Looking up - Sydney's history from a new angle


NAIDOC Week celebrations

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on July 8, 2015. [No comments]

Taking of Colbee (Colebee) and Benalon (Bennelong), Manly Cove, 25 November 1789. By Bradley, William. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, a3461020 / ML Safe 1/14 opp. p. 182

As I’ve mentioned before, the Dictionary of Sydney has a wide range of content relating to Aboriginal Sydney. Today I thought I would highlight a thoughtful article written by eminent historian Grace Karskens about Manly Cove, or Kai’ymay.

Grace Karskens writes:

Kai’ymay, or Manly Cove, a sandy cove on North Harbour on the western side of the Manly peninsula, is a key site of the earliest contacts between Aboriginal people, the Eora (this is the local word meaning ‘people’) and the British people who arrived on the First Fleet in 1788. It continued to be the place to which Governor Phillip and his officers returned in their attempts to open communications with Aboriginal people – sometimes by force. It was also where Aboriginal people took action against the newcomers in their land – Governor Phillip was speared here by an Aboriginal warrior in September 1790, an event that ultimately led to the first reconciliation between Aboriginal people and white settlers in Australian history. A number of the early Sydney paintings depict Manly Cove and these key moments in cross-cultural contact as they unfolded on the beach.

Kai’ymay should be revered as a site of cross-cultural interaction. Grace Karskens concludes her article by noting: “This was the site for first encounters between people from opposite sides of the globe, the site of greeting, gift-giving and dancing, of goodwill and curiosity, as well as betrayal, violence, justice and retribution. From a world history perspective, it was also the site where the two great waves of migration from Europe to Asia and Australia, separated by over 90,000 years, were reconnected.”

There are many ways to learn about Sydney’s Aboriginal history. I’d like to give a couple of plugs to talks and events curated by friends of the Dictionary of Sydney. There is a talk at Customs House Library on Thursday evening looking at Heaven and Earth. Professor Ray Norris and Dr Paul Irish will present aspects of Aboriginal Sydney history. Ray discusses astronomical history and Aboriginal understandings of the sky, while Paul reflects on the early history of Aboriginal and British interactions around Sydney.

The City of Sydney’s history team, which I head up, has released an intimate view of Aboriginal archaeological finds around the Sydney CBD. There are 19 new essays about Aboriginal culture and living in early Sydney, including articles about the Tank Stream, Blackwattle Creek, the Moore Park campsite and Goat Island. Check out the articles here:

And finally, if you want to get out and about, access the new self-guided walk “Barani: Sydney Cove / Warrane” featured for NAIDOC week on the Sydney Culture Walks App.

From everyone at the Dictionary of Sydney, we wish you a happy NAIDOC Week.

You can hear this morning’s podcast from 2SER Breakfast here.


40 years: The Juanita Nielsen disappearance

Posted by Nicole Cama in Blog on July 1, 2015. [2 comments]

William Street, Kings Cross at night 1970

William Street, Kings Cross at night 1970 By Fitzpatrick, John. Contributed by National Archives of Australia A1200, L84008

This Saturday 4 July 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of the heritage conservationist and publisher Juanita Nielsen. Even today, the mystery of her disappearance and presumed murder continues to overshadow her story, however, Nielsen is also remembered for her active role campaigning against the development of Victoria Street in Sydney’s Potts Point. I spoke with Mitch about it on 2SER this morning…

Juanita Nielsen was born in 1937, her grandfather was Mark Foy, who established the famous department store in his name on Oxford Street, Sydney in 1885. Juanita became a larger-than-life character in The Cross during the early 1970s. She was the publisher of a newspaper called Now from 1967, working from her terrace at 202 Victoria Street in Potts Point. She was a tall, stylish and sassy woman, locals said she was always exceptionally well-dressed.

