priority. A plan for the Argyle Cut was drawn up by Edward Hallen in 1832 and work began in 1843. The initial work was completed by convicts in chain gangs, under overseer Tim Lane, who was renowned for his cruelty and love of flogging. Yet transportation of Convicts to NSW had officially ceased in 1840, and residents were unhappy with seeing convicts working in full chains, no matter how important the work they were completing. Work on the Argyle Cut was eventually abandoned by the government, only to be recommenced with paid labour and gunpowder by the Sydney Municipal Council. Work on the Argyle Cut was completed in 1859.

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.

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.

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.

Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge Open Sydney Front

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.