A Little Bit About Leichhardt

Leichhardt is an inner west suburb of Sydney, surrounded by Lilyfield, Annandale and Petersham. On a spring afternoon I was enticed for an outing, motivated by the prospect of visiting an excellent new and second-hand bookshop – Berkelouw Books. The second-hand books are well organised in sections, kept in alphabetical order and located on an airy first floor. When we arrived, there was an animated book group in attendance, and there is also a learning and educational play space for children.

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Norton Street, Leichhardt with school, town hall and post office in view

I was vaguely aware that Leichhardt was named for the lost explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt, but it was originally known as Piperston as large land grants had been given to Captain Piper and Ensign Hugh Piper in 1811. Land was later sold to Walter Beames, who named it Leichhardt in honour of his friend, Ludwig.

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Leichhardt Town Hall

Leichhardt’s achievements included an expedition from Brisbane to Port Essington (4800 kilometres). During his second expedition, an attempt to cross the continent from east to west, all members of the expedition were lost with search parties failing to find any trace.

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Leichhardt Post and Telegraphic Office

Originally the area consisted of large estates with extensive gardens and paddocks. In the 1850s and 1860s, a trip to Leichhardt was like a day in the country, even though it is less than 10 kilometres from Sydney.

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Leichhardt Public School, Norton Street entrance

The arrival of the railway at Petersham provided easy access to Leichhardt and subdivisions of property quickly followed. The area evolved into a working class suburb, and it continues to evolve. There are many cafes and restaurants along with boutique shops and a steady stream of cars of pedestrians on the move.

Have you had a wander around an inner city suburb lately?

[Photo: detail on Leichhardt Post Office]

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Sydney, Her City: Short Fiction

She had watched the bridge take shape. It had seemed an impossibility, an absurd idea that the sheer expanse of the harbour could be tethered by steel and iron. There had been talk of it for so long that it seemed like an intrinsic part of her childhood memories, its design a favourite topic of debate. Then suddenly whole streets and entire neighbourhoods began to vanish, houses and shops and factories that had been familiar were pulled apart and families were forced to relocate.

Ella’s family had been lucky. They had been earmarked for relocation but changes to plans meant that their street was spared. She could recall heading off to school of a morning, walking through nearby streets with her brothers and sister, then the shock of arriving home to find rubble and dust where houses had been. Her mother had complained of the dirt and the rats that seemed to be in plague proportions as buildings that had stood firm for decades were pushed over and destroyed within a day.

Her eldest brother had landed a job on one of the many construction crews that worked on the bridge. He would come home with stories about the movement of massive sandstone blocks that would form the pylons to anchor the bridge. Bert’s excitement at being part of something momentous was tangible and contagious.

But the building of the bridge took so long that Ella’s interest eventually waned. By the time it was almost complete, the magnificent arch tantalisingly close to joining, she was working at a tea shop in the city, down near Circular Quay. The bridge was visible, a looming presence in the background, but she was busy with work and stepping out of an evening on dates and going to dances.

After marriage Ella stopped working, settling quickly into domestic life. She found herself drawn to the harbour, taking the pram along the narrow city streets and steep gradients down to the foreshore. She loved to walk past the ferries, puffing out smoke, their sturdy shapes seemingly insignificant as they motored their way underneath the enormous arch of the iron coat-hanger.

When Ella and her husband moved to the suburbs, she still managed to visit the city occasionally, especially when Christmas shopping trips came up. To turn into a street and glance up at the bridge gave her a thrill that she couldn’t quite explain. The bridge became less extraordinary over time to most Sydneysiders, just a way to get from one side of the harbour to the other. But for Ella it remained one of her favourite things. Her birthday treats invariably included a trip to the city to take in the splendour of the bridge, now a constant presence against a changing city skyline. For Ella, the bridge was the essence of Sydney, her city.

Inspired by a writing prompt using a postcard painting of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Do landmarks appear in your writing?

One Man; Over 1300 Public Buildings: James Barnet

Scottish born James Barnet was the Colonial Architect of New South Wales from 1862 to 1890. Under his guidance, the architectural and civic landscape of the state changed and developed a confidence and character that is still evident today. These were boom years for the colony with the upgrade and replacement of early infrastructure as well as new buildings to meet the demands of a growing population.

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Goulburn Court House

The length of tenure contributed to the sheer volume of buildings that were designed and constructed during these years. Many public buildings remain with alterations and in some instances perform a different purpose to their initial intention. But there is a style to these buildings which, once recognised, can be found in various city suburbs as well as many towns in regional parts of the state.

