18 July 2014: Sydney’s building blocks

This week on Scratching Sydney’s Surface, the topic is bricks. Yes, that’s right. Bricks.

The landmark chimneys at the edge of Sydney Park are the remnant of Josiah Gentle’s Bedford Brickworks, which were in operation on the site from 1893.

St Peters Brickworks, c1984 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC17506)

St Peters Brickworks, c1984 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC17506)

But it was not the first brickworks here – it was one of many brick, tile and pottery works on the site of Sydney Park – and indeed, in the local area – from the early 19th century.

Former brickworks on the site of Sydney Park, when used as a garbage tip, 1962 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 48/2016)

Former brickworks on the site of Sydney Park, when used as a garbage tip, 1962 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 48/2016)

The present day suburbs of Erksineville, St Peters and Marrickville are underpinned by Wianamatta Shale, which produces a type of clay ideal for brickmaking.

Once a brick works was established, clay was excavated from ever deepening pits.  Most brick works had workshops and kilns on site for shaping and then firing the clay into an array of products including bricks, tiles, pipes and decorative pottery.

Apart from Josiah Gentle, other notable brickmakers in the Newtown / Erskineville area included Henry Knight, who became involved in local government and Henry Goodsell, who had a brickworks on the site of today’s Camdenville Park. Both men are remembered in street names in the area. Just opposite Sydney Park, the aptly named Bakewell Brothers produced decorative pottery from the late 19th century through to the mid-20th century.

Map showing the brickworks on the site of Henson Park (Marrickville Council History Services, M9/ 112) http://swftnsw.sdp.sirsidynix.net.au/client/search/asset/62385

Map showing the brickworks on the site of Henson Park (Marrickville Council History Services, M9/ 112) http://swftnsw.sdp.sirsidynix.net.au/client/search/asset/62385

Brickworks at Henson Park before it was filled in, 1926 (Marrickville Council History Services, 000858) http://swftnsw.sdp.sirsidynix.net.au/client/search/asset/172798

Brickworks at Henson Park before it was filled in, 1926 (Marrickville Council History Services, 000858) http://swftnsw.sdp.sirsidynix.net.au/client/search/asset/172798

Many of Sydney’s brickpits, including those at Sydney Park, were used as rubbish dumps once the clay was extracted and the brickywards had ceased operation. Other former brickpits were filled in to create parks – examples of public parks that were once brickyards include Sydney Park, Henson Park, Camdenville Park, and Jarvie Park. The Dibble Avenue waterhole in Marrickville is the only open remaining brick pit in Sydney.

 

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27 June 2014: Sydney’s Ghost Railway

Like many major world cities, underground Sydney is crisscrossed with tunnels of all kinds.  Most are in use carrying water, sewers, people, cars and trains but some have long been abandoned or never used.

Some of the best belong to Sydney’s railways: abandoned and never completed bits of infrastructure, built in the time when railway engineers had grand plans.  Of these, the most impressive are those at Central and St James Stations, built as part of the Eastern Suburbs Railway (ESR) in the 1940s and the City Circle in the 1930s.

The Central Station tunnels are located above the existing ESR line.  Known as Ghost Platform 26 and 27, these were built between 1947 and 1952 as part of the first work on the ESR and a proposed southern suburban line.  When work was stopped in 1952 the platforms and stub tunnels (extending about 30m each end of the platforms) were complete.

However, when the work restarted in the 1960s, it was decided not to proceed with the southern suburban line, so the platforms were left as they were, half finished.  Two other tunnels and platforms were also constructed at Redfern Station as part of the same system and also left uncompleted.

If you get the ESR at Central you may notice the escalator is a long ride down.  This is because you are passing the ghost platforms on the way down.  There have been some plans to use them for other lines, such as a Very Fast train to Melbourne or even for other suburban extensions, but nothing yet.

