New South Wales
New South Wales is situated on the southeast corner of
Australia between Victoria to the south, Queensland to the
north and South Australia to the west. East to west, it is
marked by a narrow coastal plain, the Great Dividing Range
and the Murray Darling Plain. Its population is concentrated
along the sea coast, principally around Sydney, the state’s
capital. It is the country’s most populous state, with an
estimated population in 2012 of 7,303,700, more
than a third of Australia’s total population.
major ports are at Newcastle, Wollongong and Sydney. The
highway system is fairly simple. Highway 1, the Pacific
Highway, extends north from Sydney along the coast through
Newcastle and eventually to Brisbane. Highway 31, the
Southwestern Highway then Hume Highway, proceeds south
through the Murray Darling Plain to Melbourne with a side
route to Canberra. An alternative route to Melbourne along
the coast, the Princes Highway, is considerably slower, but
much more interesting. Inland highways
include the New England Highway (route 15, to the interior
from Newcastle to Brisbane); the Newell Highway (route 39,
through the interior from Melbourne to west of Brisbane);
and the Sturt Highway (route 20, crossing southern New South
Wales to Adelaide).
Geologically the metamorphic rocks and granites of the
southern Tasman Geosyncline extend from south of the New South
Wales–Victoria border in an arch more or less from Echuca,
Victoria, to Hay to Ivanhoe to Broken Hill in the
western part of the state. The Palaeozoic sediments extend
eastward to the Queensland border northeast of Bourke where
younger Mesozoic formations extending southeast to Sydney
interrupt. Like the Cainozoic basin in the west and southwest,
this formation is relatively flat and dry in the interior. The
northeast corner of the state above Newcastle to the
Queensland border is again Palaeozoic with igneous intrusions
forming the mountains. Sydney, in other words, is part of the
Mesozoic formation encompassing most of northern New South
Wales and central Queensland. This intrudes on the Palaeozoic
coastal highlands which extend from Cape York nearly to Mount
Gambier in Victoria.
The physical features most attractive to the visitor include fine surf beaches (thirty-four in Sydney alone and hundreds more along the entire coastline), Sydney Harbour, the Blue Mountains (a day trip west of Sydney), limestone caves at Jenolan and Wombeyan, the Australian Alps or Snowy Mountains in Kosciuszko National Park, the Hawkesbury River, and ‘Back ’o Bourke’, that is, the outback, in the state’s arid northwest.
Sydney (population in 2010= 4,504,469) has always been the premier city of Australia. The capital of the state of New South Wales, it encompasses a vast area around Port Jackson Harbour and as far west as the Blue Mountains; officially, it is listed at 33°55’ south, 151°17’ east. With a population of more than four million, the Sydney region now comprises almost a quarter of the country’s entire population.
Administratively, Sydney City refers to a very small
segment of this metropolitan area, but the many
municipalities and surrounding suburbs around this central
district are generally considered part of Sydney. In the
last forty years, Sydney has been transformed from a
provincial British colonial outpost to a world-class
multicultural city, a central player, as David Dale states
in The 100 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Australia
(1996), in Australia’s change from ‘one of the dullest
nations on earth to one of the most interesting’. Jan
Morris, in her book on Sydney (1992), mirrors these
sentiments, amazed at its transformation since her first
visit in 1962; she declares it the ‘shiniest’ city of the
old British Empire.
Sydneysiders, as residents are called, while
notoriously disinterested in self-reflection, would
certainly agree with this description. They are immensely
proud of their robust and vibrant city, and all the glitzy
glamour of its most recent decades, and not very interested
in dwelling on its history (although that attitude is
The development of Australia as a Western nation began on 26 January 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip and his shipment of 736 convicts and four companies of marines landed, first at Watson’s Bay and, finally, at Sydney Cove; these were the members of The First Fleet, so frequently referred to in Australian literature and popular culture. Their trip had taken eight months from Portsmouth and had covered more than 22,000km (14,000 miles). When their proposed site of settlement at Botany Bay proved unsuitable, they sailed on to find what is today Sydney Harbour. The penal colony of New South Wales was established as soon as the prisoners and marines disembarked.
This strange event came about as a result of the draconian legal codes and harsh social conditions of 18C England, leading to an enormous prison population which could no longer be housed. Once England lost the American colonies as a convenient dumping ground for convicts, it had to look elsewhere to find a solution to the prison problem.
The continent that became known as Australia had been discovered and claimed for England in 1770 by Captain James Cook; upon the suggestion of Cook’s naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, this continent on the other side of the world was seen as the ideal place to transport a large portion of the law-breakers. Not only would the horrendous overcrowding in prison be alleviated, but British imperialist ambitions in the Pacific would be furthered by the establishment of a colony in this land about which Cook and Banks had so romantically enthused. In his 1771 report, Cook wrote ‘it can never be doubted but what most sorts of Grain, Fruits, Roots etc of every kind would flourish’ and ‘here are Provender for more Cattle at all seasons of the year than can be brought to this Country.’
While the first years of settlement were anything but flourishing, with deprivation and isolation exacerbated by failure of crops and livestock, inadequate housing, lack of building materials and skilled labour, Captain Phillip undertook the venture with ambitious conscientiousness and fortitude. He bestowed the name Sydney in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, who was then Home Secretary in the British Cabinet.
David Collins, marine captain and Judge-Advocate arriving with the First Fleet, provides one of the most valuable early accounts of the settlement:
The spot chosen [at Circular Quay]...was at the head of the cove, near the run of fresh water [the Tank Stream], which stole silently along through a very thick wood, the stillness of which had then, for the first time since the creation, been interrupted by the rude sound of the labourer’s axe... The confusion that ensued will not be wondered at, when it is considered that every man stepped from the boat literally into a wood...the spot which had so lately been the abode of silence and tranquillity was now changed to that of noise, clamour,and confusion... As the woods were opened and the ground cleared, the encampments were extended, and all wore the appearance of regularity.
On viewing the cosmopolitan congestion of present-day
Sydney, it is hard to envision this as a description of the
area around Circular Quay.
The Tank Stream, as the freshwater source was called, very quickly proved insufficient for the needs of the colony. Three sandstone tanks were built almost immediately in which to preserve its supply, but by the 1810s the stream was severely depleted and polluted. By 1827, a project was begun to dig a tunnel to the swamps of present-day Centennial Park 4km away. Known as ‘Busby’s Bore’ after its engineer John Busby, it was Sydney’s first major engineering feat when completed in 1837. The old Tank Stream is now channelled underneath Pitt Street.
When the First Fleet landed, the cove where Circular Quay is today was a salt-water estuary, and at low tide a mudflat covered the area of present-day Bridge Street, Lower Pitt and Alfred Streets, as well as a part of Loftus and Young Streets. This area was gradually filled in and reclaimed to become the central city itself. Frank Clune, in his Saga of Sydney (1961) boasts that ‘no water frontage in the world has been so transformed by reclamation of tidal flats as Sydney’s Circular Quay’.
The earliest streets were laid out parallel to the course of the Tank Stream, beginning with High Street, today’s George Street. While the settlement did originally have a town plan—Baron Alt, a German surveyor on the First Fleet, laid out the initial settlement—it is obvious to the visitor that any systematic town planning was not enforced in the early days. In the 1810s, Governor Macquarie attempted to regulate the growth of the town and the standard of building, decreeing that streets must be at least 50 feet wide and houses set back 20 feet from the road. His efforts did not go unheeded, as one can see in the number of substantial structures from his time by convict architect Francis Greenway and others; haphazard development continued nonetheless.
The oldest area around the Circular Quay is a chaotic mishmash of diagonal streets and pathways that developed from short cuts used by pedestrians, a confusion exacerbated today by the overhead gash of the Cahill Expressway, built in the 1950s, which runs directly across the quay from the bridge.
All considerations of Sydney must begin with and center on the harbour, which Joseph Conrad described in his autobiography The Mirror of the Sea (1906) as ‘...one of the finest, most beautiful, vast and safe bays the sun ever shone upon.’ The harbour provides one of the most stunning locations of any city in the world.
|The harbour dominates Sydney life, and any visitor to the city will undoubtedly begin explorations at the ferry terminus in the heart of the city, the Circular Quay. The quay vibrates with activity, intermingling a variety of regular buskers and vendors with a multitude of tourist attractions and excursion opportunities; tens of thousands of Sydneysiders take the ferry into the quay every day. Several organised walking tours commence from the quay, leading into the thick of the central city itself. For details of these walks, enquire at one of the Sydney Visitor Centres, t 02 9240 8788.||
You can choose from any number of harbour excursions, from individual taxi-boats, sometimes cheaper and faster than a land-taxi, to cruises on a replica of the Bounty. But one of the most enjoyable ways to explore the harbour and the city itself is to take the regular service ferries to their various destinations.
The most extensive and enjoyable sightseeing experience is the ferry to Manly, which leaves the quay regularly to cross the entire bay, culminating at Manly Beach, next to the Heads which mark the entrance to the harbour itself. Many writers and regular travellers maintain that this trip is the one thing that all visitors to Sydney should do.
Other ferries travel from Circular Quay to Balmain, the North Shore, Hunter Hill and Parramatta. One of the most popular services is the ferry to Taronga Park Zoo, at the end of which visitors walk up to the zoo or, if in operation, ascend above the harbour in a cable car.
The harbour is the true heart of Sydney; explore the
city from its shores, and take advantage of transportation
on the water.
About 300m down Loftus Street is the Customs House (t 02 9247 2285; open daily), now an isolated example of Victorian architecture among the glass and steel skyscrapers. Nearby is a small flagpole, marking the spot where Governor Phillip raised the Union Jack on 26 January 1788.
The original customs house was erected on this site to the Georgian design of Mortimer Lewis in 1844. When additions were necessary, structural difficulties required that this building be demolished. As it stands today it is a conglomerate of government architects’ styles, the first floor completed in 1887 by James Barnet and the other floors added by Walter Vernon between 1887 and 1917. The floor in the entryway includes swastikas, traditionally symbols of good fortune.
Customs House was renovated in 1999 by the architectural firm Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, creating spaces for galleries and corporate reception areas. The renovation is certainly controversial, demonstrating little sympathy for the colonial character of the structure and adding an incongruously proportioned glass-and-steel upper deck; but the interior levels offer airy public spaces. The building now functions largely as a public library.
Continue east on Alfred Street to Albert Street. Between Young and Phillip Streets along this stretch is the AMP Building, which for many years after its opening in 1962 was the highest building in Sydney at 114m (380 ft). Its appearance, along with the opening of the Cahill Expressway in the same year, signalled the end of the old accessible Circular Quay.
At present, construction between the quay and Macquarie Street, along with the rumbling of cars on the expressway overhead, combine to present an unfortunately uninspiring view towards the harbour and the Opera House. Recently mobilised Sydneysiders have begun protesting against the monstruous building blocks being constructed here, on arguably the most valuable real estate in the world, but so far the demonstrations appear to have come too late to save any vestige of the harbour’s skyline on the south side.
On the corner of Albert and Phillip Streets is the NSW Justice
and Police Museum (t 02 9252 1144; open daily
10.00–17.00), identified by the kitschy mannequins of police
officer and convict on the front of the building. Now a
complex of Classic Revival buildings, the first section
facing Albert Street was designed by Edmund Blacket in 1854
in a Palladian style with an open portico and Doric columns.
It originally served as the Water Police Court. Around the
corner on Phillip the additions, also in sandstone, were
probably designed by Mortimer Lewis (1870) and James Barnet
Edmund Blacket (1817–83), New South Wales’s most prolific ecclesiastical architect, is sometimes referred to as the ‘Christopher Wren of Australia’. He arrived from England in 1842, having escaped a father opposed to his dream of being an architect. Intending to settle in New Zealand, he was persuaded by Sydney acquaintances to stay in the city and became inspector of Church of England buildings. In 1845 he began practice as an architect, and was appointed colonial architect in 1849; in 1854 he set up private practice. His first impressive building was the main building for the new University of Sydney, completed in 1860. In all, Blacket completed some 58 churches, most of them in Sydney and almost all in Gothic Revival style. For more on Blacket, see Joan Kerr, Our Great Victoria Architect, Edmund Thomas Blacket, (1817–1883).
The MOS is part of the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, and is certainly the most post-modern museum in the city; such state-of-the-art exhibition techniques have been employed that it is sometimes difficult to know what artefacts you are supposed to be seeing. The changing exhibitions are varied and eclectic, and always innovatively presented. The plaza includes a ‘talking poles’ sculptural monument, Edge of Trees by Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley, evoking through objects and voices the history of Sydney’s people. Its exhibitions emphasise early Sydney history, with special displays concerning the Eora, the Aboriginal peoples of the Sydney region, and it has one of the most exciting bookshops in the city, emphasising architecture and design, as well as the requisite chic restaurant on the plaza.
Rising enormously behind the museum is Governor Phillip
Tower (1989–94), one of the many post-modern skyscrapers in
the central business district, touted for its impressive
integration of contemporary elements with the needs of a
To reach the Opera House, walk over one block and north
down Macquarie Street to the Opera House at Bennelong Point
(c 500m) (Contact 61 2 9250 7111: Sydney Opera House
No landmark more readily identifies Sydney today than its Opera House, placed on Bennelong Point overlooking the harbour. Its silhouette is so well-known internationally that it is hard to believe that it was only begun in 1959 and was not completed until 1973.
History of the Opera House
The saga of the construction of the Opera House can itself be described as operatic. Indeed, its story has served as the basis for an opera, The Eighth Wonder, by Alan John and Dennis Watkins, which premiered here in 1995.
The location at Bennelong Point was an inspired choice. This jutting bit of land to the east of Circular Quay was named in honour of the Aboriginal Bennelong, the first ‘domesticated’ native, whom Governor Phillip took to England as a specimen of the ‘civilising experiment.’ When he returned he lived in a small hut at this point. He remained a familiar character in early Sydney until his death in 1815 in Ryde.
Until 1902, Bennelong Point was the site of Fort Macquarie, designed by convict architect Francis Greenway in 1817; it served as a sentinel post to warn of approaching ships. It was demolished in the early 1900s to make way for, of all things, an elaborately castellated tram shed, built by W.L. Vernon. It still served as a tram terminus when it was torn down to make way for the construction of the Opera House in 1959.
The initial impetus for the building of the Opera House
came in 1947, when the English composer Eugene
Goossens—ironically, a direct descendent of Captain Cook—was
appointed Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Goossens persuaded the government that the city should have
its own opera house and found an unlikely supporter in the
Labor Premier, J.J. Cahill.
In 1956, Cahill announced a £5000 international design competition, for which 216 entries arrived from 36 countries. The winning design, selected by a four-man jury, came from a young Danish architect, Joern Utzon. A disciple of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, Utzon conceived of a structure with a dramatically soaring roof line, ‘the fine lines defining the form of the curve like the seams in a billowing sail’. (Utzon has described his idea as ‘wedges of an orange’.) The jury was impressed with the concept. They also believed that the estimated price—£3.5 million—made the design the cheapest to build. They announced that the entire building would be completed in three years.
Controversy surrounded the project from the beginning on nearly every front. First of all, the project’s greatest supporter, Eugene Goossens, was forced to resign his post as conductor and left Australia in 1956, after he was found guilty of importing ‘indecent material’ in his luggage after a trip abroad. More horrifically, a public lottery organised to fund the project ended in tragedy when the eight-year-old son of the winner of the £100,000 prize was kidnapped and murdered.
Then there was the problem of the building itself. It
became apparent that neither Utzon nor anyone else had an
idea of how his magnificent sails could actually be
constructed. The task of solving complex engineering
problems led to endless delays and ever-increasing costs,
exacerbated by political infighting and mismanagement. Utzon
also confronted bureaucratic resistance and political
battles, which increased when a new director of public
works, Davis Hughes, was appointed in 1965 after the Liberal
Party came to power. When Hughes tried to downgrade Utzon’s
position from controlling architect to design consultant,
Utzon resigned, asking that his name no longer be associated
with the Opera House. He left Australia, never to see the
building finished. It was finally completed by a team of
Australian architects headed by Peter Hall. When Utzon died
in 2008, plans were underway for a massive refurbishing of
the building, plans which initially caused a clash with
Utzon's son and grandson, who believed the initial design
would be ruined by subsequent architects.
The building was opened by Queen Elizabeth on 20 October 1973, fifteen years after construction began. The original cost of $7 million had increased to $102 million.
Despite his rejection of the finished product, Utzon’s
original vision prevailed, at least in modified form, and
the Opera House, with its soaring roof, stands as a work of
sculpture. (Utzon’s original models and plans have been
donated to the State Library of NSW.) Not everyone enjoys
its presence; the writer Blanche d’Alpuget wrote that it
looks like ‘an albino tropical plant rootbound from too
small a pot’, and Jan Morris considered it ‘unguent’, making
the visitor feel like an ‘insect in an ice-cream’.
The surface of the roof is covered in 1,056,000 ceramic tiles covering an area of 4 acres (1.6 hectares), bonded to 4228 tile panels which had to be constructed on the ground and slotted onto the skeletal shells. Acoustically, the concert hall rates as one of the best in the world; over 2900 events take place annually in its five theatres.
The Sydney Opera House contains more than 1000 rooms,
some of curious shape due to the angular exterior. The
entrance is up the southern steps off the forecourt to the
ticket box and information desk. The major halls are the
Opera Theatre on the northeast and the Concert Hall on the
northwest. The northern foyers offer panoramic views of the
harbour. The Possum Dreaming mural in the Opera Theatre
foyer is by Michael Nelson Tjakamarra who also designed the
mural at Parliament House in Canberra. The theatre seats
1547 and has a 12 metre wide proscenium. The Concert Hall
seats 2690. Despite its size, the wood panelling and
acoustic vaults give it an intimate feeling. Ronald Sharp
designed and built the Grand Organ (10,500 pipes).
Smaller theatrical venues are accessible along the western boardwalk. These are the Playhouse at the boardwalk's northwest corner, the recently opened Drama Theatre, and the Studio.
From the Opera House, walk back to Macquarie Street. Named by Governor Macquarie in October 1810, in honour of himself, the street was to be a grand avenue of impressive public buildings; at the time, it was only a rough ridge of sandstone between the valleys of the Tank Stream and Woolloomooloo Bay. Eventually it was to become the most fashionable residential street in the city. The street extends from the Opera House to Hyde Park; on the eastern side it is flanked by the Botanic Gardens and Government Domain.
At East Circular Quay, you come to Moore’s Stairs which
lead onto Macquarie Street itself. Moore’s Stairs were named
for Charles Moore, mayor of Sydney who dedicated them in
1868. From here one can look out over the Quay and into The
Lachlan Macquarie (1761–1824) was born in the
Hebrides and took up a military career at an early
age. He fought in the American War of Independence,
then went to India in 1788. His first wife died of
tuberculosis in 1796, which caused him immense
suffering, as recorded in his voluminous writings.
In 1807, he married Elizabeth Campbell, who became
an active participant with her husband in the
development of the new colony of New South Wales.
They arrived in Sydney on 1 January 1810; Macquarie
remained in his post as governor until 1821, the
longest tenure of any Governor until the 20C.
I found the colony barely emerging from infantile imbecility and suffering from various privations and disabilities; the country impenetrable beyond 40 miles from Sydney; agriculture in a yet languishing state; commerce in its early dawn; revenue unknown; threatened by famine; distracted by faction; the public buildings in a state of dilapidation and mouldering to decay; the few roads and bridges formerly constructed, rendered almost impassable; the population depressed by poverty; no public credit nor private confidence; the morals of the great mass of the population in the lowest state of debasement and religious worship almost totally neglected.
This lamentable situation Macquarie set out to rectify. As architectural historian J.M. Freeland eloquently states, ‘What William the Conqueror was in English history Lachlan Macquarie was in Australia.’ The ambitiousness of his vision for the colony is evident in the scale of buildings that he planned for this promenade: in his 12 years as governor, he saw completed in the city 200 public buildings, the establishment of the city’s two cathedrals, the setting aside of Hyde Park, the founding of the Botanical Gardens (1816), the implementation of the colony’s first coinage and the opening of its first bank. He founded new settlements along the Hawkesbury River, in which he introduced building regulations, aimed at creating uniform standards and well-ordered living conditions.
Eventually his vision of a self-sufficient, civilised colony, comprised of egalitarian mixing of all classes and surrounded by grand structures and all the trappings of European culture, would be Macquarie’s undoing. His support of emancipated convicts as full citizens with equal rights to property and privilege brought him into conflict with free settlers and the military, who were horrified by his stance. The government in England was itself ambivalent in its attitude to this far-away province established as a penal colony. In response to a list of accusations against him sent by his enemies, the government sent J.T. Bigge in 1819 to carry out an inquiry on the circumstances of the colony. The results of his report tended to support the view that Macquarie was overly ambitious in his endeavours, with particular criticism directed towards his public building campaigns, which were viewed as too grandiose and opulent for the needs of the colony. Greatly offended by this attack on his administration and integrity, Macquarie left the colony in 1821, and died three years later at home in Scotland.
At the same point is Tarpeian Way, at the end of which is the Sudan Memorial, a plaque in Tarpeian Rock, commemorating the first Australian expeditionary force to participate in a military engagement. A New South Wales contingent was dispersed on 3 March 1885 to support the British in the Sudan. Political debate about the constitutionality of this action led to a return of the troops only three months later with three wounded and six dead of fever, but Australia’s commitment to fight in British wars was established.
Continue south on Macquarie Street about 200m to see to
the east at Bridge Street the Conservatorium
of Music (t 02 9230 1222). The location was the
original site of the windmill of John Palmer, purser with
the First Fleet; early prints of Sydney clearly show this
prominent structure, which has long since been demolished.
The current conservatorium was designed by Francis Greenway,
Macquarie’s emancipated convict architect, and was intended
initially as the stables for the governor’s proposed new
Government House. It was begun in 1817 and completed in
1821. When one views this elaborately ‘castellated’
structure, meant to house horses behind an even more
palatial Government House, one can understand why
Commissioner Bigge, arriving in Sydney in 1819 to
investigate charges of mismanagement, would criticise
Macquarie’s extravagant and unnecessary expenditure of
public moneys. To make matters worse, Macquarie had not
informed the home government of this project for two years.
It was this building more than any other which led to
Bigge’s negative report; Macquarie’s new government house
was never built.
Between 1908 and 1915, the stables building was converted into the State Conservatorium of Music by W.L. Vernon, amidst protests at such a public expenditure during the First World War. The Premier of New South Wales, W.A. Holman, supported the project which culminated in an inaugural concert held in the new hall on 6 May 1915. The first director was Henri Verbrugghen, appointed in 1914 and responsible for establishing a first-rate conservatory training programme. When Holman’s government lost power in 1920, funds ceased and Verbrugghen left for America. Other directors have included Arundel Orchard and Sir Eugene Goossens in 1946–56 (see Opera House). The first Australian-born director, Sir Bernhard Heinz, succeeded Goossens. During term time, free recitals are held by Conservatorium students in the Concert Hall.
Francis Greenway (1777–1837) was the first fully-qualified architect in Australia. He was trained as an architect and painter in England, and had exhibited works at the Royal Academy in 1800. Greenway was transported to New South Wales for forgery in 1813, following the bankruptcy of his family’s company; he carried with him a letter of recommendation from Governor Phillip to Governor Macquarie. By the end of 1814, Greenway had a ticket of leave and had established a practice. Macquarie was so impressed with his skills, and so in need of a real architect to carry out his amibitious plans, that he granted him a full pardon in 1819, and commissioned him for most of his major public buildings. These schemes were considered by Commissioner Bigge as too grandiose for the colony; such condemnation, coupled with Greenway’s difficult nature, led to his decline. By the time of Macquarie’s departure, Greenway was exiled in poverty to his farm near Newcastle. On his death, he is believed to have been buried in the East Maitland cemetery, in an unmarked grave. While many of his structures have been destroyed, his elegant style can still be appreciated in such important monuments as Hyde Park Barracks and St James’s in Sydney, St Luke’s in Liverpool, and St Matthew’s in Windsor.
Along Macquarie Street, near Bridge Street, an information sign commemorates the site of Exhibition Building, built in 1879 to house the Sydney International Exhibition. Covering almost two hectares, it was designed in four days and erected in eight months to showcase Australian design, art and technology. On the morning of 22 September 1882, the structure burnt to the ground. In the blaze 300 paintings were lost, as well as relics of the Eora, Sydney’s Aboriginal tribe and records of early convicts; legend has it that the fire was deliberately lit by descendants of these convicts wanting to erase their history. All that survived were the gates, still standing near Mitchell Library.
On the corner of Bridge Street is the Treasury Building and Colonial Secretary’s Office (now the InterContinental Hotel), built 1849–51. The Treasury was designed by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis, with additions by W.L. Vernon in 1896. Built of sandstone, these two are quintessential examples of colonial Classical Revival style. The Gold Room in the Treasury, now the hotel’s restaurant, was used during the 1850s gold rush to receive gold from the New South Wales goldfields.