Bathurst Court House

Bathurst Court House

Barnet was a classical, revivalist architect. Born in Scotland, he trained as a builder and stonemason before attending night school in London in order to attain his qualifications as an architect. Encouraged by a mentor, Barnet decided to migrate to one of the colonial outposts as there was an oversupply of architects in England at the time. In 1854 he migrated to Sydney with his wife, Amy.

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Lithgow Court House

Similar to Scottish bridge-builder Lennox decades before, Barnet’s potential was recognised whilst he was working on a building site as a stonemason. After a series of commissions he joined the Colonial Architect’s Office in 1860. Two years later he was acting in the position of Colonial Architect, a position he held until 1890.

Katoomba Court House

Katoomba Court House

The scope of work was wide and the quantity of buildings constructed was considerable. This included 169 post offices, 130 court houses, 110 goals and lockups, 155 police stations, 20 lighthouses, an extension to the Australian Museum, the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Lands Department building. These examples provide an insight into what was of importance at the time: communication, justice, transport and administration. Military defence and naval infrastructure were included in Barnet’s remit, along with the maintenance of other public buildings.

Dubbo Court House

Dubbo Court House

Barnet also designed the psychiatric hospital at Callan Park which opened in 1883 as the Hospital for the Insane. It consisted of 20 neoclassical buildings for the care of over 600 patients, male and female. The design was influenced by theories of the time which recommended high ceilings in a park like atmosphere.

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Callan Park building

One of Barnet’s most extravagant buildings was short-lived: the Sydney International Exhibition Building. Located adjacent to the Sydney Botanical Gardens on 5 acres, it was constructed in the spirit of the international exhibitions of the northern hemisphere and when complete was the largest exhibition space in the southern hemisphere – Melbourne was also striving for this title. The first electric light in Sydney was used to speed the building’s completion as work continued around the clock. Over a million people came to the ‘Garden Palace’ to see the exhibition, quite amazing as the population at the time was just over two million. The building cost over three times its initial estimate and unfortunately was destroyed in a huge fire. Only a set of gates remain, located in Macquarie Street opposite History House.

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Goulburn Post Office

Over his long career, Barnet served 16 ministers and oversaw the construction of over a thousand buildings. Despite similarities between buildings, templates as such were not used. Local materials and resources were used where possible. There were various parliamentary enquiries during his career and when he was finally forced to resign it was an ignominious professional end. Barnet was the last Colonial Architect as the office was restructured following his departure.

Many of his buildings remain today and as I travel about I like to keep an eye out for Barnet’s touch in public buildings as I go.

Sources

  • Inspired by an excellent talk given by Emeritus Professor Don Napper.
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on James Johnstone Barnet.
  • There is an extensive post about the prolific buildings designed by Barnet, particularly across the central west of NSW here.

[Photo: detail from Dubbo Court House]

 

Along the Parramatta River

These days it is relatively easy to catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Parramatta, west of Sydney. The Parramatta River is a significant waterway and acted as a highway between settlements in the early years of European colonisation. The length of time it took to travel in the early years of the colony is estimated at 12 hours; this has now been whittled down to just under an hour.

The first river ferry was the Rose Hill Packet, launched in 1789. Ferry services continued in one form or another through to 1928 when they were discontinued due to silt and shallowing of the river. In 1993 purpose-built catamaran ferries, called RiverCats, reinstated the service which remains popular although the trips are subject to tidal movements.

Recently I took a RiverCat for part of the journey, travelling from Meadowbank to Parramatta. The trip down the river was a revelation. Along the riverbank there were mangroves most of the way as well as sprouting out of an island in the middle of the river. The width of the river narrows quite significantly from Homebush to Rydalmere, then again on the approach to Parramatta. There is still quite a bit of industrial activity along the riverside, and more residential developments are clustering along the foreshore despite the pungent tang of mangroves at low tide.

Historical drawings confirm that the mangroves have expanded since colonisation, filling in areas of open water, rock outcrops and sandy beaches. This is due in part to soil displacement from land clearing and development, which continues to contribute to silt in the river. Industrial pollution over the decades has contributed to contaminated sediments: there is a short documentary on the continuing impact here.

There were flashes of bird life along the way, and as we came closer to Parramatta there were jacaranda trees dotted along the riverbank. In bloom they are one of my favourite trees. There is a video of the entire trip – speeded up with a musical back beat – here.

One of my favourite stories of life in the early colony relates to the river, and the marvellous Flying Pieman. William Francis King carried out many walking-related challenges, including walking from Sydney to Parramatta twice a day for six consecutive days. This remarkable man was able to reach destinations ahead of boats and mail coaches, even when loaded with additional weight as a handicap. There is even a musical medley named for him as well as a bush dance.

