Looking up - Sydney's history from a new angle


Sydney’s governesses

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on July 29, 2015. [No comments]

Lydia Allen, governess c1876-1880. By Newman, Hubert. From the collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, a4157033 / P1/33

There’s been some recent media coverage about the federal government reimbursing parents of their nanny fees and the Sydney Morning Herald reported that there was a trend from nannies to governesses on the wealthy north shore and eastern suburbs.

Apparently the government is going to implement a two-year trial and fork out $246 million to pay for 4,000 nannies to look after about 10,000 kids. Why invest in after school care when you can have a nanny, or a governess?

It seems everything old is new again. Sydney used to be awash with governesses in the 19th century. And of course, we have an entry in the Dictionary of Sydney all about it. The article is written by Kate Matthews a PhD student at the University of Western Sydney. Kate tells us:

“Governesses held an important place in Sydney’s economic and social life during the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries. As the main providers of female education and accomplishments, governesses occupied an interesting social position.”

They worked for wealthy families and often lived with them, but they were not considered part of the family. They attended social functions, but were chaperones not participants. Working as a governess was one of the few respectable occupations for women in 19th century Sydney. Single women often pursued this career to earn a living before marrying. Many a child’s education was curtailed by the governess going off and finding a husband. Occasionally women engaged in Britain in a governess role met a man on the voyage out and didn’t even take up the position.

The first governess in Sydney that we know of is Penelope Lucas, who came out to Sydney in 1805 to be the governess of John Macarthur‘s family. At 37 years old, Miss Lucas was probably seen as quite matronly with no danger of developing romantic designs on the Macarthur sons. But she got on really well with the family and was well looked after. Quite unusually, they built a her a cottage on the Elizabeth Farm estate at Parramatta. Hambledon Cottage, as she named it, still exists – you can see it at 63 Hassall Street Parramatta.

Governesses usually taught music, drawing and languages as well as a basic grounding in English literature and history. Women from Britain and Europe were highly sought after as governesses, but colonial-born women also worked in this field.

In the 1860s the quaintly named Female Middle Class Emigration Society was formed to provide interest-free loans to encourage educated women to emigrate to Australia. In 1861, the first five governesses arrived in Sydney under the auspices of the Female Middle Class Emigration Society. Between 1861 and 1888, 30 FMCES emigrants arrived in Sydney – of which over 80 per cent worked as governesses.

The number of governesses working in the immediate Sydney area started to decline slowly from the 1880s, and significantly from the turn of the century. Better quality schools, including Ascham in Darling Point (now at Edgecliff) and Arnold’s College for Girls (later Redlands) in North Sydney meant that wealthy families could provide good educations for their daughters without the inconvenience of teaching them at home.

If you missed Lisa’s segment on 2SER Breakfast with Mitch Byatt this morning you can catch up on the podcast here. Don’t forget to listen in next week for more Sydney history courtesy of the Dictionary and 2SER.


Top ten pages for June in the Dictionary

Posted by Lisa Murray in Blog on July 22, 2015. [1 comment]

Front cover of 'Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney', Part I 1886, Contributed by The Archaeology of Sydney Research Group Map Collection, the University of Sydney

We have a lot information in the Dictionary and each month we track our most popular entries and pages to see what people are looking for. This morning I thought I’d share with you the top 10 pages for June.

Interestingly, our number one page in June was not an entry, but rather an artefact:  The Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney.

The Atlas is a group of maps produced in the late 19th centuray of the different municipalities and suburbs of Sydney. They were published at a time when there was a massive boom in realestate. The railways were heading out into the suburbs and people needed maps to understand where they wanted to buy. The maps are really beautiful; they are all coloured, you can see the town hall and all the streets and they are really popular with visitors to the Dictionary because you can see what has changed in your suburb.

Number two often features in our list. It is Pemulwuy who was the Aboriginal resistence leader. He is an important figure for the Aboriginal community because he is a resistence leader and his story celebrates people who fought back and challenged people taking away their country.

Number three – not an entry – is people browsing the contributor list for the State Library of New South Wales. We acknowledge all of our contributors, whether they write for the Dictionary or share images with us. The State Library is a big supporter and they have an amazing collection and it is great to be able to draw on their resources and curate them within the Dictionary.

Number four is Henry Parkes. Henry Parkes was Premier of NSW and Colonial Sectretary. The great mongoose story and Henry Parkes is one that we’ve covered before.

Number five is Woollarawarre Bennelong – another important figure in Aboriginal history in the early period of Sydney’s settlement.

Number six is an Aboriginal site but more contemporary – The Day of Mourning. The entry talks about the first protest that Aboriginal people held in 1938 against the celebrations of the establishment of the colony. 1938 marked 150 years of white settlement and the Aboriginal community held an alternative day of protest at the Australian Hall in Elizabeth Street. It is a really significant building and if you walked past it you might not realise how important it is – it’s on the State Heritage Register – and a really important part of Sydney’s, and Australia’s, history. Worth checking it out.

The Rocks comes next on the list. It is connected with Sydney’s early history and a lot of school assignments! The association of the Rocks with the Green Bans in the 1970s and the struggle to save some of that colonial heritage rather than have it all demolished means that it is often set for assignments on urban planning. It’s a great article by Grace Karskens who is really interested in Sydney’s early history and was involved in the big archaeological digs that happened there in the 1980s and 1990s.