On the south side of Bridge Street is the Colonial
Secretary’s Office, now the Chief Secretary’s
Department, designed in 1878–80 by Colonial Architect James
Barnet. Influenced by the French Second Empire style, Barnet
covered the building with stone figures, copper towers and
cupolas. The three foyers are open to the public on
weekdays; at the entrances one can view three statues by
Italian sculptor Giovanni Fontana. They represent Queen
Victoria and the Prince of Wales, as well as a young girl
symbolising the spirit of New South Wales.
History House, at no. 133, is the headquarters of the Royal Australian Historical Society (t. 02 9247 8001, firstname.lastname@example.org) Built in 1872, the building had many owners, including the surgeon William Bland , who had been transported in 1814 for duelling. Bland was pardoned in 1815, and became one of the most eminent doctors in the colony. (George Goodman's 1845 daguerreotype portrait of Bland is the earliest surviving photograph made in Australia.) Macquarie Street was long associated with the medical profession, as many doctors established practices in its buildings. The Historical Society acquired the building in 1969; it now houses their library. Several historical tours originate from the building.
BMA House, nos 135–137, was built in 1929, and is one of the few skyscraper examples of the adaptation of Australian motifs to Art Deco design; its façade includes wonderful renditions of koalas (the only examples on a façade in Australia), as well as the traditional symbol of snake and staff. It is now part of the Australian Medical Association’s quarters, despite the entryway’s statement to the contrary.
Royal Australasian College of Physicians, no. 145, was once the residence of John Fairfax, founder of the Sydney Morning Herald; today’s media corporation, the Fairfax Corporation, is an outgrowth of this family’s contribution to Sydney’s publishing history. The building is described in Joseph Fowles’ Sydney in 1848, an invaluable source on the architectural history of the city. One of the last Georgian buildings of its type, it is notable for the four-storey timber verandah with box-frame windows on the ground floor and French casements on the upper floors.
Outside the Mitchell Library across the street at Shakespeare Place is a monument to Governor Richard Bourke, governor of New South Wales 1831–37, and responsible for enlightened reform measures concerning emancipated convicts and education.
At this point you will find the entrance to the State Library of New
South Wales, often referred to as Mitchell Library,
although the Mitchell Library only occupies one wing of the
building. The library itself was founded in 1845 by members
of the Australian Subscription Library, who erected a
building on the corner of Macquarie and Bent Streets. The
organisation was taken over by the State Government in 1869
to become the New South Wales Public Library. In 1899, the
library incorporated the collection of David Scott Mitchell
in order to receive his unprecedented bequest of
David Scott Mitchell (1836–1907) was born in Sydney, the son of the Chief Surgeon of Sydney Hospital. One of the first graduates of the University of Sydney, Mitchell devoted his life and his considerable inheritance to the collection of anything relating to the history of Australia. Legend has it that he became a recluse when he was spurned in love; by all accounts he was an eccentric figure, dressed entirely in black and with an ever-present bowler hat. Mitchell’s initial bequest to the Library consisted of 10,000 volumes and fifty pictures, donated to make room in his home for more of his collection. In order to house the rest of his donation, Mitchell wanted a separate building to be constructed; the Mitchell Wing began to be built in 1906, and was not completed until after Mitchell’s death. At that time the Library received the entire bequest of some 61,000 volumes, papers, manuscripts, and paintings, along with an endowment of £20,000. The collection was stored in bank vaults until the Mitchell Wing was opened in 1910. The Library has continued to grow by purchase from this endowment. Recently, Mitchell’s excellent collection of 19C erotica has finally been opened for public view.
Another collection, containing even rarer items pertaining to the South Pacific and Australia, was accumulated by William Dixson (1870–1952), a Sydney bachelor who offered his works to the library in 1919. To accommodate the collection, the Dixson Wing of the library was built adjacent to the Mitchell Wing. Upon his death in 1952, Dixson bequeathed the rest of his rarities, along with an endowment of £100,000 for additional purchases, and for the publication of manuscripts and reprinting rare books.
The Mitchell Wing is an architectural delight. On the floor of the foyer is a mosaic rendering of the Tasman map, a copy of the original 17C hand-drawn map from the voyages of Abel Tasman in 1642 (the map itself was given to the Mitchell Library in 1933 by Prince George of Greece). The mosaic was completed by the Melocco Brothers in 1941; they are also responsible for the mosaic in the crypt of Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral. The interior of the Library itself includes a stained-glass dome. While the entire holdings of the Mitchell library are not open to the general public, anyone with a serious scholarly purpose may obtain permission to use the collection. The Dixson Wing also holds regular exhibitions pertaining to Australian history and culture. For information on exhibitions, call the State Library, t 02 9230 1414, open various hours.
The State Library itself is housed in a 1960s
building connected to the Mitchell and Dixson wings. It
contains a two-level reference library and collection of
books and serials. Film screenings and poetry readings are
regular events. An excellent shop containing items relating
to Australian history and literature is located on the
On the Macquarie Street side of the Mitchell Library
stands a memorial statue to the explorer Matthew Flinders
and his cat, ‘Trim’ (1996, bronze, John Cornwell). Flinders
praised the cat in his essay A Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim
Matthew Flinders (1774–1814) is one of the most intriguing naval explorers associated with the early Australian expeditions. Born in Lincolnshire, England, into a family of surgeons, he took to sea after reading Robinson Crusoe. He joined the Royal Navy in 1789 and sailed with Captain Bligh’s second voyage in 1791. He sailed to Sydney with Captain Hunter aboard the Reliance in 1795; it was on this voyage that he met George Bass, the ship’s surgeon. They struck up an alliance that led to their joint explorations of the Georges River and the south coast of Sydney. In 1798, the pair, in command of the Norfolk, circumnavigated Tasmania by passing through the Bass Strait, which Bass had explored in 1797. They returned to Sydney in January 1799, having made some of the first detailed surveys of the Tasmanian coast and establishing Flinders’ reputation as a superb cartographer. After a return trip to England in 1800 where he married, Flinders received command of the Investigator with instructions to explore the entire coast of New Holland, as it was still called. He completed this circumnavigation on 6 December 1803, completing records so accurate that they are still used by the Royal Australian Navy. He was the first person on record to apply the term ‘Australia’ regularly to the continent.
Remarkable also on this voyage was the botanical and biological work carried out by the expedition’s appointed draughtsman, the Viennese Ferdinand Bauer (1760–1826). Bauer made over 1000 drawings, meticulously rendered and later hand-coloured according to an elaborate colour gradation system devised by the artist. His publication in 1815, Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae, was not a financial success but his works are now recognised as the most precise and aesthetically pleasing examples of natural history painting ever produced. Flinders named Cape Bauer on the South Australian coast in his honour, and his name is perpetuated in several Australian plants.
Upon his return to England in 1803, and unaware that war had broken out between England and France, Flinders called in at Mauritius (then known as Ile de France) to make repairs on his ship, only to be imprisoned for almost seven years. He finally returned to London in 1810, where he completed his remarkable A Voyage to Terra Australis at the end of 1813. His health had been ruined in captivity, and he died on 18 July 1814, only 40 years old, before he saw the first copy of his beloved book.
The inclusion of Flinders’ cat in the memorial is an appropriately affecting one. Trim was born a seafaring feline in 1799 aboard the Reliance, when Flinders commanded a supply ship to South Africa. He accompanied his master on the voyages of the Norfolk and the Investigator, thus circumnavigating the world. In 1809, Flinders wrote an affectionate and delightfully informative ‘Tribute to Trim’, describing his unique qualities as a feline sailor. During Flinders’ detention on the Ile de France, Trim disappeared without a trace; Flinders wrote, ‘My sorrow may be better conceived than described.'
Across Macquarie Street in this block is St Stephen’s Church, built in 1935 on the site of Burdekin House, reputedly the most significant Regency-style building in Australia. The Presbyterian Church purchased the site in 1933 for £50,000; the present structure, now a part of the Uniting Church, houses a congregation of over 600 and offers special services and musical recitals during the week. From 1952 to 1965, the church was the domain of Reverend Gordon Powell, the first Australian-born minister of the church who gained international renown as a preacher, writer, and supporter of Billy Graham Crusades.
The now demolished Burdekin House was built in 1841 for Thomas Burdekin, an ironmonger from England who came to Sydney in 1826. Built by architect James Hume, also responsible for the National Trust property Lindesay on Darling Point, the three-storeyed mansion included colonnades and fretted stonework on the façade and offered some of the most richly and elegantly appointed interiors in the colony. It was inherited by Thomas’ son, Sydney Burdekin, born in the city; he became a Member of Parliament and Mayor of Sydney. From the 1860s to the 1890s, Burdekin House was the centre of élite social life in the city, as well as a meeting place for politicians from Parliament House across the street.
State Parliament House is still located in one of the wings of the famous ‘Rum Hospital’, so called because it was paid for by giving the rum monopoly to the builders (‘rum’ referring to all alcoholic spirits). The hospital was built from 1811 to 1816, allegedly to a design by Mrs Macquarie herself. This wing has served as Parliament House for the State of New South Wales since 1829, making it the oldest Parliament House in the world. In 1843 the Legislative Assembly Chamber, designed by Mortimer Lewis, was added on to the wing; the Legislative Council Chamber is made of a pre-fabricated cast-iron building, which had been shipped from England to serve as a church on the Victorian gold-fields. In 1856, it was dismantled and sent to Sydney when the state legislature expanded.
Parliament House is open to the public on weekdays
09.00–16.30 when not in session, and until 19.00 when in
session. If Parliament is in session, visitors can view the
proceedings from the upper galleries. The sessions are often
quite raucous and pugnacious affairs, for Australian
politicians love a good shouting match. Excellent
exhibitions and historical displays are housed throughout
the building, and informative brochures are available.
Bookings for viewing of sessions can be made on (t 02 9230
2111); bookings for visits during Question Time
(Tuesdays) are advised.
Next to the Parliament House, on the site of the original Rum Hospital, is Sydney Hospital, built in 1894. The Rum Hospital itself had been structurally unsound since it was built; the builders had been eager to get the rum monopoly, and were not necessarily competent workers. Early stories of the horrors of the hospital itself were rife: unsanitary surgical conditions (operations often occurred on the kitchen table), no facilities or adequate food, inadequate and untrained staff. By the 1860s, improvements had been made, including the beginnings of a nurses’ training school approved by Florence Nightingale. By 1879, the structure was considered so dangerous that it was demolished; the new hospital’s design, attributed to architect Thomas Rowe, dates from that time, but was not finished for 15 years. The entrance hall stands as an elegant example of late Victorian style, with a grand staircase and stained glass windows. Frequent attempts have been made to close the facility, so far without success. Outside the hospital is a replica of Il Porcellino, the famous fountain statue of Florence. The boar collects money for the hospital, as all wishing coins thrown into the fountain benefit their activities.
Next to the present-day hospital is The Mint,
originally the southern wing of the Rum Hospital, and now
the headquarters of The Historic Houses Trust (t. 02 8239
2288). In response to the discoveries on the goldfields, the
building served as a branch of the Royal Mint from 1854
until 1926, when a new mint was opened in Perth. It served a
variety of governmental functions until 1982, when it was
salvaged from further dereliction and opened as a Museum of
Colonial Decorative Art. While that museum has now closed,
some displays still remain in the public spaces. Both the
public and the office functions are located in the remaining
sections of the historic Coining Factory buildings and in
new additions located to the north and south east of the
site. The Macquarie Street building – referred to as
the Mint Offices and originally the south wing of the 'Rum
Hospital' – provides the "front door" to these new
facilities. It will continue to be open to the public with
the existing café, meeting rooms available to the Trust and
general public and the Members of the Historic Houses Trust
lounge and office. The Coining Factory buildings and the
project area can be viewed from the rear corridor.
The most exciting addition to the Mint's facilities since the Historic Houses Trust's occupation of the space is The Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection, housing the HHT's magnificent library of artefacts, books, and ephemera relating to the history of house, garden, and interior design in New South Wales. The collections are open to anyone with a scholarly interest in the Trust's areas of expertise. The new buildings and integration of the old structures into new ones were conceived by architect Richard Francis-Jones, of FJMT Architects; Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners as conservation architects and Godden Mackay Logan as archaeologists, and were carefully located to compliment the proportions and geometric alignments of the existing buildings. The Library is open M-F 10.00-17.00; according to the website, 'Paintings, prints, textiles, wallpapers and other large format collection items can be viewed by appointment every Tuesday, 1.30pm – 4.30pm'. (t 02 8239 2233).
south on Macquarie Street; next to the Mint is Hyde
Park Barracks (t 02 8239 2311; open daily
10.00–17.00). Designed for Governor Macquarie by Francis
Greenway between 1817 and 1819, the barracks provided
the first permanent lodging for convicts, who until this
point were allowed to roam free. Described by architectural
critic J.M. Freeland as ‘just a barn—but a very handsome
barn’, this three-storey sandstone construction could sleep
600 convicts; it is considered one of Greenway’s most
successful and elegant buildings. After transportation
ended, it was used for a variety of purposes, until it was
restored as a museum in 1984. The museum shop is an
excellent source for books on Australian history and
culture. Tours include one that allows the visitor to spend
the night in the barracks as a convict would.
Walk 2 Hyde Park and surroundingsAt Hyde Park Barracks, cross Macquarie Street at Queen’s Square. In the centre of the Square is a statue of Queen Victoria, the work of English sculptor Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm. It was originally presented to Australia for its centenary in 1888 and has experienced a number of locations throughout Sydney.
Cross St James Road to enter Hyde Park itself, a
cosmopolitan oasis of greenery that also houses several
architectural monuments and is surrounded by some of the
most elegant buildings in town. Situated in the park between
Elizabeth and College Streets is the Archibald Memorial
Fountain, erected in 1933 at a cost of £12,000 from
the bequest of Jules François Archibald. The fountain
commemorates Franco-Australian cooperation in the First
World War. In keeping with Archibald’s wishes, it was
designed by a French sculptor, François Sicard, and
represents mythological personifications of the Arts, Beauty
Jules François Archibald
Jules François Archibald (1856–1919) was an important figure in Australian cultural life. Christened John Feltham by his Irish-Australian parents, his romantic flair for all things French led him to adopt a French name. He was in 1880 one of the founders of the Sydney Bulletin, a weekly newspaper which helped to define a national Australian character. Appealing to the native-born Australian, the Bulletin conveyed a distinctive mixture of idealism, republicanism, racism, and vulgar humour; it was particularly well-known for its editorial cartoons, the artists of which contributed to an illustrative style known as ‘The Black and White School’. Archibald was responsible for the cultural aspects of the paper, and it was in this capacity that he supported and encouraged a group of young Australian writers and artists, including Henry Lawson, A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson, and Norman Lindsay. Upon his death in 1919, his will specified not only the Memorial Fountain, but an amount for an annual prize of £156 for the best portrait painted by an Australian; today, the Archibald Prize has grown to $20,000, making it one of the most lucrative art prizes in the world.
Also in Hyde Park is the Anzac War Memorial, an impressive Art Deco structure designed in 1934 by a local artist, C. Bruce Dellit, with sculpture by Rayner Hoff (1894–1937). At a height of 33m (100 feet), the memorial contains a circular Hall of Memory above a circular Hall of Silence which incorporates a group of statuary symbolising Sacrifice. The walls of the Hall of Memory include the names of those who fell in the Great War.
Recently, some Sydney politicos have sought to turn much of Hyde Park into an aquatic centre, to the dismay of heritage activists and environmentalists. At the time of writing, final plans were still being debated, although renovations appear to have won out; the section next to St Mary’s Cathedral is to become an aquatic centre.
On the College Street side of Hyde Park is St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, designed in 1865 by William Wilkinson Wardell, who had earlier designed St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. Modelled on Lincoln Cathedral, St Mary’s is probably the largest church erected in the British colonies and appears, according to Jan Morris, as a ‘kind of standard Gothic cathedral, such as you might order from an ecclesiastical catalogue’. The interior is rich in dark stained-glass windows, and also includes a majestic mosaic floor in the crypt by Peter Melocco, who also produced the Tasman map mosaic at the Mitchell Library. Currently the cathedral is carrying out a massive fund-raising campaign, highlighted by concerts and operas performed on site.
At the corner of William and College Streets, south of the Cathedral, is The Australian Museum (t 02 9320 6000; open daily 09.30–17.00); the street façade is of Neo-Palladian design, constructed by James Barnet’s office between 1861 and 1866.The original museum building, evident in the first rooms of the interior, was built by Mortimer Lewis between 1846 and 1852; it was opened to the public in 1857. The museum was founded in 1836, and supported by Alexander Macleay (1767–1848), then Colonial Secretary and an enthusiastic scientist. The original specimens were from his own collection; subsequently government funding allowed the museum to grow into one of the most important collections of Australian zoology, mineralogy, palaeontology and ethnology. The institution has an illustrious history, with many famous scientists and cultural figures serving as directors and curators. The present museum has expanded in a variety of directions, allowing for numerous exhibition spaces, as well as the display of the original 19C holdings. The museum also houses a large reference library and publishes several scientific and popular journals. Regular lectures and gallery talks are scheduled, and the museum is one of the most popular venues for Sydney school children, particularly drawn to the dinosaur collection.
Next door to the museum on College Street is Sydney Grammar School, now a conglomeration of many buildings in various styles. The school itself has great historical significance, as one of the oldest educational institutions in the colony and as the focal point of many public meetings in Sydney’s formative years. The earliest buildings here were erected between 1831 and 1835 by Robert Cooper as part of a neo-Classical block of the old Sydney College (from which College Street derives its name). The college closed in 1847. The buildings were next to the University of Sydney which was inaugurated in 1850. After years of financial vicissitudes, the school became Sydney Grammar, founded by an Act of Parliament in 1854 and opened in 1857. While the buildings of the school are of modest sandstone, the school’s status as the longest continuous home of an Australian educational institution gives them a special significance.
On the other side of Hyde Park is Elizabeth Street,
named for Governor Macquarie’s wife; it is the longest and
straightest street in central Sydney, beginning at Hunter
Street and extending to the Central Railway Station. At the
head of the park is the Old Supreme Court Building group,
originally designed by Francis Greenway, but substantially
altered by the addition of a stone colonnade in 1868 by
Colonial Architect James Barnet. The interior, with its
cedar staircase, gives some indication of Greenway’s
gracious design, although additional elements appeared in
the 1890s, giving a more opulent Edwardian atmosphere to the
Further south on Elizabeth Street is the Great Synagogue. Opened in 1878, the building was designed by Thomas Rowe and constructed of Pyrmont sandstone. Intende9225 1700d to accommodate two previous Jewish congregations, the ground floor seats 1600 people. Considered one of the major monuments to Australian Jewry, it still holds services, although larger congregations exist in Bondi and elsewhere in the city. Special admission and tours can be arranged through the synagogue’s offices; regular tours occur at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays (t 02 9267 2477).
The first Jews in Australia
Jews arrived in Australia with the First Fleet; at least one, James Larra, eventually became an innkeeper in Parramatta. By 1817, 20 Jews formed a burial society in the colony and from 1828 prayers were held regularly at the home of P.J. Cohen in Jamison Street. By 1835, the Jewish population in Sydney was 345. The first minister, M.E. Rose, arrived in this year. By 1862, under the leadership of senior minister Alexander Davis, Jewish education and philanthropy became organised; Davis presided over the community for 40 years, and was instrumental in the merger of the two congregations that culminated in the erection of The Great Synagogue. The Sydney Jewish Museum, which holds regular exhibitions and illustrates the entire history of Australian Jewry, is located at 148 Darlinghurst Road and very near to Kings Cross (t 02 9360 7999, open Sun–Thurs 10.00–16.00, Fri 10.00–14.00).
The Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens (t 02 9231 8111, daily sunrise until sunset) are accessible through several entrances on each side of the Domain. The 1889 entrance across from the Shakespeare monument in front of the State Library is often considered the main entrance, although the ‘official’ entrance is across the street from the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The gardens were originally the site of Government Farm, established by the First Fleet from seeds brought with them; the settlers were able to raise nine acres of corn at what is now called Farm Cove. When barren soil caused the main farm to be moved to Parramatta, Phillip declared this area for the government; hence its earlier name of Phillip Domain.
The Botanic Gardens proper date from 1816, when Mrs Macquarie’s Road was completed. This road in the Gardens and along the harbour marks the favoured excursion route of Elizabeth Macquarie, culminating in Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a stone bench where she allegedly sat to enjoy the view.
From here one can look out into the harbour to Fort Denison, more popularly known as ‘Pinchgut’ Island, supposedly referring to the fact that in the early days repeat offenders were sentenced to stay here on a diet of bread and water; a more likely reason is that it is at this point that the harbour narrows around it. The island still bears guns and defence towers, evidence of early attempts to defend the harbour from invasion. In 1942, when a Japanese midget submarine entered the harbour, an American cruiser attacked, hitting the fort’s tower; the submarine was hit, and its remains can be seen today outside Canberra’s Australian War Memorial.
You can also see across to Garden Island, now the site of the Royal Australian Naval base. Here First Fleet sailors grew vegetables. It is also the site of Australia’s first known graffiti, and the oldest evidence of white settlement: carved in rocks on the former island are the initials ‘F.M.’ for Frederick Meredith, a steward on the Sirius.
Sydney Harbour islands
Sydney Harbour originally contained 13 small islands, some of them, like Pinchgut, now accessible to the public for tours or just picnicking; some of them, like Garden and Bennelong, were filled in and are now part of the mainland. Some of the most delightful islands are on the ‘other side’ of the Harbour Bridge, and can be seen when taking the ferries upriver. In most cases, individual transport (with harbour taxis or private boats) must be arranged. Most fascinating is Goat Island, seen on the ferry en route to Balmain. It was the site of one of the most bizarre examples of colonial punishment: in the 1830s, a recalcitrant convict named ‘Bony’ Anderson was chained to a rock on the island for two years, and fed like an animal; he regularly swore at passing ships, and became such a moral embarassment to decent colonists that he was eventually released and sent to Norfolk Island. Goat Island still has a quarry and remnants of a convict-built village. Other islands worth visiting include: Shark, once the quarantine station; Clarke; Rodd, terminal of the Sydney Rowing Club’s river course, and site of the laboratory where Pasteur experiments were carried out; and Spectacle, including a Naval depot with a small museum. Tours of the islands are provided by Banks Marine, Island Events, 81 Grove Street, Balmain, t 02 9555 1222
Governor Macquarie appointed the first Colonial
Botanist, Charles Fraser, in 1816; by 1825 some 3000
specimens were growing in the garden. Continuous expansion
and botanical accumulation continued under a series of
innovative directors, most notably Charles Moore, who ran
the gardens for nearly 50 years, from 1848 to 1896. His
successor, Joseph Henry Maiden, founded a National Herbarium
with a collection of botanical specimens and a substantial
The gardens themselves offer a number of delightful walks, incorporating native and introduced species. Fruit bats hang in abundance in the palm groves. Ornate statues of all sorts, including replicas of Canova’s Boxers on the Main Walk, dot the gardens. In the middle of the gardens is a refreshment kiosk, including a highly-touted restaurant above and a cafeteria-style facility below; a visitor’s centre also provides brochures and books on natural history and gardening.
Most spectacular is the walk along the Harbour around Farm Cove which ultimately leads out of the gardens and to the Opera House. Of special interest is the Pyramid Glasshouse near the Macquarie Street entrance, containing rare and endangered species and other tropical plants.
In the middle of the gardens, near Farm Cove Crescent, you can see Government House (t 02 9931 5222; open Fri–Sun 10.00–15.00). It was designed by Edward Blore, an English architect who had designed Sir Walter Scott’s estate, Abbottsford. The foundation stone was laid in 1837, and Mortimer Lewis became supervising architect. It was officially opened on 26 June 1845. The design, with its crenellated turrets and porte-cochère entrance, complements Greenway’s earlier stables, and marks the rise of the popularity of Gothic Revival style in the colony. Built of Australian cedar, Pyrmont stone and native marble, the structure included cloisters that form a covered verandah comprised of Gothic arches. First occupied by Governor Gipps, the colonial chronicler Joseph Fowles described it in 1848 as: ‘an elegant stone edifice in Tudor Gothic... It is one of the most imposing buildings we have; and whether viewed from the adjacent Domain, the Harbour, or the City, its tall chimneys of elaborately carved stone, white turrets, and numerous windows, render it a conspicuous ornament to our metropolis’. It now houses a collection of 19C and 20C decorative art and furniture.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales
To get to the Art Gallery of New South Wales (open 10.00-17.00) , enter the Domain after Hyde Park Barracks on Macquarie Street and you come to Art Gallery Road. Three hundred metres from here is the art gallery.
The gallery dates from 1871, when the New South Wales Academy of Art was formed; it was formally initiated in 1874, when the directors of the Academy formed a Board of Trustees entrusted with the task of purchasing artworks in London. Several temporary locations existed before the gallery moved to its present site. In 1883 it officially became the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, although the ‘National’ was dropped in 1958. (Note that Melbourne’s gallery is still called the National Gallery of Victoria, despite the fact that the National Gallery of Australia is now in Canberra—evidence of the continuing cultural competition between the two states.)