When developers began to work their way into Victoria Street in 1973, some of the poorer tenants were evicted and Juanita decided to take a stand. She published articles in her newspaper against the demolition of the Victoria Street terraces and tenant evictions. She joined local action groups including the Victoria Street Ratepayers’ Association to galvanise the community to oppose the redevelopment. Many of the beautiful historic properties on Victoria Street were in poor condition, and developers planned to demolish them to make way for residential towers with one plan detailing a building at 45 storeys.

Juanita also supported what became known as the ‘Green Bans’ movement, which saw trade unions join residents in their campaign against redevelopment. Labourers employed to construct skyscrapers, shopping precincts and these big residential towers refused to work on projects considered environmentally damaging or a threat to heritage conservation. The movement was the first of its type in the world, and after campaigning a ‘green ban’ was placed on Victoria Street and parts of Woolloomooloo in April 1973.

But this ruffled feathers and took its toll on its participants as armed thugs vandalised buildings marked for demolition and threatened residents. One green ban activist disappeared and returned to the area allegedly ‘too frightened to say what happened to him’.

On 4 July 1975, at exactly 11:20am, Juanita was seen publicly for the last time, getting into a yellow Ford Falcon. She had attended a business meeting at 10:30am at the Cross nightclub The Carousel. Since her disappearance, strong suspicions fell on James McCartney Anderson, who managed the Carousel and was a prominent figure in Sydney’s criminal underworld.

However, Juanita’s body has never been found and no one has ever been charged with her murder. As Lisa Murray, my fellow Dictionary of Sydney 2SER guest has noted, ‘Juanita remains a symbol of people power and her disappearance sits at the heart of one of Sydney’s most enduring mysteries’. And writer Peter Rees, who published a book about Juanita in 2004, articulated her contribution to our city quite nicely: ‘Juanita’s legacy transcends and inspires the struggle for the soul of Sydney’.

You can listen to a podcast of my segment with Mitch at 2SER Breakfast here. 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!


Voices from Liverpool’s past

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on June 24, 2015. [No comments]

A group of Italian prisoners of war behind the perimeter fence of the main compound at the Liverpool prisoner of war and internment camp November 21, 1945. 1945-11-21 By McQuillan, Ern. Contributed by Australian War Memorial AWM 123706

The Dictionary of Sydney has been working with Oral History NSW, the Royal Australian Historical Society and Liverpool City Council to curate excerpts from Liverpool Library’s oral history collection, digitise them and make them available online. Last week 65 snippets of oral history interviews were added to the Dictionary.

The audio clips are drawn from the project ‘Looking back at Liverpool: an oral history of the Liverpool region 1900-1960‘.  This interview recording project was conducted by Liverpool City Council between June 1985 to March 1986. There are approximately sixty cassette tapes within the collection, all of which are transcribed and indexed, and available in the Liverpool City Library collection. So it was a big job going through them and curating short clips for people to dip into and enjoy.

Let’s listen to one now. This is Miss Marjorie Tebb, who was born in 1920. She was interviewed nearly 30 years ago, in 1986. In this clip Miss Tebb remembers one of the Chinese hawkers who sold their wares door-to-door in Liverpool in the early twentieth century.

The Liverpool audio clips provide memories of a number of migrant communities that lived in the district in the early 20th century, including the Chinese (as we’ve just heard), gypsies, Italians, and Germans. And there are several reminiscences of Aboriginal people living by the river and working around the place.

Many oral history interviews demonstrate the dramatic changes that have taken place in the suburbs of Sydney. In this clip Mr Joseph Bradshaw, who was born in 1905, recalls being the proud owner of the second car in Liverpool, which he bought in 1927.  Petrol was cheap and there was no traffic congestion. Those were the days!  What I love about these recordings too is the way it captures the Australian accent.

There are some great clips to listen to; some are a little bit crackle-ly because they are so old but there are some gems there. You can hear about making meals stretch during the Depression, working at the local butchers, the Liverpool soldiers riot in 1917, and the gypsies that came to Liverpool every year and camped in the paddocks. You can find out about what it was like to live in Liverpool during the first and second world wars, or how young kids learnt to swim in the Georges River.