Because of the artefact listing of Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney, people are also accessing our entry on that.

And right near the end of the list is our entry on The Myth of Sydney’s Foundational Orgy which Nicole spoke about recently. It is interesting to look at the provenance of historiography and how we tell our history and our stories. The article highlights the role of foundational stories in our understanding of ourselves as Sydneysiders and people.

And a bit of hedonism to end the list but this time it is true – Kings Cross! A lot of people visit there and it has a lot of exciting contemporary history connected with bohemianism, bars and clubs.

In case you want to make sure you’ve read all our top 10 entries for June, here’s the full list:

  1. artefact listing for the Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney
  2. entry on Pemulwuy by Keith Vincent Smith
  3. browsing the contributor list for the State Library of NSW
  4. Henry Parkes entry by Lucy Hughes Turnbull
  5. Bennelong Woollarawarre entry by Keith Vincent Smith
  6. Day of Mourning 1938 entry
  7. The Rocks entry by Grace Karskens
  8. the entry on the Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney
  9. the Myth of Sydney’s Foundational Orgy by Grace Karskens
  10. Kings Cross entry by Mark Dunn.

To listen to this morning’s podcast, click here. You can hear more Sydney history next week on 2SER breakfast with Mitch Byatt. 107.3 FM – turn the radio on at 8:15 and listen to a few tunes while you wait for the segment.




Wonderland City: Sydney’s amusement parks

Posted by Nicole Cama in Blog on July 15, 2015. [2 comments]

Alice the elephant loading the Wirth's Circus train c1932. By Sam Hood. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, hood_05790 / Home and Away 5790, Mitchell Library

Alice the elephan Alice the elephant loading the Wirth's Circus train c1932. By Sam Hood. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, hood_05790 / Home and Away 5790, Mitchell Libraryt loading the Wirth's Circus train c1932

It’s been 150 years since the famous author Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but did you know Sydney had its own Wonderland back in the early 1900s? I thought I’d delve into the Dictionary of Sydney and spoke to Sophie on 2SER Breakfast about our city’s love of amusement parks.

It turns out Lewis Carroll’s Alice and her trip down the rabbit hole to the fictional country called Wonderland has been the source of inspiration for amusement parks for quite some time. And the first large scale open-air amusement park to hit Australia was in Sydney’s eastern suburb, Tamarama, when the theatrical entrepreneur William Anderson opened Wonderland City in December 1906. On the opening night, 20,000 people travelled to Tamarama to see the ‘fairy city’ buzzing with novel attractions and exciting rides.

Across its 20 acres, it included an artificial lake, Australia’s first open-air ice skating rink, a merry-go-round, Haunted House, labyrinth, music hall which could seat 1,000 people and a Japanese tearoom. Among the more novel attractions was the ‘Airem Scarem’ dirigible, which was a floating airship suspended on a cable which extended over the sea. Other attractions included an elephant called Alice, perhaps referencing Carroll’s character. Alice the elephant was dubbed ‘the children’s friend’ and was sold to Wirth’s Circusin 1908 continuing to entertain Australian audiences until her death in 1941.

Wonderland City employed over 160 people and it is estimated 2,000 people came each summer weekend. But the park was short-lived, as it closed just five years later in 1911 and Anderson reportedly lost £15,000 on the venture (in 2014 money, that’s almost $2 million).

Wonderland City was by no means the first entertainment precinct to offer Sydneysiders amusement. Circus acts had been witnessed by citizens since the 1830s, with rope-walkers, gymnasts, acrobats and clowns entertaining the audiences. Roofless arenas were built in the city centre, and in 1871, Australia’s first ‘hippodrome’ or oval-shaped open arena was opened for 6,000 spectators for Queen Victoria’s birthday. It was complete with a fun-fair, circus performances and chariot races.

There were also pleasure gardens which were also open-air spectacles. One of them was established in Botany Bay in the 1840s. Opened by the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, the gardens exhibited exotic animals including an elephant, Bengal tiger and Himalayan black bear. In 1852, English writer John Askew described his experience visiting Sydney mentioning the ‘menagerie in Elizabeth Street that contains an elephant, two or three monkeys, a lion and a lioness and a few other animals of the cat species’.

Colour photograph of Luna Park ferris wheels taken with long exposure to create continuous lines of motion and light

Luna Park Shutter Blend experiment #1 2008. By Brentbat. Contributed by Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/brentbat/2560241643/

After Anderson’s Wonderland City, another noteworthy amusement park to hit Sydney was, of course, Luna Park in Milsons Point. The park opened in 1935 and became a major social and entertainment space when World War II broke out in September 1939. From its opening until 1970, it was operated by the engineer and long-term employee Ted Hopkins. In June 1979, a fire in the Ghost Train resulted in the park’s closure. Six children and one adult died during the tragedy as inadequate fire-fighting measures caused the fire to completely destroy the ride. After the tragedy the park was neglected but it was redeveloped and restored from the 1980s to 2000s and it reopened in 2004.

You can listen to a podcast of my segment with Sophie 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!


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.


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