Have you taken any trips, real or historical, along a river lately?

[Photo: RiverCat departing Meadowbank Wharf, heading towards Parramatta and passing under the Meadowbank Railway Bridge]

Inner City Musings

Over the weekend I had the chance to have a wander around Leichhardt in inner Sydney. It is one of the many city suburbs that hums with life throughout the week and weekend with lots to see and do as well as outdoor cafes for simply enjoying the passing parade.

After an extensive and enjoyable trawl through a bookshop, we stopped at a cafe for lunch. I was struck by the sensory landscape: the traffic crawling past, low flying planes skimming the tops of the buildings, the hubbub of conversation. There was the clatter of crockery and clash of cutlery as the sun streamed in and around scudding clouds. The heady aroma of coffee – one my favourite smells. The chatter of children. The flash of a silver necklace adorned with fettered butterflies. People ambling past with the air of those with plenty of time on their hands, just a relaxing Saturday afternoon stretching out ahead of them.

The houses around the shopping area are a mix of old and new. The suburb’s origins as a working class area remain evident in the terraced houses and semi-detached dwellings. Space is at a premium, and there are several large parks which provide a green oasis of trees, grass and gardens around the streets and footpaths.

I have been lucky to live in a variety of places, from the suburbs of Sydney to miles outside of a small country town, to a large regional centre and now in the mountains. I’m yet to live in the inner suburbs and I can’t see that changing in the near future, but I can appreciate what it might be like to have the conveniences of frequent public transport along with a variety of shops and vibrant restaurant scene within an easy walking distance.

It was nice to visit and to imagine a different kind of life. It was nice, too, to come home to space and an abundance of greenery and views that still take my breath away.

Do you enjoy the metro lifestyle or do you prefer the quieter life?

[Photo: Sydney Harbour on Australia Day, 2014]

 

Be a Tourist at Home

The proximity of the Blue Mountains to Sydney makes it a popular tourist destination for weekends, short stays and longer visits. Within two hours by train, less by car, you can be in a different environment altogether with a wide assortment of activities to do and sights to see.

I have lived in the mountains now for over 3 years, but there is still a lot that I haven’t seen, and places I am yet to explore. If you have spent any time in Katoomba, you will be familiar with the big red double-decker buses and the brown trolley buses that offer all day tickets, along with various other packages to some of the attractions around the town and nearby villages. When I’m in Katoomba, I often see these buses full of tourists in all sorts of weather, pressed against the windows and generally having a good time. So I thought I’d give it a go.

On a fine spring morning I boarded a trolley tour outside the Carrington Hotel along with quite a few tourists ready to do a loop around Katoomba and Leura. We headed off to Leura, driving up the main street and stopping just around the corner – a handy spot to stop if you want to explore the many shops and boutiques. We then continued on, heading past Bygone Beauties which I have visited before. Then it was off to Leura Garden Resort, through the Leura Golf Club (oldest of the four golf clubs in the mountains) and past the Fairmont Resort. Everglades Garden is the next stop, a beautiful National Trust property with spectacular gardens. As we approached there was a magnificent peacock on the nature strip: apparently his name is Andrew and he is well-known in the area.

Once we turned onto Cliff Drive there was a succession of beautiful outlooks and views, including the Kiah, Honeymoon and Silvermist lookouts. Various walks are accessible from these points, and with buses coming by at regular intervals it’s possible to walk comfortable distances and get back on if required. The Three Sisters and Echo Point, perhaps the most recognisable of the lookouts, were next, before we headed past Lilianfels and towards Scenic World. This is yet another place I haven’t made it to yet, and it was good to get an idea of the layout as we passed by the east landing before continuing around past the Katoomba Falls to the main entrance.

There were various stops and points of interest on the way back into Katoomba before the trolley bus paused at the Carrington Hotel to fill up again.

It was a real treat to be a passenger, rather than a driver, and to be able to focus on the scenery rather than the road. The gardens throughout Katoomba and Leura are so lovely at this time of year, with beautiful blooms and exquisite garden design on display. Leura is famous for its garden festival in early October, and there were still many visual treats to be enjoyed. The driver provided an overview of the history of the towns and key places along the way, and this added to the experience.

Being able to get out and about, especially if you travel up by train, is made much easier by tours such as this. I really enjoyed the experience and have added quite a few things to my local to-do list.

Do you ever get the chance to be a tourist in your home town?

