Looking up - Sydney's history from a new angle


Anzac Day commemorations in Sydney

Posted by Nicole Cama in Blog on April 22, 2015. [No comments]

Photograph showing Legacy club members marching past the Martin Place Cenotaph in Sydney in 1930

Legacy club members march past the Cenotaph 1930. By Hood, Sam. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, hood_05013 / DG ON4/5013

This Saturday will mark 100 years since Australian troops landed at the Gallipoli peninsula and commenced a disastrous eight-month military campaign. Every 25 of April we remember that first day of battle, but how did these commemorations begin? I spoke to Mitch on 2SER Breakfast about it this morning.

Neil Radford, Dictionary of Sydney volunteer and contributor, notes the Gallipoli campaign was the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during World War I. He notes the earliest use of the term and concept ‘Anzac Day’ probably occurred in Adelaide in October 1915, when the South Australian Government announced a ‘patriotic procession and carnival’. Many of these processions were designed to raise funds to provide home comforts for the soldiers at the front. But the Mayor of Brisbane proposed that his state, and the other states, designate a particular day of solemn observance.

At the same time, Sydney City Council began discussing the commemoration of the first anniversary of Anzac in February 1916. At a council meeting, the Lord Mayor said that ‘the imperishable glory achieved at Anzac had opened a new page in Australian history’. By March, the NSW premier announced the government supported the idea of a national commemoration which included church services and a minute’s silence, and he wanted to see the day devoted to fundraising for a memorial and to recruiting. The Returned Soldiers Association enthusiastically assumed the responsibility of organising the event. But not all responded in support of the day, with some claiming the money could be better spent on supporting wounded soldiers and bereaved families.

Despite these concerns, Sydney’s first Anzac Day went ahead on 25 April 1916. At 9am every train and tram was brought to a standstill ‘in order that the passengers may give three cheers for the King, the Empire, and the Anzacs’. At 10am, 5,000 returned soldiers paraded through the city and at 11:30am until 2pm, all government offices and many businesses closed to enable staff to attend a commemoration service in the Domain. At midday, a minute’s silence was declared, and the Lord Mayor later entertained troops at a luncheon. Recruitment campaigns proliferated throughout the city and suburbs, a commemoration concert was held in the Sydney Town Hall in the evening, and more than £5,000 was raised for a memorial in the city.

For the duration of the war, Anzac Days followed suit. The parade was cancelled in 1919 as the influenza epidemic prevented people from assembling in large numbers. The following year the 25 of April was declared a national holiday, and in 1929, when the Martin Place Cenotaph was unveiled, the ceremonies moved to the city. During the 1920s, many returned servicemen decided to gather together informally and privately as a way to keep in contact with each other and remember those who did not come home.

As time passed, however, the Anzac Day parade and its commemorative services have formed an entrenched tradition. And, as we now know, this concept of Anzac Day as a turning point in Australia’s history was something that began quite early on in the piece, and indeed it continues to characterise conversations about the war to this day.

You can listen to a podcast of my segment with Matt at 2SER Breakfast here and read Neil Radford’s original article. Tune in again next week for more of Sydney’s history courtesy of the Dictionary of Sydney, on 107.3 at 8:20am. Don’t miss it!


Sydney’s rainbow crossing

Posted by guest contributor in Blog on April 15, 2015. [No comments]

Rainbow Crossing, Oxford Street at Railway Square. By Hicks, Megan. Contributed by Megan Hicks

Around this time in 2013 the business of the Rainbow Crossing on Oxford Street at Taylor Square came to a head. It followed a decision in 2012 by the City of Sydney to temporarily repaint two pedestrian crossings in Oxford Street in rainbow colours, in time for the 35th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade in 2013.

It wasn’t an entirely original idea. Rainbow crosswalks were painted on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood as part of the 2012 Gay Pride Month celebrations there and were such a success that they were allowed to remain.

The two rainbow crossings in Oxford Street in Sydney were supposed to cost $75,000 but by February 2013 the estimated cost had blown out so much that only one was painted, at Taylor Square. It too was an instant success.

After the Mardi Gras the Lord Mayor Clover Moore wanted to leave the crossing in place permanently but Roads Minister Duncan Gay insisted that it be removed because it was a safety hazard with, for instance, people standing in the way of traffic to pose for photographs on the crossing.

There was a great deal of controversy around the rainbow crossing, with people writing to the papers and on social media either supporting or condemning it. But in the event, by order of the Minister, late on Wednesday 10th April, and in the early hours of Thursday 11th, the rainbow crossing was jack-hammered up, the road was resurfaced and the crossing was repainted with regulation white lines.