The gallery also includes two restaurants, a coffee shop on Level 3 with a delightful terrace and interesting view into the naval base at Woolloomooloo Bay, and a more elegant restaurant on level 5 which overlooks the entrance lobby.
The original building of 1885 was designed by John Horbury Hunt. Always considered a temporary building, it was concealed in 1895 by the classically designed façade of Colonial Architect W.L. Vernon. It is Vernon’s plan that still constitutes the main floor galleries, including the Roman-style entrance completed in 1909, and the grand oval lobby of 1902. Vernon envisioned large bronze reliefs on the exterior walls, only four of which were completed. The building had fallen into disrepair by the 1960s, when the government agreed to rebuild the site as part of the Captain Cook Bicentenary projects. Architect Andrew Andersons completed the new building in 1972, demolishing the original Hunt structure at the rear and doubling exhibition space. Andersons was also responsible for the newest extension at the east end, which opened for the Bicentenary in 1988.
By far the most impressive part of the gallery’s
collections is its holdings in Australian art. As early as
1875, the gallery committed itself to the purchase of local
artists’ work, an admirable decision at a time when culture
was widely believed to originate in Europe alone. The
collection, then, is strongest in works after 1875, with
earlier works acquired at a much later date.
On entering the gallery’s foyer, you step through the oval lobby and into the central hall, where the information desk is located to the left; admission is free except to special travelling exhibitions, which are charged separately.
On the right are the European galleries. The current design of these exhibition spaces consciously alludes to 19C academic practices, with richly-coloured walls and paintings hung densely on the walls. Fittingly, the two middle galleries on this side, including the large central gallery, concentrate on 19C Australian paintings; the small holdings of early European art are in the first gallery off to the left of the first of the Australian rooms, and 18C century and 19C European works in the gallery behind them.
The first gallery of Australian art includes works painted before 1875, including John Glover’s Natives on the Ouse River, Van Diemen’s Land, one of the artist’s interesting depictions of Tasmanian Aboriginals; several works by Conrad Martens, often considered the ‘Turner of Australia’ for his wispy seascapes; and a characteristic landscape by Victorian artist Eugène von Guerard.
In the central gallery the most famous works appear: those of the so-called Australian Impressionists, the artists of the late 19C, whose works are now known as near icons of national identity, popularly accepted as having created a distinctly Australian style. Ironically, many of these artists were either foreign-born or lived extensively as expatriates abroad. Included here are Charles Conder’s atmospheric Departure of the S.S. Orient-Circular Quay, painted in 1888 and purchased by the gallery in the same year; Arthur Streeton’s ‘Fire’s on!’ (Lapstone Tunnel) (1891), probably his most famous narrative landscape; Frederick McCubbin’s On the Wallaby Track (1896), redolent of the plein-air techniques of Belgian painter Bastien-Lepage; and Tom Roberts’s Shearing at Newstead (The Golden Fleece) (1894), establishing the iconography of the Australian shearer.
Dominating the room’s walls, however, are the enormous canvases of Rupert Bunny (1864–1947) and George Lambert (1873–1930), two expatriate Australians who concentrated on figurative painting in the grandest and most elegant European tradition.
The galleries to the rear and at the far side, painted in the original deep red, house a considerable number of late Victorian and Edwardian British painting, including Frederic Leighton’s voluptuous Cymon and Iphigenia (1884) and Ford Madox Brown’s Chaucer at the Court of Edward III. Other works by the Pre-Raphaelite School demonstrate the strong British concentration of the gallery’s early acquisitions.
To the left of the central hall on the main floor are the works of 20C Australian art, intelligently arranged to present an overview of the country’s more recent aesthetic development. Of special interest are the works of the Early Moderns, most particularly the progressive paintings of the women painters Margaret Preston (1875–1963), Thea Proctor (1879–1966) and Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984), who are now seen as the most accomplished modern painters of the 1920s and 1930s.
The contribution of Melbourne artists to Australian modernism is also recognised with works by the social-realists Josl Bergner and Noel Counihan. Works by Sydney artists Russell Drysdale (1912–81) and William Dobell (1899–1970) are especially well-represented, indicative of the Australian directions in portraiture and landscape in the 1930s and 1940s.
No Australian collection would be complete without examples by Sidney Nolan (1917–92), probably the most internationally recognised Australian artist; his Burke (c 1962) and Pretty Polly Mine (1948) are representative of his mythologising of Australian history.
Abstraction enters Australian art in the 1950s and 1960s, in the works of painters such as John Olsen, Peter Upward, and Fred Williams. Williams’ You Yangs landscape (1963) is exemplary of his abstracted approach to the Australian landscape.
Next to these galleries is one of the spaces for travelling and/or project exhibitions, of which the gallery has had many of international stature. The ‘blockbuster’ mentality has invaded the Australian art world as it has in every other country, and great competition arises among the leading galleries for the shows that will bring in the largest crowds. Important regular shows occurring here are Perspecta, held inFebruary to March of odd-numbered years, and the Sydney Biennale, held in July to August of even-numbered years. Both exhibitions focus on Australian and international contemporary art.
Take the escalator to Level 3, which has space for
temporary exhibitions as well as housing the permanent
collections of Asian, Aboriginal and Melanesian art. The
gallery began collecting Aboriginal art in the late 1950s
under the enlightened curatorship of Tony Tuckson, himself
an artist who believed that such works belonged in art
galleries rather than ethnographic collections. Its new
Aboriginal gallery, called Yiribana, brings together these
holdings for the first time; changing exhibitions include
video displays about the artists and Aboriginal culture.
Central to the collection is a set of seventeen grave posts
from Snake Bay, Melville Island, which form a sculptural
grouping that inspired Tuckson’s own work.
Asian art holdings have grown substantially in the last decade, as increased recognition of Australia’s presence in an Asian context leads to greater awareness of these cultures. The holdings are varied and eclectic, although concerted effort is being made to enhance the collections of South East Asian art.
Level 2 includes rooms concentrating on the gallery’s substantial holdings of prints and drawings, as well as contemporary art and a small collection of 20C European works. Descending ever further, Level 1 provides a space for photography exhibitions.
Walk 4 The RocksImmediately below the Harbour Bridge to the west of Circular Quay is the area known as The Rocks, today the most frequented tourist destination in Sydney, and historically the most significant. The name ‘The Rocks’ was applied to the quarter as early as 1803, when newspaper articles complained of its lack of proper streets. Here you will find more than 100 of Sydney’s oldest buildings, all carefully preserved and serving as shops, galleries, and restaurants. As recently as the 1970s plans were afoot to demolish the area to replace it with skyscrapers—confirmation of its lingering reputation as an impossible slum. It was only through the efforts of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority, aided by the ‘Green Bans’ of the Builders Labourers Union led by Jack Mundey, that the area survived, standing as an architectural reminder of Sydney’s historic mixing of the genteel and the disreputable. Today the ‘renovation’ is so complete—even feisty union man Mundey has been thanked by the government!—that The Rocks’ earlier character can only be described, not experienced, as it becomes the city’s leading tourist attraction.
History of The Rocks
Amidst the boulders and cliffs of this sandstone outcropping the first convicts built their huts, and eventually created in the section closest to the harbour one of the Pacific’s toughest seaports, where whalers and sailors filled the narrow alleyways to carry out every form of vice and mayhem. As many as 20 pubs existed here by 1813 (along with the illegal ‘sly-grog’ shops and brothels), with 37 by 1855; two pubs, The Lord Nelson on Argyle Street (1834) and The Hero of Waterloo on Lower Fort Street (1843), survive from the era.
In the 1850s the area also filled with Chinese who had arrived during the gold rush; they established opium parlours, fantan gambling shops, and vegetable hawkers, creating a Chinatown that added to the general cacophony of The Rocks. Chinatown moved to the Haymarket district, near Darling Harbour, in the 1890s.
Long after the penal system ended, this section of The Rocks continued as a filthy, overcrowded slum; sailors’ anecdotes maintained that you could hear the noise from The Rocks a mile out to sea and smell it for two miles. In the 1890s, The Rocks ‘Pushes’ were notorious for their gang-style streetfighting; these are brilliantly described by Henry Lawson in his poem ‘The Captain of the Push’.
‘Then his whistle, loud and piercing, woke the echoes of “The rocks”,
And a dozen ghouls came sloping round the corners of the blocks.’
As late as 1900, a major epidemic of bubonic plague broke out here, leading to the first systematic ‘cleansing’ through demolition. Further destruction occurred in 1927 when the most elegant of the upper streets of The Rocks, Princes Street, disappeared as the Harbour Bridge was built, and again in 1957, to make way for the Cahill Expressway.
While housing such seamy elements of life, The Rocks also became the site of reputable establishments and genteel neighbourhoods: the first hospital and cemetery were here, and it was the home of the earliest wharves and commercial warehouses. The neighbourhood along the ridge at present-day Argyle Place became by the 1850s the location of neat bourgeois houses, with pleasant greens and elegant terraces. This area was known as ‘Bunker’s Hill’, reputedly in honour of American sea captain Eber Bunker, who arrived in Sydney in 1791 with a convict ship and subsequently became one of the first whalers in the colony. Bunker participated in the arrest of Governor Bligh and was given 1500 acres at Liverpool by Governor Macquarie.
Tours of The Rocks and a self-guided tour map are
available from The Rocks
Visitor Centre, no. 106–108 George Street (t 02 9255
On the west side of Circular Quay, just below The Rocks proper, is the Museum of Contemporary Art (t 02 9245 2400, open daily 10.00– 18.00), which opened in 1993 in the former Maritime Services Board Building. The structure itself, built in 1949, appears almost Stalinesque in its solidity and functional severity, but the interiors include elegant marble fittings. The transformation of the rooms has created appropriately expansive spaces for the presentation of contemporary art. Along with travelling exhibitions, the museum also houses the Power Collection, a bequest of John Power, and some of the first modern art collected in Australia. By the time this collection was transferred from its old home at the University of Sydney in 1991, it contained works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Christo and Hockney. Along with displays of the permanent collection, the musem mounts exhibitions of the most contemporary art, including video, holography, and multi-media presentations.
As seems to be required of all Sydney facilities these days, the museum has an excellent restaurant (one of Neil Perry’s creations) and the hippest art-bookshop in town—a welcome change from the duty-free tourist shops littering the rest of The Rocks.
On the George Street side of the museum at no. 119 was the Julian Ashton Art School. Ashton (1851–1942) was a significant figure in Sydney’s art life, gaining fame as one of the ‘Black and White’ illustrators of The Bulletin and in the production of the immense Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1888). His school was one of the most progressive in the city, and many of the early modern artists of Sydney began their careers here.
Now walk north up Lower George Street. The first
street in Sydney, it originated as a track from the Tank
Stream’s spring at present-day Martin Place. Originally
called Spring Street, it was renamed in honour of King
George III by Governor Macquarie in 1810.
Orient Hotel, no. 89 Argyle Street, was built in the 1850s as a sailor hotel, with a rounded corner façade typical of colonial Georgian style. Across the street, at no. 91, is the Rocks Police Station, formerly the Victorian ASN Hotel, a three-storey structure in an elaborate Italianate style noted for its unusual garland decoration below the parapet.
From here look across towards Circular Quay c 200m to see Cadman’s Cottage, 110 George Street off Circular Quay West. Sydney’s oldest extant building, it was built in 1815–16 for John Cadman, pardoned convict and official government coxswain for Governors Macquarie, Brisbane, Darling, Bourke and Gipps; he was Superintendent of Boats 1827–45. Cadman lived in the cottage until 1845; his diminutive size explains the height of the doorway. It was subsequently the headquarters of the Sydney Water Police and, until 1965, part of the Sailors’ Home. It was rebuilt and renovated in 1972 and is now the information centre for the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service (t 02 9247 8861; open Tues–Sun 11.00–16.30).
No. 106–108 George Street, as just mentioned now the
Rocks Visitors Centre, was originally The Sailors Home (the
name still appears in blue letters on the façade facing the
harbour). The home, which dates from the 1860s, provided
room and board for sailors as a more comfortable alternative
to the rowdy inns of The Rocks. One can still look up to
three floors of cubicle-rooms and see the pressed-tin roofs.
A permanent exhibition on the history of The Rocks is on the
second floor. Tours of The Rocks begin here, and self-guided
tour brochures are available.
The Australian Steam Navigation Company Building, 1 Hickson Road, was designed by William Wardell in 1884; it clearly mimics Flemish mercantile buildings. It stands on the site of Robert Campbell’s first home and overlooks his warehouses. It is now occupied by the Ken Done Galleries. Now take Customs Officers’ Stairs down to the warehouses.
Robert Campbell (1769–1846) built a wharf here in 1800–03, becoming the first private import-export merchant in the colony; he is quaintly referred to as the ‘Father of Australian Commerce’, or ‘Merchant Campbell’, renowned for his part in breaking the Rum monopoly. He later settled at Duntroon, today the Australian Military Academy in present-day Canberra, where he died in 1846. The warehouses were expanded in the 1840s and again in the 1890s, when the third floor and slate roofs were added.
Campbell’s Stores occupy 7–27 Circular Quay West/11–31 Hickson Road. Now a row of restaurants with marvellous views of the harbour at Campbell’s Cove, these sandstone warehouses include remnants of the original 1820s Campbell’s Stores.
You might now decide to go back south to Upper George Street, to examine several restored terraces and sandstone hotels, including the interesting houses on Atherden Street, Sydney’s shortest street. For a longer walk, you can continue down Hickson towards Harbour Bridge to Miller’s Point. You will pass the entrance to the new Hyatt Hotel, which faces out onto Campbell’s Cove. The hotel was built in the booming 1980s, in attractive sandstone to blend with the other buildings. Under the bridge is Dawes Point, which has a marvellous view of Luna Park and Lavender Bay on the North Shore.
Walking under the Harbour Bridge, you enter the original wharf district of Miller’s Point. The first wharves have now become restaurants and shops. Further on, the old passenger terminal is now home to the Sydney Dance Company (t 02 9221 4811) and the Sydney Theatre Company (t 02 9250 1777), two of the city’s premier cultural institutions with active and innovative programmes throughout the year.
At Pottinger Road, walk up the steep incline to reach
The Upper Rocks. At the top, turn left on Windmill Street
towards Lower Fort Street. At no. 73 Windmill Street is the
Stephens Building. Built for J.M Stephens, a well-known
musician and publican, at a cost of £4000, it opened in 1900
as Sydney’s first walk-up block of flats. It represents,
along with the other terrace houses on the streets, a
typical housing form of the early 20C.
At the corner of Windmill and Lower Fort Streets is the Hero of Waterloo, (t 02 9252 4553) licensed in 1845. A simple three-storey stone building, the inn must have been one of the toughest of The Rocks’ pubs—its cellar was used to store drunks until press gangs could shanghai them for ship’s crews. It still maintains an air of rowdiness—it has not been entirely gentrified for tourists.
Continue down Lower Fort Street to Holy Trinity Church (The Garrison Church) on the corner of Argyle and Lower Fort Streets. Built in 1840–44 to the design of Henry Ginn, the building was enlarged between 1855 and 1874 by prominent Gothic Revival architect Edmund Blacket. Still known as Garrison Church, it served as the chapel for the British Regiment stationed at Dawes Point Battery until 1880. The east window of the church was donated by Dr James Mitchell, father of David Mitchell of the Mitchell Library. Next to the church is the old church school, dating from the 1850s, and last used as a school in 1942; it is now the parish hall.
William Dawes (c 1758–1836) was the son of an admiralty official at Portsmouth. He joined the Royal Marines in 1779, and distinguished himself as a scientific observer and astronomer. He volunteered to sail with the First Fleet to New South Wales, and was put in charge of astronomical observations. He built the first observatory at this site, which was then known as Point Maskelyne in honour of the Astronomer Royal. He also worked as a surveyor, laying out many of the streets of Sydney and Paramatta. A man of great intellectual energy, Dawes came into conflict with Governor Phillip when he refused to join a party sent to track down an Aborigine who had wounded his convict ‘master’. He returned to England in 1791, and eventually became Governor of Sierra Leone. He spent the last years of his life in Antigua, West Indies.
Across from the church to the west is Argyle Place, a village green surrounded by houses dating as early as 1830. The name Argyle refers to the Scottish birthplace of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, that inveterate bestower of place-names. The houses here are perfect examples of the colonial style of architecture, with stone walls, wooden columns, and iron lace work. At 50 Argyle Place is Undercliff Cottage, built in 1840; it was the home of James Merriam, who was Lord Mayor of Sydney in the mid-1840s.
Continue west up Argyle Street to Kent Street; on the
northwest corner is the Lord Nelson. Built in 1834, it is
the oldest operating hotel in Sydney. Originally a private
home for ex-convict William Wells, it became a licensed pub
in 1842, and now serves its own brand of beer.
Return along Argyle Street, continuing east to the Argyle Cut; above, on the south side, is Observatory Park.
Argyle Cut itself was the work of convicts from Hyde Park Barracks, who, in 1843, began to hack through solid rock using nothing but pick and hammer. Since transportation had ended in 1842, work had to be completed in 1859 under the direction of the Municipal Council using free labourers. The Cut provided quick access from Sydney Cove to Miller’s Point and the wharves of Watson’s Bay. The tons of rock excavated was used to form a sea wall at Semicircular Quay. Old photographs, most notably by Harold Cazneaux, make the Cut appear like a scene from the Old World. In the middle of the Cut, a plaque states simply ‘Charles Moore Mayor 1867–1868’.
At the top of Argyle Stairs entering into The Rocks by
the Cut, you will find the entrance to the Pylon Lookout, at
the top of the southeast pylon of the Harbour Bridge. Climb
the 200 stairs for a spectacular view of the harbour and the
surrounding area. At this point it is also possible to reach
the pedestrian footpath which leads across the bridge to
North Sydney, about a 20 minute walk one way.
After the Cut to the north is Argyle Arts Centre, 18–20 Argyle Street at Playfair Street. Formerly Mary Reibey’s Argyle Bond Stores, this conglomeration of shops represents a variety of architectural periods, most prominently the 1880s, but with some sections dating from as early as 1828. It is now the home of crafts shops aimed at the tourist market.
Mary Reibey (1777–1855) was one of the most remarkable figures in early Australian history; she is currently immortalised on the $20 note. Transported in 1792 for horse theft (she maintained she had only borrowed it), she was only 15 when she arrived in the colony. In 1794 she married Thomas Reibey, a ship’s officer. They settled on a farm on the Hawkesbury River, and began to purchase schooners; by 1803, Thomas owned several vessels and ran a coastal trade. In 1809 he received an appointment as a ship’s pilot and sailed to China and India, where he died of heat stroke in 1811, aged 42. Mary, now with seven children, had already established businesses and acquired properties in The Rocks, among them the Argyle Bond. She continued to act as a merchant and to manage her late husband’s shipping concerns. She increased her land holdings through judicious investments and government grants, and soon established her sons on property in Tasmania, where her grandson Thomas would become Premier. In 1820, she visited England with her daughters, and was greeted as a celebrity; she further solidified her business interests with London firms. She was instrumental in the establishment of banking concerns in the new colony. She worked tirelessly to expand her investments and property, which included a house at Hunter’s Hill and many substantial buildings in the centre of town around Macquarie Place; the Bank of New South Wales was one of her tenants. She was a well-known figure in Sydney, accompanied by her enormous Fijian woman bodyguard, Feefoo.
At 13–15 and 17–31 Playfair Street is Argyle Terrace,
originally a row of workers’ cottages dating from the 1870s;
they now house more shops and cafés. At George Street,
between the Argyle Tavern (built 1830) and the Argyle Cut,
are the Argyle Stairs, leading to Cumberland Street. These
stairs were cut by convicts to a height of 9 metres (30 ft)
to provide access to Bunker’s Hill and Miller’s Point.
At Nurses Walk and Globe Street is the New South Wales State Archives, a good source of information on early settlement and family history.
From York Street, walk through the pedestrian walkways
to Kent Street and the Bradfield Highway. From Argyle Place
in The Rocks use the steps to Watson Road, or climb the
steep Argyle Stairs to Gloucester Street, then take Bridge
Stairs to Observatory Road. The area near Bridge Stairs is
one of the most pleasant and calmest parts of Old Sydney,
evoking some sense of the old neighbourhoods here near the
At the base of the Hill, at 120 Kent Street, is the Richmond Villa, now home of the Australian Society of Genealogists. Originally located in The Domain on Hospital Street, the villa was the home of Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis, who designed it in 1849. An elegant example of ‘Carpenter’s Gothic’, with pointed parapets and bay windows, Richmond Villa remained in a row of villas behind the State Parliament and served a variety of uses until it was moved, stone by stone, to its present site in 1975.
Next to Richmond Villa is Glover’s Cottage, the only remaining house of those built in 1820 on the original land grant by stonemason Thomas Glover.
Observatory Hill stands 44 metres (144 feet) above the
harbour; since settlement, it has been a major landmark, and
was originally the site of the colony’s first windmill
(hence its earlier name of Windmill Hill). In 1804, Governor
King began construction of a citadel to be named Fort
Phillip; it was never completed, but remnants of the
original stone wall surround the Observatory. The hill was
also known as Flagstaff Hill, since Governor Phillip erected
a flagpole here in 1788, and a later Signal Station (1825)
served the same purpose for incoming ships. In 1848,
Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis built a second Signal
Station, which remains as the hill’s oldest building.
The Observatory (t 02 9921 3485, open daily 10.00–17.00, 2-hour evening sessions include a lecture and view through the telescope but must be booked about two weeks in advance) itself was designed by Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson and built between 1857 and 1859. From 1858, a time ball on the weather vane dropped daily at 13.00 to signal that a gun be fired at Fort Denison in the Harbour to indicate the correct time; the practice ceased during the Second World War, but was revived in 1987. The copper-domed observation chambers with telescopes were added in 1877, and served as the official astronomical observatory until the 1980s; it is now a marvellously informative museum, offering many hands-on displays and evening observation times.
Immediately to the south of the observatory is the National
Trust Centre, headquarters of the New South Wales
Branch of the National Trust of Australia (t 02 9258 0123,
open Tues-Fri 11.00-17.00). Part of the present building
includes the remains of the original Military Hospital,
built in 1815 for Governor Macquarie by John Watts; the
hospital was moved to Victoria Barracks in 1848, and the
structure was significantly altered in 1849 by Mortimer
Lewis, who replaced the elegant Doric columns around the
verandahs with the heavier Corinthian columns of the Classic
Revival Style. From 1850 until 1974 the building was the
home of Fort Street School, one of the most prestigious
schools in the colony; when the boys were moved in 1916, it
became Fort Street Girls’ School. The first kindergarten in
New South Wales was opened here in 1856; many of Sydney’s
most prominent citizens were graduates of the school.
Along with the offices of the National Trust, the building’s brick extension now houses the S.H. Ervin Gallery (t 02 9258 0123, open Tues–Sun 11.00–17.00), named for the businessman who donated his collection of Australian paintings and established the gallery; changing exhibitions are usually devoted to retrospective exhibitions of contemporary Australian artists.
A pleasant way to descend from Observatory Hill is down
Watson Road into Lower Fort Street, proceeding north down
the street itself from Argyle Place. The entire length of
the street is known as Regency Row, and contains a variety
of restored houses from all periods of the 19C. This was
considered Sydney’s most fashionable neighbourhood by the
mid-19C, an indication of how closely housed were the most
divergent elements of society, with squalid settlements only
a few blocks below.
At no. 53 Lower Fort Street is the Colonial House Museum, maintained as a typical Victorian terrace house. The Regency townhouses at nos 39–41 are some of the only remaining examples of the elegant work of architect John Verge (1782–1861). Bligh House at no. 43 (closed to the public) was the mansion of Robert Campbell Jr, son of the merchant Robert Campbell, and a leading campaigner for the end of convict transportation. Constructed of local sandstone bricks, the mansion has a verandah supported by Doric columns and beautiful cedar joinery in the interior.
To enter back into The Rocks at George Street, continue down to the end of Lower Fort Street, known as Milton Terrace, site of some of the best examples of High Victorian domestic architecture in Sydney. At the end of Hickson Terrace are the Hickson Steps leading down to Hickson Road and a return to The Rocks under the Harbour Bridge.
From the earliest days of settlement, contemplation of a
bridge from Dawes Point on the South Shore to Milson’s Point
on the North Shore was on the minds of Sydneysiders. The
first serious proposal was made to Governor Macquarie by
Francis Greenway in 1815, although there is no record of its
actual plan. Many proposed schemes followed throughout the
19C, but no practicable solution could be found, because the
depth of the water and the need to maintain access to
upstream wharfage for large ships necessitated a high
bridge. Finally, in 1912, Dr J.J.C. Bradfield (the Bradfield
Highway is named in his honour), Chief Engineer of the
Public Works Department, designed a single-arch steel bridge
which was accepted. The First World War delayed action, but
construction was finally implemented with the selection of
architect Sir Ralph Freeman of Dorman Long & Co.,
England, who received the contract in 1921. Estimated cost
was £4,217,721; the final cost was £6,250,000, paid off in
Work began 28 April 1923, with the excavation of sandstone beds 12m deep, filled with concrete. The bridge took nine years to build, employing some 1400 workers during the worst years of the Depression. Sixteen workers were killed; one wrote on seeing the first die: ‘I remember I was standing there with one hand on the wire rope, and I had to prise my fingers off it with my other hand. I was quite safe where I was. But it was the shock—it was just seeing him go down, I knew he’d be killed.’
