1 May 2015: New Zealand Connections

The recent ANZAC 100th has once again reaffirmed Australian and New Zealand bonds since Gallipoli.  However it often comes over that it was at Gallipoli that these bonds were first forged and so our close relationship is only 100 years old, but as with so much of Sydney’s history it goes a bit further back than that.

Sydney’s connections to New Zealand began as early as 1793 when the first Maori were bought to the new colony.  The two men had been kidnapped by the British and sent to Norfolk Island to teach convicts how to weave flax into cloth.  They didn’t teach anyone and in an unusual twist for colonial British interactions with Indigenous peoples, they were actually returned to New Zealand after a stay with Governor King in Sydney.

Before returning, one of the men, Tuki Tahua, told King of the immense pine trees that grew near the Bay of Islands where he was from.  This information sparked renewed naval interest in New Zealand and ships were soon regularly visiting the area for timber and trade.  Maori in turn began to voyage back and forth to Sydney on these timber trading ships, as well as whalers and as curious visitors.

Maori chiefs and princesses became regular visitors to Sydney in the years up to 1820.  Chiefs like Te Pahi, Te Hikutu and Korohoro, all from the Bay of Islands area visited between 1805 and the 1820s.  They were part of a multi-cultural colonial scene that at times meant some pubs in the Rocks had more Maori clients than European ones.  Enough timber was coming in from New Zealand and Maori traders in the mid-1820s that a wharf at the end of George Street dealt exclusively in it.

3 Maori men stand in the yard of the military hospital, Sydney c1821. SLNSW V1/ca1821/5

3 Maori men stand in the yard of the military hospital, Sydney c1821. SLNSW V1/ca1821/5

In 1814 the Reverend Samuel Marsden helped establish the first mission stations to the Maori in the North Island.  In doing this he organised for the first export of horses and sheep to New Zealand from Sydney farms.  Sheep in particular were a lucrative trade item to the missions, and Sydney became the main port for live export to our near neighbour.  By the 1840s, 1000’s of sheep were leaving Sydney for New Zealand farms.

So much relied on New Zealand trade that between 1839 and 1841 the whole country was bought under the administration of the NSW Governor, with James Busby appointed as vice-consul.

But friendly relations with the Maori were about to come to an end.  Increasing European incursions into Maori land and expanding settlements heightened tensions between Maori and European’s which was bought to a head in 1840 when a treaty was forced on the Maori to cede control of their lands to the British Crown.  The first land wars erupted in the early 1840s with Sydney playing a major role.  In the years prior, many Maori chiefs had used Sydney to buy weapons for their people, for internal Maori conflicts as well as use against Europeans.  When war broke out, two gunboats were built in Sydney for use against the Maori, with volunteers also rushing to join militia groups heading to fight.

From 1863-64, the Waikato Wars attracted more than 2500 Australian volunteers, with about 650 going from Sydney.  A memorial in Burwood Park remembers the conflict.

Of course, the war all but ended Maori connections to Sydney in the nineteenth century.  The trade they had relied on was decimated, their lands were taken and the Sydney population dwindled.  It never fully disappeared though, confirming a connection between Sydney and New Zealand of at least 222 years and counting.

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10 April 2015: Castlereagh and Penrith Lakes

Castlereagh, one of the earliest places of European settlement in Sydney’s west and some of the oldest evidence of Aboriginal occupation is now largely an imagined landscape and a forgotten community.  The oldest intact European colonial landscape in the country has been replaced by a series of deep quarries and a growing system of artificial lakes to fill them.

Castlereagh, on the Nepean River, was settled by Europeans in 1803 as part of the growing community of farmers that was spreading along the river from Windsor and Richmond.  It was a social experiment in many respects. After the free for all that had been the settlement style at Windsor where ex-convicts grabbed and grappled for land and violence amongst settlers and Aboriginal people was rife, Governor King placed some limits on Castlereagh.  Farms were set out in neat rows of long straight paddocks running between a new road to Richmond and the river.  Never mind the thick brush vegetation, that could be cleared out and the rich alluvial soil put to good use.