At St James the same thing happened, but this time as part of Bradfields’ original underground and suburban railway concept.  Due to the complexity of building the underground system and the disruption it caused, a number of extra tunnels for proposed future lines were also constructed in the 1930s.  A double track tunnel was constructed between the lines of the existing city circle to take a Gladesville line, with a platform extension, tiled and fitted out in the same colours as St James Station.  This is why the concourse is so wide at St James; there was supposed to be two more lines here.

4 unfinished tunnels at St James, Jan 1925.  The middle 2  are the ghosts. (Subterranean Sydney, Brian & Barbara Kennedy)

4 unfinished tunnels at St James, Jan 1925. The middle 2 are the ghosts. (Subterranean Sydney, Brian & Barbara Kennedy)

But before they were completed World War II intervened, and in the panic and fear of potential air raids the disused tunnels were converted as public air raid shelters on the southern end and as military air raid shelters and operational command posts in the northern end towards circular Quay (the Circular Quay link was not completed until the 1950s).

The public air raid shelter was entered via Hyde Park, down steep stairs to the concrete bunkers below.  At the end of the war the entrance was sealed up and the bunkers largely forgotten.  But they are still there beneath the park.  The military shelter was removed entirely to allow for the trains to run on the completed city circle.  However one of the other northern extensions remains unused and over the years has slowly filled with water seeping through the ground above.  The water has collected as the fabled St James Lake, a dark, cold underground lake extending below the city streets.

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13 June 2014: The Block, Redfern

The Block in Redfern is seen by many as the heart of the Aboriginal community in Sydney.  It is the place most people think of, good or bad, when they think of Aboriginal spaces in the city.  Currently, the Block is undergoing a major change in direction with plans to transform it from a predominantly Aboriginal housing community to a mix of commercial offices, student accommodation and housing, a change that has reignited debate about Aboriginal ground in the city.

For 40 years the Block has been the most visible residential space for Aboriginal Sydney.  But how did it come to be?  There have always been Aboriginal people living in Redfern, from pre-European right through to now, but it was in the late 1930s that the area began to attract Aboriginal families from elsewhere and a recognisable community began to emerge.

The Block, 2004 Pat Baille photo. City of Sydney Archives

The Block, 2004 Pat Baille photo. City of Sydney Archives

The area was centrally located and close to some of Sydney’s largest industrial sites, places where newly arrived people could get work such as Eveleigh Railway Workshops.  With the offices of the Aboriginal Progressive Association set up nearby in 1937 (they organised the 1938 Day of Mourning) and an all Indigenous All Blacks Rugby League team in Redfern by 1944 , the area was getting an indigenous focus.

In 1964 the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs established their headquarters in George Street Redfern.  The Foundo’s mission was to help the community with housing, jobs and organising social events.  The success of the group, which was a mix of Aboriginal and European helpers, fostered a desire amongst the community to have Aboriginal run services.

This was achieved in 1969 with the establishment of the Aboriginal Legal Service, the first all Aboriginal administered service in Australia.  Using European lawyers and barristers, the service began defending local people against increasing police harassment and false arrests.  The service gave the community a confidence boost and was quickly followed by the Aboriginal Medical Service and Murawina Childcare.

But housing was still an issue.  From the late 1960s a number of terraces in Louis Street had been taken over by Aboriginal squatters.  Squatting was not unusual in Sydney at the time but was never popular with owners/developers.  And with racist attitudes high, Aboriginal squatters were particularly unpopular.  Ongoing police harassment and arrests led to a campaign to secure housing and control over their own future in the city’s centre.  No longer would Aboriginal people be pushed to the fringes.

The arrest of 15 squatters in 1972 sparked the campaign.  When they were sentenced to prison, St Vincent’s Catholic Church stepped in and gave them shelter in the church hall.  The numbers soon swelled to 80, with others dropping in for meals.  The cause was soon taken on by trade unions, such as the BLF, politicians and student activists.  But South Sydney Council and the police were against any housing deal.  Eventually the purchase of the Louis Street terraces by a single developer gave the community its opening.  The formation of the Aboriginal Housing Company Ltd (AHC) enabled a focused campaign with union help to pressure the developer to negotiate sale of the terraces to the community.

