Looking up - Sydney's history from a new angle


Arthur Phillip

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on August 27, 2014. [No comments]

This morning on 2SER, Lisa & Mitch talked about Arthur Phillip, the British naval officer who led the First Fleet and became the first governor of New South Wales as this Sunday, the 31st August, marks 200 years since his death.

His name probably rings a bell for most Sydneysiders – especially if you went to school in Australia. But how much do you really know about him?  Here are some fast facts about Governor Phillip:

Captain Arthur Phillip, 1786, by Francis Wheatley, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (a928087 / ML 124)

Captain Arthur Phillip, 1786, by Francis Wheatley, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (a928087 / ML 124)

    • He was born in London on 11 Oct 1738
  • HMS Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet, which transported convicts and their guards from England to the new colony of Botany Bay in the late 1780s. The Sirius was commanded by Captain John Hunter and carried Arthur Phillip, the governor of the colony. The Sirius was wrecked off Norfolk Island in 1790. Its anchor and cannon were retrieved and were placed in Macquarie Place down near Circular Quay in 1907.
  • Arthur Phillip governed the penal colony of NSW for its first five difficult years. He ruled the colony and its 1500 inhabitants with absolute power and responsibility for its survival.
  • He laid the foundation for the first Government House only three months after the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove.
  • the site of Sydney’s first Government House is where the Museum of Sydney now stands. One of the most significant items in the Museum of Sydney collection is an inscribed copper Foundation Plate that was laid on 15 May 1788 by Governor Arthur Phillip during the construction of Australia’s first Government House. Remarkably the plate was discovered between two sandstone foundation blocks by a telegraph line worker in 1899.
  • Governor Phillip tried to obtain information about the Aboriginal people, their country, life and language by abducting men. Arabanoo was the first, but he died of small pox. Bennelong and Colebee were next. Bennelong travelled to England and back, and taught the settlers much about Aboriginal language and culture. Colebee became familiar with the Europeans but disappeared after 1806.

Arthur Phillip named many bays and suburbs around Sydney.  Here are just a few:

  • Field of Mars (around Ryde and Eastwood)
  • Looking Glass Bay – after giving a looking glass (mirror) to an Aboriginal man they met there in the bay, whilst exploring the Parramatta River
  • Manly – The first official dispatch in 1788 from Arthur Phillip, governor of the newly founded imperial outpost in New South Wales, noted the ‘confidence and manly behaviour’ of the Aboriginal people encountered on the northern side of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Thus Manly derived its name.
  • Neutral Bay – Neutral Bay was named by Governor Phillip, when he decreed in 1789 that all non-British ‘neutral’ ships visiting Port Jackson were to anchor there.

But wait – there’s more!

On 5 September the Museum of Sydney is hosting a full day symposium about the life and times of Governor Arthur Phillip. You can hear from some of Australia’s most significant scholars of colonial history, including Dictionary of Sydney board member and author Grace Karskens, on Phillip and the Eora. More info about this and other events marking the bicentenary here: http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/arthur-phillip-bicentenary

If you missed this morning’s broadcast, you can still listen to the podcast here:


Arthur Phillip Bicentenary events at Sydney Living Museums


The nuts and bolts of a Sydney Icon

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on August 20, 2014. [No comments]

Sydney Bridge Celebrations, 1932. By Douglas Annand and Arthur James Whitmore. Contributed by State Records New South Wales, SR Document No.65

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of Sydney’s best-loved icons. But we can take for granted the enormous engineering feat that created the bridge.

I was reminded of this yesterday when our colleagues at State Records NSW tweeted an ‘on this day’ fact:  On this day – 19 August – in 1930 the two halves of the Sydney Harbour Bridge were joined at 10pm.

Lawrence Ennis, the director of construction for Dorman Long, the fabricators, recalled there was a gale where there was just 1m between the two arches. It looked like the two arches were swinging wildly, but there only moved about 3 inches (7.6 cm). He went on to describe how the arches came together:

The first closure was effected at 4.15 pm in the afternoon of the 19th August 1930, but there was a subsequently slight opening with the contraction in the cool of the evening. Slacking of the cables was continued without intermission, and the final closure was made at 10pm the same day. Next morning the Union Jack was flown from the jib of one creeper crane, and the Australian Ensign from the other, to signify to the City that the arch had successfully closed. We felt that the arch had become not only a link between the two shores of a beautiful Harbour, but a further bond of Empire.

Quoted in Peter Spearritt, The Sydney Harbour Bridge: A Life, UNSW Press, 2007, p 65

The two half arches were gradually fabricated from steel in workshops before being loaded onto barges and towed into position. The bits of the arches were then lifted up by two 580 tonne electrically operated creeper cranes. As the part-arches reached over the harbour, cables were continually re-tensioned to allow for the increasing weight of the structure they were holding, until the arches met. Steel decking was then hung from the arches over the next nine months. State Records have two terrific photos of the joining of the bridge here and here.