Hadley Park c1810, one of the few survivors of the colonial era at Castlereagh (Penrith in Pictures)

Hadley Park c1810, one of the few survivors of the colonial era at Castlereagh (Penrith in Pictures)

And so it was: Veteran soldiers, free settlers and some choice emancipists were given land to clear and farm.  They cleared so much and so effectively that in 1804 Governor King forbade further clearing in some of Australia’s first environmental laws.  The environment was an ever present factor of life at Castlereagh.  Most notably was the river, which bought both life and death.  As a source of fresh water it was invaluable to the settlers, but it was notoriously dangerous in flood times, washing the farms away on a regular basis.  Major floods devastated the area in 1807 and twice in 1809, so much so that Governor Macquarie ordered a new settlement on higher ground be laid out, but few people were willing to move off the rich soil.

The area was (and remains) important and also home to Aboriginal people, who moved in and around the settlers and between the Castlereagh area and the Blue Mountains that overlook it, as they had for millennia.  Like the Europeans, they were drawn to the area for its rich natural resources, the river, the forests and the food they provided.  They also came for the blue stone river rocks and pebbles which were used for axes, scrappers and other essential tools.  The stones were worked and traded across a vast trading network.

Farms dominated the landscape until the 1960s.  Some families had farmed the same plots since 1803.  But from the late 1880s and early 1890s small scale quarries also began to appear.  At first they operated in the river itself, extracting gravel for road base and building.  From the 1960s however they began to move into the farm land, opening larger quarries to get gravel and sand to feed Sydney’s housing boom.

Quarry at Castlereagh c1960.  (Penrith in Pictures)

Quarry at Castlereagh c1960. (Penrith in Pictures)

So much gravel was being taken that Penrith Council stopped approving quarry development in 1964 so they could assess the impacts.  The new plan was to fill the site with water after the quarries were finished, to create a recreation lake system and waterfront building lots.   A consortium of the quarry companies formed the Penrith Lakes Development Corporation to manage and develop the area.  Water is to be diverted from the river to fill and flush the system.  In 2000 the first part was opened as the Sydney International Regatta Centre in time for the Olympics.

15 years later none of the 4000+ planned houses have been built but the colonial landscape is long gone, churned up, crushed and put back into the cement of a new Sydney.


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27 March 2015: NSW State Elections

So here we are again, it’s election time in NSW. We take it for granted that we will get a chance to vote for our politicians, even if we don’t believe everything they say or don’t want to go and do it, we know we can vote.

This of course was not always the case.  Democracy is a relatively new idea and the idea that everyone gets the vote even more recent.

The first elections for Government in NSW were held in June 1843 (Sydney City Council had been elected in 1842) for the Legislative Council, now the Upper House.  The Council had actually been formed in 1824 but was fully appointed by the Governor of the day to act as an advisory council to him.  The new idea of actually electing someone had come from Britain where an Act of the British Parliament gave NSW the rights to establish our own.  As transportation of convicts had by then ceased to NSW (1840) it was determined that we were now capable of having our own say in things.

The Governor would still be in charge but he would be expected to listen to the elected Council and take into consideration their advice.  He would also get to appoint six colonists, with six appointed by the British government and 24 others being elected, making a total of 36 covering 18 electorates across the state, including 2 (with 6 members) covering Port Phillip as Victoria was still attached to NSW administratively.

The elections were staggered across the electorates, with the Sydney going first on the 15 June, the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carter by King John in 1215 (800 years this year).  Candidates had been spruiking for some time with five candidates running in Sydney.  Rallies were held in the Domain, Hyde Park, Macquarie Place and other public spaces.  As they were often fuelled by alcohol they were lively affairs.

