Looking up - Sydney's history from a new angle


Luigi Coluzzi

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on November 17, 2014. [No comments]

Italians arrive on Alitalia, Mascot 30 June 1965. By Hickson, Jack. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, d7_20107 / Australian Photographic Agency - 20107, Mitchell Library

One of the first interviews the Dictionary commissioned when it started was with Luigi Coluzzi, one of the men who introduced Sydneysiders to espresso coffee in 1957. You can hear Luigi’s story here on the Dictionary here: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/audio/19970

The lifting of government controls on the import of coffee in the 1950s coincided with the arrival of hordes of coffee-loving immigrants. By the early 1960s coffee ‘lounges’ were appearing in Sydney’s suburbs, heralding the beginning of Sydney’s current love affair with its coffee.

Luigi’s Bar Coluzzi was special. A charismatic and charming man, and a former boxing champion, Luigi attracted boxers, actors, lawyers and theatre-goers to his bar. Initially located on William Street, Bar Coluzzi moved to Victoria Street in 1970. There were crowds of people and it was partly due to Bar Coluzzi that we got outdoor dining and the cafe culture we have today.

Luigi Coluzzi contributed to East Sydney’s and Darlinghurst’s Italian feel. Other resturants also opened in the 1950s: in Stanley Street, La Veneziana opened in 1952 and No Name in 1959; nearby, in Yurong Street, Giuseppe Polese opened his famous Beppi’s Restaurant in 1956 (decades later, in 1992, Polese establish the restaurant Mezzaluna in Potts Point). Other iconic meeting places for Italians were the Atlanta Club, Mario Abbiezzi’s Garibaldi Bar in Riley Street, the Bar Coluzzi in Darlinghurst, and the Cafe Sport in Leichhardt. You can read more about the Italian influence in Sydney in our article by Gianfranco Cresciani on the Dictionary.

Mr Coluzzi died last week at the age of 84. You can read his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald which tells the full story of this great immigrant who gave us good coffee. Or check out an article about Luigi in Sydney Time Out from 2008.

If you missed Lisa’s segment with Mitch on 2SER Breakfast last week, you can catch up here. Listen in this Wednesday morning for more Sydney history at 8:20am, 107.3


Sydney’s horseracing history

Posted by Jacqueline Spedding in Blog on November 5, 2014. [No comments]

Northern end of Hyde Park 1842. Contributed by City of Sydney Archives SRC9145

It’s that time of the year again where everybody is talking about the Melbourne Cup – ‘the race that stops the nation’ – but what about Sydney’s connection with horse racing? The Dictionary of Sydney website reveals a few surprising facts:

The first official horse race in Sydney was run in Hyde Park in 1810, two weeks after the park was formally created by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It was a three-day event, with a silver cup valued at 50 guineas as the prize and an extra 50 guineas up for grabs for the winners. At the top of Market Street a grandstand was put up near the winning post and the course ran in a clockwise direction toward Macquarie Street, along College Street, around Liverpool Street and returning across Elizabeth Street to the winning post. It’s a little difficult to imagine Hyde Park as we now know it now with its trees, pathways, the Archibald Fountain and the ANZAC Memorial, once being a racecourse! It didn’t last very long though, races were held until 1821 when Governor Thomas Brisbane placed a ban on official racing.

Venture south west into the suburb of Canterbury and you might have noticed there’s a racecourse. It turns out horse racing has been popular in Canterbury as early as the 1840s. A man called Cornelius Prout declared a part of his property open for use as a racecourse. Prout was a fairly enterprising individual – he also operated a punt across the Cooks River – much to the annoyance of his neighbours who were forced to pay a toll on a bridge he constructed across the river. Local publicans would organise race meetings to entertain their patrons frequently using their own horses for the races. In 1878, 3,000 people gathered for the races in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday with many of the people walking from Ashfield train station to the course.

In 1884, the place received a makeover and Canterbury Park Race Club was established with a recreation park, racetracks and a grandstand built. It might surprise some that there was a zoo on the racecourse with kangaroos, wallabies, emus, kookaburras and other native Australian animals and operated up until the World War I. During the World War II the course was taken over by the Australian Army and used for various purposes much to the annoyance of racegoers.

Canterbury Park Racecourse continued to flourish up to the 1990s, however, it ceased to be used for training in 1998. It may not be the horse racing hub it used to be but next time you go past you’ll now know how it all started!

You can read more about the history of horseracing in Sydney in Richard Waterhouse’s article on Culture and Customs for the Dictionary and Lesley Muir and Brian Madden’s article Canterbury Park Racecourse from 2013.

Many thanks to Nicole Cama for today’s post and radio spot. If you missed our weekly Dictionary of Sydney segment on 2SER Breakfast, you can catch up here.


Living with sharks on the Georges River

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on October 29, 2014. [No comments]

Beryl Morrin, who lost both arms as a result of a shark attack in the Georges River on New Year's Eve, with a nurse at Canterbury Hospital 10 February 1935. By Sam Hood. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, hood_11846 / Home Away 11846, Mitchell Library

If you grew up beside a tidal river in Sydney, chances are you have heard local stories of shark attacks. Some of these have been documented in a new article by Sharyn Cullis as part of our Georges River Project, which we proudly launched last Thursday evening.

The danger of sharks has never been great. The statistical record of shark attacks in NSW from 1791-2009 reveals that before 1974, people were far more likely to be the fatal victim of a shark attack than since and the danger has been greater in estuaries (tidal rivers and their mouths) like the lower George River and Botany Bay.

