11 April 2014: The Domain

A master plan for The Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens has just been released which proposes the development of a hotel, a ferry wharf at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and a railway station on the eastern suburbs railway line.

Some of the proposals within the master planning document have provoked public comment and criticism, in particular from former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Why are The Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens important public places, and how did they come about?

The inner Domain, c1875-85 (State Library of NSW, SPF / 214)

The inner Domain, c1875-85 (State Library of NSW, SPF / 214)

Governor Arthur Phillip laid the foundation plate for Australia’s first Government House three months after the First Fleet landed in Sydney Cove in 1788. This building to was located on the site of the Museum of Sydney, on the corner of Bridge and Philip Streets in the city.

Philllip set land to the east to provide a garden setting for government house; this later became known as the Governor’s Domain (or ‘Demesne’).

First Government House, Sydney in c1807, watercolour drawing by John Eyre (State Library of NSW,  SV / 31)

First Government House, Sydney in c1807, watercolour drawing by John Eyre (State Library of NSW,
SV / 31)

The Governor’s Domain was officially proclaimed in 1812 by Governor Macquarie. It covered a much larger area than today, extending from Circular Quay to Woolloomooloo, encompassing today’s Bennelong Point and the Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Lady Macquarie’s Chair and the Domain. Now only part of it remains: the Botanic Gardens and the Domain. Link here to a map showing the extent of the Domain in 1845.

Before Circular Quay was reclaimed and Bridge Street was formed, Government House was on the western perimeter of the Governor’s Domain and had sweeping views of Sydney Cove.

Government House became an important site of early contact between European settlers and Sydney’s Aboriginal population. At least three Aboriginal men – Arabanoo, Bennelong and Colbee – were captured under Phillip’s orders and lived at First Government House. Aboriginal people continued to use the Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens throughout the 19th century.

The Domain began to shrink. In 1832, it was decided to relocate Government House further north-east within the Government Domain to provide more wharfage for the growing city, which required the government gardens in front of the Government House.

The Domain in 1937, photographed by Sam Hood (State Library of NSW, Home and Away - 15845)

The Domain in 1937, photographed by Sam Hood (State Library of NSW, Home and Away – 15845)

The new Government House was completed in 1845, and the First Government House was demolished a year later. Philip Street was extended to Circular Quay at this time, running across the foundations of First Government House. Other incursions included the Garden Palace (burnt down within a few years), the Art Gallery of NSW, the railway network, and roads and freeways including the Cahill Expressway.

The Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens remain as an important passive recreation space in the heart of the city. The plans to redevelop the parklands should be hotly debated, not just by former heads of state but all Sydneysiders.

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4 April 2014: Sydney’s (lost) Car Factories

The recent news of the closures of Toyota and Holden factories in South Australia and Victoria have bought into sharp focus the struggles that industry faces in Australia at the present moment.

Sydney too was once a significant car manufacturing city, but like the recent causalities they succumbed to rising cost and cheaper imports.

Many of the earliest Sydney made cars were produced by former coach factories that just adapted their horse drawn coaches to take engines.  Between 1896 and 1906 a former coach builder at Leichhardt produced a light motorised buggies under the name Australis motors.

Another short lived Sydney factory was the Caldwell Vale Motor Company.  Although they specialised in tractors and lorries, they also produced a series of motor cars between 1910 and 1916 at their factory in Auburn.

Our first major car maker was the entrepreneur Frederick Hugh Gordon who produced the Australian Six motor cars.  Gordon was an importer, bringing in ready to wear suits, fire extinguishers and noiseless typewriters from America.  In his travels he had dealt with the co-founder of the Chevrolet motor company in America and decided to establish an Australian Car factory.  He had already been involved in importing cars, selling the first Ford in Sydney and acting as the agent for Wolseley and Mercedes amongst others.

In 1919 Gordon opened his Australian Six factory at Rushcutters Bay, but within a year demand meant he needed a larger factory and the works were relocated to a purpose built facility on the corner of Parramatta Road and Frederick Street at Ashfield.  Gordon’s factory operated here between 1920 and 1925, producing a grand total of about 500 cars.