Louis Street terraces, The Block. City of Sydney Archive, 2003.

Louis Street terraces, The Block. City of Sydney Archive, 2003.

In April 1973, after a prolonged and bitter campaign (410 arrests in one street between March and May 1973), the federal ALP Government granted the AHC $530,000 to purchase 41 terraces houses in Louis, Vine, Eveleigh and Caroline Street–The Block.

40 years on, after good and very bad times, the community is once again fighting for access over housing and their place in Sydney as the AHC grapples with redevelopment options and future planning.

 

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5 June 2014: the theatres of Newtown and Enmore

The Sydney Film Festival has just started, and this year (2014) it celebrates its 61st year.

This week we’ll explore some of Sydney’s early cinemas, with a focus on Newtown, which once hosted up to eight cinemas.

One of them, The Hub, was briefly home to the Sydney Film Festival – and after years of neglect, seems to be getting new lease on life as a ‘live venue’.

The Hub having had seen better days, 1991 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC22407)

The Hub having had seen better days, 1991 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC22407)

In the early decades of the 20th century, before the advent of radio in the 1930s and TV in the 1950s, Sydney had a love affair with movies. In 1921, there were 18 movie theatres in the city centre, with a further 96 in the outer suburbs. Today the State Theatre is the only remaining functioning cinema in the CBD; some of the other early cinemas still operating in Sydney’s suburbs include the Randwick Ritz, the Collaroy Cinema and the Orpheum at Cremorne. But there are other survivors too: The Hub and the Enmore Theatre.

The Hub Theatre is located just opposite Newtown train station. Locals may remember it as a ‘blue movie house’ although it has been vacant now for almost 20 years.

The first theatre on this site was the Hippodrome in 1908. It was followed by Clay’s Bridge Theatre in 1913, at which time it was said to be the only vaudeville entertainment venue in Newtown.

The theatre was converted to use as a cinema in the 1930s and renamed as The Hub. In the 1950s and 60s, it screened non-English language films to cater to Newtown’s migrant population, and was briefly the home of the Sydney Film Festival (1965-66). After a spell as a ‘blue movie house’, The Hub closed in the early 1990s and has been vacant since this time.

http://acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/itemDetailPaged.cgi?itemID=27179

Inside the Majestic Theatre (corner Wilson Street and Erskineville Road), one of Newtown’s eight mid- 20th century cinemas, c1938 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. hood_23260)

Further along Enmore Road is the Enmore Theatre. There has been a theatre on this site since 1910, and it’s touted as ‘Sydney’s oldest and longest running live theatre’.

http://acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/itemDetailPaged.cgi?itemID=10249

Films ‘Nelson’, and Rin Tin Tin in ‘Dog of the Regiment’ at the Szarka brothers’ Enmore Theatre, 1927 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. hood_05890)

Read more about Newtown’s lost theatres here in this book, publisehd in 2012: Parkinson, Robert James 2012, Picture shows in the Marrickville and Newtown districts, 1898-2012, Woollahra, NSW

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30 May 2014: William Dawes and Patyegarang

If you happen to be down around the Harbour Bridge this month and see the projections on the south pylon as part of Vivid, you may be wondering who those two people dancing up there are meant to be.

The dancers represent the naval officer and Australia’s first astronomer William Dawes and his Aboriginal muse and teacher, Patyegarang, soon to be on stage as part of the Bangarra Dance Company’s next production. Theirs is one of the most intriguing and important stories of the first years of the European colony and provide a great ‘what if’ scenario for historians.

Dawes had arrived on the First Fleet working as a surveyor, explorer and our first astronomer. His observatory was on the western point of Sydney Cove, known to Aboriginal people as Tarra, separated from the main camp by a dark track along the waterfront.