While shark attacks were recorded in Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River from 1791 onwards, the first attack for the Botany Bay/Georges River system was recorded in January 1906. This does not mean sharks were not present in earlier days: far fewer swimmers were widespread in the Georges River, confined instead to areas like the celebrated Brighton Baths in Botany Bay, established in the 1880s.

A series of attacks – both fatal and serious maullings – were reported in local papers in the 1930s and 1940s. Summer was particularly dangerous. Newspapers reported these shark attacks in the Georges River and framed the events in terms of innocent swimmers, marauding monsters and brave rescuers. Our article gives details of several locally “famous” attacks, including Beryl Morrin, a 13 year old who lost both arms as a result of a shark attack on New Year’s Eve in 1934. Beryl was not expected to live but mirraculously did so. She went on to become a local legend, showing pluck and resilience after such a serious setback, riding bikes and swimming on regardless. We have a photograph of plucky Beryl recuperating at Canterbury Hospital.

One trend that wasn’t regularly reported is the number of people who were attacked outside of shark nets. Netting of river beaches and favourite swimming spots was a practical protection that many ignored to their own peril. There have been no recent fatal human shark attacks in the Georges River, yet studies confirm that sharks still move up as far as Liverpool Weir, 45 kilometres from the sea.

Sharks live on in the river and in our collective imagination. Stories today are shared in online chat forums by kayakers, wake-boarders and people who fish the river. One fisherman in 2009 boasted of catching a bull shark in shallow water at a popular prawning spot on the Georges River. Characteristically, catching prawns requires standing in the in shallows with hand nets, on nights in the dark period of the moon cycle, so the fisherman issued this sinister warning: ‘It’s only a matter of time’.

You can hear Lisa’s segment with Mitch on 2SER Breakfast this morning here and read more about our Georges River Project on the Dictionary here. Don’t forget to listen in next Wednesday morning for more Sydney history at 8:20am, 107.3


Happy 50th birthday Gladesville Bridge!

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on October 1, 2014. [1 comment]

Gladesville Bridge at the time of its official opening, October 1964

Gladesville Bridge at the time of its official opening, October 1964. By Paul Percival. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, d7_17540 / APA 17540, Mitchell Library

Tomorrow is a significant birthday for one of Sydney’s bridges. The Gladesville Bridge which spans the Parramatta River is turning 50 years old! The structure was officially opened to the public on 2 October 1964 by Her Royal Highness Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.

The Gladesville Bridge was one of 13 bridges built by the Department of Main Roads during the 1960s, but it is certainly the most spectacular. Other concrete bridges included the Fig Tree Bridge (1963) over the Lane Cove River at Hunters Hill, the Captain Cook Bridge (1965) over the Georges River, and the Roseville Bridge (1966) over Middle Harbour.

The Gladesville Bridge replaced an earlier two-lane multi-span lattice iron bridge that had been built in 1881. The first Gladesville Bridge opened up road transport to the city. It remained the only roadway crossing of the Parramatta River to take road transport into the city until the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932. A horse-drawn bus service started up, offering an alternative to ferry transport. Then in 1910 the tramline was extended through to Gladesville and eventually to Ryde. This reliable transport along the Great North Road, later Victoria Road, encouraged suburban residential subdivision.

By the 1950s the two-lane Gladesville Bridge had become a bottle-neck and a major congestion point on Sydney’s roads, particularly in peak hour traffic.

The new Gladesville Bridge was an engineering marvel and it claimed two international honours. It was the first large bridge in the world to be designed by computer. The enterprising design was by consulting engineers G Maunsell and Partners of London. At the time of construction, the Gladesville Bridge was the world’s longest concrete arch span, with a clear span of 1,000 feet or 305 metres. The bridge held this honour for 16 years.

The arch consists of four concrete-box arches constructed independently and then stressed laterally together. This shares equally the loads from the deck structure above. The placement of each of the concrete-boxes was a slow, precise business. The completed Gladesville Bridge weighs 78,000 tons, almost double the weight of steel in the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Like the Sydney Harbour Bridge before it, the emergence of the span across the Parramatta River captured the imagination of Sydneysiders. Artists sketched the massive structure and sightseers snapped souvenir photographs.

A public relations film was commissioned by the DMR to share with the general public the massive engineering enterprise. Each aspect of the construction is narrated in layman’s terms, accompanied by a cocktail lounge music score – you can view the clip here. It is a real retro piece that has been digitised by Australian Screen as part of our audiovisual heritage and the full 30 minute film can be viewed on the Roads and Maritime Gladesville Bridge 50th anniversary page.

The Gladesville Bridge connected Gladesville and Drummoyne and was envisaged to form part of the North Western Freeway that would connect the city to Newcastle through Glebe, Annandale, Lane Cove and then connect up with the freeway at Wahroonga. Community protests led the Wran government to abandon the project in 1977.

The Bridge’s anniversary is being marked by the unveiling of an Engineering Heritage International Marker. Roads and Maritime have also digitised photographs, programs, oral histories and films associated with the bridge. Happy 50th birthday Gladesville Bridge!

Department of Main Roads, The Roadmakers: A history of main roads in New South Wales, DMR NSW, 1976
Margaret Farlow and Angela Phippen, ‘Gladesville’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/gladesville 
Don Fraser (ed), Sydney: From Settlement to City – an engineering history of Sydney, Engineers Australia Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1989
Roads and Maritime, ‘50 year anniversary of Gladesville Bridge’ website

If you missed Lisa’s segment with Mitch on 2SER Breakfast this morning you can catch up on the podcast via their website. Don’t forget to listen in next Wednesday morning for more Sydney history brought to you by the Dictionary and 2SER at 8:20am, 107.3



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