The Spit Middle Harbour

The Spit Middle Harbour Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike will be familiar with – The Spit in Middle Harbour. Today, The Spit is often associated with traffic jams and frustration, yet the crossing over Middle Harbour may once have been slower still, when ferries plied the route, instead of a bridge.

The area around The Spit, which was itself originally known as the Sand-Spit, was first settled in 1846, when John Burton purchased 30 acres at Seaforth. Peter Ellery soon followed when in 1849 he began to farm land also in the Seaforth area, opposite The Spit itself. He formally purchased the land in 1855. Often people would request Ellery to take them across Middle Harbour and so in the early 1850s, he began a ferry service, using a row boat. In 1862 though, a road to The Spit was built, and more passengers for his ferry began to arrive. Soon he changed to using a hand operated punt.

In 1871 though, the government of the day took over the ferry service, introducing a steam punt which was operated and manned by Public Works Department employees. These employees were vital to the crossing of the harbour, and to ensure that they were close by, stone cottages were constructed on the Mosman side of the Spit (the direction from which the postcard above is looking) and given to the employees and their families. It appears that you can see two of these cottages in the left foreground of the postcard. The ferry service continued to be the only crossing of Middle Harbour until the first Spit Bridge was opened in 1824.

Boating On Sydney Harbour

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View to south over Coogee Beach with half dozen boats on sand. Homes on steep slopes facing water in distance.

This week, with the weather beginning to cool down and winter approaching, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to turn its attention to a popular beach pastime. In summer, the beaches become a haven for water sports and swimming, but as winter approaches, more people begin to look for different ways to enjoy the beautiful harbour and various other waterways. Boating has long been a popular choice.

Recreational sailing in Australia actually has quite a remarkable history, which stems from the history of Sydney as a working harbour. Some of the earliest boat races to be held in Sydney were between the captains and crews from ships which were visiting Sydney harbour. The smaller skiffs which were carried on board the large boats (and some boats even carried specific racing skiffs) would be used for the races. As time went by, regattas became more organised, and they also became popular public events which many Sydneysiders watched from the increasingly crowded shoreline. From 1837 here as even an annual regatta to celebrate the founding of the NSW colony!

Slowly but surely, boating became a more widespread, popular pastime. The public no longer simply watched from the shore. Boats could be hired out from many different boat sheds and beaches. Today, boating continues to be a popular pastime.

George Street Sydney

George Street South Sydney Front

The image above showcases an extraordinary view of a street all Sydneysiders know, whether they love it or not. Yet few Sydneysiders realise that this street has such a long and fascinating history. Indeed few would realise that this street is the oldest in Australia!

George Street was the first street to be built by the colonists when they arrived in Sydney Cove. Yet it was not a carefully planned street, or even truly ‘built’. Early in the history of the colony Governor Phillip began to have public buildings built along a fairly level ledge of land to the Western side of the Cove. Soon enough a rough path was being worn along which people travelled between the buildings being constructed and the Cove itself. This is how George Street began its life.

Of course, several of the main streets of Sydney were laid out by the early 1800s. This included George Street itself. By 1803 the military had completed the building of several roads, removing many trees in their way. The stump of one was nine yards around (a little over 8 metres) and took 16 men 6 days to remove. A hole had to be specifically dug in which to roll the stump and it took 90 men to roll it into the hole. This tree was once in the area of George Street.

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.

A Very Different Gosford

This week, The Past Present has decided to turn attention north of Sydney, to this stunning postcard image of Gosford, on the Central Coast of NSW. Gosford has long been a popular destination for day trippers and holiday makers from Sydney, yet as this image shows, Gosford was not always the city it is today.

Although today Gosford is the administrative centre of the Central Coast, with a growing city to match, Gosford was not always the coast side metropolis we see today. European colonisation of the Gosford area did not begin until the mid 1820s, because although the area had been explored within years of the colonists arriving, it was too difficult to access. The soils were rich though, and agriculturalists soon began to move into the area. By 1850 there was a cart track between the Hawkesbury River and Brisbane water and by the end of the 19th century the area was abounding in market gardens and orchards, particularly citrus orchards.