Voters were restricted to property owners, with country voters needed to own more than £100 of property and city householders to those paying at least £10 rent per year.  This restricted voting to about half the male population.

NSW Parliament House: where they all end up (SLNSW SPF/310)

NSW Parliament House: where they all end up (SLNSW SPF/310)

The day was marked by violence.  While voters came out in good numbers, as the results began to become clear, the backers of the losers began to cause trouble at polling stations and through the city.  Supporters of the winning candidates (WC Wentworth and William Bland) were harassed, others chased and beaten and one was killed.  A gang of sailors from whaling ships in the harbour advanced through the city armed with harpoons, whaling spears, blubber spades and other weapons until confronted and broken up by mounted police.  It’s a long way from a sausage sizzle that election days are remembered for now.

And so it was, we were represented.  In 1856 the first fully elected parliament was voted established in NSW, when the lower house Legislative Assembly was formed.  In 1858 male suffrage based on residential address was introduced given most men the opportunity to vote.  Women joined in in 1902.  It took until 1971 for 18 years old to be given the vote and incredibly it was not until 1978 that the Legislative Council was fully elected without appointed members.

Nothing comes easy or quickly, but nothing comes if you aren’t involved.


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20 March 2015: Malabar

This week on Scratching Sydney’s Surface, we’re going to venture south. It was announced in the news on 18 March 2015 that 50 hectares of the Malabar Headland would be handed over by the Commonwealth to the State Government and converted to national park.

Wreck of the Malabar in 1932 (City of Sydney Archives, 89979:Graeme Andrews Working Harbour Collection)

Wreck of the MV Malabar in 1932 (City of Sydney Archives, 89979:Graeme Andrews Working Harbour Collection)

Malabar Headland is located just to the south of Maroubra Beach. The isolated headland has had multiple uses over the last two centuries, but none of them residential. The village of Long Bay, to the south of the headland, was first subdivided for sale at the end of the 19th century, but take up was slow, even though a tram to La Perouse (built by 1901) provided easy access to the suburb, the nearby gaol and an infectious diseases hospital called the Coast Hospital.

Subdivision plan for the Village of Brand (Long Bay) in 1889 (National Library of Australia, MAP Folder 100, LFSP 1494/2 - nla.gov.au/nla.map-lfsp1494-2)

Subdivision plan for the Village of Brand (Long Bay) in 1889 (National Library of Australia, MAP Folder 100, LFSP 1494/2 – nla.gov.au/nla.map-lfsp1494-2)

The women’s gaol at Long Bay was built in 1904, and the gaol for men built 10 years later. Although the area was originally known as the Village of Brand or Long Bay, it was renamed Malabar in the 1930s for a shipwreck, but also to dissociate it from the Long Bay Gaol.


Panorama of Long Bay Rifle Range, Randwick, 1917-23 (From Enemark collection of panoramic photographs, National Library of Australia, nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn6258081)

The Malabar headland is best known for being the location of a rifle range. Land here was used for rifle practice from the mid-19th century and for musketry practice during World War 1. The headland was part of Sydney’s coastal defences during World War 2. The ANZAC Rifle Range was on the site until 1988 when it moved out west to Liverpool, but the area continues to be used as a live firing range.

Army rifle shoot competition at Long Bay Range, 1934 (Photograph by Sam Hood, State Library of NSW - Digital Order number hood_03977)

Army rifle shoot competition at Long Bay Range, 1934 (Photograph by Sam Hood, State Library of NSW – Digital Order number hood_03977)

The other less salubrious association the Malabar Headland is with sewerage and pollution. Long Bay was earmarked for the removal of sewage out to sea in the late 19th century by Sydney C0uncil, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that a sewage outfall was built by the State Government. It was replaced with a deep sea outfall in the 1990s.

Although it’s good news that wild, albeit heavily polluted places, like the Malabar Headland are being opened up for public use, it remains to be seen what happens to the remaining 110 hectares of land that makes up the headland.

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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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