Constructed as two halves on both shores, the bridge was finally joined in the middle, as cantilevered arches held in place by cables connected to tunnels in the subterranean granite were stretched over the water.
The height at the top of the arch is 134m (439ft) above water level, at the deck 59m (194ft); the entire span is 503m (1650ft). Clearance for shipping is 53m (172ft). The bridge’s weight is 65,000 tonnes, all pivoted on six small pins and held together by 6 million rivets.
Its construction generated unprecedented excitement, as a symbol of Australia’s modernity and sophistication, and a linking of the north and south. It has served as a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and photographers. Grace Cossington Smith’s painting The Bridge in Curve (1930) in the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a stunning example; she called the Bridge ‘Te Deum in progress’. Max Dupain, David Moore and Harold Cazneaux all made photographic studies during and after construction.
Opening ceremonies were planned for 19 March 1932, and thousands lined the harbour shores to witness the event. As New South Wales Premier Jack Lang began the official opening speech, a Captain Francis de Groot, member of the extreme right-wing New Guard opposed to Lang’s socialist policies, rode up on a horse and cut the ribbon before he was dragged away by the police. The ribbon was restored and Lang officially opened the bridge. The scissors used for the ‘real’ opening are now on display at the State Parliament House on Macquarie Street.
The bridge is part of Australian folklore, known affectionately as The Coathanger. On a sombre note, it has been the site of at least 200 suicides, despite extensive security; 60 jumps occurred in the first seven months, until protective barriers were erected, which, unfortunately, block the harbour view for passing motorists or train passengers. Automobiles crossing the bridge from north to south pay a $2 toll. Walking across the bridge takes about 20 minutes and offers exhilarating views.
For generations, Darling Harbour (first called Cockle Bay, as it still is at its southern end) was the leading cargo facility of the port, the centre of dockside activity. There were berths for 40 deep-sea vessels, with additional wharves for smaller ships. In 1815, the harbour was the site of the assembling of the first steam engine in Australia, brought from England by engineer John Dickson and used to crush grain. Governor Macquarie was so impressed with Dickson’s enterprise that he gave him 16 acres of land around Darling Harbour as far as George Street; Dickson eventually became a prosperous brewer and miller, with substantial land holdings throughout the country. Dickson sold his brewery in the 1840s to the Toohey Brothers, who established the most enduring of Sydney beers, Toohey’s.
The bay acquired the name of Darling Harbour in honour of Governor Darling (1825–31), who, despite the plethora of places named after him, was the most detested of all colonial governors. By the 1890s, the harbour had an enormous iron wharf with six cargo cranes and a goods yard that covered some 56 acres (22 ha).
Such a thriving industrial port brought with it the inevitable problems of pollution and filth: abattoirs were blamed for luring the rats which led to the outbreak of bubonic plague in The Rocks. During the Depression of the 1930s, the wharves were known as The Hungry Mile, as desperate men queued in their thousands for the few jobs available. As maritime industry dwindled in significance, the harbour became more derelict; by the 1970s, the old wooden wharves were filled in with sterile concrete ones to accommodate container shipping.
In 1984, Premier Neville Wran spearheaded a reclamation programme for the harbour, conceived as a Bicentennial gift to the city. The current entertainment extravaganza is the result of this enormous project. The Harbour is now home to the National Maritime Museum, the National Aquarium, the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and a Chinese Garden which links Chinatown to the harbour.
While today the Pyrmont Bridge seems an inconspicuous span across a bit of the Darling Harbour entertainment complex, its initial construction was heralded as a major engineering achievement. Completed by bridge designer Percy Allan and opened in 1902, it is today the world's oldest electrically operated swingspan bridge; the central gates, which open for ships going up to Cockle Bay, are still driven by the original motor. At the time of its construction, as the second Pyrmont Bridge, the harbour was a bustling industrial area, filled with warehouses and shipping terminals; the first bridge had already provided the thoroughfare enabling industrial expansion to the other side of the bay. The bridge is 1200 feet (369m) long, with 14 spans, the middle ones made of steel and the rest of Australian ironbark. Allan's great innovation was the use of electricity for the bridge's opening mechanism—this accomplished at a time before Sydney streets were fully electrified, and made possible by power generated from the Ultimo station, now the site of the Powerhouse Museum.
Cockle Bay Wharf, at the southern end of the harbour, has now been restored and is filled with sparkling restaurants and al fresco cafes, including Ampersand, chef Tony Bilson’s latest extravagana. The building, designed by award-winning architect George Freedman, seats enormous numbers inside and out.
A monorail loop from the city crosses Pyrmont Bridge, stops near the Powerhouse Museum, and ends at the harbour. The monorail system, costing more than $60 million, was vehemently criticised at the time, as evidence of the government’s desire to turn Sydney into ‘Sydneyland’, and it is easy to agree with those critics. The monorail serves little public purpose except to bring tourists to the harbour without the necessity of looking at many of the historic buildings and streets of the city; it does not run from Circular Quay, which would be the most logical starting-point if it were really meant to provide convenient transportation. But children like it, and it does prepare the visitor for the carnival-like atmosphere that permeates Darling Harbour’s activities. Tickets are purchased from machines at the stations, the main one being on Pitt Street. Darling Harbour can also be reached by the ferry leaving from Circular Quay Wharf 5.
This is not to denigrate any of the Darling Harbour venues, which are all well worth a visit; both the Maritime Museum and the National Aquarium receive top honours for presentation and educational effort. The Sydney Aquarium (t 02 8251 7800, open daily 09.30–22.00) allows visitors to walk through an acrylic tube to view the sea life above (no performing seals here). The National Maritime Museum (t 02 9298 3777, open daily 09.30–17.00) houses, along with fascinating displays of historical artefacts, actual ships, from the famed America’s Cup winner Australia II to the sad little Vietnamese refugee boat Tu Do. The museum’s design, by leading contemporary architect Philip Cox, consists of a steel-roofed structure that sets the architectural tone of Darling Harbour.
One of the stops on the monorail is the Powerhouse Museum,
Harris Street, Ultimo (t 02 9217 0111, open daily
10.00–17.00). The largest museum in Australia, the
Powerhouse is one of the best museums of its kind in the
world. Covering more than 35,000 square metres (376,750 sq
ft), the comprehensive nature of its collections is
reminiscent of The Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Situated in a converted power station (hence the name) with
a tasteful addition of barrel-vaulted glass designed by
Lionel Glendenning(the addition is named in honour of former
New South Wales Premier Neville Wran), the museum contains
exhibitions on everything to do with Australian culture, as
well as substantive displays on science and technology, and
decorative arts. The exhibitions are state of the art, using
computers and videos and other ‘hands on’ methods to
enlighten and entertain; locomotives and aeroplanes can
often be climbed on, and scientific apparatus sampled.
Changing exhibitions range widely, from the history of
television commercials to Australian furniture designers. A
favourite permanent display presents the history of the
Australian pub and brewing, with films describing the
infamous days of the ‘pub-push’, or ‘the swill’, when all
drinking establishments were frantically full before they
had to close at 6pm. The restaurant in the museum has murals
designed by Ken Done.
Set aside a good amount of time to take in all the museum’s floors; it is an absolute must for any Sydney visitor, especially those with children.
The lovely Chinese Gardens (open daily 09.30–17.00) sit on the northern side of Pier Street, c 250m from the Powerhouse Museum. Known as the Garden of Friendship, the design was a gift of Sydney’s Chinese sister city, Guangdong, in 1987. The gardens offer a tranquil spot in the middle of the area’s bustle, with a small lake, Chinese pavilion, and tea house. Appropriately, the gardens lead into Sydney’s Chinatown.
While not as colourful as the Melbourne version, this Chinatown is certainly thriving, with restaurants, Asian food markets and shops, as well as legitimate practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. Chinatown is definitely the place to go for authentic and reasonably priced Chinese food. Originally, the centre of Chinatown was the area around Dixon and Hay Streets; it is now expanding into the Haymarket District, west to Harris Street, south to Broadway, and east to Castlereagh Street. Dixon Street is still its main thoroughfare.
The Chinese in Australia
Large numbers of Chinese first came to Australia after the cessation of transportation in the 1840s, when they were imported as cheap labour. The discovery of gold in the early 1850s resulted in a mass exodus to the gold fields in Victoria and New South Wales. In Melbourne, many of the Chinese remained to establish a still-thriving community (see Melbourne). In New South Wales, the situation was a bit different. Lambing Flat near the town of Young was the site in 1860 of one of the worst aggressive actions against Chinese miners, when 3000 whites stormed their camps and demanded that they leave. In all, some 1200 Chinese fled and hid in the countryside, saved from starvation only by the aid of a station-owner, James Robert, who fed them. In the end, the Lambing Flat incident saw the curtailing of Chinese immigration; indeed, the incident is considered the impetus for the infamous White Australia policy.
On the other hand, individual Chinese gained influence and prosperity in colonial Australia. The most noted figure was Quong Tart (1850–1903), a Cantonese who came to New South Wales in 1859. He managed to acquire an interest in a gold mine in Braidwood, and eventually became a wealthy man. He acted as an interpreter and mediator among the white and Chinese communities. Quong Tart was quite fond of Scottish culture, learning to recite in correct accent the poems of Robert Burns. He acted as the first Chinese member of the Oddfellows’ Lodge in Australia. In 1874, he moved to Sydney and became a tea and silk merchant with headquarters eventually in the Queen Victoria Building. He married a Scottish woman, and became the unofficial Chinese Consul-General of the colony. In 1902, he was attacked by a robber in his shop. The citizens of Sydney gave him a testimonial at the Town Hall and presented him with a cheque for 300 guineas. He did not fully recover from his injuries and died in 1903, at which time some 1500 people attended his funeral.
From Chinatown, to the south of Hay Street, is the area known as the Haymarket, for it was traditionally the home of the grain and hay trade and businesses. Into the early 1900s, the area was the main working-class shopping district; Ruth Park describes a Saturday night here at Paddy’s Market in her book, The Harp in the South (1948). Paddy’s Market, which opened as early as 1869, lives on today, a bit smarter, but still a good place for bargain-hunting, good produce, and some atmosphere. The markets are open on weekends, and are now located on the corner of Thamos and Hay Streets.
At 13 Campbell Street is Capitol Theatre (t 02 9320 5000), in the 1920s a grand movie house. The theatre has recently been reopened as a venue for musical theatre.
Sydney Fish Market
About 15 minutes’ walk from Darling Harbour to Blackwattle Bay one finds the Sydney Fish Markets; access to the markets by water taxi is a more exciting way to get there. The markets provide a fascinating, very Sydney, experience, and also some of the best seafood restaurants in the city (of the buy-and-cook-on-the-spot sort).
When Harry Seidler (b. 1923) arrived in Sydney in 1947, via his native Vienna and after training with Walter Gropius in the US, ‘International Style’ architecture had made no appearance on the Australian landscape. His first construction here, a house for his mother completed in 1951, caused immediate controversy as being ‘too European’; it is still referred to as ‘the white box’ by many who object to its incongruous placement in the Australian bush. Uncompromisingly Bauhausian with glass walls, flat roof, open planning and minimal colouring, the Rose Seidler House, 71 Clissold Road in Wahroonga at the edge of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, is now a property of the Historic Houses Trust and is open to the public (t. 02 9989 8020; Sundays 10.00–17.00). Seidler remains an important figure in Sydney, still fighting the modernist fight against the onslaught of post-modernism and any architectural ornamentation.
Continue south on Pitt Street, c 300m to Martin Place. Jan Morris describes the square as ‘Sydney’s substitute for a truly ceremonial centre’, and it still serves this purpose in a town not overburdened with public plazas. While it now includes a public fountain, train station, and theatre ticket booth, it is also surrounded by substantial commercial buildings dating primarily from the beginning of the century.
Of most significance architecturally is the General Post Office. As in all Australian cities, and particularly in the major city of the country, the post office was constructed as a monumental landmark, symbolising civilisation and commerce. This fact is certainly evident in the history of the Australian postal service, The City’s Centre-piece: The History of the Sydney GPO, available at the post office shops. Built between 1865 and 1874 by James Barnet, it still exudes an elegant charm, enhanced by colonnades and beautiful brass letter-boxes.
When Australia Post became a private enterprise in 1989, it acquired this landmark. Lamentably, not only has there been no effort to renovate its impressive public spaces, but the exterior has been boarded with unattractive temporary materials for several years, presenting an uninviting and confusing façade. Recently, some construction activity is afoot, which may restore the building to its former glory. In the clock tower is, according to rumour, the last surviving chalked ‘Eternity’ of Sydney legend Arthur Stace.
Martin Place is also the site of the Cenotaph. Designed by sculptor Bertram MacKennal (1863–1931), a ceremonial guard and band pay honour to Australia’s war dead every Thursday at 12.30. On Anzac Day (25 April), a dawn vigil begins memorial services here.
From Martin Place cross George Street to Barrack Street, now a pedestrian mall, and on to York Street; looking south up York Street, you will see the 1930s Grace Building on the corner of King Street. Modelled on the Chicago Tribune Building, it housed the administrative offices of Grace Bros. department store until the Second World War, when it became the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur.
Turning north down York Street, you see the Art Deco
AWA Building (Amalgamated Wireless [Australasia]), built
in 1939. Site of Sydney’s early radio broadcasts, its
radio tower was the highest structure in the city until
the 1960s. This area was the site of the colony’s first
military barracks and ancillary structures; the
present-day Wynyard Park comprised part of the barracks’
parade grounds. In Wynyard Park is a statue to John
Dunmore Lang, first Presbyterian minister in Australia,
who founded the Scots Kirk nearby in 1826. The present
Scots Kirk at Jamison, York and Margaret Street was built
on the site in the 1930s after the original church was
Across York Street at Jamison Street is Church Hill, site of Sydney’s oldest church, St Philip’s; originally it was spelled with two ‘l’s’, in honour of Governor Phillip. The current church dates from the 1840s, when it was designed by Sydney’s greatest ecclesiastic architect, Edmund Blacket. The church bells, which were donated in 1858 and 1888, still ring to announce services on Sunday.
The next block on York Street intersects with Grosvenor Street. Turn into this street to reach another church complex, St Patrick’s, the oldest Catholic church in the city. The 1844 Gothic Revival building was built where early Irish convicts worshipped illegally, having smuggled in a priest.
If you continue south on Pitt Street from Martin Place, the next block at King Street becomes a pedestrian mall. On the west side of the block is the Strand Arcade, 193–95 Pitt Street through to 408–410 George Street. The only remaining arcade of several built in the 1880s and 1890s, it has been faithfully restored to its High Victorian splendour after a fire gutted it in 1976. This arcade connects with the pedestrian mall of George Street.
In the centre of the mall on the east side is the entrance to the Imperial Arcade. From here, you can also enter Centrepoint. Underneath the prominent Sydney Tower, with predictable revolving restaurant on top, Centrepoint consists of four floors of shops and restaurants. Sydney Tower, rising 304.8m (1000ft), was considered an architectural wonder when it was completed in 1981. The observation decks offer spectacular views of the city and surroundings.
Walk through Imperial Arcade and you come to the original branch of the department store David Jones, which straddles Castlereagh, Market and Elizabeth Streets. Considered in Australia and elsewhere as one of the best department stores in the world, ‘DJ’s’ grew out of the business founded in 1828 by David Jones, an emigrant from Wales. The company grew quickly, and passed through several generations of the Jones family. The current Sydney store, with its impressive interiors, elegant lifts, and excellent service, was built in 1927 at a cost of £1 million. The store has played an important role in Sydney cultural life; it was in the David Jones gallery on the top floor that the first exhibitions of modern art were held in the 1920s and 1930s, and they still have occasional exhibitions. The separate men’s store is directly across the street, at Market and Castlereagh Streets. The after-Christmas sales here, beginning on Boxing Day, present a traditional scene of unmitigated mayhem, as shoppers try to find real bargains.
Exit David Jones on Market Street and return west to George Street. Between Pitt and George Streets, at 49 Market Street, is the State Theatre. The theatre was designed by Henry E. White and New Yorker John Eberson in 1929 as a moving picture palace in the grandest, most sumptuous cinematic style. Interiors include crystal chandeliers, marble statues, moulded plasterwork, and a high domed ceiling; the Grand Assembly Room was supposedly modelled on rooms at Versailles, containing sculptured busts, carved furniture and original paintings. The effect today, after an unfortunate alteration in the 1980s, is a bit overwhelming, but well worth the visit as a monument to the old days of cinema. The annual Sydney Film Festival, an exciting occasion, is appropriately held here in mid-June.
Queen Victoria Building
At George Street is the Queen Victoria Building. Built in 1898 by Scottish architect George McRae as a market in a style described as ‘Late Victorian American Romanesque’, it fell into decline after the city markets were moved in 1910. Its spaces were hideously transformed into temporary city offices, and by 1959 it was considered a white elephant threatened with demolition for a car park. Noted modernist Harry Seidler considered it a ‘monstrosity’ that should be destroyed. Only a vigorous campaign by admirers, including Barry Humphries, saved this phantasmagoric piece of Victoriana. It has now been renovated, at a cost of $72 million, to be, as designer Pierre Cardin has said, ‘the most beautiful shopping centre in the world’. It is architecturally delightful, with tile work, filigree, stained glass domes, cantilevered iron staircases, and beautiful woodwork joinery. Its length is 201m (660ft), all covered with an enormous barrel-vaulted glass ceiling, along with 20 smaller metal domes. A hanging clock in the centre hourly displays a series of mechanical scenes of British kings and queens, including the beheading of King Charles I.
The Town Hall
Exit the Queen Victoria at its south end, on Druitt/Park Street, to confront the Town Hall Group, considered the best grouping of Victorian buildings in the city.
Referred to by author Ruth Park as ‘Bondi Renaissance’, the Town Hall itself is a conglomeration of architectural styles, with layers of arches, domes, porticoes, columns and finally, the ubiquitous clock-tower.
On the site of the city’s original burial ground, the land was chosen for the Town Hall in 1868; cemetery remains were then sent to Rookwood Cemetery. Designed mainly by J.H. Wilson and Albert Bond, the main structure is predominantly of load-bearing brick and concrete with sandstone facing; its lengthy construction period accounts for the diversity of styles. It was finally completed in 1889, at a cost of £620,000. The main feature of the building is Centennial Hall, which can seat 2500, and is famous for its organ; its Christmas concerts are a popular Sydney event.
Between the Town Hall and St Andrew’s to the south is Sydney Square, a small paved area which includes a Wall of Water Fountain, completed in 1976.
The architect Ridley Smith also included here a plaque with the single word ‘Eternity’, a memorial to Arthur Stace (1884–1967), a revered Sydney character, who after having a spiritual revelation was saved from ‘demon rum’ and for 40 years wrote in a fine, flowing script the word ‘Eternity’ in chalk on Sydney’s sidewalks every night; at the time of his death, it was estimated he had written the word 500,000 times. Rumour has it that one of his inscriptions still exists, inside the bell of the GPO Clock Tower.
St Andrew’s Cathedral, on the corner of George and Bathurst Streets, is a small Gothic Revival building constructed between 1837 and 1886. The latter work was done by Edmund Blacket; the ashes of Blacket and his wife are buried under the floor of the southwest corner. The original entrance at the west was altered, so that the present entrance is where the altar was meant to be. The interior contains 26 windows created in 1860 by a Birmingham company at a cost of £5000.
Central Station area
South of the Town Hall group and St Andrew’s Cathedral, George Street passes by Chinatown and the Haymarket on the west side. At Rawson Street, turn left to come to the front entrance of the grand Central Station, the main railway terminal for the city. All local and long-distance trains depart from here. The station itself is a fine old structure, built by W.L. Vernon between 1901 and 1906, redolent of the glory days of steam trains and rail travel. The main floor of the terminal demonstrates one of the first uses of reinforced concrete in Australia. You can also still see the Mortuary Terminal, the departure terminal of the old ‘funeral train’ that used to take the dead and the grieving out to Rookwood Cemetery (the terminal that originally stood at the other end has been rebuilt as a church in Canberra). It was built in 1869 to designs by James Barnet, of sandstone in Gothic Revival style. Intriguingly, one of Sydney’s original burial grounds had to be moved to build the Central Station.
Back on George Street, at the point near the Central Station, where George and Pitt Streets intersect, is a much-neglected architectural gem, Edmund Blacket’s Christ Church St Laurance. The design of the church and its ancillary buildings is attributed to Henry Robertson, but was constructed 1843–45 under the supervision of Blacket. The interior of the sandstone Gothic Revival church, on George Street, has cedar joinery, hand-carved ‘poppyhead’ pews, and a ceiling supported on octagonal timber beams. Blacket’s rectory and school were demolished when the railway terminal was built; the current buildings, designed by J. Burcham Clamp, were erected in 1905.
To the south of Hyde Park and east of Central Station is the traditionally working-class suburb of Surry Hills. The best way to get there is to take a train to Central Station, then walk into the neighbourhood; bus nos 302, 303 and 304 also travel from Elizabeth Street down Bourke Street through Surry Hills, and bus nos 372, 393 and 395 traverse Elizabeth Street to Cleveland Street at the edge of the suburb. This area was the location for Ruth Park's vivid depictions of desperate slum-dwellers in her brilliant novels, Harp in the South (1948) and Poor Man's Orange (1949). While some gentrification is currently taking place, Surry Hills is still pretty grotty in places, but there are good cheap restaurants here, mainly Turkish and Lebanese, around Elizabeth and Cleveland Streets. Once the city's garment district, the area also has some good factory outlets and alternative fashion shops at the Oxford Street end of Crown Street.
Of most interest here are two 'cultural' sites: the excellent Belvoir Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street (t 02 9699 3444), home of Company B, sometimes described as Sydney's hottest and most creative theatre company, with plays regularly featuring the best actors in Australia (Nicole Kidman chooses to appear here when she can, and Geoffrey Rush, Ruth Cracknell, and Hugo Weaving make regular appearances); and the Brett Whiteley Studio, 2 Raper Street (t 02 9225 1881; call for hours of opening), the late artist's studio that is now a public gallery and museum.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is held on the first weekend in March. In 1978, when homosexuality was still illegal in New South Wales, a group of some 1000 gays marched from Oxford Street to King’s Cross in protest against hostile police. This event marked Sydney’s first homosexual Mardi Gras, which is now an enormously successful international event, drawing crowds of more than 500,000 to watch what has become one of the world’s most outlandish parades. The event is now televised and even the police force sends a contingent of officers to join the gay marchers. The post-parade all-night party at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds is by ticket only. They sell out two months in advance. Foreign visitors with passport identification can purchase them from the Mardi Gras offices, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain them.
Back on Oxford Street, proceed southeast to Glenmore
Road, about 500m from Taylor Square. On the right is the
entrance to Victoria Barracks (t 02 9339 3170, open Thurs
10.00–13.30 with guided tours featuring the Australian Army
Band, Sydney), once the centre of Paddington and home to the
British garrison regiments in Sydney from 1848 until 1870.
Designed by Lt-Col George Barney of the Royal Engineers,
this enormous building was constructed between 1841 and 1848
by convicts and free stonemasons. At 220m (740ft), the main
building is one of the longest buildings in Australia and is
considered to be one of the finest British imperial barracks
in the world.
When it was built, Paddington was a backwater, described as ‘the saddest heath, the most melancholy swamps’, surrounded by desolate sand dunes. Soldiers’ pay was so poor that for many years, soldiers’ wives sold cabbage tree hats made of cabbage tree fronds outside the gates. Guided tours are available regularly, including the Changing of the Guard ceremony (the barracks is now the permanent headquarters of the Eastern Command); a view of a museum examining Australia’s military history; and a visit to Busby’s Bore, the famous water-tunnel that brought water from present-day Centennial Park to Hyde Park.
Immediately south of Victoria Barracks at Moore Park Road is the Royal Agricultural Society Show Grounds. Home of the annual Royal Easter Show for more than 100 years, the grounds are also home to the Sydney Football Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground, both hallowed shrines to Sydneysiders’ obsession with sports. The notorious entrepreneur and ex-Australian Rupert Murdoch has turned the grounds into a movie production lot, making Sydney a down-under Hollywood (George Lucas is filming his Star Wars sequels here). The Royal Easter Show, after 120 years on the site, was moved to the new Homebush Stadium in 1998.
About 1km east at the junction of Moore Park Road and
Oxford Street is the entrance to Centennial Park. Opened in
Australia’s centennial year, 1888, the park comprises some
220 ha and includes 12 lakes. It is Sydney’s only
English-style park, and its popularity with city dwellers is
comparable to Central Park in New York City. In the centre
is Lachlan Swamp, origin of Busby’s Bore, the tunnel which
provided water for the city in the 1820s. The swamp remains
essentially untouched, with prolific birdlife and numerous
native species. At Hamilton Drive, where the road turns into
Grand Drive and overlooking the playing fields, is a
wonderful sculpture honouring Rugby League football; called
‘We Won’, it was designed in 1893 by Tommaso Sani.
