5 December 2014: Christmas cheer

In the 19th century Sydney, Christmas was celebrated through the decoration of streets and buildings, along with preparations for feasting. Christmas street decorations included native flora, ribbons, Christmas trees, tinsel, baubles and illuminations.

Streets shopfronts were decorated with boughs of Australian Christmas bush, which was considered a substitute for holly, although it looked completely different.

The decorations were one way to encourage Sydneysiders to visit the shops in the centre of the city for their Christmas shopping.

The central markets on George Street (where QVB is today) were a focus for Sydneysiders to stock up for Christmas feasts from the mid-19th century – the markets were opened an extra night, to allow people to stock up on fruit, vegetables, folws, pigs and lambs. In 1844, it was recorded that ‘the stalls in the George-street Markets wore tastefully ornamented with evergreens, flowering shrubs, fruits, and flowers’. In 1856, it was reported that shop windows throughout the city were piled high with ‘plums and currents and other dainties’.

From the late 19th century onwards, Sydney’s large department stores prepared elaborate window displays, which were described in detail by the local press.

In 1888, it was recorded that Sydney’s shop windows were ‘ablaze with the heralds of happiness, and bounteous are the preparations for the season of peace’. In 1890, it was said that ‘excellent progress continues to be made in many of the business establishments in the city in the direction of preparing displays of wares most in demand at this season of the year’.

The popular David Jones windows hark back to this tradition.

Carols by candlelight in Hyde Park, 1970 (NAA, A1200, L85587)

Carols by candlelight in Hyde Park, 1970 (NAA, A1200, L85587)

Christmas trees were another focus for festivities. Charity Christmas trees were popular in the early 20th century. But the first Carols by Candlelight, held in Hyde Park in 1946, involved a charity Christmas tree which was sponsored by a local tabloid newspaper. This tree was the precursor to the Christmas tree in Martin Place, a feature since 1971. A real tree was originally used but it wasn’t a success as the trees died and dropped pine needles. An artificial tree has been used since 1976. Then, as now, the tree is ceremonially lit by the Lord Mayor.

Happy Christmas!

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14 November 2014: Lawrence Hargrave

This week, on the 12th November, marked the 120 anniversary since Lawrence Hargrave flew in his box kite flying machine at Stanwell Park.  Although he only went about 5m, the fact that he flew straight, stable and with vertical lift proved that flight and flying machines were possible (not including balloons which had been going up for a while by then).

Our man, Lawrence c1910 (SLNSW P1)

Our man, Lawrence c1910 (SLNSW P1)

Hargrave was born in Greenwich, England in 1850, coming to Sydney in 1865 to join his father and oldest brother.  He was expected to go into law, but adventure and failing his matriculation exams got in the way of that.  In 1867 he was apprenticed to the Australian Steam and Navigation Company where he learnt the basics of design and engineering, two skills that would be invaluable to his later career.

After another stint at exploring and adventure in New Guinea, Hargrave worked for 5 years at the Sydney Observatory, where study of air currents lead to a lifelong interest in flight.

In 1883, using the sale of some land at Coalcliff for a coal mine and an annual lease of another site for the same purpose, he retired from full time work and concentrated on design and invention.  His first obsession was with flapping wing designs, based on his observations of birds.  Hargrave made scale and full sized models of powered first with clockwork engines and later with rubber bands.  His models made numerous successful flights.  A full scale flying machine, large enough to take a pilot was built in 1887, but he never tested it, using it instead as a guide.

From 1888 he spent five years working on engine design.  Experimenting in steam and petrol engines, in 1889 he invented the radial rotary engine, considered his most significant contribution to aeronautical engineering.  The engine was powerful enough to lift and propel a plane, however as it could only be applied to propeller driven models, Hargrave put it aside as he was still focused on his flapping wing design (one of which flew 112m).  The engine design was later modified by French engineers and became the standard design for early military aircraft during WWI.

A model of one of Hargrave's flapping wing machines (SLNSW PXd 704)

A model of one of Hargrave’s flapping wing machines (SLNSW PXd 704)

In 1893 he inherited a house and land from his brother’s estate at Stanwell Park, where he enclosed part of the veranda and built his workshop.  It was here that he intensified his work and became aware of the advantages of curved surfaces for lifting and he turned his attention to kites.

Although some of these ideas had already been proposed in England as early as 1809, and by others in Europe and America, it was Hargraves modifications, his concept of an aerofoil (a thicker surface at the front of the wing then the rear) and his development of box-kites and their inherent stability that showed their true potential.  And they lifted him from the ground in 1894.