The progress of building the harbour bridge was something few Sydneysiders could ignore. The technical details of how it was being built was explained and illustrated in all the newspapers and magazines of the day.  In fact, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is probably one of the most documented pieces of public infrastructure built in Sydney in the twentieth century.  State Records has about 2,000 photographs related to the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge digitised and catalogued. They have created a photo montage of the building of the bridge and they also have a stunning selection of photographs on flickr.

The Reverend Frank Cash, rector of Christ Church Lavender Bay, North Sydney, was a keen photographer and in the perfect position to document the bridge. He took hundreds of photographs and self-published Parables of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1930. And I’m sure you’ve got a photograph of the bridge somewhere in your family albums too.

Bridge facts:

  • The arch spans 503m
  • The top of the arch is 134m above sea level
  • Clearance for shipping 49 metres
  • Height of the pylons 89 metres about mean sea level
  • number of rivets  approx 6,000,000
  • weight of the arch 39,000 tonnes

Lisa and Mitch talk all things Sydney each Wednesday morning  from the Dictionary of Sydney on 2SER Breakfast, 107.3 at 8:20am. You can catch up on this morning’s segment here.


Welcome to Dr Naomi Parry

Posted by Jacqueline Spedding in Blog on August 14, 2014. [1 comment]


The Dictionary is pleased to welcome Dr Naomi Parry to our small team. Naomi is a graduate of the University of Tasmania, Macquarie University and University of New South Wales, where she completed her PhD on black and white children in welfare in NSW and Tasmania 1880-1940.

She has lectured at Macquarie University, University of New South Wales, University of Tasmania and the University of Western Sydney.  Naomi has a background in cultural development, heritage and public history including running Eskbank House and Museum for Lithgow City Council.

Significantly, for the past three years Naomi has worked on a national digital history project to locate records and create histories of children’s homes for Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants called the Find and Connect web resource.

Dr Naomi Parry

Naomi brings with her a wealth of historical research, strong editorial skills and highly sought after digital publishing experience.

Naomi’s role will be to work on entries that have been waiting in our system while we have been attending to multiple project deadlines, an upgrade of the Heurist system that runs the Dictionary, an office move and all the associated IT challenges that relocating to new, more independent, premises involves.

It’s been a busy six months for the Dictionary. We are looking forward to having Naomi on board and bringing more great Sydney history to you soon.




The humble flying fox and historical methodology

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on August 13, 2014. [No comments]

Fruit bats, 1991. By Lin Onus. Contributed by Art Gallery of New South Wales, 395.1993.a-c, Installation, © Estate of Lin Onus. Licensed by Viscopy, 2009

This morning on 2SER Breakfast, I thought we’d take a look at Sydney’s grey-headed flying foxes. You might not think they have much history but flying foxes are a great example of historical methodology.

When the Dictionary first went live in 2009, we included a piece on Sydney’s bats. What’s really interesting is that this entry demonstrates how Sydney’s history, urban ecology and landscape is constantly changing. History never stands still!!

Back in 2009, there was a large colony of flying foxes roosting in the Royal Botanic Gardens. We even have an interview with Tim Pearson of the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society about the history and secret lives of Sydney’s flying foxes – standing in the bontanic gardens amongst the colony. You can hear them squabbling and sqwaking in the background. But this piece of audio in itself is a time capsule. The bat colony in the gardens is no more.

In June 2012, after lots of legal cases and permissions, the gardens commenced a noise disruption program to eradicate the flying foxes from the gardens. Twelve months later, in 2013, they declared the program a success.

As a born-digital project, when the Dictionary articles become dated, documents can be changed and we can incorporate new information, or indeed write a new article! Of course, there are still many flying foxes in Sydney. There are still significant colonies in Gordon and Cabramatta, and also a growing colony in Centennial Parklands.

The flying foxes are not only interesting for their urban ecology, but also for their cultural inspiration. They have entered into Sydney’s iconography and inspired artwork. For example, the Art Gallery of NSW acquired a artwork by Lin Onus, called Fruit bats, 1991, that reflects upon their survival in suburbanised cities. The installtion features rows of flying foxes hanging off a hills hoist.

Our historian friends at the City of Sydney have also been documenting Sydney’s urban ecology. This is an important area for their oral history collection. They have a long interview with John Martin from the Royal Botanic Gardens about the grey-headed flying foxes.

There’s much to discover about Sydney’s urban ecology and the changing landscape of our city.

Lisa catches up with Mitch every Wednesday morning bringing you more fascinating Sydney history from the Dictionary of Sydney. Listen in on 107.3 at 8:20am.


Major Government