What happened next was truly amazing. Immediately after the rainbow crossing was removed, activist James Brechney created a chalk crossing in a Surry Hills laneway and started a Facebook page encouraging people to get chalking.

And people did, for a mixture of reasons: support for the Lord Mayor Clover Moore and resistance to the State Government as embodied by Roads Minister, Duncan Gay; disappointment at the removal of a colourful addition to Sydney streets; gay pride, and solidarity with the gay community; and support for same-sex marriage.

Suddenly people were chalking rainbow crossings all over Sydney, committing little acts of civil disobedience by graffiti on the pavements.

Megan Hicks is author of The Decorated Footpath and Reading the Roads. Sydney’s Rainbow Crossing will be her third entry for the Dictionary of Sydney and will be published later in the year.

If you missed Megan on 2SER Breakfast this morning, you can catch up here. We will be back again next week to hear how Sydney first commemorated Anzac day in Sydney. Tune in at 8:20am, 107.3 FM. 



Pedestrian crossings in Sydney

Posted by Jacqueline Spedding in Blog on April 8, 2015. [No comments]

Pedestrians crossing at corner of Market and Pitt streets 1929

Pedestrians crossing at corner of Market and Pitt streets 1929. Contributed by City of Sydney Archives 034\034213

We have two excellent articles on the Dictionary by writer and curator Megan Hicks: Reading the Roads and The Decorated Footpath. So we were thrilled to have Megan in the chair on 2SER Breakfast this morning discussing pedestrian crossings with Mitch Byatt.

In the early days of the colony, streets were laid out in the city but were not sealed so in wet weather they turned to mud, and in dry weather horse-drawn carts and carriages threw up clouds of dust, much of it powdered horse manure.

People who walked the streets were referred to as foot passengers, not pedestrians. The term pedestrian originally meant a person taking part in a foot race and wasn’t used to mean ordinary people walking about until much late.

By the 1850s many Sydney streets had kerbs and gutters and many ‘footways’ had been flagged with stones for people to walk on. Streets started being paved with wood blocks in the 1880s, but it was many decades before all streets and roads in Sydney were paved.

In wet weather, open gutter crossings allowed people on foot to cross over the streams of water running down gutters, and foot crossings – consisting of a kind of path from one side of the street to the other – meant that pedestrians could cross without wading through mud.

As traffic in the streets became thicker, drivers of horse-drawn vehicles complained about pedestrians not using the footways, and pedestrians were expected to cross busy streets at intersections. Pedestrians did not necessarily conform. Things got serious when motorcars came on the scene. Pedestrians still thought they could go on crossing the street wherever they pleased, but motorists thought they should keep off the road. There were many accidents and injuries.

To control of traffic, lines were marked with paint or metal studs at intersections where vehicles were supposed to stop to let cross traffic through, and these same lines indicated where pedestrians were supposed to cross, that is, at the corner of intersections. By the late 1920s, actual pedestrian crossings as we know them were being painted consisting of two parallel lines across the roadway, roughly three metres apart, to keep pedestrians from straying wider across the road.

Crossings were no longer for the convenience of pedestrians. Instead they were places where pedestrians were herded together to cross the street, to make using the streets more convenient for drivers of vehicles. Pedestrians, of course, were defiant then, and are still defiant and impatient today. Some statistics suggest that in Sydney a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle every day in the city.

Meanwhile, the look of pedestrian crossings has evolved from parallel white lines across the street to yellow dotted parallel lines then, in the 1950s, to yellow painted zebra crossings. Yellow paint was replaced by white paint in the mid-1980s and these days crossings are marked with water-based thermo-plastic which lasts longer and is less polluting than the petro-chemical solvent paints that were formerly used.

Wilson Street, Newtown 1999

Wilson Street, Newtown 1999. By Hicks, Megan. Contributed by Megan Hicks.

From time to time, people paint DIY crossings where they think a crossing ought to be. Unfortunately, painters of DIY pedestrian crossings generally use house paint, which wears away quickly. In 1999 a DIY crossing apeared in Wilson Street, Newtown, where there was none. Later, at this spot, an official pedestrian crossing was installed, and some time later traffic lights.

Have you ever seen a pedestrian crossing painted in a place where someone thinks there ought to be one?

If you missed our regular Dictionary spot on 2SER Breakfast this morning, you can catch up here. Many thanks for today, Megan. Be sure to tune in again next week to hear more Sydney history. 8:20am, 107.3 FM. Have a great week!