Immediately south of Centennial Park on Alison Road is Randwick Racecourse, site since 1833 of some of Australia’s most exciting horse races.
As the Australian Encyclopedia wrote in 1956, horse-racing ‘might almost be called the Australian national sport’. While today’s Australians are less devoted to the sport than past generations, it is still true that any town of any size has a racecourse, and betting on the horses is a major business, aided by an Australian invention, the automatic totalisator. Racing began in the earliest days of the colony, although the first recorded event dates from 1810, when officers held three days of races at Hyde Park. As early as 1802 Robert Campbell brought from Calcutta Arab Hector, who remained the most important sire until 1823. Horse-breeding has been given serious attention since that time, and today’s Australian horses rank among the healthiest and most beautiful in the world.
The Australian Jockey Club was founded in 1842, and the Australian Stud Book appeared in 1878. In the 1880s it was agreed that all racehorses in Australasia would take their ages from 1 August, thus marking the beginning of the racing season. Many trainers and owners will have a Horses’ Birthday Party on that day, when the public can visit the horses in their quarters at the race-tracks. Legendary trainer Gai Waterhouse has her stables at Randwick.
The degree to which horse-racing is part of the Australian psyche is indicated by the significance placed on the annual Melbourne Cup in Melbourne. First held in 1860, the Cup is held on the first Tuesday of November at Flemington Racecourse; the entire country virtually stops for its running, with factories and businesses halting for its three minutes’ run. The event regularly attracts 80,000 viewers to the track, and includes traditional accoutrements, such as elaborate hats and formal dress, roasted chicken, strawberries, and champagne (see Melbourne). In 1998, more than $80 million in bets were placed on that single race.
Glenmore Road developed from the bullock tracks
determined by the carts carrying Robert Cooper’s gin from
Rushcutters Bay to what is now Oxford Street. The consequent
street arrangements were haphazard, leading to the
present-day web of narrow alleys and hilly lanes. On these
streets are examples of a variety of architectural styles,
from the blue-brick 1920s flats near Ormond Street, to the
Victorian villas at Cooper Street a few blocks west on
Glenmore and down a short Paddington laneway.
At Cooper Street walk west past the Scottish Hospital, original site of The Terraces, one of Paddington’s finest mansions. Parts of the original buildings have been incorporated into the hospital, and special care was taken to preserve a remnant of The Terrace’s magnificent gardens. At the entrance, at Cooper and Brown Streets, you can still see a near rainforest landscape amidst the urban surroundings.
Turn left (south) on Brown Street to MacDonald Street, noting on the left four Edwardian terrace houses, some of the last of their type built in Paddington about 1910. At Macdonald continue west c 200m to Cutler Footway, and walk down towards Campbell Avenue, getting a remarkable ‘backyard’ view of terrace house chimneys, parapets, and rooftops.
On the corner of Campbell and Hopewell Streets note a Paddington corner shop, exemplary of the establishments that were so essential in Paddington’s early ‘commuter suburb’ days. The second-storey balcony would have originally been part of the shopkeeper’s living quarters.
Continue to Glenmore Road, turn right (south) to Gipps Street, turn left at the Rose and Crown, a traditional Victorian hotel. At Gipps and Prospect Streets are Paddington’s earliest cottages, sandstone single-storey buildings from the 1840s. These would have been constructed for the stonemasons and carpenters working on the nearby Victoria Barracks.
Meander north again to Glenmore Road, past the Royal
Hospital for Women and continue east to Fiveways,
Paddington’s major intersection. The hospital served as the
main hospital for women for 100 years, until it was closed
in 1997 and moved to the outer suburbs. At Fiveways is the
Royal Hotel, a beautiful corner hotel from the 1880s,
complete with ironwork balconies and decorative moulding. At
this point, you can continue northeast down Gurner Street to
Cascade Street (c 300m), admiring the harbour views and fine
terrace houses. (At the corner of Windsor and Cascade
Streets is ‘Warwick’, a castellated wonder built in 1860 in
what is affectionately referred to as ‘King Arthur’ style.)
Alternatively, continue south on Heeley Street from Glenmore
Road and return to Oxford Street and its many alluring
From Cascade Street (the original stream for Cooper’s distillery was located here), turn right (south) to Paddington Street, then left (east) past Victorian and Edwardian terraces, many of which are now art galleries and boutiques. Some of these terrace houses are as little as 4.5m (15ft) wide. At Elizabeth Street, turn right (south) and return to Oxford Street. Proceed left (southeast) down Oxford Street c 300m to St Matthias Anglican Church, a Gothic Revival church designed in 1859 by Edward Bell that long served as the Victoria Barracks’ garrison church.
Proceed back up Oxford Street (northwest) to Newcombe Street, where the Paddington Markets take place every weekend, with some 250 stalls selling clothing, books, antiques, jewellery and great take-away food. It is one of the oldest Sydney open-air merchandise markets, and quite beloved by locals.
At Queen Street, Paddington merges into the suburb of
Woollahra, a very upscale neighbourhood marking the
beginning of the exclusive eastern suburbs. Queen Street
itself is filled with genuine antique shops, exclusive
galleries, and fashionable boutiques.
From Queen Street, you can connect with Edgecliff Road, which leads into Old South Head Road, the route across the eastern suburbs to Vaucluse and Watsons Bay. Alternatively take Old South Head Road along the Royal Sydney Golf Course to Newcastle Street, and connect with New South Head Road to travel to Watsons Bay on the ‘bays side’ of the harbour.
From the city, the main bus route from Circular Quay along New South Road to Watsons Bay is no. 324, with connections to no. 325; a ferry also leaves Wharf 4 that stops at Darling Point, Double Bay, Rose Bay and Watsons Bay.
At the top of William Street, where Darlinghurst Road, Victoria Street and Bayswater Road intersect, is Kings Cross. Named Queen’s Cross in 1897 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, it was renamed when Edward VII took the throne in 1904. Touted rather proudly as Sydney’s red-light district, it will appear rather tame to most seasoned travellers.
‘The Cross’ has been the centre of bohemian Sydney since
the beginning of the century, and it was the home of many
authors, actors and writers, including the poet Dame Mary
Gilmore, now on the $10 note, and Kenneth Slessor, who in
1965 wrote Life at the Cross. London-based film producer
Robin Dalton, née Eakin, has written a delightful account of
growing up in the genteel era of ‘the Cross’ surrounded by
eccentric Jewish relatives in Aunts Up the Cross (1965,
Dulcie Deamer, ‘Queen of Bohemia’ in the 1920s, wrote of its ‘impulse towards Lawsonian mateyness [referring to poet Henry Lawson’s famous larrikinism], but rather more sophisticated’. By 1946, the writer George Johnson, who lived here with his wife, author Charmian Clift, described it as ‘a coarse, tougher city, poised on the edge of violence. A cocky, callous place’.
It gained its sleaziest reputation after the invasion by American troops on leave during the Second World War and especially those on ‘R and R’ (rest and recreation) during the Vietnam War. At night the area does fill with street life, taking in strip shows, nightclubs, and many fine restaurants, and drug dealers are apparent. In the daytime, however, it appears as a pleasant village, with cheap tourist hotels and backpacker hostels, good coffee shops, and even some interesting architecture on the side streets.
At the end of the Darlinghurst Road strip in Fitzroy
Gardens is El Alamein Fountain. Installed in 1961 as a
memorial to the Australian soldiers who fought in North
Africa during the Second World War, the design of the
fountain has prompted such nicknames as the Dandelion
Fountain or, more rudely, the ‘elephant douche’. The
fountain’s designer was Robert Woodward, who was also
responsible for The Tidal Cascades fountain in front of the
Convention Centre at Darling Harbour.
At Fitzroy Gardens, Darlinghurst Road becomes MacLeay Street, which leads into Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay, an area recently rated in the Sydney Morning Herald as containing one of the most pleasing streetscapes in the city, especially the stretch from Macleay Street to St. Neot Avenue. This was originally the land grant of that remarkable scientist and politician Alexander Macleay. Indeed, here are three of the best remaining Georgian Regency houses by John Verge.
John Verge (1782–1861) came from a family of Hampshire stonemasons and worked in London as a builder during the Regency period. In 1828 he left his wife to settle in Australia, bringing along sheep and salt to sell; he was given a large land grant on the Williams River. His agricultural pursuits failed, and he returned to Sydney to set up as an architect. Along with many shops and dwellings in the city, now destroyed, Verge designed mansions for the city’s wealthiest landowners. His graceful renderings of Greek Revival and Regency ideas, and his attention to elegant interior details make his works the most beautiful of Colonial architectural monuments.
At Macleay and
Manning Streets is Verge’s Tusculum, now administered by the
New South Wales Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of
Architects. Built as an investment property for the banker
Alexander Brodie Spark (Verge also designed Spark’s mansion
Tempe), the first tenant was the Bishop of Australia,
William Grant Broughton, who lived here from 1836 to 1851.
Later owners, after Spark’s bankruptcy, included Sir William
Manning, Lord Mayor of Sydney. The building is of stuccoed
brick and includes a colonnaded two-storey verandah on three
sides, added in 1870. Fittings include cedar from Lebanon
and marble from Tusculum in Italy. Its history is a typical
one: a private residence until 1927, it then went through
several institutional hands, falling eventually into total
dereliction until it was taken over by the state government
Further down Macleay Street at Rockwall Crescent (c 200m) is Rockwall, designed by Verge in 1830 for John Busby, engineer of ‘Busby’s Bore’, Sydney’s source of water. Over the years, quite glaring alterations were made, and it was in great disrepair when the site was purchased by an Asian company for a shopping complex. They were required to repair the villa as part of the agreement for purchase.
Elizabeth Bay House
At Onslow Avenue, across Macleay Street, is the most stunning of the area’s 19C mansions, Elizabeth Bay House (t 02 9356 3022, open Fri–Sun 9.00–16.00). Described at the time of its construction as ‘the finest house in the Colony’, Elizabeth Bay House was designed in 1838 by John Verge for Colonial Secretary and renowned scientist Alexander Macleay and his large family. Fortunately for posterity, one of John Macarthur’s granddaughters married a grandson of Macleay; the house thus remained in the family which owned the other great Verge masterpiece, Camden Park.
Now a property of the Historic Houses Trust, the house’s
crowning glory is its stair hall, with a cantilevered
winding staircase and domed oval ceiling. The rooms are
superbly restored with Regency period furniture (1835–50).
Understandably, for one so interested in science and botany,
Macleay’s original property of 23 ha (56 acres) included
magnificent gardens of rare and native plants which
stretched to the harbour’s edge; the grounds were the talk
of colonial society. Unbelievably, the house itself was
subdivided into flats during the 1940s; the artist Donald
Friend lived in what was the morning room, and from here
watched in 1942 the Japanese torpedo bombing of the ferry
Kuttabul. The house fortunately came into the hands of the
Historic Houses Trust in the 1970s, and was opened to the
public in 1977. Along with providing regular tours, the
Historic Houses Trust also mounts occasional exhibitions
here on architectural themes.
The novelist C.J. Koch, who lived in Elizabeth Bay in the 1950s, described its scenery in The Doubleman (1985) as ‘inviting as a dream of pre-war Hollywood, from which it took its style, with its white Spanish villas, gardens on the harbour, and apartment towers’. Koch may have been referring here to apartment buildings such as Del Rio, on Billyard Avenue just across the road from Elizabeth Bay House. Built in the 1910s, the building demonstrates the influence of Spanish Mission style architecture that had by this time filtered over from California.
Returning to Kings Cross Road, continue east c 1.5km, when the road becomes New South Head Road at Darling Point. At this point, take New Beach Road north around Rushcutters Bay Park to the Cruising Yacht Club, where the magnificent sailing boats that participate in the Boxing Day Sydney-to-Hobart Race converge before the start at 13.00. The best view of the start, after a spectator boat on the harbour, are Nielsen Point and Camp Cove on the south shore or more or less anywhere from Clifton Gardens to Middle Head on the north shore. From either of the Heads you can usually watch the maxis' spinnakers unfurl once they clear the harbour.
To the south side of New South Head Road at Glenmore
Road and Alma Street, nominally in Rushcutters Bay Park and
Paddington, is the famous ‘White City’, the city’s beloved
monument to Australia’s golden era of tennis. Founded in the
1920s on the site of an amusement park, the courts now have
grass courts next to Ace Rebound ones. White City’s greatest
moment of glory was the 1954 final of the Davis Cup between
Australia and the United States, when some 25,578 spectators
showed up to cram the stands of the centre court; the US
players Victor Seixas and Anthony Trabert defeated the
Australians Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. The Garden Enclosure,
the second ‘stadium’ court seating 1500, is considered by
many to be the best place to watch tournament play in
Back on New South Head Road heading east, you now enter the Eastern suburbs, or in typical Sydney real-estate talk, ‘the status suburbs’.
At Darling Point, take a detour by turning left (north)
onto Darling Point Road, passing Ashcam Girls School,
traditionally the most exclusive girls’ school in the city.
At the end of the road is McKell Park, a lovely spot
directly on the harbour; a small pier makes it possible to
reach the water and take a swim if feeling daring.
Immediately above the park you can glimpse ‘Lindesay’, I Carthona Avenue, a Gothic Revival mansion built in 1834 and home of many famous figures of the colonial era. The house’s design is attributed to Edward Hallen and James Hume, with sympathetic additions in the 1910s by Robertson and Marks. Owned by the National Trust, the house is currently available only for special events.
One of the most delightful views of this urbane neighbourhood and out to the harbour and beyond can be had by returning on Darling Point Road to Marathon Avenue; walk down the beautiful Marathon Steps all the way to Double Bay itself.
Return to New South Head Road, and drive past Double Bay, Point Piper, and Rose Bay, the most upmarket neighbourhoods for shopping and dining; properties here are among the most valuable in Sydney (and that makes them very valuable indeed), and many elegant historic mansions can be glimpsed on the side streets. Rose Bay was also the site of Sydney’s first airport, and seaplanes still land here regularly.
The Royal Sydney Golf Course is also located on Rose Bay, in what was a scallop-shaped swamp. The club first played at Concord in the western suburbs, then moved to the dunes and scrubland at Bondi in what had been mixed pasturage between Ben Buckler Fort and the Ostridge Farm on South Head. These moves all occurred between founding in 1893 and the building of the current clubhouse just after the turn of the century, giving an indication of the contemporary nature of Sydney’s social establishment.
Continue on New South Head Road, to reach Vaucluse, c 3km. Vaucluse House (t 02 9388 7922; open Fri–Sun 9.30–16.00) is the largest property administered by the Historic Houses Trust.
Vaucluse was first built and named by Sir Henry Brown
Hayes (1762–1832), an eccentric Irish ‘Gentleman Convict’
transported for kidnapping an heiress and subsequently
involved in all kinds of mayhem and political intrigue. He
named it Vaucluse because it reminded him of
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in France. He bought 100 acres on this
site in 1803 for £100, and built a stone cottage. In the
belief that Irish soil would deter snakes, Hayes imported
barrels of it and had a trench dug around the house by
convicts, in which the soil was placed. His original cottage
provided the walls of the living room for present Vaucluse,
so in part this structure is the oldest house in Sydney.
The house was acquired by the notorious John Piper in 1822, he who made and lost a fortune through the Sydney rum trade and other activities. Piper sold it in 1827 to William Charles Wentworth (1790–1872, see box, p 151), a remarkable man and important early figure in Australian history.
The house and grounds are extraordinarily well done,
presented as a ‘living house’ rather than a museum. Some of
the furniture is original, dating from the 1840s, and
donated by the Wentworth family, who remain an eminent
Sydney name. The house is impressive in its rusticated
‘Georgian Romantic’ style. It includes one of the best
verandahs in Australia. Especially fine are the meticulously
restored wallpapers and floor coverings.
Immediately west of Vaucluse House is Nielsen Park, originally part of Wentworth’s estate and now part of the Sydney Harbour National Park (t 02 9977 6522). The park is frequently voted the most popular beach and picnic spot in Sydney. The views are spectacular, the swimming tranquil, and you can picnic in the shade of trees—a rarity at Sydney beaches. In the middle is Greycliffe House, built in the 1840s by Wentworth as a wedding present for his daughter. The house was gutted by fire in the 1890s, and has been completely restored. It now serves as a national park information centre. The Park also has the North Head Quarantine Station, now a hotel, restaurant and free museum documenting the sequestering of residents and particularly immigrants thought to be carrying contagious diseases.
William Charles Wentworth
William Charles Wentworth was the son of D’Arcy Wentworth (1764–1827), Assistant Surgeon with the Second Fleet and Catherine Crawley, a convict on the ship transported for stealing clothes. Wentworth, always filled with bitterness at the scorning of his father by Sydney ‘society’, determined to become a significant and prosperous pillar of society. A solicitor and statesman, he married Sarah Cox, herself the child of two convicts. Despite this ‘mismatch’, they were apparently quite happy and had ten children on whom he doted. Wentworth was with the first group to cross the Blue Mountains in 1813 and was instrumental in the establishment of New South Wales self-government in 1854; he is often referred to as the ‘Father of the Constitution’.
Wentworth lived at Vaucluse from 1827 to 1853, and in brief periods thereafter. Upon his death in 1872, the house was inherited by his wife and children, but had several other tenants. The house fell into disrepair until it was taken over by the New South Wales government in 1910.
Drive or take bus no 324 or 325 from Circular Quay, no. 387 from Bondi Junction to Watsons Bay. The bay is named after Robert Watson, who came as quartermaster of the Sirius with the First Fleet, and was harbour master in 1811. Along the way, on Old South Head Road, is St Peter’s Church of England, designed by Edmund Blacket, completed in 1864. The church houses an organ, which, according to a plaque on the church, purportedly belonged to Napoleon, and was built by Robert and William Grey in London 1796.
Watsons Bay has always been a fishing harbour, as well as a base for pilot boats, which it still is. It is also the home of the original Doyle’s Restaurant, a seafood restaurant, established over 100 years ago and situated directly on the water with a stunning view of the harbour and city skyline. The walk around the town gives evidence of its earlier origins in the many small cottages which are now, of course, entirely gentrified and outrageously valuable on the real estate market.
Walk along the beach to reach the small stretch of sand called Camp Cove. This was where Captain Phillip first stopped with the First Fleet on 21 January 1788 before landing at Sydney Cove; a marker commemorates the fact. However, because the land was swampy, they went on to Port Jackson.
A walk along the cliffs, part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, leads past Lady Bay with Lady Jane Beach below, one of two or three official nude beaches (today largely gay), and on to the South Head and Hornby Lighthouse.
The lighthouse was completed in 1858 after the tragic wreck of the Dunbar (see below). The lighthouse is named after Sir Phipps Hornby, Commander in Chief of the British Pacific Fleet at that time. Evident around the point, along with stupendous views of the harbour entrance (it is a great place for watching sailboat racing), are several old fortifications spanning the 1870s to the Second World War.
Further along from the lighthouse is the Gap Park, where 50m cliffs have made it the traditional site for suicide jumps. Nearby is a monument to the wreck of the Dunbar, an immigrant ship which crashed onto the rocks here on 20 August 1857, with all but one of the 122 passengers lost; a remarkable photo of this survivor by Sydney’s greatest daguerreotypist, T.S. Glaister, still exists in the Mitchell Library collection.
Along the descending path in the Gap Park you find the anchor of the Dunbar, set in concrete as a monument. At the southern end of the park is a dangerous break in the cliffs called Jacob's Ladder, whence the Dunbar survivor was hauled to safety. From here you can keep walking along the cliffs c 300m to the Signal Station, built in 1848, on the site, Dunbar Head, where a flagstaff had been manned since 1790. Whenever a ship was sighted, a flag was raised to warn the colony. Another 300m south along the cliffs brings you to Macquarie Lighthouse, an 1883 replica (by James Barnet) of the colony's first lighthouse, built in 1818 by Francis Greenway. Legend has it that Governor Macquarie was so pleased with Greenway's 'noble magnificent edifice' that upon seeing it for the first time, he granted Greenway his pardon on the spot. Robert Watson, for whom Watsons Bay is named, was the first lightkeeper. From the Lighthouse Reserve, it is possible to catch bus no. 324 back into central Sydney.
Bondi to Bronte
While no train currently reaches Bondi, plans are afoot to extend the links to the beach, but are vigorously opposed by some locals; the well-known bus lines from the city are nos 380, 382, 389, and 321.
A right turn (south) on Ocean Street to Oxford/Einfeld Drive, which becomes Bondi Road, leads to Sydney’s most famous beach, Bondi (pronounced BOND-eye; purported to mean in Aboriginal ‘water breaking over the rocks’). From the central business district (CBD), a most popular drive is the ‘Bays to Bondi’, taking New South Head Road through Double Bay, Rose Bay, and Watsons Bay, then back turning on Old South Head Road to Military Road, through Dover Heights and into Bondi.
Sydney is justly known for its many accessible beaches. Despite the fact that Bondi is no longer the cleanest or most inviting among the many along the shoreline, it is still worth a visit if only to see its new North Bondi Surf Live Saving Club. The Monthly published David Neustein's story of its wonderful design by Durbach Block and Jaggers (January 2014). At the opposite end of the beach is the Bondi Icebergs' club serving a group of older stalwarts who swim daily, event in winter. A third club, the Bondi Surf Livesavers Club sits between the two. Founded in 1907, it is the oldest lifesaver's organization in the world. Also of interest are the Esplanade and Bondi Pavilion, where jazz concerts and exhibitions entertain the throngs of sunbathers. The cafes and bars on the streets near the beach have now become a real haven for the trendy and cosmopolitan, especially for breakfasts and brunches. During Christmas/New Year’s holidays, the beach and surrounding pubs swarm with foreign tourists, celebrating the warmth of the season. Recent outbreaks of violence and pandemonium have made the New Year’s event less enjoyable of late, with police crackdowns on rowdiness and drunken behaviour. Visitors are advised to investigate the current situation and alcohol regulations before venturing forth.
Bondi is in the municipality of Waverley, which itself contains several locations of historical interest. The name itself comes from the area’s first (now demolished) estate, so named by the original landowner Barnett Levey. Levey was the colony’s first theatrical entrepreneur, operating the Theatre Royal in the 1830s; he named his estate in honour of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.
Directly south of Bondi Beach is Tamarama, site of a turn-of-the-century amusement park mentioned in Ethel Turner’s famous Seven Little Australians (1894). It is now a patrolled beach, with good surf. Continuing around Tamarama Bay, you come to Bronte Park, site (at 470 Bronte Road) of Bronte House, one of the colony’s oldest surviving homes. Begun in 1836–38 by Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis as his home, it was soon sold to famous barrister Robert Lowe, who named it Bronte in honour of Admiral Nelson’s title (he was named the Duke of Bronte by the king of Naples). The house was originally so isolated it required shuttered windows for protection from bushrangers. Recently the house has been completely restored and is occasionally opened for public viewing by heritage activist and cultural guru Leo Scofield (he has a regular column on things cultural in the Sydney Morning Herald, and has run both the Sydney and Melbourne Festivals).
If you continue south on Bronte Road, Waverley Cemetery
appears on a bluff looking out to the sea. Described in 1973
by Ruth Park as ‘ugly as sin’, the cemetery has been
restored somewhat, and contains the graves of many important
figures in the country’s history, including the poets Henry
Lawson and Henry Kendall; Dorothy Mackellar, author of the
poem ‘My Country’ (‘I love a sunburnt country...’); and a
monument to US Civil War Veterans. Also buried here are
Fannie Durack, first woman Olympic champion in swimming in
1912, and the first to swim the Australian crawl; and
Lawrence Hargraves, pioneering aviator.
An old saying (coined in 1940 by the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Co. to foster tourism) claims that Manly is ‘seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care’. This beach suburb, located on the inner harbour side of the North Head, is most easily (and happily) reached by ferry, from Wharf 3 (Jet Cat from Wharf 2), Travelling by car involves a tortuous drive through North Sydney and over the Spit Bridge (often closed to traffic as it opens to allow boats through). Manly has a great Visitor’s Centre on North Steyne, providing information on North Shore walks and tours (t 02 9977 0078).
The most famous Sydney beach after Bondi, Manly was named by Governor Phillip, in honour of the local Aborigines: ‘their confidence and manly behaviour,’ he wrote, ‘made me give the name of Manly Cove to the place’. It is a sad irony that one of these same Aborigines, Wil-ee-ma-rin, speared Governor Phillip after a misunderstanding, an event graphically described in Watkin Tench’s account of the early colony.
Despite its famed long beach, it may disappoint, as it is a bit polluted and the famous line of Norfolk Pines along the beach wall is dying. But the ferry trip from Circular Quay across the harbour to Manly is certainly worth the trip; unless you are in a great hurry, take the old-fashioned ferry rather than the JetCat. The ferry lands in the same place where it has been landing since 1855.
Manly became famous because of its Victorian gentility, and one can almost imagine the old bathing houses. In 1852, English entrepreneur Henry Gilbert Smith envisioned here a resort such as that in Brighton; the location quickly became the elegant, if chaste, place to holiday. Indeed, it was here in 1902 that newspaper editor William Gocher challenged the laws that until that time forbade daylight swimming in New South Wales; he won, and Sydneysiders have been swimming ever since.