Working on his box kites at Woollahra (SLNSW P1/710)

Working on his box kites at Woollahra (SLNSW P1/710)

While Hargraves ideas were cutting edge and workable, his isolation from the aeronautical community in Europe and America and the lack of fine engineering expertise in Australia always held him back.  He built over 200 models of his designs, which he made freely available to anyone.  He also published all his work, believing in the spread of knowledge rather than the copyrighting and patenting of it (100yrs before Creative Commons).  His models were given to the technology museum in Munich, Germany, the only museum who would freely allow them to be examined.  Sadly 176 of these were destroyed in air raids during WWII, but 25 were returned to Australia and are now at the Powerhouse.

In 1992 one of these designs from 1902 was rebuilt using the original blueprints by Sydney Uni engineers.  With a lighter, modern engine replacing Hargraves heavier version, the full scale model flew.





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7 November 2014: Sydney’s state send offs

Gough Whitlam’s state memorial service was held at Sydney Town Hall on Wednesday 5 November 2014. Centennial Hall was packed to the rafters with politicians and the party faithful. But thousands more crowded in the square outside, watching the televised service on the screen for over two hours. So how have other state funerals or memorials gone down in Sydney?

State funerals were held in Australia from the mid-19th century onwards, and are typically accorded to ‘public figures’ (usually men). The traditions, pomp and ceremony of Australia’s early state funerals were transplanted directly from Britain. Many of the traditional symbols and rituals associated with these public displays of mourning and grief were based upon heraldic mourning ceremonies dating back many centuries.

State funeral service for former Prime Minister Billy Hughes, on George Street outside Sydney Town Hall, 1952 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, hood_25556)

State funeral service for former Prime Minister Billy Hughes, on George Street outside Sydney Town Hall, 1952 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, hood_25556)

Australia’s first state funeral was in Melbourne for doomed explorers Burke and Wills in 1863. NSW’s first State funeral took place on Tuesday 6 May 1873 for politician William Charles Wentworth. Although he died in England in 1872, Wentworth’s body was shipped back to Sydney for the service. Upwards of 50,000 people ventured out on to the streets to view the funeral procession, which extended from St Andrew’s Cathedral to the family home in Vaucluse, Vaucluse House. More here.

When the Catholic Archbishop John Polding died in 1877, his funeral cortege extended over three miles long.

The poet Henry Lawson was the first ‘distinguished citizen’ granted a State funeral in 1922 – previously this honour went to politicians only.

State funeral procession of Governor Sir Walter Davidson alongside St Andrew's Cathedral, on the corner of George Street, 1923 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, Home and Away - 7745

State funeral procession of Governor Sir Walter Davidson alongside St Andrew’s Cathedral, on the corner of George Street, 1923 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, Home and Away – 7745

When Prime Minister Joe Lyons died suddenly while in Sydney in 1939, there was a street procession and a state funeral was held at St Mary’s Cathedral. His body was then shipped back to his family’s home in Tasmania for burial. See more images here.

In more recent times, Aboriginal activist Dr Charles Perkins was given a state funeral at Sydney Town Hall when he died in 2000. Others who’ve been given state funerals or memorials in Sydney have included country musician Slim Dusty, eye surgeon Fred Hollows, dancer Robert Helpmann and pioneer aviator Nancy Bird-Walton. In May this year, former Premier Neville Wran’s state service was also held at Sydney Town Hall.

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24 October 2014: Gough’s Sydney

In honour of the recent passing of Gough Whitlam, it’s time to take a look at the contribution of this notable Australian Prime Minister on Sydney and Sydneysiders across his lifetime.

Edward Gough Whitlam was the 21st Prime Minister of Australia from 1972 through to 1975. Melbourne-born and Canberra-raised, he moved to Sydney in 1935 to start his studies in law at the University of Sydney. After a stint in the armed forces during World War 2, he resumed his studies in 1945 and became a practising lawyer in 1947.

Gough Whitlam delivers the Labour Party's policy speech at Blacktown Civic Centre in Sydney, 1972  (National Archives of Australia, Image no. : A6180, 5/12/72/5)

Gough Whitlam delivers the Labour Party’s policy speech at Blacktown Civic Centre in Sydney, 1972 (National Archives of Australia, Image no. : A6180, 5/12/72/5)

He joined the Darlinghurst branch of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 1945. He was elected to the seat of Werriwa in 1952, and remained as the local member until 1978. Whitlam and his young family initially settled in a home they built at Cronulla in the immediate post-war period, but they moved to Cabramatta in the 1950s, which was by then in the heartland of Whitlam’s electorate.

Whitlam was the deputy leader of the ALP in 1960–67 and the leader of the opposition in 1967–72. He was elected as the 21st Australian Prime Minister in 1972.