[View from Kiah Lookout]

A Well Travelled Road

The Great Western Highway stretches from Sydney to the regional city of Bathurst in the central west of NSW. It is 210 kilometres long, beginning at Railway Square and travelling towards Parramatta before linking up with the motorway to Penrith. Once the Nepean River is crossed, the highway winds its way through the mountain villages before descending into the Hartley Valley via Victoria Pass. The western suburbs of Lithgow are passed by before the highway continues over the Cox’s River towards Bathurst.

Large sections of the original roads through to Bathurst remain in use. There have been inevitable changes and diversions over time, and some of the older sections of the highway remain in use as local roads. The length of the highway across a variety of terrains and grades means that roadwork seems like a perpetual feature for travellers along the road.

I have written before about some of the points of interest along the mountain stretch of the highway. There are many landmarks along the way, including buildings and particular views as the road wends its way, as well as numerous memorials to lives lost through accidents and misadventures along the highway.

I can only imagine the challenges of marking and carving out the original road two centuries ago. Early records attest to the difficulty of travelling along the Western Road (later the Great Western Road, then the Great Western Highway from 1928) and there were many attempts to reduce the impact of some of the inclines across the mountains, as well as easing some of the tight bends as usage changed from mainly foot traffic, horses and coaches to motorised transport. The road was a vital link to the pastures in Bathurst and beyond.

In 1915, there are various gatherings along the roadside as the men of the Cooee March made their way towards Sydney along the Great Western Road. Newspaper articles of the time record the townships along the highway turning out to offer refreshments as well as volunteers responding to the cooee call to enlist. This march has been re-enacted a couple of times including in 1987 and again in 2015 to celebrate the centenary of the march. I passed by the marchers in the most recent re-enactment, a blur of people striding down towards Hazelbrook.

Back in the last days of 2012 and across the first couple of weeks of 2013, journalist Malcolm Brown walked along the Great Western Highway from Sydney out to Dubbo in the central west. The journey of approximately 400 kilometres took a fortnight to complete, and throughout the journey Brown posted stories along the way. There is a clip of him preparing for the walk here, and he notes that there are sections of the journey where he would have to leave the Great Western Highway as there is no provision for pedestrians. There is mention of the road west during the Great Depression where thousands of men tramped through the countryside looking for work: the traffic on the roads was much less and travelled at a slower speed.

There is a collection of Brown’s writings along the road here, as well as articles from journalists in some of the towns he passed through along this extraordinary trek. I spotted him walking along the stretch of highway leading into Wellington, towards the end of his journey.

Have you spotted anything out of the ordinary along a well-travelled road?

[Photo: glimpse of the Great Western Highway from a train at Lawson]

Glimpses of Another Time: Sydney Streetscapes

Recently I attended a talk on early photography in Sydney. The focus was on the changing streetscapes of the city from the late 1880s through to the early 1920s. The first photo of Sydney was taken in 1841, and changes in recording technology led to an increase in landscape photography with the introduction of dry plates. One of the benefits was as the glass plate negatives were less likely to warp or distort there remains a vivid record of what the city was like all those decades ago.

There were a couple of photographers in particular who extensively recorded the changes in Sydney and its suburbs, including panoramic shots from some of the many bays looking back towards Sydney. Henry King and Charles Kerry were the photographers, and a portion of their work is held in the Tyrell Photographic Collection which is now held in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The collection consists of 7,903 glass plate negatives which provide a fascinating glimpse into another time.

Some of the more visible markers of change over the decades were the transport options available to the city’s population. The earlier photos show people streaming across the wide streets, dodging hansom cabs and horse-drawn omnibuses. The omnibus could carry 24 passengers and there is one restored vehicle still on view at the Powerhouse Museum. Then came the trams, including steam engine trams that could cope with the steep inclines and grades of the sprawling city. There were photos of clusters of hansom cabs lined up at the early railway stations and along the foreshore of Circular Quay, waiting for trains and ferries to arrive and disgorge their passengers. The last hansom cab in Sydney – 1937 – was also recorded in a photograph.

Another couple of photographs captured the thousands of well-dressed spectators at the Association Ground, later renamed the Sydney Cricket Ground. The Members’ Pavillion had mostly men but also quite a few well attired women in long, elegant white dresses. Photos of beach outings captured men wading in their long bathing suits. Women were more likely to use the bathing cages, curious contraptions that had room for changing into a bathing suit before being wheeled into the water where you could dip into the ocean from the safety of the cage. It would keep sharks – and marauding men – right out of the way.

The talk covered just some of the extensive collection, and it provided an interesting glimpse into an earlier time.

Have you seen anything recently that makes you ponder on the past?

[Photo taken in the stables at Eskbank House (Lithgow) where there was the last working hansom cab from Parramatta on display, to the right of the photo]