Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sydney past and present

Last weekend we went to Sydney to meet up with some of my husband's extended family. Since we had a free day on the Monday we strolled around the city looking at some of the sights.

I'd hoped to get some sense of what Sydney might have been like in the time when John Mason and Catherine Murphy were living there in the early 1840's, long before the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House were built. However very little of the early settlement remains.

Lower George Street and Sydney Cove c.1851
 watercolour attributed to Jacob Janssen
The oldest area of Sydney, known as The Rocks because of the sandstone with which it was built, has been demolished extensively over the years to make way for more modern buildings. Even in its heyday it was something of a slum with a dark reputation. In the early 20th century plague broke out and much of it was bulldozed. It was only in the 1970's that people began to feel that some of Sydney's heritage needed to be retained.

Views of Sydney, from St. Leonards, 1842
Conrad Martens
Similarly the harbour itself is no longer what John Mason would have seen when he arrived in Sydney (probably in 1833). A marker placed to show the original shoreline near Cadman's cottage is a hundred metres from the present day wharf at Circular Quay.

An early photo of George St, the Rocks
These buildings still stand
We stopped for a coffee in a row of shops in George Street which would have existed in John and Catherine's day. Most were now boutiques and bars, and across the road was a very modern art gallery. It was hard to imagine what the area might have looked like back in 1840.

Hyde Park, St Mary's Cathedral and Belfry, 1842
John Rae
Old St Mary's Cathedral
date and artist unknown
Up the hill from the Rocks, near the Domain, we found St Mary's Cathedral, where John and Catherine were married in 1841. Unfortunately the original building burned down in 1865. The current building, although magnificent, was built long after the Masons moved to Adelaide. 

But never mind. After strolling through the beautiful botanic gardens with the glass and steel towers of the business district as backdrop, then sitting in the winter sunshine watching a lunch-hour game of soccer being played, I had to think that John and Catherine would have been both amazed and approving of what Sydney has become.

The spires and tower of St Mary's Cathedral today 
(All images except the last one are courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales)

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