To kick off the new year, Mark talks about Sydney’s convict heritage this morning on Scratching Sydney’s Surface; think Hyde Park Barracks, the so-called Rum Hospital (now home to Parliament House and the Mint Museum) and Cockatoo Island. Further afield, there is Wisemans Ferry…

Take it away Mark!

Even though convicts kicked around in Sydney over 160 years ago, much of the fabric of the city they built remains for all to see. With the Sydney Festival about to get underway, it’s good to see some of our convict-built heritage being used as festival venues. Hyde Park Barracks on Macquarie Street, constructed in 1816-17, was designed by convict architect Francis Greenway, using convict labour.  Not only did the convicts build their own prison around themselves, they were also put to good use making the dreaded cat o’ nine tails, the favoured lash used on the backs of the recalcitrants.  If you listen closely while dancing in the Festival Bar in the next few weeks you might hear the sharp crack of a well placed stroke. Similarly, Cockatoo Island, home to All Tomorrows Parties in 2009, was shaped in its earliest form by convict labour.  Stone quarried to make the impressive Fitzroy Dock was used to form the seawalls around Sydney’s harbourside.

Further afield, Wisemans Ferry in Sydney’s northwest, named after the ex-convict and ferry man, Solomon Wiseman, has a number of good convict examples. Wiseman’s house has been incorporated into the Wisemans Ferry Hotel, complete with the ghost of his wife. Across the river (you take the ferry) the convict-built Old Great North Road continues into the mountains. An engineering marvel, the road winds its way into the Dharug National Park, its buttressed sides holding the stonework in place. This is a walk worth doing, but probably not in the 40 degree heat of a western Sydney summer.

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