Australian Six motor cars leaving the Ashfield factory

Australian Six motor cars leaving the Ashfield factory

Although not many, the Australian Six was important for a number of reasons.  First, it showed that cars could be made in Australia, using Australian materials and expertise.  The Australian Six also introduced the six cylinder engine to Australian motorists.  Six body options were available on a standard chassis, including an eight seater cruising model, popular with taxis and tour companies.  Proudly local, the company moto was Made in Australia, by Australia’s, for Australia’s.

Twenty one years after the closure of Australian Six, a new factory was developed in the Sydney suburb of Zetland.  In 1946, the British motoring entrepreneur William Morris, better known as Lord Nuffield, instructed his Australian representative to find a site for a car factory in Sydney.  The site was the former Victoria Park racecourse at Zetland.  Nuffield purchased 110 acres, developing 57 acres for his factory and selling the remainder to associated motoring industries such as tyre companies and spark plug factories.  The area became a hub for the motor industry.

Initially the site was used for the storage and assembly of imported cars from England, but in 1950 the first stage of the new factory opened.  Operating at first as Nuffield (Australia), a merger between three companies soon saw the site renamed as BMC (Australia), the name they traded under until closing in 1975.

The factory was a large enterprise, with upwards of 5000 workers on site at any one time.  Over the period of its operation an estimated 50,000 people worked there.  Many of these were post war migrants where 35 languages were spoken on site at its peak. Being bi-lingual was an advantage for foremen.

Migrant workers photographed on the production line at BMC for the Immigration Dept.

Migrant workers photographed on the production line at BMC for the Immigration Dept.

Among the classics built on site were the Morris Minor, the Mini, the Morris Moke and the MG.  The company’s last major car was the Leyland P76. Famous now as the car that sank the company, it is considered to be a classic Australian car that came along at the wrong time.

Both these factories are long gone and little remains.  Of the Australian Six, a few examples are in museums, most notably the Powerhouse.  As for BMC, minis, mokes and MGs still grace our roads and if you go to the new unit development of Victoria Park notice the street names, they were named after the cars.

 

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28 March 2014: I did but see her passing by…

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on 2 June 1953. By the following November, she and her husband Philip set off on a six month tour of the Commonwealth, which included Australia. She was the first reigning monarch to visit.

The royal couple were in Australia for almost two months during the summer of 1954. Their first stop was Sydney, with the couple stepping ashore at Farm Cove on the morning of 3 February. They stayed for a week.

The Royal Barge flanked by an avenue of boats to mark the arrival of the QUeen and Prince Phillip (City of Sydney Archives, Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection: 80251)

The Royal Barge flanked by an avenue of boats to mark the arrival of the QUeen and Prince Phillip (City of Sydney Archives, Graeme Andrews ‘Working Harbour’ Collection: 80251)

The royal visit to Sydney was marked with street parades, ceremonial dinners and balls. The arrival of the Queen and her consort on the morning of 3 February was marked with a street procession that attracted thousands. Official openings throughout the week including tree plantings at Macquarie Place for the Remembrance Driveway and Sandringham Gardens in Hyde Park. There was also an array of cultural events, including dance, theatre and art. Thousands flocked to the centre of the Sydney during the week for the many celebrations and cultural activities for the Royal visit.

Centennial Hall within Sydney Town Hall decked out with decorations in 1954 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC13161)

Centennial Hall within Sydney Town Hall decked out with decorations in 1954 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC13161)

There was a State Dinner at Government House on 4 February. The following night, a Royal Ball hosted by the Lord Mayor Pat Hills was held at Sydney Town Hall for up to 2000 official guests. But 150,000 gathered outside on George Street, hoping for a glimpse of the Royal couple. The excitement was too much for some, with over 2,000 people treated for shock and collapse.