Along the Corso at Manly, where the ferry and Jet Cat
dock, is a small aquarium, quite fun for children, as well
as the Datillo Rubbo Art Gallery and Museum (it is usually
called simply Manly Art Gallery and Museum).
Rubbo (1871–1955) was an Italian artist who arrived in Sydney in 1897; he was an influential teacher of new art methods for decades, introducing Australian artists to Post-Impressionism. The museum contains works by him and some of his students, as well as small exhibitions on cultural history, such as the development of the bathing costume and other events in Manly’s history.
Take the ferry from Bay 5 (Circular Quay) to Balmain; this is by far the most appropriate way to visit this harbourside suburb, which is about 2km west of the centre of the city. Comprehensive walking tours are available through the Balmain Association at the Watch House, 179 Darling Street (t 02 9818 4954; open Sat 11.30-15.00), and in such publications as Joan Lawrence’s Exploring the Suburbs series.
No Sydney suburb has experienced as profound a
demographic transformation in the last few decades as
Balmain. The suburb derives its name from William Balmain,
surgeon of the First Fleet who was granted the land in 1800.
Long the centre of marine industry, Balmain was
traditionally the home of sea-captains, as well as a
distinctively ‘larrikin’ working class. Now its crooked
streets and cramped little houses, as well as its
ostentatious homes, have become gentrified, many of them
owned by well-known artists and writers. For many years,
Peter Carey, author of Oscar and Lucinda (much of which is
set in Balmain), lived here, as did the playwright David
The most poignant indication of this gentrified change is that in 1994, the Balmain Rugby League team, once the pride of the suburb’s dockies and wharfies, moved to Parramatta (it has since returned to its old home at Leichardt Oval). Balmain High School, which had historically produced several of the game’s scrappiest and most revered players, could no longer man a team.
Neville Wran, Premier in the 1980s and the quintessential Balmain Boy, made a famous remark in a case concerning the Rugby League chairman, Kevin Humphreys: ‘Balmain boys don’t cry. We’re too vulgar and too common for that and probably vote Labor anyway.’ The New South Wales Labor Electoral League, forerunner of today’s Australian Labor Party, was founded here in 1891. Sydney policemen, who traditionally came from Balmain, were purported to say ‘there are only two kinds of people—those born in Balmain and those who wish they were’. The loyalty of Balmain locals is evident in the naming of the suburb’s swimming pool near Elkington Park after Balmain girl and swimming great Dawn Fraser, whose larrikin behaviour endeared her to the hearts of her hometown fans.
With its long history of mercantile development,
shipbuilding, and cheek-by-jowl living, the area has
numerous sites of architectural and cultural interest, the
most remarkable being its amazing variety of domestic
dwellings. The best way to arrive at the suburb is,
predictably, by sea; the ferry to Balmain goes under the
Harbour Bridge, past Ball’s Head and Goat Island; it then
lands at Darling Street Wharf, the base of the main street.
Immediately to the right of the landing is Thornton Park, once owned by the Russell family, foundry owners; the expatriate painter and friend of Van Gogh John Peter Russell (1858–1930) owed his fortune to the family’s business.
At 12 Darling Street is Waterman’s Cottage. Built in 1841 by John Cavill, it was home from 1880 to 1907 of the waterman Henry McKenzie who rowed passengers after ferry hours to Miller’s Point. The entire street, as well as the closest side streets, contain stone cottages and Victorian terrace houses built between the 1840s and 1900.
At Darling and Duke Streets is St Mary’s Anglican Church, the first Anglican church in Balmain. It was also one of Edmund Blacket’s first buildings, begun in 1845; Blacket himself lived in Balmain, at 393 Darling Street, at the end of his life. While the original minister, a Mr Wilkinson, wanted a Norman church, Blacket, predictably, based his design on 13C Gothic.
Turn north (right) at The Avenue and walk down to Mort
Bay. Named for the great wool magnate and Balmain resident,
Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, the bay was the site of some of the
earliest docks, and also the most militant workers’ strikes
of the 19C.
Return to Darling Street, and proceed to Ewenton Street, on the south. At no. 6 is Ewenton house. Begun in 1854 by Robert Blake, it was consequently named Blake Vale. In 1856 the house was bought by Major Ewen Wallace Cameron, a partner of Thomas Sutcliffe Mort. Cameron added an extra storey, a porch, and, in 1872, an additional wing with views of Sydney; at this time, it acquired its name of Ewenton. Despite numerous vicissitudes and threats of demolition, the property survived and was tastefully restored in the 1990s. The many additions to the original structure make it a showcase of various eclectic styles, not always harmoniously coordinated.
Return to Darling Street and proceed to no. 179. This is the Watch House, built in 1854 by Edmund Blacket. The structure served as the suburb’s police headquarters until 1887, after which time it fell into disrepair. It narrowly escaped demolition in the 1950s, but managed to be salvaged by the Balmain Association in 1970, which is now using it as their headquarters. It is rumoured to be haunted.
St Andrew’s Congregational Church at the corner of Darling and Curtis Road, is a Gothic Revival sandstone church built in 1855, reminiscent of an English village church. On Saturdays, the church’s yard is the location of the Balmain Market, considered by many to be the best market in the city, specialising in antiques, arts and crafts and jewellery. Further along Darling Street are the remains of the many famed pubs of the suburb (in the 1880s, there were 41 pubs, or one for every 360 Balmain citizens). Local historian Kath Hamey organises ‘pub crawl’ tours, as well as more historic walks around Balmain; t 02 9818 4954.
Take the ferry from Bay 5 Circular Quay to Hunter’s Hill. Hunter’s Hill Peninsula lies across the harbour to the northwest of Balmain. The Aborigines called it ‘Moocooboola’, or ‘meeting of the waters’ (note: many translations of Aboriginal names may be viewed with some scepticism, since many of the true meanings have been lost; the majority of them seem to be translated as having something to do with water, when it is just as likely that they originally meant ‘white man, go away!’).
First settled in the 1830s, the peninsula is one of the
few on the harbour that runs west to east. Mary
Reibey settled here near the present-day Fig Tree
Bridge, living in a house with sheet-iron shutters to
protect against bushranger attacks. In 1838, the artist and
writer Joseph Fowles, who wrote the invaluable illustrated
history Sydney in 1848, leased this property.
In 1847, this undesirable area was transformed when two wealthy French brothers, Jules and Didier Joubert, purchased land here. Dubbed ‘the first large-scale speculative builders in Sydney’ by writer Ruth Park, the Joubert brothers began in 1848 the first of 200 elegant stone houses, complete with European tiles and fittings and finished by French and Italian masons. By 1860, the Jouberts operated a ferry, and when the municipality was incorporated in 1861, Jules was the first chairman of council; Didier became mayor in 1867.
In recent times, Hunter’s Hill has been the residence of many authors and playwrights. Author Kylie Tennant lived here for twenty years, and her novel Tantavallon (1983) alludes to the peninsula in her descriptions of the fictitious ‘Balm Point’.
The remaining houses and streetscapes offer charming
sights for strollers. Many of the original stone cottages
appear surprisingly French on narrow streets with lovely
gardens. Of special interest are Passy, off Passy Avenue,
built by Joubert in 1854 for the French Consul and later
occupied by Sir George Dibbs, Premier of New South Wales;
the Garibaldi Inn, on Alexandra Street, built in 1861 by the
same Italians who built many of the neighbouring stone
cottages; and Carey Cottage, 18 Ferry Street. On Yerton
Street is the only survivor of four German prefabricated
houses brought from Hamburg in 1854, and assembled by German
workers. Also of note are the 1866 Town Hall at Alexandra
and Ellsmere Street, which houses an historical museum, and
Vienna Cottage, built in 1871 and now a National Trust
property open to the public (open on the second and fourth
Sunday of each month). Detailed brochures for walking tours
are available from the Town Hall museum.
Glebe and the southern suburbs
South of Darling Harbour and west of Central Railway Station at the point where Broadway turns into Parramatta Road is the historic neighbourhood of Glebe. The University of Sydney is immediately south of Glebe on Parramatta Road. Glebe can be reached from central Sydney on bus nos 431 and 433.
The word ‘glebe’ traditionally referred to land given to
the church and its officials. Sydney’s Glebe was the area
allotted by Governor Phillip to the colony’s first chaplain,
Richard Johnson; a piece was also laid out for a
schoolmaster, although none existed at the time of the First
Fleet. By 1828, this land was subdivided into estates by the
Anglican diocese to raise money for the church, and
prosperous merchants began to build substantial residences
on the most elevated sites to avoid the noxious odours of
nearby Blackwattle Bay. Edmund Blacket lived here as early
as the 1850s, when the area was still remote enough to be
the haunt of bushrangers in the thick forests. By the 1890s
the suburb had been further developed to accommodate growing
numbers of immigrants; thus, the plethora of Victorian
row-houses, with minuscule gardens, tile-work, and
The suburb’s ethnic diversity dates from this period, although now gentrification is again transforming this colourful mix. Old Glebe nearly fell entirely to the wrecking ball in the 1960s, when it was planned to extend the expressway through the district. Fortunately, preservation efforts were successful and in 1976, with the support of Premier Neville Wran’s Labor Government, the entire suburb was declared a conservation area by the National Trust and National Estate.
Glebe Point Road is now filled with trendy restaurants,
health food stores, and excellent bookshops catering to the
nearby university crowd. Weekends bring a colourful market
to the yard of the Glebe Point School, Glebe Point Road at
Derby Street, which rivals the more famous one at
One example of the district’s cultural diversity is the presence here, off Victoria Road on Edward Street, of the Sze Yup Temple, a Chinese joss house. Glebe was an early residence of the Chinese vegetable gardeners who arrived in Sydney as early as the 1840s. It is estimated that half of the city’s market gardeners before the 1940s were Chinese, many of whom had been in Australia for generations. The current temple dates only from 1955, but replaced a joss house that had been on the same site since 1893. The temple is still actively attended, and visitors are able to view its incense-filled interior.
At the intersection of Glebe Point Road and Parramatta Road is a monument to Dave Sands, Aboriginal boxer of the 1940s, who was killed in a car crash in 1952.
Along Glebe Point Road and on the side streets, especially Toxteth and Avenue Roads and Allen Street, are lovely examples of Victorian cottages with cast-iron lacework and decorative plaques using native species as motifs.
At the corner of Avenue and Victoria Roads is St Scholastica’s College, the main building of which was Toxteth House, built by John Verge 1829–31 for George Allen, the first Australian-trained solicitor. Toxteth refers to the home in England of the Allens’ benefactor, Sir Robert Wigram. An elegant Regency stone house, a third storey of Italianate style was added in 1877–81 by architect George Mansfield for Allen’s son, George Wigram Allen, also a prominent civic leader. The home was purchased in 1904 by the Roman Catholic Church.
The grounds of the original Toxteth estate, which included a cricket ground and acres of orchards, extended to the area now occupied by the Harold Park Raceway; at Avenue and Arcadia Streets, turn right into Arcadia, then left at Maxwell to see the Raceway. Named after Childe Harold—not Byron’s hero, but a famous American racehorse—it has had a trotting course since 1902 and a greyhound track since 1927.
Walk back to Toxteth Road, turn left, noting the iron work and decorative plaster of the terrace houses; at The Avenue is The Lodge, originally the gatekeeper’s house for the Toxteth Estate. It was built in a Gothic Revival style in 1877 by George Mansfield, who subsequently lived here. Note the asymmetrical house at no. 27 Mansfield, with wooden verandah and stone and iron fence.
From Mansfield Street, walk to Wigram Road, turn left (north) and return to Glebe Point Road; turn right (south) and proceed to Hereford Street. The street is named for the original Hereford House, an elegant early mansion that stood at the corner of Glebe Point Road and Bridge Road; it was demolished in the 1960s. At no. 53 is another Hereford House, built in 1874, and now part of the New South Wales College of Nursing. Glebe’s most famous son, tennis star Lew Hoad, learned to play on the now demolished courts behind this building.
‘Kerribee’, no. 55, built 1889 by James Fitzpatrick, is one of the last of the large houses on impressive grounds built in the Glebe.
Proceed south to Bridge Street, turning east past Glebe Point Road to Bridge Street (c 600m) to reach ‘Lyndhurst’ at 61 Darghan Street. Along with Toxeth, which has been extensively altered, this is the only surviving Regency building in Glebe, built at the centre of Lyndhurst Estate in 1833–36 by John Verge. The owner was John Bowman, John Macarthur’s son-in-law and Principal Surgeon at Sydney Hospital. Overlooking Blackwattle Bay and with lavish fittings, the home’s design greatly resembled Verge’s work at Camden Park for the Macarthur family. By 1842, financial hardship forced the Bowmans to leave Lyndhurst, and it passed through several hands. In the 1850s and 1860s it housed St Mary’s College; run by English Benedictines, the school was renowned for its rigorous classical education. By 1877, the school had lost favour, and the college was closed, the land subdivided and the estate sold. At this time, its verandah and additional wings were demolished. After serving various functions, from a lying-in hospital to a laundry and broom factory, the house was by the 1970s nearly declared uninhabitable. A campaign spearheaded by the National Trust and supported by Premier Wran saved the building, which has now been fully restored to its original form. It serves as the headquarters of the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales (t 02 9692 8366, open Mon–Fri 09.00–17.00; no tours), and includes a resource centre for the conservation of historic houses. In many ways, this house is the most enjoyable reminder of Verge’s great designs.
University of Sydney
At the beginning of Glebe Point Road and across Broadway to the south are the gates to the grounds of the University of Sydney. Founded in 1850 and opened in 1852, it is Australia’s oldest university; today it boasts some 30,000 students. The older buildings of the main quadrangle, designed by Edmund Blacket and completed in 1857, certainly mimic Victorian Gothic ‘Oxbridge’ style, while the additional structures over the years have created a mishmash of institutional architecture. The Chancellor’s Committee souvenir shop under the clock-tower is manned by volunteer guides who can answer questions and provide a free map of the campus (t 02 9351 4002). If you happen to be there on a Sunday afternoon, stay for a free carillon concert at 14.00 and tour the tower afterwards.
Of interest on campus are the Nicholson Museum and the Macleay Museum (t 02 9351 2274). The Nicholson contains archaeological artefacts collected by the university faculty on digs all over the world. These include the Jericho Head, a rare skull from Joshua; Egyptian sculpture; and glass and sculpture from Roman times.
The Macleay is a biological collection displayed in cluttered profusion in a delightful 19C room with cast-iron stairs and arches. The museum includes a stuffed example of a Tasmanian tiger and the best collection of foreign insects in Australia. Its Aboriginal bark paintings are believed to be the oldest known specimens, and its collection of photographs of pioneer Australia numbers 700,000.
In Clive James’s Unreliable Memoirs, he describes his days at Sydney University in the late 1950s: ‘the place where all the half-worlds met was the Royal George Hotel, down in Pyrmont. The Royal George was the headquarters of the Downtown Push, usually known as just the Push. The Push was composed of several different elements. The most prominent component was, or were, the Libertarians—a university free-thought society consisting mainly of people who, like the aesthetes, failed Arts I on a career basis, but in this case as a form of political protest against the state...Here was Bohemia.’ The Push also included Germaine Greer and Margaret Fink.
To the southwest of the campus, on the other side of Missenden Road (the site of The Royal Prince Alfred and King George V Hospitals), is Camperdown and Newtown, two of the oldest inner-city suburbs and still filled with tiny 19C rowhouses now eagerly gobbled up by gentrifying buyers. In the middle of the district, at Church Street, is St Stephen’s Church and cemetery. Designed and built by Blacket in 1871–74, the church is an excellent example of Gothic Revival style, and the cemetery contains the graves of some of Sydney’s earliest settlers.
Immediately south of the church is King Street, a bustling and grimy thoroughfare serving the nearby university community, as well as a decidedly multicultural and gay population. An enormous number of good, inexpensive restaurants of all ethnic stripes line the street, along with great bookstores and secondhand shops. Continuing west, King Street turns into Enmore Road, then into Stanmore Road, and finally Canterbury Road, which leads to the western suburbs and also the M5 Tollway to Canberra. On Enmore Road, just off King Street, is the Enmore Theatre, a good venue for new plays, musicals and alternative comedy shows.
Despite the congestion which often makes for slow going, Enmore to Stanmore Road is a fantastic reminder of Sydney’s ethnic diversity. One sees—along with one of Sydney’s most exclusive schools, Newington College—Portuguese butchers, Lebanese funeral parlours, Korean furniture stores, and even a Greek doctors’ roller-skating rink! You pass through Marrickville, the suburb most affected by the aeroplane noise from Sydney Airport’s new runway. The neighbourhood has coalesced into massive demonstrations to force the government to do something about the situation; at the time of writing, some compensation has been considered, but nothing substantive has yet been accomplished.
To the south of King Street is the suburb of Redfern, locally considered one of Sydney’s roughest neighbourhoods, primarily because the city’s largest population of Aborigines live here in neglected poverty. As a centre for the Aboriginal community, Redfern houses some excellent Aboriginal community centres and performance venues. In the 1960s the dispersed Aboriginal people living in urban centres of New South Wales and Victoria began calling themselves ‘Koori’, a term meaning ‘people’ in a number of related languages in the area. (‘Murri’ is the equivalent word in Queensland, ‘Nunga’ in South Australia and ‘Nyungar’ in Western Australia.) While anyone with an Aboriginal affiliation can identify themselves as a Koori, a degree of political engagement accompanies the term.
Redfern is also the first train stop out of Central Station, and consequently has a large rail interchange. Immediately south of the Redfern station is the Eveleigh Railway Workshops, an enormous 19C complex where trains were built and serviced. Ambitious efforts are now being made by the Australian Technology Park, a consortium of university interests along with the National Trust, to conserve a portion of this extraordinary site as a monument to early technology. The US Smithsonian Institution has declared Eveleigh ‘the most important historic railway workshops remaining in the world’, with its unparalleled collection of 19C equipment and machinery. Sydney photographer David Moore has completed a spectacular photo-essay of the buildings and machinery, instrumental in the drive to preserve this unique piece of Australian history.
Leichhardt and Haberfield
Leichhardt can still be described as an inner-city suburb, although it is off the Parramatta Road that leads to the unending western suburbs. It is the traditional ‘Little Italy’ section of town, where Italian migrants first settled and mingled in the 1950s, bringing cappuccino, focaccia and soccer to the city. Leichhardt also refers to the municipality which administers this district of the city, as anyone who saw the fascinating 1996 documentary film, Rats in the Ranks, will know.
A visit to Leichhardt must involve food: restaurants, bakeries, and classic Italian cafes. the Leichhardt Hotel, on Balmain Road and Short Street, also demonstrates the suburb’s new face as a centre for artists, as well as an active lesbian community. It is from here that the Dykes on Bikes take off for their ride in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras each March. The Leichhardt Festival in May is a real old-fashioned block party, when the length of Norton Street is filled with food stalls and cultural activities.
Some of these suburb communities did not just grow like topsy, but were planned as a whole, and many offer interesting examples of experimentation with planned residential living. Haberfield exemplifies this trend. Described by Jan Morris as ‘the Sydney suburb in excelsis... one of the most truly Sydneyesque places in Sydney’, it was created by developer Richard Stanton and architect J. Spencer-Stanfield in the early 1900s as the ideal urban environment. ‘Slum-less, Lane-less, Pub-less’, every house had a bathroom and every home was owned. It is a town of bungalows, most of them designed on 200 acres, by Spencer-Stanfield, in what is known as the ‘Federation Style’, a reference to their appearance at the time of Australia’s Federation in 1901. Morris’s description of this style is perfect:
It has a touch of Prairieism from the United States, and a hefty dose of Arts and Crafts from England...It is a Queen-Anne-ish Tudory, semi-countrified, sometimes whimsical sort of style, with eaves often, and fancy chimneys, and ornamental ridge cappings, and much woodwork. Stained-glass windows goes well with the Federation style, and tiled floors, and bargeboarding, and a verandah is almost essential.
Still referred to as the Federation Suburb, it is now
largely inhabited by Italian immigrants. Every single house
is different, with lots of stained-glass and tiles of
Australian natives; there are no back alleys, no slums and
still no pubs.
Other good examples of such suburban planning can be seen in Croydon, Burwood, and elsewhere.
The western suburbs
Sydney is, perhaps more than any other city outside Los Angeles, a city of suburbs. These residential neighbourhoods extend for astonishing distances; the area loosely labelled as ‘Sydney’ certainly rivals that of Los Angeles in size, covering some 12,500 sq km, twice the size of Beijing and six times the size of Rome. It continues, chock-a-block, in a seemingly unending and for the most part monotonous expanse of small lots with brick and fibro houses in all directions. (‘Fibro’ is a fibrous-plaster sheeting material much favoured in Australia for quick and inexpensive construction, as was needed in the 1950s housing boom.) ‘The West’ encompasses the entire region from about Strathfield all the way to the Blue Mountains, north to Richmond and Windsor, and south as far as Liverpool and Campbelltown. In truth, this is Sydney, since 80 per cent of the population lives in these municipalities.
While the planning for the 2000 Olympics in Homebush includes massive attempts to improve traffic patterns leading to the Games site, travelling on the Great Western Highway, which is the Old Parramatta Road, still remains nightmarish at times, crowded and unattractive. One constantly thinks there must be a better driving route to take; so far, there isn’t, at least not in this direction. Taking the train is probably the best bet as it provides a service all the way to Penrith and on to the Blue Mountains, is quicker and relatively inexpensive. Check at Central Station or the Circular Quay exchange for schedules and ticket prices.
The Glebe Island Bridge, opened in December 1995 at a cost of $170 million, is set to become a Sydney landmark. It crosses the mostly industrialised areas of old shipping docks and warehouses, to lead to the Western suburbs through Rozelle, Drummoyne, and over the Gladesville Bridge towards Gladesville and Ryde, the real multicultural heart of ‘Westie’ land. A ‘Westie’ is stereotyped as a car-loving larrikin of any of a variety of ethnicities, loyal to the Wests (or Penrith) Rugby League team and prone to playing the ‘pokies’ and drinking beer at the casino-like RSL (Returned Servicemen’s League) Clubs that dot the western landscape. The Rooty Hill RSL (t 02 9625 5500), in one of the area’s least desirable suburbs, is a stunning example of Westie suburban culture: an eight-storey hotel with Las Vegas-style entertainment, near the Eastern Creek Grand Prix Raceway, site of regular motor-racing events, and Australia’s Wonderland amusement park. Take the Rooty Hill Road exit off the M4.
If driving from the city, you can also follow the old route along Parramatta Road. Take George Street to Broadway, which becomes Parramatta Road, now marked as M4, the Great Western Highway.
It was possible to walk from Parramatta to Sydney in eight hours along this 25km length of bad road which opened in about 1790. By 1835 the trip took two hours by coach. In the old days, carriages and wagons were required to stop at Brickfield Hill brickworks for a load of broken bricks to fill in potholes along the route from Sydney westward. The ferry service to Parramatta was a week-long round trip. By the end of the 1790s, Parramatta was the real centre of the settlement, while Sydney itself was simply a port with a few governmental buildings. The next section of the road was from Parramatta to the farming area around Windsor and eventually to Wiseman’s Ferry across the Hawkesbury River. A public ferry still crosses the Hawkesbury at Wiseman’s Ferry (established in the early 1820s) and Peat’s Crossing (established in 1844 as part of the infrequently used Sydney-to-Newcastle road); a small ferry also crosses the Berowra at Berowra Waters. The first train out of Sydney went to Parramatta in 1855.
At Strathfield, you join the Western Motorway (still M4), which is a real freeway. From Strathfield or Burwood Train Stations, you can at the moment take an Explorer Bus (nos 401, 402, 403, or 404) for a tour of the Homebush Olympic site.
As sports commentators and comedians Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson are quick to point out, Homebush was originally the site of an abattoir in an industrial part of town. Much of the Olympic village is being built near Bicentennial Park, initiated in 1988 as a study centre for the area’s ecological environment. The Bell Frog has been identified as indigenous to the area, and will no doubt be highlighted in Olympic coverage.
Still, residential areas here were part of the sprawling western suburbs from the beginning of the 1900s. Writer Thomas Keneally, author of The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1972) and Schindler’s Ark (1982) (source for Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List), grew up here and writes about its Roman Catholic insularity, its great remove from cosmopolitan Sydney, in Homebush Boy: A Memoir (1995).
About 20km west of the centre of Sydney, Parramatta has a population of 140,000. Its tourist information office is on the corner of Church and Market Streets, t 02 8839 3311. The spot where the First Fleet finally found arable soil, Parramatta’s history goes back to the earliest days of white settlement. While many of the most historical structures have been tragically lost to mindless development, recent efforts have led to the permanent preservation of those few remnants of the colonial days.
By far the most enjoyable and convenient way to reach Parramatta is by taking the River Cat ferry from Wharf 5 at Circular Quay, a delightful ride up the ‘other side’ of the Harbour Bridge onto the Parramatta River. The trip takes about an hour to Parramatta Wharf. From here, you can take an Explorer Bus to visit all the historic sites of the town, or can walk into Parramatta’s centre.