Sydney Cove looking west.  Dawes' observatory has the large flag on the right.  SLNSW artist unknown

Sydney Cove looking west. Dawes’ observatory has the large flag on the right. SLNSW artist unknown

As well as look at stars, Dawes was keen to learn and understand Aboriginal language, possibly motivated by drop in visitors that his isolated observatory seemed to attract. As part of this process he kept notebooks, rediscovered in England in 1972, that detailed the Sydney language. These differed from other First Fleet linguistic records in that Dawes recorded not just individual words, nouns and verbs, but also conversations, phrases, questions and their answers, providing a more comprehensive grammar set from which to work from.

His first teacher was a young woman he called Boorong. Dawes had hoped to teach her some aspects of his religion in return for learning hers, but her ‘levity and love of play’ defeated his efforts. It is here that Patyegarang enters the story.

The relationship between the two reads in the notebooks as being close. Their exchanges go beyond the banal and capture instead, moments of intimacy, real friendship and fun. She tells him, when naked in front of the fire, that she warms quicker that way; she explains the phrase for warming your fingers in front of the fire then squeezing the fingers of another gently, a scar Dawes notices she says is Kálabidyáŋa betúŋi bogidwȧ´ra or Cut by an oyster shell while bathing.

Dawes also recorded the names of places, animals, plants and landscape features that have transferred into Australian English like dingo, waratah, corroboree, kurrajong and cooee. Place names like Tarra, Warrane (Sydney Cove) and Parramatta. Tarra and Warrane have been resurrected in the dual naming of places project in Sydney.

Dawes was also a champion for Aboriginal protection. He at first refused, and then reluctantly took part, after consulting the chaplain, in a punitive expedition to kill or capture six Aboriginal men for the killing of some Europeans. The expedition never saw their quarry and Dawes told the Governor he would never obey such an order again.

His good intentions saw his stay in NSW cut short. Although he had elected to stay, after 3 years he was ordered to leave. As Inga Clendinnen said (in her book Dancing With Strangers), his departure cost us as historians, access to the Sydney language at the time of contact and who knows what would have played out in terms of those early relationships between Europeans and Sydney people if he had of stayed.

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23 May 2014: Sydney’s finger wharves

Following on from last week’s exploration of literary Sydney last week, this week we take a look at the venue of the Sydney’s Writers Festival at Walsh Bay.

The finger wharves at Walsh Bay and Woolloomooloo are tangible reminders of Sydney now lost working harbour. Although the wharves are today home to residential apartments, they were built in the early 20th century as part of Sydney’s extensive wharfage network.

Aerial view west towards the city showing the finger wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay, 1930s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC24678)

Aerial view west towards the city showing the finger wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay, 1930s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC24678)

From the 1860s, a number of shipping wharves were built at Woolloomooloo Bay to enable trade and commerce to Sydney. In the early 20th century, this early wharfage was demolished, and work began a new 400 metre long ‘finger wharf’ in 1910.

Known as the Woolloomooloo Bay Finger Wharf, it took six years to complete. Although it was officially opened in 1916, the wharf been used for loading and unloading cargo since 1913 and in late 1914, soldiers of the first infantry unit of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) departed from the wharf for active service in Egypt and Gallipoli.

Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf redevelopment in 1998 (City of Sydney Archives, Brian McInerney Industrial Images Collection: 76614)

Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf redevelopment in 1998 (City of Sydney Archives, Brian McInerney Industrial Images Collection: 76614)

Woolloomooloo Bay Finger Wharf was designed by Irish-born engineer Henry Deane Walsh, who became the namesake for Walsh Bay.

Work began on the construction of five timber piled finger wharves in the small bay between Dawes Point and Millers Point in 1912.

Similarly to the 400 metre long finger wharf at Woolloomooloo, the wharves (along with the associated shore sheds, warehouses and stores) were designed by Sydney Harbour Trust’s Engineer-in-Chief Henry Walsh. Likewise, the wharves were also intended and used for deep sea shipping. The bay was named in honour of Walsh in 1919.