Whitlam made significant contributions to the everyday lives of Australians through an ambitious reform agenda across health, housing, education and regional development. His government’s enduring legacy for the people of inner Sydney was an agreement to provide social housing in Glebe and Woolloomooloo. Whitlam Square, at the north-west corner of Hyde Park, was formally named in his honour in 1983.

But it was western Sydney where Whitlam left the greatest mark. He represented the seat of Werriwa for over 25 years, which from 1955 to 1977, covered south-western Sydney including Cabramatta, Liverpool and Campbelltown. But his popular appeal extended  beyond his electorate. Whitlam was notable for providing sewerage to the suburbs, through the provision of specifically targeted local grants.

For western Sydneysiders, Bowman Hall in Blacktown has significance as this was where he launched the “It’s Time” election campaign, and the launch of his second election campaign in 1975.

See also other sites of significance in western Sydney here.

The Whitlam Institute, a social policy institute located at the University of Sydney, commemorates Gough Whitlam’s life and work

Farewell comrade.

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17 October 2014: Gladesville Bridge

Two weeks ago, on the 2 October, Gladesville Bridge celebrated its 50th birthday.

When it was completed in 1964, the bridge was the largest concrete arch bridge in the world, a record that stood until 1980.  It was also one of the first to be designed by computer, by a young engineer called Tony Gee working for the engineering firm G Maunsell & Partners in London.

The bridge replaced an earlier steel truss bridge built in 1883.  This bridge was one of several built in the 1870s and 1880s to take road traffic across the various rivers and coves as you head west from the city, replacing punts and ferries on the way.  Its nearest neighbour, Iron Cove Bridge (still standing) was completed two years before.

The old Gladesville Bridge c1910. SLNSW PXE 711/194

The old Gladesville Bridge c1910. SLNSW PXE 711/194

The original low steel bridge went across the Parramatta River at a narrow section at Huntleys Point.  The last span on the western side was a swing span that could be opened to allow boats to pass through, heading up or down river.   A number of jams in the mechanism in the 1920’s and afterwards however stretched the public’s patience. The sandstone piers at either end of the bridge, joining it to the land are still in place today.

By the mid-1950s the old bridge was past its use by date.  As a single lane each way, the bridge could no longer cope with the increasing amount of vehicle traffic and traffic jams became increasing common.  The County of Cumberland scheme, a new planning scheme for Sydney released in 1951 had suggested the need for new bridges and freeways, with Gladesville Bridge as one of the proposals.

The first plan was for another steel bridge until Maunsell’s idea for a concrete span was accepted.  The idea of a concrete bridge of the scale required was a bold and innovative plan for the 1950s, and had not been tried before.  Tony Gee, just 22 and recently graduated, was sent out to manage the project.  He suspected that the company thought getting the job was a long shot so they sent the cheapest employee.

Gee wrote and designed computer programs to design the massive structure and work began in December 1959.  The arch consisted of four concrete box arches constructed independently, which share the load of the road deck equally.  Each arch was built in sections and transported to the site where they were constructed on formwork, in the same basic style of traditional stone arch bridges.  When each arch was finished, the concrete load acted to lift the arch from the formwork which was then moved sideways so the next section could start.

It seems Sydney had a thing for innovative, cutting edge concrete design that no-one else was quite confident or crazy enough to take on at this time.  Just down the harbour a bit the start was being made on the other concrete engineering masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House.

Up she goes.  The span under construction in 1963. (NAA L43885)

Up she goes. The span under construction in 1963. (NAA L43885)

As with any large scale construction in Sydney, especially its inner suburbs, the construction resulted in demolitions of many houses along its route and the route of its two associated bridges, the Fig Tree Bridge and Tarban Creek Bridge.  However, it had been planned to be part of the northwest freeway which was abandoned due in part to protests about the proposed demolitions of hundreds of houses in Glebe.

The bridge was opened on 2 October 1964 by visiting Royal Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.

There is plenty more on the Bridge here, with videos of its construction and opening.



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9 October 2014: Sydney’s public libraries

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the NSW Library Act (1939).

NSW led the way in Australia with the establishment of free public libraries. Until this legislation was passed, there were only two free public libraries in NSW: Broken Hill (established in 1906) and the City of Sydney (established in 1909).

This legislation enabled the provision of free public libraries around the state. Under the act, local councils were provided with state government subsidies as an incentive to set up free public library services.

A book repairer at Bankstown Municipal Library, 1957 (National Archives of Australia, Image no. : A12111, 1/1957/16/40)

A book repairer at Bankstown Municipal Library, 1957 (National Archives of Australia, Image no. : A12111, 1/1957/16/40)

The free public library movement had been founded in 1935 by Geoffrey Remington, a prominent Sydney solicitor and businessman. He was influenced by a critical but influential report into Australian Libraries known as the Munn-Pitt report.