Here’s one last clip. Mr Jack Healy was born in 1908. Here he remembers how boys learnt to swim in the Georges River and where they used to go. Check out the full set of clips about Liverpool here.

Our work is not done. These clips will soon be connected to articles from the Georges River Project and other subjects in the Dictionary.

If you missed Lisa’s segment on 2SER Breakfast with Mitch Byatt this morning, you can catch up here. Tune in next Wednesday morning for more Sydney history courtesy of the Dictionary and 2SER. 8:20am, 107.3 FM.


Law and order in Sydney

Posted by Nicole Cama in Blog on June 17, 2015. [No comments]

Drawing of a riot in George Street 19 September 1890 titled 'The Labor Crisis'

The Labor Crisis - the riot in George Street 19 September 1890. Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, IAN01/10/90/1

Monday marked the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, or the Great Charter, which has been widely recognised as the most famous legal document in the world. With all this talk about Magna Carta, being the origin of the rule of law and an important step toward modern democracy, I thought I’d search the Dictionary of Sydney and find out about how Sydney established law and order from the early days of convict settlement.

Academic Mark Finnane notes law and order was a feature of Sydney society from the days of convict settlement. Australia’s first criminal trial was conducted in February 1788, only a few days after the First Fleet anchored in Sydney Cove. Convict Samuel Barsby was drunk on rum when he assaulted a marine and yelled obscenities. At his trial Barsby said he could not remember anything. In the court minutes of proceedings, it ends with three simple words: ‘Guilty. 150 lashes.’

Floggings were one of the many punishments handed out to those who threatened law and order in the new colony. There was also hangings, and in some cases, people were nailed by the ear to a pillory post. In 1808, order was threatened when Governor William Bligh was deposed by officers of the NSW Corps forcing military rule during the Rum Rebellion. And in 1816, another Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, attempted to restore ‘the public peace’ by prohibiting Aboriginal people armed or in parties numbering more than six to enter Sydney other settlements.

During the 1820s and 1830s, the Sydney press asserted the rights of settlers in light of tensions with Aboriginal communities. Notions of law and order also saw challenges with the prominence of bushranging from the early days of the colony to the late 1800s. Bushrangers, the most of famous being Ned Kelly, were convicts who would flee to the bush from the authorities and live off the land and steal from settlements.

But another feature which characterised these early concepts of law and order were the battles with and treatment of Aboriginal people. The Myall Creek Massacre in 1838 was an example of this. Ten white men and one African man shot and killed 30 unarmed Aboriginal people at Myall Creek near Bingara. In the end, seven of the 11 killers were executed for their crimes.

Another common feature in the newspapers, other than disturbances in the outlying colonial settlements, was the disorder in the streets of Sydney. Public drunkenness was often attributed to the city’s convict beginnings. The Sydney Herald reported on the disproportionate high crime rate of Sydney compared to other countries, claiming ‘robberies and murders, increasing both in numbers and in audacity, infest our streets and beset our inhabitants’. In fact, the crime rate had gone down, but highly publicised crimes such as the murder of shopkeeper Ellen Jamieson by naval captain John Knatchbull in 1844, added to these sensationalist views.

Incidentally, a long-term study conducted during the 1970s identified three periods of major disorder in Sydney – the late 1880s, World War I up to 1935 and the late 1960s. These were times of protest, social change and political upheaval. Other examples of disruption in our city often centred around celebrations and public events involving large crowds. It seems things were not so different over 130 years ago when on Boxing Day in 1884 Sydneysiders witnessed alcohol-fuelled violence and riots at Bondi Beach. Larrikin gangs were also a prominent part of Sydney’s darker side. These were gangs of youths who wore flashy clothing and harassed people in the streets. Mark Finnane goes into more detail at the Dictionary of Sydney.

You can listen to a podcast of my segment with Mitch at 2SER Breakfast here. 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!


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