With the introduction of container shipping in the late 1960s, the handling of the cargo from ship to shore became increasingly mechanised. New ‘roll on, roll off’ wharves to meet the demand were built at nearby Darling Harbour and at Botany. This new type of shipping meant that cargo coming off the ships didn’t need to be manually handled by wharf labourers any longer.

Walsh Bay in the 1960s (City of Sydney Archives, Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection: 86715)

Walsh Bay in the 1960s (City of Sydney Archives, Graeme Andrews ‘Working Harbour’ Collection: 86715)

The finger wharves at Walsh Bay and Woolloomooloo became obsolete. They lay neglected for many years and were earmarked for demolition but after much community agitation, they were saved.

Both places were state heritage listed and are regarded as the only examples of their type in the world.

The distinctive timber piled finger wharves at both places were converted into apartments in the late 1990s – although Walsh Bay had been home to Sydney Theatre Company from the mid-1980s and continues to seek a reputation as a cultural quarter for the city.

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16 May 2014: Literary Sydney

The Sydney Writers Festival is on again, running from 19 – 25 May, with events at Walsh Bay and around the city.  Since 1997 the festival has presented some of Sydney’s, Australia’s and the world’s best and most exciting writers and quite a few historians were amongst them.

Sydney Writers Festival

Sydney Writers Festival

This year is no exception.  On Friday 23rd, the History Council of NSW presents a panel of historians, all winners of the NSW Premiers History Awards in 2013 to discuss their work.  There are others amongst the program you should check out.

Plenty of history has been written about Sydney over the past 220 years.  But Sydney has also been a muse to fiction writers, acting as the backdrop and sometimes the main character for numerous novels, crime dramas and period pieces.

The first novel written and published in Sydney was The Guardian by Anna Maria Burns in 1838, although it only makes passing reference to Sydney.  In 1842 John Lang published Legends of Australia.  Lang was the first Sydney born writer to publish on the city with this work.  He also published at least two more novels about Sydney in the 1850s.

Many of these early works can be used as a form of historical document.  The novels were based on the city that the writers knew, as it is still.  Novels like DH Deniehy’s Legends of Newtown, describe the inner city suburb as a rural outpost, a place Sydneysiders go to escape the crowded city.  It is hard to image that now.  James Tucker, an ex-convict, wrote of the Rocks and the convict station at Emu Plains in his novel Ralph Rashleigh from the 1840s.

Louisa Atkinson, who started publishing in the late 1850s, was our first Australian born female novelist.  She wrote at least two novels based in Sydney, most notably Gertrude the Emigrant, but was also a naturalist and contributed journal articles on Sydney flora and fauna.

Ruth Park 1947 (SLNSW P1 a1528381r)

Ruth Park 1947 (SLNSW P1 a1528381r)

Louis Stone’s 1911 novel Jonah is considered to be one of the best early novels about inner city suburbs.  Set in Waterloo, Redfern and around Paddy’s Markets, Jonah captures the bustle, grime, heat and character of pre-war Sydney.  Stone was joined in this genre after World War II by Ruth Park.  Park arrived in Sydney from New Zealand as a journalist in 1942.  Her first novel, Harp in the South (1948) and the follow up Poor Man’s Orange (1949) were set in the slum neighbourhoods of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, an area she had lived in herself.  If you add Kylie Tennant’s 1939 book Foveaux and Dymphna Cusack and Florence James’ Come in Spinner (1951) to the mix, you get a vivid picture of pre-war and war time Sydney.

There are some many novels about Sydney and they keep coming.  The Peter Corris series of crime novels set in Kings Cross, Glebe, Bondi and Palm Beach with his character Cliff Hardy, Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Patrick White’s works set around the city and Eastern Suburbs.  New novelist PM Newtown’s crime mystery set around Cabramatta adds more flavour to the scene.

There are so many.  Any favourites of your own?

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