You can also take the train from Central Station to Parramatta/Harris Park Station. From the station, walk south on Station Street, turn left (east) on Bridge Street to Wigram Street; turn left (north) and walk (700m) to Una Street. Turn right (east) and walk (500m) to Experiment Farm Cottage.
If driving on the Western Motorway, exit at James Ruse Drive (route 55); drive past the Rose Hill Racecourse, on the site of Rose Hill, where swarms of parrots, subsequently named rosellas, were first seen by colonialists. Turn left at Hassall Street (1.5km), then left on Alfred Street (400m). At Alice Street (300m), turn left to find Elizabeth Farm (t 02 9635 9488, open Fri–Sun 9.30–16.00).
Elizabeth Farm was the original homestead of John and Elizabeth Macarthur, established in 1793, although its main period of habitation was in the 1820s–30s. The original site consisted of 250 acres (100 ha), set on the first arable land discovered by the First Fleeters in 1789. Using all his famous manipulative skill, John Macarthur was able to have as many convicts as he wanted sent up to work the land; Greek pirates even arrived to make the first wine in the colony, and later Germans were employed.
The remarkable Elizabeth Macarthur lived here for 50 years, including the period of her husband’s exile to England and finally during the years of her husband’s madness. Before being sent to his property at Camden Park, he was confined to Elizabeth Farm’s library, alienated from his family and convinced of innumerable conspiracies against him.
Miraculously, six acres of the original homestead have survived intact due to the foresight of the purchasers in 1904, William Swann and his family, who lived in the house until 1968. When originally purchased, Swann paid only the price of the land because the house was deemed uninhabitable; it had at one time been used as a glue factory. Fortunately, the Swanns recognised the structure’s historical importance.
The buildings were also lucky to survive the wreckers’ ball which was so enthusiastically utilised in the 1960s throughout Sydney. When restoration began in the 1970s, the structure itself was remarkably intact, and so provides an excellent example of colonial architectural techniques. Run by the Historic Houses Trust, every attempt has been made at authenticity. The furniture, as an example of the restorers’ craft, was reproduced to include the ‘mistakes’ made making Macarthur’s. One bed, for example, is made with three mattresses: the first of straw, the second of horse-hair, and the top of feathers; as the mercurial John shot 300 wild duck at an outing, they were not without materials. The rooms include kangaroo rugs and lovely oil-cloth floor coverings. Excellent models depict the progressions of the house’s development, showing for example that no verandah existed until 1826.
The volunteers and guides who work here are particularly dedicated; the farm even has school groups come to perform ‘convict’ tasks. A 10-minute video presentation tells the history of the Macarthurs, rightly giving most of the credit for the farm’s success to Elizabeth.
The gardens include some of Macarthur’s original exotic plants, such as olive trees; the banana plants are not original, although bananas were grown from the early days.
The farm is now completely encompassed by the suburban
sprawl of multicultural Sydney; a wonderful example of this
new diversity can be seen immediately across the street on
Alice Street, where there are some extremely garish houses.
At the time of writing, most of this neighbourhood appeared
to be Lebanese, as is evidenced in Our Lady of Lebanon
Church also in Alice Street, the church of the Diocese of St
Maroun, Lebanese Christian Church.
From Alice Street, follow the road down the hill towards Hassell Street and Hambledon Cottage (t 9635 6924; open Thurs–Sun 11.00– 16.00), an easy walk to the flatlands of the Parramatta River. Built in 1824, it was originally occupied by Miss Penelope Lucas, the governess who became Mrs Macarthur’s dearest friend and confidant. Described by Ruth Park as a ‘charmer’, with its lovely courtyard and iron roof, the cottage has been lovingly restored.
Now turn left (west) into Harris Street and left again (south) into Ruse Street, to find at no. 9 Experiment Farm Cottage (t 02 9635 5655, Tues–Fri 10.00–16.00, Sat-Sun 11.00–15.30). This property is under the auspices of the National Trust. The cottage was restored in the 1970s to emulate the period 1798–1840.
Governor Phillip, impressed by the character of convict James Ruse, provided him the land and some basic implements as an experiment to determine how long it would take a hard-working man to become self-supporting. Remarkably, it took him only about two and a half years to become thoroughly independent; in his account of the early settlement, Watkin Tench meticulously describes Ruse’s efforts.
Before moving to a farm in the Hawkesbury river district, Ruse sold the land to surgeon John Harris who in 1798 built the house which is supposed to be the second oldest building in the country. Purchased in 1960 by the Trust for £9000, the restoration focuses not only on the history of the house itself, but on the remarkable story of James Ruse and his agricultural achievements.
City of Parramatta
To explore Parramatta itself will take a whole day. If coming from the centre, take the train from Central Station to Parramatta Station to begin this exploration of the city. A detailed walking guide can be obtained from the Tourist Bureau on the corner of Macquarie Street and Church Street Mall.
From Harris Street at Experimental Farm Cottage (described above) walk north c 100m to Macquarie Street and turn left (west). At Smith Street, turn left (south) c 100m to Lancer Barracks, across from the train station, a Macquarie-era building still used by the army; a military museum is open to the public at odd hours. Back to Macquarie Street, continue west; at Church Street, now a pedestrian mall, note the Town Hall, built in 1883. Across the Church Street Mall at this point stands St John’s Church, site of an Anglican Church since 1803; here the first colonial chaplain, Sam Marsden, preached for 40 years. The current structure theoretically dates from 1855, when the dilapidated old church began to be rebuilt, but it is essentially a hodgepodge of styles and subsequent renovations; the twin steeples are said to have been donated by Mrs Macquarie, modelled on a church in Kent.
Of greatest interest in connection with the church is St John’s Cemetery; from the church itself, walk west on Macquarie Street to O’Connell Street and one block south to Aird Street. Many of the most famous early colonists are buried here: Australia’s first farmer Henry Dodd, who died in 1791; Baron von Alt, Governor Phillip’s surveyor; D’Arcy Wentworth, father of William Charles Wentworth (see Vaucluse, Sydney); Reverend Marsden; and Robert ‘Merchant’ Campbell.
From O’Connell Street walk north to Macquarie Street, turn left to enter Parramatta Park, the original government domain. Old Government House (t 02 9635 8149; open Tues–Sun 10.00–16.30), built in 1799, is the oldest public building in Australia, and always filled with visitors. Operated by the National Trust, the building has been beautifully restored, with guided tours and extensive historical material available on site.
Exit through the Tudor Gatehouse; the present structure replaced the original Macquarie gatehouse, and was erected in 1885 to a design of a local architect, Gordon MacKinnon. Just before leaving the park is the Fitzroy Tree with a memorial obelisk alongside, commemorating the spot where, in 1847, Governor Fitzroy’s wife was killed when her carriage overturned against the oak.
On exiting the park, you will find yourself on George Street; walk east one block to Marsden Street; on the corner is the Medical Museum, in one of the oldest Parramatta houses. It was built in 1821 for emancipated convict John Hodges; a diamond design in the back wall commemorates Hodges’ winnings at euchre (a card game) with an eight of diamonds. Formerly known as Brislington, it was for nearly 100 years the ‘doctor’s house’, owned by the Brown medical family.
Across the street where the Courthouse now stands, was the Woolpack Inn, dating from 1821 (and the location for Hodges’ game of euchre); earlier on this site, First Fleet convict James Larra had a hotel. Larra is often referred to as Australia’s first Jewish landowner. Across George Street is the Woolpack Hotel, built in 1890 when the licence was transferred from the old inn, making the hotel that with the oldest renewed licence in Australia.
Walk north on Marsden Street to Marist Place and St Patrick’s Church and Presbytery, the site of some of the first Catholic services in the colony in 1803; there was an uncompleted church structure here in 1828, a few years before the arrival of the first bishop, Bishop Polding. A second church built in 1834 was declared unsound by 1853, and a larger building, designed by James Houison, was erected in 1854–59, with the spires added in 1878–83. An arsonist’s fire gutted the historic structure in 1996; parishioners and city officials have begun to rebuild it.
Around the corner west on O’Connell Street is Roseneath Cottage, a simple Georgian structure, built in 1837 for Janet Templeton, a Scottish widow who arrived in the colony with eight children and a flock of merino sheep. As evidence of the kind of dwellings that once characterised Parramatta, it is a relief that it has survived the town’s modern transformations.
One has to search hard now to find these reminders of Parramatta’s colonial history. As the shopping centre of the western suburbs, this is perhaps to be expected, but urban sprawl has overwhelmed it almost entirely.
From Parramatta, you might continue on the M4 motorway, zooming past the fibro-and-brick houses of many suburbs en route to Penrith and then the Blue Mountains. Or, at Hawkesbury Road west of Parramatta, you can transfer back to the old Great Western Highway (route 44) to travel more sedately through the suburbs themselves. It is also possible to take the train all the way from Central Station to Penrith (and indeed into the Blue Mountains) with frequent stops.
If driving, when you reach St Mary’s, turn off at Mamre Road to the south to come to ‘Mamre’ homestead (t 02 9670 5321), the original farmhouse of Rev. Samuel Marsden, early Sydney’s ‘flogging preacher’. Despite his fearsome temper, Marsden was apparently an efficient farmer, and developed this area, explored by Watkin Tench in 1789, into good farming and grazing land; Marsden sent the first shipment of Australian wool to England. The homestead is now open to the public, run by the Sisters of Mercy, with a craft shop and tea room and historical displays. The name apparently refers to the biblical ‘Oak of Mamre’ under which Abraham lived. The house is a two-storey Georgian structure with verandahs, constructed of sandstone c 1830.
Off the Great Western Highway c 1.5km from Mamre Road, turn north on Werrington Road; c 3km, near the Werrington train station, is ‘Werrington House’, built in 1829–32 of local stone for the Lethbridge family. The house’s design is based on the family’s Cornish home. The land on which the house was built was originally granted to Mary Putland in the early 1800s; Putland was Governor Bligh’s ‘arrogant’ daughter, who had so vigorously defended him when he was deposed as Governor.
Near the Werrington train station is a campus of the sprawling University of Western Sydney, a product of the amalgamation of several polytechnic colleges. The university, with campuses throughout Western Sydney, is now concentrating on the arts, and is quickly growing into one of the state’s most innovative educational institutions.
Another 5km west is Penrith (population 150,000), founded in 1789 when Watkin Tench and his party explored the region and discovered the Nepean River, which was named after the Secretary of the Admiralty. A flat, broad river that tumbles into the spectacular Nepean Gorge some 20km upstream, the river is actually a tributary of the Hawkesbury River. The Nepean Belle, a paddlesteamer boat, takes tourists on trips from Penrith up to the gorge. The river at Penrith is also to be the site of the rowing competitions during the Olympic Games. The rowing sprint course begins at Victoria Bridge, originally built in the 1860s to bring the railway to the Blue Mountains. Today, Penrith is quite suburbanised, with the Penrith Panthers League Club on Mulgoa Road a glitzy centre of entertainment. Still, historic bits remain and Penrith’s agrarian roots are evident in the landscape around it, with the sense that the Blue Mountains are very near. The tourist information office is in the car park of the Penrith Panthers Club on Mulgoa Road, t 02 4732 7671.
Local heritage is well-presented at the Arms of Australia Inn History Museum, on the corner of Gardenia Avenue and the Great Western Highway in Emu Plains (across the Victoria Bridge; t 02 4735 4394; Mon, Wed, thurs 9.00-14.00, Sun 13.00-16.00); the museum is open to the public on weekends, and the Archives Room, run by the Nepean District Historical Society, is available through appointment for students and interested citizens. The inn itself was built in 1840 by John Mortimer.
North Sydney and the north shore
Crossing the Harbour Bridge by foot or train, or taking one of several ferries, brings you to Sydney’s North Shore. A harbour tunnel now also travels under the harbour itself. The city of North Sydney has become a high-rise commercial enclave of its own, and the suburbs on this side have a distinct character. Many Sydneysiders would maintain that ‘North Shore’ types are a breed apart, entirely removed from the more down-to-earth concerns of those on the south side. The suburbs closest to the harbour are indeed some of the most exclusive in the city, and the views across to the Opera and Circular Quay are stunning. The North Shore is also the site of several inner harbour beaches, including the quite popular Little Sirius Cove in Mosman.
North Shore’s earliest development was as a residential
settlement. A township site was laid out in 1838, to be
known as St Leonards, but it never materialised as planned,
although St Leonards is today one of the many suburbs along
the Pacific Highway north.
One of the first permanent settlers on the shoreline was the artist Conrad Martens, who in 1844 lived in what is present-day St Leonards. Here he produced an abundant number of watercolours depicting the harbour and the town itself. Other pioneers, especially loggers, had already penetrated the woodlands beyond the bay’s shore, and whalers established an industry in the area of present-day Mosman. By the 1850s, vast tracts of land were in the hands of a few landholders whose names have now been given to the suburbs created out of their original estates. The first white settler was William Henry, who received a land grant here of 1000 acres (400 ha) from Governor Bligh, to whom he remained loyal, even after the governor’s ousting in 1808.
The first train stop, and the endpoint after walking across the bridge, is Milson’s Point. James Milson was one of the area’s first free settlers, who ran a dairy here and was one of the founding members of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.
At this point, you can either walk east into the commercial centre of North Sydney itself, or west into the pleasantly undulating streets of Kirribilli (an Aboriginal word allegedly meaning ‘place for fishing’). From the shoreline at Kirribilli, there is the most spectacular view of the Harbour Bridge, the harbour, and across to Circular Quay and the Opera House at Bennelong Point. The small winding streets of the suburb also present structures of every architectural style, from elegant apartment houses to Federation cottages. Many of these houses are now private hotels, most of them quite inexpensive (and some a bit spooky; check out the clientele before booking).
Kirribilli Point is the site of Admiralty House, built in 1845 by the Collector of Customs J.G.N. Gibbes. From the 1880s the house served as the residence of admirals of the British Fleet; it is now the Sydney residence of the New South Wales Governor-General. Next door on Kirribilli Avenue, and joined by extensive gardens, is Kirribilli House, built in the 1850s in Gothic Revival style for merchant Adolf Frederick Fez. It now serves as the residence of the Prime Minister when he is not in Canberra. The current Prime Minister, John Howard, quite controversially, has chosen to use this as his permanent residence rather than move to the national capital’s official residence, The Lodge.
At the very tip of McMahons Point on the other side of the bridge is Blue’s Point, named for a fascinating early Sydney character, a black Jamaican named Billy Blue who was transported in 1801. Dubbed the Old Commodore by Governor Macquarie, Blue ran the ferry service from this point to the other side of the harbour for many years. It is said that he often had his passengers do the rowing and sometimes changed the price of the trip in midstream. He fathered a family after he was 70, two of his daughters marrying other prominent North Shore pioneers, George Lavender, for whom Lavender Bay is named, and James French of French’s Forest.
Blue’s Point is now the site of Blue’s Point Tower, one of Harry Seidler’s early ‘skyscraper’ apartments (1961–62), considered by some a modernist eyesore along the shoreline. Blue’s Point Road, running into Miller Street in the congested centre of town, is one of the major thoroughfares of lower North Sydney.
The little neighbourhood of McMahons Point is now a tremendously gentrified location, filled with tastefully renovated period townhouses. To have a McMahons Point address is to have arrived, an ironic transformation from its early working-class status. Poet Henry Lawson lived here with his aunt in 1892, near the present-day approach of the bridge. He lived in the area again in the early 1900s; a plaque at 23 Euroka Street, commemorates his residence in 1914.
Lavender Bay and Luna Park
One of the best ways to get to MacMahons Point and Lavender Bay is to take the Hegarty’s ferry, a private ferry company, from Bay 6 in Circular Quay; the ride gives a spectacular view under the bridge and into this unpretentious little bay. Lavender Bay was the site of the artist Brett Whiteley’s studio in the 1960s and 1970s, when the area was still rather down-at-the heels and genuine. From here, you can stroll along the foreshore with great views of the harbour and Sydney city with the high-rise buildings of North Sydney behind.
Right under the bridge at Milson’s Point on Lavender Bay is Luna Park. This amusement park has been a much-loved part of Sydney since the 1930s, when it was built on the construction site headquarters of the Harbour Bridge, prime harbourfront real estate at any time. It has always been a favoured spot for migrants and American G.I.s on shore leave. Closed down after a disastrously fatal fire in the 1970s, it was lovingly restored and reopened with great fanfare, and much state funding, in 1993. While local residents continually protest about the Big Dipper’s noise, and threats of funding loss continue, so far it has managed to remain open. Even if you are not a fan of carnival rides and greasy food, Luna Park is worth a visit to see the vintage decorations and billboard paintings.
Just below Luna Park is the North Sydney Olympic Pool (weekdays 05.30–21.00, weekends 07.00–19.00), beautifully situated next to the waters of the harbour, with lovely Art Deco ornaments on its walls.
City of North Sydney
North Sydney itself contains some interesting historical sites amidst all the new skyscrapers. At Lavender Street and Blue’s Point Road, turn left into William Street to see Sydney Church of England Grammar School, known locally as SCEGGS or ‘Shore’, and very prestigious indeed. Given its current status as a leading institution for the rich and famous, it is surprising to find that the school was not established here until 1889.
At Mount Street, turn back towards Miller Street; this small triangle is known as Victoria Cross, and, as the North Sydney Post Office is here, it is the centre of town. Designed by James Barnet in 1886, it also houses the Court House. At the intersection is Greenwood Plaza. The original building was an Art Deco 1930s structure; a new post-modernist skyscraper has now been added behind. The Plaza has become a whole complex, connected to Old School House (1883), and is now a series of elegant bars, shops and cafes.
Life in Sydney, especially in summer, understandably
revolves around water; North Sydney Pool is only one of many
splendid pools and ocean baths in and around the city, each
with their own atmosphere and aesthetic. North Sydney, for
example, is known for its intimidating lane-swimmers; if you
are in the Very Fast Lane, watch out. Some others to
Andrew (‘Boy’) Charlton Pool, Mrs Macquarie Drive, The Domain, t 9358 6686. A beautiful setting if an unattractive pool (chlorinated salt water, solar heated only); some serious swimming, but given its location, it’s not surprising that this is the place for gays. Admission $5.50.
Bronte Baths, south end, Bronte Beach. One of the best of the sea baths, carved into the cliff face of the beach and flushed by sea waves that come crashing over the walls. Always open and free. Ever-changing, totally democratic mixing of swimmers.
Gunnamatta Baths, Nicholson Parade, Cronulla. A netted area in Gunnamatta Bay surrounded by parkland. Lots of shallow water and shaded picnic areas, so favoured by families. Sometimes polluted, check Beachwatch information. t 02 9544 3805.
Heffron Park Pool, Robey Street, Maroubra. A whole complex of pools, including kids’ waders. Very clean, good for lap swimmers of all levels, also mums with kids. Admission $4.60, open 06.00–20.30, closes 18.00 Fri and weekends.
MacCallum Park Pool, Milson Road, Cremorne Point. Fantastic views of Sydney Harbour, beautiful people clientele, not for kids. Water filtered from harbour. Free and always open.
Mona Vale Pool, Surfview Avenue, Mona Vale. 25m rock baths, wonderful vistas, camaraderie among the regulars. Free, always open.
Northbridge Baths, Widgiewa Road, Northbridge. In Sailors Bay of Middle Harbour, tranquil, next to small marina; great for families, with grassy area. Open until dusk.
Wylie’s Baths, Neptune Street, Coogee. Built in 1907 as an ocean pool, but recently renovated; it is still like swimming in an aquarium, with lichen on the walls and small schools of fish swimming by. No lanes, just recreational; closed when waves are too high. In December, Wylie’s is the site of Flickerfest short film festival, when you can watch the movies and swim at the same time. Call for admission fee 02 9665 2838.
Ladies Baths of Coogee, Grant Reserve, Coogee. Next door to Wylie’s, women and children only for over 70 years; sand floor, seaweed and fish, too. Sheltered area for nude bathing. Admission 20 cents.
Continue north on Miller Street, 200m; on the left
(west) is Monte Sant’ Angelo College. Originally named
Ma-Sa-Lou, it was the home of Francis Lord, son of the
Jewish ex-convict Simeon Lord; Francis was at one time Mayor
of St Leonard’s.
On Miller Street, between McLaren and Ridge Streets are the attractive North Sydney Council Chambers; all kinds of enlightened social services are available here, from the Baby Health Clinic, to holiday care and the Stanton Library, an excellent public facility. The council building itself includes mural-size copies of the harbour panoramas originally created in 1875 by Bernard Holtermann (1838–85), discoverer at Hill End, New South Wales, of the largest deposits of gold, quartz and slate ever mined. In order to create these panoramas, Holtermann constructed an enormous tower overlooking the harbour and had photographs made of all angles. The chambers’ photograph is placed next to one made in 1975 of the same view.
Behind the Council Chambers, at McLaren and Church Streets, is St Thomas’s Church, Church Street. This was the last substantial structure designed by Edmund Blacket; the final construction was carried out by his sons, and completed in 1884. An older St Thomas’s was on the site from 1843, and it is in this church’s cemetery that the painter Conrad Martens and family are buried. The cemetery includes a pyramidal monument, commemorating Edward Wollstonecraft (1783–1832) and his sister Elizabeth Wollstonecraft Berry, cousins of writer and the poet Shelley’s wife, Mary Wollstonecraft. The monument was erected by Alexander Berry, Edward’s business partner and founder of the New South Wales town of Berry (see p 224). Wollstonecraft also established a 500-acre landgrant at Crow’s Nest in North Sydney, and the nearby suburb of Wollstonecraft was named for him. St Thomas’s first rector in the 1840s was William Branwhite Clarke (1798–1878), a well-known geologist who is often called the father of Australian science.
At Ridge and Miller Streets to the east is the entrance to St Leonard’s Park and the site of North Sydney Oval, a lovely old ground complete with Victorian stands. It was the home of the North Sydney Bears Rugby League football team, which, sadly, moved to Gosford in 1999.
St Francis Xavier’s, on McKenzie Street, was built in 1881. The church contains a massive stained-glass wall, and charming wood-carvings of the Stations of the Cross, completed by German carver Josef Dettlinger in the 1880s.
North shore suburbs
Military Road, on the east side of the bridge, is the main thoroughfare from the Harbour Bridge to The Spit. The road is almost always congested, filled with shops and an unbelievable range of good restaurants. Any drive to Manly requires traversing its full length to Spit Road. Note also that the Spit Bridge has specific opening times; be sure to check before setting out, so that you can avoid delays (t 02 9194 1018).
The first suburb along Military Road is Neutral Bay, so named by Governor Phillip, because it was designated as the anchorage for all foreign ships entering the harbour. In Neutral Bay, at no. 5 Wallaringa Avenue, is Nutcote, home in the 1920s of illustrator and children’s author May Gibbs, creator of the enormously popular Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories and The Gumnut Babies. The house is open Wed–Sun 11.00–15.00 (t 02 9953 4453).
On Military Road, Neutral Bay blends into the suburb of Cremorne. At no. 380 Military Road is the Hayden Orpheum Theatre, a marvellous old picture house, built in the 1930s; admission to the cinema includes, before the film, performances on the grand old Wurlitzer organ, mounted on a hydraulic stage that rises majestically in front of the screen. It was built by Italian immigrant Angelo Vergona, whose son, Bob, in the 1940s, greeted every guest in the foyer, and sometimes drove home the last patrons after late-night screenings.
Cremorne leads east into Mosman, named for Archibald Mosman, who in the 1820s established a whaling industry here. Today Mosman is one of the prestige suburbs. The area along the harbour boasts some of the most ornate Edwardian houses, complete with copper cupolas and gabled roofs. The Mosman strip of Military Road is also one of the best places in the city for upmarket fashion shopping.
Mosman is also the site of Taronga Park Zoo (t 02
9969 2777, open daily 09.00–17.00, some evenings
17.30–23.30, but telephone first for details), undisputably
the most beautifully situated zoo in the world. As already
mentioned, a ferry from Circular Quay arrives at the base of
the zoo and a lift (when operating) brings you to the top of
the hill, from which the views of the harbour and Sydney are
breathtaking. The city’s first zoo was in Moore Park. When
Taronga opened in 1916, all the animals were conveyed by
ferry to the new site, including the much beloved elephant
Jessie, who lived until 1939 and provided Sydneysiders with
the expression ‘a hide like Jessie’s’.
Great attempts have been made in the last few years to upgrade the animals’ facilities, so that the exhibits are more comfortable for the enclosed wildlife. The zoo is active in worldwide breeding campaigns of endangered species, and Australia’s native species receive particular attention. As the facility is excessively popular with school groups and other visitors, it is almost always crowded. Admission is relatively expensive (the zoo depends entirely on private funding), although family packages are also available.
To the south of the zoo—and, indeed, around nearly every point along this part of the North Shore, all the way to Manly—segments of the Sydney Harbour National Park have preserved bushland for walking and recreation. At the end of Bradley’s Head Road is Bradley’s Head, named for First Fleet cartographer William Bradley; you can see here remnants of fortifications installed around the harbour in the 1870s. Bradley’s Head is a superb spot from which to view the start of the Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day (26 December). The sight of the yachts lining up in the harbour for the starting gun is one of the most exquisite visions imaginable, not to be missed by any visitor.