To mark the Royal visit, streets and buildings throughout Sydney were decked out with flags, bunting and arches.

celebration parade of cars, arch and decorations, Anthony Walker collection (City of Sydney Archives,  SRC21815)

celebration parade of cars, arch and decorations, Anthony Walker collection (City of Sydney Archives, SRC21815)

According to a report in the Women’s Weekly, “Sydney, with its decorated streets, looks wonderful. It proves that dress can do as much for a city as it does for a woman.”

On 9 February 1954, the Queen and Prince Philip left for Brisbane. But the royals had a lasting effect on Sydney – not just for die hard monarchists, but on the cultural life of Sydney.

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21 March 2014: Millers Point for Sale

This week the state government announced plans to sell off 293 public housing properties in Millers Point and The Rocks.  Residents of Millers Point and The Rocks must be thinking here we go again, as this is not the first time the housing has been considered for sale.

The area has a long history of conflict over housing and housing rights, spanning most of the twentieth century and now the first decades of the twenty first.  It also has a long history of publically owned housing.

In 1900 the arrival of the plague in Sydney heralded the resumption of Millers Point and The Rocks by the state.  Residents’ houses were resumed and demolished, and the government became the new landlord.  To replace those lost the Sydney Harbour Trust, and then the State Housing Board, built new apartments and flats between 1908 and about 1915 to house the workers, many of them wharf labourers, who had lived in the area.

Shops and flats built by the Trust in Millers Point

Shops and flats built by the Trust in Millers Point

In 1936 the Trust was reconstituted as the Maritime Services Board, and responsibility for housing was divested to the MSB.  The MSB provided the houses for workers and their families already in the area, rather then what we would consider needs based housing that Housing NSW provides now.  Some of these families were second or third generation residents.  This practice of inheriting the house continued until the late 1980s, when with the declining wharf usage in the area, the MSB handed control of housing to the NSW Housing commission, putting Millers Point into the general pool of housing.

In 1988 the then Greiner Liberal Government made the first attempt to sell properties in the area.  In November the sale of two hotels, the Hero of Waterloo and the Harbour View, was advertised.  After protests about undermining the character of the area, the sales went ahead with Conservation Orders on the hotels to protect them.  Attempts to sell some of the shops and residences above them the following year was meet with more opposition, and the sales were deferred.  Research into the area as part of the proposal, concluded that Millers Point was an area of national significance, with an outstanding urban significance best managed through ongoing government ownership.

In The Rocks, the current proposal is also to sell the Sirius apartment block.  This block was built in 1979 to house those long term residents who had lost their houses in the demolitions on the 1960s and early 1970s that had led to the Green Bans by the BLF.  The Sirius apartments were a revolution in public housing in NSW.  Designed by Tao Gofers and Government Architects for NSW Housing Commission, the modernist design incorporated individual refinements for residents determined through interviews with the prospective tenants.  Much like in Millers Point, the residents included families who had lived in The Rocks since the colonial period.

Sirius Apartments, from the brochure, 1980.

Sirius Apartments, from the brochure, 1980.

One historian has commented that the Sirius building is ‘an artefact of a time when governments believed that all citizens deserved quality housing’.  Those days may be coming to an end.  Mind you they’re a tough bunch down there and have won fights before.

The question is who does the city belong to? Is it only for the rich, those who can pay up for harbour views?  What about public housing in other increasingly exclusive suburbs like Newtown, Redfern, Balmain, Glebe?  Any what about diversity, vibrant communities, a fair go for all?

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14 March 2014: union picnics

From the mid-19th century onwards, the Australian labour force began to unionise, to collectively bargain for improved wages and conditions. Unions sprang up across the country representing workers in a range of industries and trades from confectioners, butchers and carters to wharf labourers, electricians and coal lumpers.

Group arm-in-arm at the Textile Workers' Picnic at Clifton Gardens 1934 (State Library of NSW, hood_01096)

Group arm-in-arm at the Textile Workers’ Picnic at Clifton Gardens 1934 (State Library of NSW, hood_01096)

Picnic days were not public holidays and were not held on one day of the year. Rather, each industrial union had its own picnic day. Picnics days were an opportunity for the workers to spend a leisure day together, often with their families and usually involving competitive sport and games, including running races; also dances and more formal luncheons.