Gosford itself was named in 1839 after the 2nd Earl of Gosford, Archibald Acheson in 1885 Gosford was officially declared a town, with the declaration of a municipality following a year later in 1886. Yet it was not until the rail link was completed between Sydney and the area in 1887 that settlement really began to accelerate. Even by the 1920s, Gosford was still simply a small town, though it had already grown a reputation as a popular tourist resort. When the Pacific Highway was opened in 1930, settlement in the area rapidly expanded, slowly but surely creating the Gosford we know today – a thriving coast side city.

 

Wild Weather And Wrecks – Dunbar Rock

dunbar-rock-south-head-sydney-the-gap-front

This week, with the weather so unpredictable and so many storms about in recent days and weeks, it seemed the ideal time to share this image of Dunbar Rock in South Head. Sydney, and Australia more generally, with its abundance of coastline, also has an abundant and tragic history of shipwreck and loss.

The loss of the Dunbar, which happened off the coast of what is now known as Dunbar Rock at The Gap, remains Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. The Dunbar was, at the time of its launch, the largest timber ship to have been constructed at the Sunderland dockyards, and was constructed as a response to the demand for passage to Australia and the booming gold fields. Yet it was not until 1856 that the ship began to ply the route to Australia, as before then The Dunbar was deployed as a Crimean War troopship.

The wreck of The Dunbar happened within a year of this, occurring on the night of the 20th of August, 1857. The ship, which was on just its second trip to Australia, was approaching the entrance to Port Jackson in the midst of a violent storm. The Dunbar was driven by the storm into the cliffs of South Head, just near Dunbar Rock, and rapidly broke apart. Of 122 passengers and crew aboard, only one survived, Able Seaman James Johnson. The disaster was later blamed on insufficient navigational aids, and in response the Hornby Light at South Head was constructed.

Yet the Hornby Light is not the only reminder of this tragic shipwreck. On Dunbar Rock itself, there is an anchor which is believed to come from the wreck of the Dunbar, and was retrieved in 1910. There is also a rock cut inscription which commemorates the terrible wreck, and which is actually believed to have been first carved by an onlooker watching the tragedy unfolding. This inscription was later recut, probably on an anniversary of the shipwreck.

Brooklyn

brooklyn-hawkesbury-river-front

This week, with so many Sydneysiders hearing about or spending rather a lot of time in the general vicinity of Brooklyn, due to the major crash on the M1, it seemed the perfect time to share this beautiful image. Brooklyn is a beautiful little town on the Hawkesbury River, but though it might be a small town, it has a big history!

Brooklyn is a small town north of Sydney and is often considered to be the most northern town in the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Area. For much of its history, Brooklyn was actually known as Peats Ferry, but then in 1884 a survey was made for the subdivision of the area and the name and suburb of Brooklyn was officially registered. Yet Brooklyn probably wouldn’t exist as a town if it weren’t for the development of the Northern Railway. Transport has indeed had a long and central role in the history of Brooklyn.

In 1887 a single track section of the railway was extended beyond Hornsby to the Hawkesbury River. From there, passengers would be ferried across the water to continue their journey north. It wasn’t long before it was recognised that a bridge across the water, to create a continuous railway journey, was needed. In fact, before the railway even opened, in 1886 the contract for building the bridge was awarded to the Union Bridge Company from New York. The bridge, which was known as the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was the final link in the railway, and also an engineering masterpiece of its time.

Even when the bridge was completed the station at Brooklyn, known as the Hawkesbury River Railway Station, was a vital place in the train network. The climb from Brooklyn up the hill to Cowan is quite steep, and before diesel and electric trains, steam trains could not make the climb alone. Instead, the trains would stop at Brooklyn, which was a ‘staging post’, and have what was known as a ‘push up’ engine attached to the end of the train. This engine would then provide the extra push needed for the trains to make it up the steep incline!