Take Bradley’s Head Road back up to Raglan Street and turn west to come to Balmoral Beach, a lovely inner-harbour spot on Middle Harbour. On the Esplanade is the beautiful 1930s Bathers Pavilion, considered by The Sydney Morning Herald to be one of the ‘best places in Sydney for a lunch or coffee’. The architecture is that of a quasi-Moorish palace. During the Sydney Festival in January, Balmoral hosts performances, ‘Shakespeare by the Sea’, by the Sydney Theatre Company, and concerts take place in the Rotunda.
North of North Sydney
If you continue out of North Sydney on Miller Street, it turns into Strathallen Avenue; when this street ends, turn left (west) to Eastern Valley Way, and enter Northbridge. This now thoroughly urbanised part of town is entered through an elaborately crenellated bridge that appears as if it is part of a medieval castle. It was built in the 1890s by the area’s land developer as a ploy to lure potential buyers.
At Edinburgh Road, turn right (east) to enter Castlecrag, a residential community planned by Walter Burley Griffin, designer of Canberra. Several of his houses, all bearing the mark of his teacher Frank Lloyd Wright, still exist, set back and blending into the craggy cliffs and twisting roads above Middle Harbour.
Back on Eastern Valley Way, continue north through the suburban sprawl of Chatswood. This area is named in honour of the wife of Richard Hayes Harnett, an early settler of land from Willoughby to Mosman. Charlotte, or ‘Chat’, loved to sketch the wildlife in the forests of the area, which thus became known as ‘Chat’s wood’.
Eastern Valley Way will become Warringah Road (Route 29) at Roseville; continue east to Wakehurst Parkway (Route 22) to Pittwater Road (Route 14), turning east into Barrenjoey Road. This route will pass the beautiful northern beaches of Bilgola, Avalon, Palm Beach and Whale Beach, ending finally at Barrenjoey Head, part of the vast Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The no. 12 bus from Manly Wharf also travels along this coastline to Pittwater, including the popular beaches of Curl Curl, Dee Why and Collaroy.
At Barrenjoey Head, the view across the Bay and out into the Tasman Sea is worth the trip. As novelist C.J. Koch describes the Barrenjoey Peninsula in The Doubleman (1985), ‘the latitude is the South Seas; and the time, for the Peninsula’s cargo of beachside suburbs, is always holiday.’
Encompassing the entire end of West Head Road and across
Pittwater at Barrenjoey Headland, Ku-ring-gai
Chase National Park consists of 14,712 ha of bushland
only 24km from the city itself. It was set aside in 1894,
and is one of Sydney’s most popular recreational sites; the
name derives from the Guringai people, the local Aboriginal
clan. Damage from the 1994 bushfires was extensive, but
regrowth of natural bush has been speedy.
To enter the main part of the national park, return via Barrenjoey Road, turn north into Pittwater Road, and follow around Church Point to the toll booth at West Head Road; there is an entrance fee.
The park’s main visitor centre is the Kalkari Visitor’s Centre (t 02 02 9472 9301, open daily 09.00–17.00), where brochures and guided tours are available; this centre can be reached by taking Ku-Ring-Gai Chase Road off the Pacific Highway in Mt Colah. The railway also stops at Mt Colah near the park’s entrance. Shorelink bus no. 577 also leaves from the Turramurra Station to the Bobbin Head Road entrance of the park.
Perhaps the most enjoyable way to come to the park is via ferry. The ferry from Palm Beach Wharf will stop at The Basin Entrance to the park, and provides a marvellous tour of Broken Bay itself.
The park is the site of several Aboriginal carvings which can be visited, especially along the Basin Trail off West Head Road on the Lambert Peninsula. This part of the park also offers spectacular views of Pittwater, Palm Beach, and Warringah Peninsula. A community project in the park and the rest of the Pittwater region is attempting to ensure the future of the long-nosed bandicoot, a small native marsupial once abundant in number and now decimated by feral and domestic animals.
Governor Phillip explored the Pittwater region in 1788, describing it as ‘the finest piece of water which I ever saw... it would contain all the Navy of Great Britain’. He named the region after British Prime Minister William Pitt.
As mentioned above on access to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, exploration of Broken Bay is most enjoyable on the Palm Beach Ferries, leaving from Palm Beach Wharf. Several boat hire options are also available from Palm Beach, to explore the bay and on into the Hawkesbury River. Another exciting possibility is to take the regular commuter flight of the Sydney Harbour Seaplanes, flying from Rose Bay along the coastline to Palm Beach.
That a regular commuter flight is available to Palm Beach gives some indication of the privileged status of the place. It is home for many people in the arts and wealthy businessmen. The place has also been associated in the public eye with shady political doings, as the site of some famous weekend party deals; writer Peter Corris plays on this image in his story Heroin Annie (1984), in which his investigator Cliff Hardy comes here to bust a drug ring and refers to Palm Beach as ‘the biggest playspot of them all...all chicken fat and pinballs and the popping of cold, cold cans.’ Recent attempts by beachside landowners to privatise the beach itself has been greeted with horror; the idea of owning a beach is seen as completely un-Australian, no matter how exclusive the area might be.
From Penrith, you can take Parker Street/Richmond Road
(route 69), which becomes the Great Northern Road to the
twin Macquarie towns of Windsor and Richmond along the
Hawkesbury River, some 55km from Sydney. From the city, you
can take the M2 Motorway. The train also travels all the way
to Richmond, with a stop at Windsor. Many tours to the towns
are organised by the Tourist Information Bureau as well;
check at any of the city offices, particularly at the
services at the Circular Quay.
The M2 Motorway is now a completely concealed freeway from Lane Cove on the north side of Sydney Harbour, zipping past the countryside northwest to Windsor Road; the old road closely follows the original Windsor Road of 1794. The Old Windsor Road route will take you through Ryde, location of the first hops-grower and brewer in the colony, James Squire. Squire also befriended the famous Aborigine Bennelong after his return from England in 1794; Bennelong’s grave is believed to be in the Ryde district.
The Ryde district’s other great claim to fame is as the site where Maria Ann Smith, better known as ‘Granny Smith’, first cultivated her famous apples in the 1860s. A small park to her memory exists in nearby Eastwood, off Abuklea Road on Threlfall Street, the location of her original orchard.
Today it is hard to imagine that the area along the M2 at Pennant Hills was in the 19C teeming with bushrangers where the suburban homes are now thick on the hills looking over the city. Drive through Castle Hill, site of one of the two armed uprisings in Australia, the Battle of Vinegar Hill, brought about in 1804 by Irish political prisoners attempting to escape. The ‘battle’ was quickly quelled by authorities, leaving 15 dead; nine of the ‘conspirators’ were hanged for their attempts at insurrection.
Continue along the Windsor Road (route 40 and 2) to Rouse Hill. The area was named for Richard Rouse, free settler and Superintendant of Public Works in 1806. In 1813–18, Rouse built Rouse Hill House, now part of the National Estate. Despite many additions to the original dwelling, the house still survives intact, as one of the earliest private country dwellings in the country and with many of the original furnishings. Of special interest are its outbuildings and the gardens, still extant in its original design. For 162 years, until taken over by the New South Wales government in 1979, descendants of Richard Rouse occupied the property. Access to Rouse Hill House is by appointment and requires a modest fee (PO Box 123, Rouse Hill, New South Wales 2155; t 02 9627 6777, open Wed–Sun 9.30 - 16.30).
The Hawkesbury region was explored by Governor Phillip in his desperate attempt to find farmland for the colony. By 1794, 22 pioneers had settled along the river, and by 1796, some 1000 acres (400 ha) were under cultivation here. Of most importance to the colony was the success of grain farming in the region, but soon all kinds of produce flourished and reached the Sydney markets via the river. The river itself, then, became a centre of great activity, including a vigorous boat building industry.
Although it was named Green Hill by the original settlers, Windsor (population 13,500) was the name given by Governor Macquarie in 1810 when he established the ‘Five Macquarie Towns’; these were Windsor, Richmond, Wilberforce, Pitt Town and Castlereagh. Macquarie selected these sites on high land to avoid the river floods which habitually plagued early settlements, and along with the inveterate architect Francis Greenway, indulged his passion for town planning and architectural ambition. The towns today still retain evidence of this planning and the original buildings—even the street curbs and guttering are those built by convicts—are still home to the descendants of the first settlers. Tourist information can be obtained from Hawkesbury Visitor Centre, Ham Common Bicentary Park, Richmond Road, Clarendon, t 02 4578 0233; open Mon–Fri 09.00–17.00, Sat–Sun 9.00–16.00.
Entering Windsor from the M2 at Macquarie Street leads to Thompson Square, the centre of the town. The train stops at Church Street south of the Richmond Road; walk north on George Street to come to Thompson Square. Substantially restored as part of a Bicentennial project, Thompson Square’s numerous colonial buildings now remain as a monument to the Hawkesbury pioneers. The square owes its name to the first landowner Andrew Thompson, an emancipist whom Macquarie so admired for his diligence and ambition that he made him magistrate. Thompson died heroically in 1810, after valiant efforts to save lives and property during one of the Hawkesbury’s many floods.
On the southeast corner of the square is the Macquarie Arms, built to the order of Governor Macquarie in 1811–15. The inn was built and operated from 1815 to 1840 by ex-convict Robert Fitzgerald, who became the richest man in the town. The building includes excellent cedar joinery and stone verandahs. Next door to the Macquarie Arms is the Hawkesbury Museum (t 02 4560 4655; Wed–Mon 10.00–16.00), housed in an 1820s building that was originally an inn. Along with historical displays, the museum is also the Tourist Information Centre. The next structure on the square is a small cottage from the 1850s, privately owned; next to the cottage towards the river is the Doctor’s House, so named because doctors have lived here since the 1870s. The structure itself dates from 1844 and is a great example of a colonial terrace building, with fanlights above the doors and columns flanking the doorways.
Continue to walk towards the river, cross over The Terrace and turn right onto a walkway, which will lead under a bridge to the river. From here you can see Windsor Wharf. Walk up the hill and return to Thompson Square. Houses on this side date from the 1850s and 1860s. Cross George Street to the site of the School of Arts, built in 1861 in an Italianate style; it is now a boot factory. Turn north onto George Street and walk one block to Arndell Street; on the left side of the street is a plaque commemorating the site of Old Government House, built here in the 1790s. Turn into Arndell Street; on the left at North Street are a series of cottages built 1840–60, some of the only examples of this period remaining. On the corner is the Swallows Inn, so named because of the fairy martin nests under the eaves; the building also served as the surgery in the television series ‘A Country Practice’.
Walk down North Street for a view of the farmland near the town; turn right into Palmer Street and continue to a set of buildings called the John Tebbutt F.R.A.S. Observatories (t 02 4577 7306). Here the famous amateur astronomer John Tebbutt (1834–1916) first set up his observatory in 1863; the building now on the site was built in 1879. Here Tebbutt established local mean time, discovered the Comet Tebbutt of 1881, and published some 370 accounts of meteorological observations. Tebbutt was such an important figure in astronomical circles that he appeared on the Australian $100 note in the 1980s. The observatories are still owned by the Tebbutt family; they are now open to the public, particularly for weddings and similar celebrations.
Return via Palmer Street to Pitt Street; turn left and walk to the corner of Court Street. Here is the Windsor Courthouse, built in 1822 by William Cox (of Blue Mountain exploration fame) to the design of Francis Greenway. It is considered by many as Greenway’s most harmonious building and one of the best preserved, built of sandstone bricks with worked stone lintels and sills. The interior includes rough cedar beams; it still serves as the town’s courthouse. In the public gallery is a controversial portrait, believed by many to be of Governor Macquarie, although debate about its authenticity continues.
Off Court Street, turn left onto a footpath leading to
the Tollhouse, a reminder of the old toll system on the
roadways. The current building dates from the 1880s; its
unrestored condition points to the continuation of flooding
along the river. Return to Bridge Street and proceed into
Thompson Square and then right (west) onto Baker Street;
turn left (south) onto The Terrace along the river. Between
Kable and Fitzgerald Streets is Sunnybrae, built in 1875 and
still owned by the same family. Continue on The Terrace,
cross the small park by the water tower, built in 1889. At
New Street are two cottages from 1830; continue down the
Terrace to Catherine Street and turn left to Little Church
Street, on the corner of which is the Bell Inn, built c 1845
with an interesting barrelled corner. Walk down Little
Church Street and note St Matthew’s Catholic Church, built
At Tebbutt Street turn right and return to The Terrace; on the left, on what is now Moses Street, is the Rectory and St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Francis Greenway’s most memorable building. The site was chosen by Macquarie expressly for building a church; its elevated position led it to become the district’s most famous landmark, as it could be seen throughout the Hawkesbury region. The church is built of bricks produced by William Cox; its most stunning feature is the sculptural square tower with octagonal cupola. When the foundation stone was laid in 1817, Governor Macquarie placed a Spanish dollar under the stone; it was stolen that night. After another ceremony led to the same result, the stone was quickly laid without the coin and built over. Halfway through the building, Greenway, angry at the building contractor’s shoddy workmanship, demolished the entire structure and rebuilt it. It was consecrated in 1822 by the fiery colonial chaplain Samuel Marsden. Marsden in fact died here, at the rectory, while visiting a friend in 1858. In the church’s portico is the Bible, along with the clock and bell tower, presented to the congregation by King George IV.
The rectory was built in 1825 by William Cox; the architect is unknown, but its Georgian design complements Greenway’s church. The church’s cemetery contains the graves of Andrew Thompson, for whom Thompson Square was named, and explorer William Cox, as well as the Tebbutt family vault.
Past the cemetery is Claremont Crescent; Claremont Cottage was built in 1822 out of stuccoed brick either by John Jones or William Cox.
Return to Moses Street, turn right and cross Richmond Road into Cox Street; turn right onto Fairfield Avenue to reach the High Victorian mansion of Fairfield House. The first part was built as early as 1833, again for William Cox. In 1866, it was acquired by the McQuade family, who added the two-storey northern wing in the 1880s. William McQuade was the manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney and lived in opulent style; he even had a private race track here.
From Fairfield, head back to Barbyn Street; turn left into George Street. No. 394 was built in 1897 as a general store by George Robertson; the façade includes interesting carved stonework. Further along George Street past the Richmond Street crossing is Oxalis Cottage, between the city council chambers and the library. It was built in the 1850s by Wesleyan missionary Peter Turner. At no. 312 is Mrs Cope’s House, a large five-bay Georgian structure with 15-pane windows; it was once home to one Maria Cope, who apparently owned extensive grounds here in the 1830s. At no. 266 is the old Royal Theatre, now the Windsor Antique Markets. George Street soon becomes a pedestrian mall and ends back at Thompson Square.
Author Ruth Park, in her 1973 guide to Sydney,
considered Richmond the prettiest of the Five Macquarie
Towns. Only 8km from Windsor, at the end of the train run,
the town used to be the busiest in the area, as it was at
the convergence of the main trading roads. The railway line
was opened in 1864, linking Richmond directly with Sydney.
The Richmond RAAF Base now dominates the road linking
Windsor and Richmond, and a major campus of the University
of Western Sydney, emphasising agriculture and animal
sciences, occupies a large expanse of land to the south of
From the train station, you enter Richmond at Richmond Park, once the town’s market square. To the west of the park is the Post Office, built in 1875, with a second storey added in 1888. Further west on West Market Street is St Andrew’s Uniting Church, built in 1845 as a Presbyterian Church by George Bowman, Richmond’s leading philanthropist. A memorial to Dr Andrew Cameron in front of the church demonstrates the significance of the Cameron family to the Richmond area; James Cameron was the minister of the Presbyterian church in the 1860s, and was married to Bowman’s daughter. Across West Market Street is the Masonic Lodge, built as the Presbyterian School in the 1860s. Next door, on the corner of March Street, is the old School of Arts building, opened in 1866 by politician Henry Parkes. George Bowman was again involved in the organisation of this public institution. Further west on March Street are interesting early houses, and in the middle of the block, the offices of Shaddick Baker and Paul, with fine iron lacework and a bull-nose verandah; the original structure was built in 1868, with sympathetic additions made in the 1980s.
On the corner of March and Bosworth Streets, turn right and walk to Windsor Street. On the southeast corner is the site of the Black Horse Inn—now only the roof line is visible—once the most famous hotel in the region. The inn opened in 1819 and for years was known for its sign of a black horse in full gallop (now in the Hawkesbury Museum in Windsor). At one time the inn marked the centre of town, and was the finishing post for horse races down the main street. The inn served as the polling place in Australia’s first election in 1843; it was also a popular honeymoon destination until it closed in the 1920s.
Turn left into Windsor Street, the oldest residential section of the town. No. 315, now the Richmond Restaurant, was built in 1865 by the Cornwell family, and was known as ‘the Cottage. Across the street is Bowman Cottage, built 1815–17 by free settler James Blackman; it was acquired by George Bowman in 1820, and was run as the Royal Arrow Inn. Bowman lived here until his death in 1878. Today it is the local headquarters of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (t 02 4588 2400; open Mon–Fri 08.30–16.30).
Towards the end of Windsor Street past Chapel Street is St Peter’s Church of England, a rectangular brick church built between 1837 and 1841 to a design by Francis Clarke, a prominent architect; this is only one of two surviving works by him. The interior is intact, with beautiful cedar work and stained glass windows added in the 1890s. In the churchyard, a small obelisk was made out of the bricks of the 1810 school-church once on the site. William Cox was also involved with the early construction of the church. From the churchyard you have a panoramic view of the Blue Mountains to the northwest, with Pughs Lagoon in the foreground. The church’s cemetery was first laid out in 1811 under Governor Macquarie’s direction, and bears the graves of several prominent pioneers, including the remarkable ex-convict Margaret Catchpole (1762–1819), who served as a midwife in her Richmond years. Catchpole became something of a legend in her native Suffolk (England), with a highly fictionalised account of her adventures made popular through Richard Cobbold’s The History of Margaret Catchpole: A Suffolk Girl (1845). Other graves include those of the Bowman family, and William Cox, Sr.
Back along Windsor Street, turn left at Chapel Street.
On the corner of Chapel and Francis Streets is ‘Josieville’,
built in the 1830s for Joseph Onus, a convict who arrived in
Australia in 1803 and went on to become one of the most
prosperous farmers in the Hawkesbury region. The additional
storey was added in the 1870s, creating a great two-storey
verandah. Also on Francis Street is Clear Oaks Homestead,
also owned by the Onus family; the two-storey brick
farmhouse dates from the 1820s.
Far at the end of Chapel Street is ‘Hobartville’, a fine sandstock brick mansion built for William Cox Jr, possibly from a design by Greenway. The property is still in private hands, but you can view the house with its three-sided verandah bay in beautiful grounds.
Proceed along Windsor Street back into town. On the other side of Richmond Park, at East Market Street, is Toxana, residence of William Bowman, George Bowman’s younger brother. It was built in the 1840s and stood in magnificent grounds. The Cameron family lived here in the 1880s, but by the 1890s, the building had a variety of owners and lamentable incarnations. It was restored in 1978, and is now used by the Macquarie Towns Arts Society.
Continue along Windsor Street, turning left into Toxana
Street. On the right at Francis Street is Benson House,
built in the 1840s by the shipwright Benson’s. The upper
floor was added in 1900, but the bottom storey and servants’
quarters are original. Continue along Francis Street c 1km
and turn right into Jersey Street; here is the Presbyterian
Cemetery, which dates from the 1860s and includes the graves
of the Camerons and the Bowman family vault.
Going back to Windsor Street, at the corner is a modern Catholic church on the site of St Monica’s, first consecrated in 1854. Turn right into Windsor Street; the first cottage on the southern side was the shop and residence of Bob Eggleton, prominent Richmond wheelwright in the 1860s. The building is typical of the kind of tradesman shops that existed here in the mid-19C.
No. 89 Windsor Street is the Manse, an 1890s Presbyterian school. In the grounds are the incongruous Kamilaroi Gates, all that remain of a grand house built in the 1890s by Benjamin Richards, one of Richmond’s wealthiest citizens. The house was used as a school from the 1920s until 1956, when it was demolished.
At the corner of Windsor and Paget Streets is Andrew Town’s House. It was from this point that the old horse races to the Black Horse Inn began. Appropriately, Andrew Town was one of Australia’s most famous horse breeders and racing figures; in the 1880s, he had the largest pedigreed stock in the world, until the 1890s depression saw him lose his properties.
Finally, at no. 126 is ‘Heritage Cottage’, which displays three period rooms from the 1850s, along with the ever-present tea-room that occupy nearly every historical venue in the country.
Windsor to Wiseman’s Ferry
To the west of the Hawkesbury River at Windsor, route 69 travels north to Wilberforce, another of the Macquarie Towns, and now best known as the home of Bill McLachlan, who introduced water-skiing to the Hawkesbury. Appropriately, Wilberforce is now home to one of the world’s leading water-ski speed races, 50km from Brooklyn up to this point. The town of Wilberforce still has a few old buildings, including a ‘Macquarie’ schoolhouse, built in 1819 by John Brabyn; it was here that the famous bushranger Thunderbolt (Fred Ward) went to school. Edmund Blacket also built a church here, St John’s, in 1856. Nearby to the west in Freeman’s Reach is ‘Reibycroft’, one of the district’s oldest farmhouses, built for the ever-acquisitive Reibey family in the 1820s.
From Wilberforce, the Sackville road continues north to
a ferry crossing on the river; at Ebenezer, c 5km, is a
rectangular stone Presbyterian church, built by Scottish
farmers between 1807 and 1817 overlooking the Hawkesbury
River; it is the oldest extant church in Australia.
Further north on route 69 is Colo and the Wollemi National Park (t 02 4588 2400). Only 100km northwest of Sydney, the park of 487,648 ha is the state’s largest and most unpolluted wilderness, with spectacular canyons and gorges. There is an old railway tunnel near the ruins of the old settlement of Newnes that is filled with glow-worms. The park is also the location of the recently discovered Wollemi Pine, the world’s oldest species of tree. These trees are in completely inaccessible locations. Their whereabouts are carefully guarded from any human intrusion by the Parks and Wildlife Service, whose rangers discovered them (as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1997). The Colo River, reached by following Bob Turner’s Track, provides swimming possibilities and scenic beaches.
On the eastern side of Windsor, route 65, the Pitt Town - Cattai Road travels through the other Macquarie Town of Pitt Town, a very small village; 6km north is Cattai National Park, a small area which is great for picnics and walks; it surrounds the ‘Cad-Die’ homestead, built in 1821 for Thomas Arndell.
Another 30km brings you to Wiseman’s Ferry, the most historic of the Hawkesbury ferry crossings. Solomon Wiseman (1778–1838) was transported to New South Wales in 1806 for the crime of stealing wood; he was pardoned in 1812 and in 1817 took up 200 acres of land at this site on the Hawkesbury River. He ran an inn here from the 1820s, and had his finger in every sort of industry, legal and otherwise; a contemporary clergyman wrote that Wiseman was ‘deeply read in the corruption of human nature’. He built the imposing Cobham Hall, still standing, and the remains of his inn are still part of the present-day hotel, said to be haunted by his first wife, whom he supposedly tossed down the steps, and perhaps by old Wiseman himself.
Wiseman became a wealthy man once the road from his ferry was continued across the river to the Hunter Valley in 1827; this convict-built Great Northern Road still exists, and was for half a century the main road leading north. Today it continues to the old settlement of St Alban’s, with its church ruins and historic cemetery (the oldest grave dates from 1837); and to Dharug National Park (t 02 4320 4200), named for the local Aboriginal people. This park has many Aboriginal rock engravings believed to be more than 8000 years old.
800px-Bronte_Beach_2.jpg - Cookaa
800px-Sydney_from_Taronga_Zoo.jpg - Richard Ling <email@example.com
Sydney_Hyde_Park_and_St_Marys_Hurley.jpg – Frank Hurley National Library of Australia
800px-SydneyTheRocks2_gobeirne.jpg - Greg O'Beirne
428px-GymeaLilyFlowers.jpg - Eug
784px-Pitt_Street_Sydney_looking_south_from_The_Powerhouse_Museum_Collection.jpg - The Powerhouse Museum
Kings_Cross_Sydney_1950.jpg - City of Sydney Archives
Juniper_hall0001.jpg - Sardaka
512px-Entrance_to_Victoria_barracks_Paddington_Sydney.JPG - Dinkum
800px-Sydney_Cove,_Port_Jackson_in_the_County_of_Cumberland_-_F._F._delineavit,_1769.jpg - http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-
Sydney_seaports_1906.jpg - Justhus Perthes See Atlas 1906
640px-Circular_Quay,_Sydneyoperahhouse.jpg - Shannon Hobbs
501px-Ln-Governor-Lachlan_macquarie.jpg - http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/
BMA House 320px-BMADetailKoala.jpg - Xxpaulm
BurdekinHouse_hht.jpg – Historic Houses Trust
Tusculum - Sardaka