For some, the union picnic days were considered an industrial ‘sweetener’. For others, picnic days represented an ‘inconvenience to the public’ – when a trade or industry was on a union picnic day, it meant a service not available for that one day. 

Men's sprint race, Australian Paper Mills Picnic, Clifton Gardens, 1935 (State Library of NSW,hood_01742

Men’s sprint race, Australian Paper Mills Picnic, Clifton Gardens, 1935 (State Library of NSW, hood_01742)

By the mid-20th century, thousands attended the picnics. Ferries and trains were used to transport workers and their families to a leisure spots on Sydney’s beaches, harbours and rivers. Popular places for union picnics in Sydney included Clifton Gardens and Chowder Bay near Mosman, Parsley Bay near Vaucluse and Gunnamatta Bay near Cronulla.  

In 1879, the Seaman’s Union met at their rooms, unfurled their new banner and marched in a street parade to Circular Quay. They boarded a ferry to attend their picnic at Chowder Bay, where they embarked on a program of sporting events. There was sailing regatta at the Coal Lumpers union picnic in 1885, held at Chowder Bay.

A group of politicians and union officials at the Tramway Picnic 1934  (State Library of NSW, hood_01011)

A group of politicians and union officials at the Tramway Picnic 1934 (State Library of NSW, hood_01011)

At the second annual picnic organised by the Amalgamated Slaughtermen and Journeyman Butchers at Chowder Bay in 1891, several thousand people attended, including a number of ‘labour representatives elected for the first time to the new parliament’. In 1943, three special electric trains were put on for the Meat Works Union picnic at Gunnamatta Bay.

Union picnic days continue to be held annually, but with many small unions having since been amalgamated, and with union membership at an all time low in Australia, they are not so well attended or such an annual fixture. Which is a shame!

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21 February 2014: Hotel lockouts (again)

This Monday, 24 February, sees the start of Sydney’s new CBD Hotel Lockout laws, where venues inside a designated area in the city, along Oxford Street and at Kings Cross will be required to lockout anyone turning up after 1.30am and stop trading at 3am.  Bottle shops will close at 10pm.

It’s a response to a seemingly increasing level of late night violence around some venues in the city and the reasoning that the booze is the cause.  But this is not the first time this has happened.

A temperance movement had been active in Sydney since the 1850s.  The consumption of alcohol in Sydney was a hot topic throughout the nineteenth century and by the 1890s temperance organisations boasted 70,000 members nationwide.

Their first significant victory came with the 1882 Liquor Act.  At this time there were about 1100 hotels in Sydney, a third of the all pubs in NSW; the majority of them being in the inner city suburbs.  Pubs were trading seven days a week, opening as early as 5 or 6am and closing at 11pm or later.  The Act made Sunday trading illegal and introduced the concept of a local option, which meant that voters in local government elections could vote against the granting of any new licences in their area.  In 1905 this was extended to allow voters to vote for a reduction of licences, as well as restricting new licences.

By June 1908 46 metropolitan hotels had been closed under the new law, with a total of 293 closed across NSW.  Of course plenty of hotels operated outside the law, with some employing private clubs, operating late and employing lookouts for licensing police.

In 1916 a bigger hit came.  A push for early closing of hotels had been building since 1900, when shops were forced to close at 6pm.  Temperance groups argued it was unfair for a shop, selling bread for a family, to be closed at 6, when a pub could trade on into the night.  But at first there was little support.

In February 1916 Australian soldiers training at Liverpool camp went on a rampage over extra training hours.  5000 broke up the camp and marched on Liverpool, where they were joined by an estimated 10,000 more.  After smashing up shops and hotels in Liverpool, the troops commandeered trains and went into the city where 1 was shot and killed and others injured.  A hastily convened Parliament ordered hotels immediately closed, sensing that booze was fueling the unrest.

drinkers at Auburn queue for last drinks, 1952.

drinkers at Auburn queue for last drinks, 1952.