If you enjoyed today’s topic, you can explore more of Megan’s obsession on her blog Pavement Graffiti: http://www.meganix.net


Anzac bridge turns 20

Posted by Jacqueline Spedding in Blog on April 1, 2015. [No comments]

New Glebe Island Bridge under construction 19 September 1995

New Glebe Island Bridge under construction 19 September 1995. Contributed by National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an12549240-94

This morning on 2SER Breakfast I spoke to Mitch about the history of the Anzac bridge. Next week, on 9 April, marks its 20th anniversary, and with the centenary of Anzac Day just around the corner, it is timely to celebrate this distinctive Sydney icon.

Since European settlement there have been three bridges connecting Pyrmont to Glebe Island. And while each of them is significant in terms of their engineering history, together they tell a bigger story about the development of Sydney and the need to connect the city to the ever expanding industry and settlements to the west.

Prior to 1788, the land we know as Glebe Island was occupied by the Wangal Aboriginal clan, while across the water in Pyrmont, the land belonged to the Cadigal. The Cadigal had a strong presence in the Pyrmont area well into the 1830s when the land was subdivided and industry and quarries took hold side by side with a small number of residents.

In 1860 an abattoir began operating on Glebe Island and the first bridge joining the island to Pyrmont opened in 1861. This bridge, known as Blackbutts (because it was made from Tasmanian Blackbutt), was manually operated using a crank used to swing the span of the bridge!

The abattoir featured heavily in the 1882 Royal Commission into Noxious and Offensive Trades. The smell and pollution arising from the slaughter of some 524,415 sheep, 69,991 cattle, 31,269 pigs and 8,348 calves was rank. The abattoir eventually moved to Homebush in 1912 and by then a new bridge spanned the water, opened in June 1903.

Glebe Island Bridge postcard 1915

Glebe Island Bridge postcard 1915. Contributed by City of Sydney Archives, SRC52

The new bridge was designed by Percy Allan. Like the Pyrmont Bridge built at the same time, the Glebe Island bridge was one of the earliest examples of an electrically powered swing span bridge, allowing two ships to pass through at the same time, one in either direction. The Glebe Island bridge stayed in use until 1995 (after some major work was done on it in the 1930s) until it was replaced by the third – and current – bridge. Initally also called the Glebe Island bridge, it was renamed the Anzac bridge in 1998 by then Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr.

The renaming of the bridge was announced on 80th anniversary of Armistace Day on 11 November 1998, as a memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I. Artist Alan Somerville was commissioned to make two large bronze statues for either end of the bridge. On the Pyrmont end, an Australian solider stands in an ‘arms at rest’ position while on the city end of the bridge, a New Zealand solider stands in the same pose. And in a nod to the artist’s home country, the New Zealand solider is 5cm taller than his Australian counterpart!

Some interesting facts about the Anzac bridge:

  • it cost of $170 million to build
  • it is supported by two 128 metre-high reinforced concrete towers
  • the main span of the bridge is 345 metres
  • the length of the deck is 805 metres
  • the deck is fully supported by 128 steel stay cables, giving the bridge its distinctive appearance
  • the bridge was built in 10 metre segments with each weighing 460 tonnes
  • for every segment placed over the water, a segment was placed on land as a counter balance
  • for the first time, the bridge is high enough to allow ships pass underneath.

The Glebe Island bridge is an important transport link between the city and the western suburbs of Sydney via Victoria Road in one direction and Westlink on to the M4 and the Blue Mountains in another.

Artist Alan Somerville will be speaking at the anniversary of the bridge on 9 April. You can find out more about the anniversary celebrations planned for the 9 April here.

You can mark your own celebration by taking a bus or walking across the bridge and enjoying the fantastic views it offers towards Blackwattle and Rozelle bays. And if you are carrying your mobile device, you can enjoy browsing the Dictionary as you go and learn more about this part of Sydney’s history!

Further reading:

Glebe Island bridge by Mark Dunn: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/glebe_island_bridge#ref=26238

Glebe Island by Peter Reynolds: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/glebe_island#page=all&ref=26196

Pyrmont by Shirley Fitzgerald: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/pyrmont

If you missed the Dictionary segment on 2SER this morning, you can catch up now here. Next week, guest historian and Dictionary author Megan Hicks will be joining Mitch to talk about the history of Sydney that is right under our feet! Tune in at 8:20 to 107.3 FM. 


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