The free public library movement was a layperson’s lobby group made up of a diverse group of people and organisations: from service clubs and trade unions to politicians and school teachers. Librarians at the Public Library of NSW were involved informally, providing support and advice.

Story time at Surry Hills Library, 1964 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 48/3895)

Story time at Surry Hills Library, 1964 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 48/3895)

The first meeting of the free public library movement was held at the Chatswood-Willoughby School of the Arts. The meeting was convened by Remington and involved broad ranging group, including parents, citizens groups and progress associations.

Although Geoffrey Remington was the key driver of the movement, free libraries came about due to people power. Active members within the movement spread their message through radio and pamphlets. Children were encouraged to write essays on the benefits of free public libraries. Key supporters and unofficial advisors of the movement were the Principal and Deputy Librarians at the Public Library of NSW (now the State Library of NSW).

This agitation for accessible community spaces where local citizens could borrow books (and also films) was a product of an increasingly literate society in the mid-20th century.

The NSW Library Act was passed on 3 November 1939, on the eve of World War 2, and within 18 months, 32 NSW councils had adopted the act. Although the legislation enabled financial incentives to be provided to local authorities (i.e. councils and shires) to establish library services, this aspect of the act was delayed until after the war ended.

Ryde Civic Centre and Centenary Library, c1971 (City of Ryde Library)

Ryde Civic Centre and Centenary Library, c1971 (City of Ryde Library)

In the immediate post-war period, some of the first suburban municipal libraries in Sydney were established at Mosman (1945), Ku-ring-gai (1945), Bankstown (1946) and Marrickville (1947).

Bankstown was the largest municipal area in NSW. Its library was established in 1945, along with several branch libraries into the 1950s.

Libraries were often established in existing buildings, often former school of arts buildings. But into the 1950s, as increased funding became available, purpose-built libraries began to be built. The architectural form of the municipal library was important, as was its siting as an important civic building. The form of the building had certain requirements, such as abundant windows to allow light and enough space for  patrons to move between aisles.

By 1959, two thirds of the NSW population had access to a public library. Today, public libraries are used by 44% of the population.

Find out what’s happening across the state on the State Library of NSW website here and check out some pics of libraries in Sydney and across the state here and here.

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3 October 2014: Grand Final Weekend

Well it’s that time of year once again, the rugby league grand final and an all Sydney final: South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Canterbury Bulldogs.

The last time these two meet was 1967, South’s winning that one 12-10.

Both teams are strong on supporters, with fierce local fan groups.  They are old teams in the comp, with South’s a foundation club from 1908 and Canterbury joining in the first push of new teams in 1935.

Both have won their fair share of finals too.

South’s won the first grand final in 1908 (and 1909 when their opponents, Balmain, failed to turn up for the game.  Souths kicked off at 2 to an empty field, gathered the ball and scored the winning try) and they hold the record for the most finals for any club at 20 out of 33 appearances.  In the first 20 years of the comp, South’s won 9 finals, including 5 in a row between 1925 and 1929.  Their last win was 1971, beating St George 16-10.rabbitohs

43 years since the last has been a very long time for South’s.  Not only have they not won a grand final, but in the aftermath of the Super League in the mid-1990s, South’s were excluded from the NRL.  Following two Supreme Court challenges and two mass rallies, the first which attracted 30,000 people who marched from Redfern to the Sydney Town Hall and the second that attracted 80,000 league fans from all clubs, they were readmitted to the comp in 2002.  In 2006 Russell Crowe, a lifelong supporter, bought the club, and a new era began.

Canterbury have played 17 grand finals in their 79 years in the comp, winning 8.  They won their first in 1938 just 3 years after joining the comp, the quickest win for a non-foundation club until Melbourne won in 1999.  Like South’s the Bulldogs had a long drought after early success. They won in 1942 and then not again until 1980, 38 years later.

The 1980s were the Bulldogs glory decade, appearing in 5 and winning 4 grand finals, including 1984 and 1985.  Another 3 played in the 1990s with a win in 1995 and their latest win in 2004.

Bulldogs logo 1935-1977

Bulldogs logo 1935-1977

While South’s have long been known as the Rabbitohs, Canterbury have been through a series of names in their history.  At first, the logo  was a B inside a C  and so they were nicknamed the See-Bees.  Then in the later 1940s, with a lot of country players in the team they were called by their detractors the Country Bumpkins, then the Cantabs by the media (doesn’t really roll off the tongue that one) and then the Berrie’s.

In 1978 under pressure from the league marketers to come up with an animal mascot (Canterbury and Newtown were the only 2 teams without an animal mascot), the club asked the fans what it should be.

Overwhelmingly the decision was for a Bulldog, and so it was.


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