For the temperance union it could not have come at a better time.  A state election was due in June 1916 with a referendum on early closing proposed. 62% voted for hotels to close at 6pm for the duration of the war.  Agitation by the temperance unions saw the closing time extended and then made permanent in 1923 and remained in place until 1954.

And so it was that the 6 o’clock swill entered our local vocabulary.  With most people finishing work at 5pm, anyone up for a beer after had 1 hour to get to the pub, order and finish.  Pubs were overrun with drinkers, especially later in the week, with men spilling out onto the footpath, and clambering over each other to get a last drink. Rounds of 4 beers each were not uncommon.

Pubs were rebuilt to cope, illegal grog shops sprang up everywhere to satisfy demand, and Sydney’s late-night drinking culture went underground.  Can we expect this again?

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14 February 2014: Waratah Spring Festival

Sydney is today touted as a ‘festival hub’ and as one of the best festival cities in the world. Not a week seems to go by without a cultural festival taking place. But 60 years ago, Sydney (and indeed the rest of Australia) was a very different place; it was much more culturally conservative.

 Waratah Princess lording it over some nymphettes aboard the City of Sydney float, 1965 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18952)

Waratah Princess lording it over some nymphettes aboard the City of Sydney float, 1965 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18952)

The visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Australian shores in 1954 marked a change in Australian cultural life. Her visits to the capital cities around the nation, in particular Sydney and Melbourne, attracted record crowds who gathered in the city centres to watch the royal spectacle. In the aftermath of her visit, civic forefathers in both cities saw an opportunity to attract people into the city centres with an annual festival.

:  Sutherland Shire Youth Crusade Gymea Baptist Sunday School float, 1965 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18949)

:
Sutherland Shire Youth Crusade Gymea Baptist Sunday School float, 1965 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18949)

Melbourne was first off the rank, with the Moomba Festival first held in March 1955. Not to be outdone, Sydney held its first annual festival, known as the Waratah Spring Festival, in October 1956. It was to be a spring festival, with the native Waratah flower chosen because it was both a symbol of NSW but also a plant indigenous to Sydney.

Marching bands in the Waratah Spring Festival procession, 1950s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18287)

Marching band in the Waratah Spring Festival procession, 1950s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18287)

The festival was initiated by the Sydney Committee led by the NSW Premier and the Mayor of Sydney Municipal Council; it was organised by the Council.

An estimated 250,000 spectators lined up to watch the first Waratah Spring Festival procession in 1956 - there were 140 decorated floats, 26 bands and 5,000 ‘marchers’. It was a spring festival – so it was held in October – and because the theme was ‘spring’, over two million flowers (both natural and artificial) were used to decorate the floats. Every year, there was a Waratah Pageant and a ‘Waratah Princess’ was crowned. The first Waratah Princess was Colleen Pike from Newtown.

Sydney County Council's float featuring a large plug, 1950s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18258 )

Sydney County Council’s float featuring a large plug, 1950s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC18258 )

In 1964, there were 45 decorated floats and up to 5,000 people took part in the procession, which extended almost two miles.

Eighteen Waratah Spring Festivals were held between 1956 and 1973. In addition to the public spectacle of the street parades, the festival grew to encompass other events including an art competition, a decorative floral competition in the lower town hall and cultural events including ballet and theatre.

Waratah Princess 1963 (City of Sydney Archives,  SRC17470)

Waratah Princess 1963 (City of Sydney Archives,
SRC17470)

By the early 1970s, the Waratah Festival was attracting ever fewer visitors to the centre of Sydney, and was gaining the reputation of being ‘tatty’.

The final Waratah Spring Festival was held in 1973, to coincide with the opening of the Sydney Opera House. In a report prepared in 1974, the Sydney Committee noted that the major sponsors had withdrawn their support and that the Festival had outlived its usefulness as a major attraction. The event was abandoned.

But three years later, it was relaunched as a summer festival, known as the Sydney Festival. The first Festival of Sydney was held in January 1977. It has been held annually since.

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