Hyde Park Barracks

After our guided tour of the Rocks area, the heavens opened and the rains fell,

so we grabbed umbrellas and hastily altered our afternoon plans to an indoor location.

We chose Hyde Park Barracks.

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The barracks were designed by that infamous ex-convict Francis Greenway

and were built to house male convicts who worked on government projects.

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It is now a museum that must be seen when you visit Sydney.

It is set up to tell the different stories of the building and the people who once lived there.

It also does an good job of demonstrating how archaeologists dig into the past to locate those stories.

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Amazingly, rats have also helped conserved the past for us.

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Into their ratacombs in the building’s foundations, and down into their nests under the floor boards,

the rats dragged little bits and bobs stolen from the people who lived in the barracks over the years.

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During conservation work, these ratty ‘treasures’ were uncovered

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and a whole room of the museum is dedicated to the objects that were found.

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Torn pieces of letters, writing nibs, sealing wax, matches, clay pipes, rosary beads, fabric, buttons and sewing equipment –

all were found under the floorboards telling the story of the women who once lived in the barracks.

You see, in 1848, the barracks were converted into a depot for free immigrant women.

The women resided in the barracks for short periods until family could collect them

or until they found suitable employment and accommodations.

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Rooms on the second floor of the museum, tell the story of some of these women.

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You could even test out the lodgings to see if they were to your desired level of comfort.

They weren’t.  They were as comfortable as they look.

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Speaking of accommodations, on the third floor of the museum, you could also experience convict accommodations.

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On this floor, the rooms have been restored to show where the convicts slept at the barracks from 1819 to 1848.

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Rows and rows of hammocks filled the space

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and you are free to climb into a hammock and test it out for yourself.

They weren’t too bad actually.

Getting in and, especially, out was a challenge though.

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Most of the barracks were devoted to telling the convict story

and it was that story that we were most interested to hear.

At the front desk, we collect our free audio tour guides

and spent three hours learning about early Sydney and its convict past.

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(Guided tours or audio tours are must when you have children.

It helps them engage with the exhibits.

If the option is available, always pay for tours.

It’s well worth the money.)

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And if that doesn’t keep the kiddos engaged,

then there’s always the leg irons

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and the triangle with the cat-o-nine tails

to help with discipline.

(Yes, Ethan is having a little too much fun whipping his brother,

who was rather glad for the protection of his backpack.)

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However, at this museum, the kids aren’t going to have much of a problem engaging.

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Every room is vastly different and full of interactive opportunities,

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from answering questions and finding images to dressing up and touching artifacts.

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Oh, I should explain what the cat-o-nine tails was, (or, as it was commonly known, ‘the cat’).

It was a particularly cruel type of flogging implement used by the British.

It consisted of nine ‘tails’ or lengths of knotted cord,

which lacerated a man’s back in a pattern that resembled a vicious cat’s scratch,

hence the name.

It kind of look innocuous, doesn’t it.

However, one superintendent from the barracks said that it made 50 lashes feel like a 1000,

so it must have been hideous.

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Floggings and the irons weren’t the only type of punishment in the colony though.

There was also ‘the wheel’.

The wheel was a human-powered treadmill, which was both a punishment and a device for grinding grains.

I’ve always said that exercise is some form of inhumane torture and this is proof!

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There were also the humiliating forms of punishment,

like having to wear the parti-coloured punishment suit.

Men, who had to wear this ridiculous outfit, were called ‘canary men’.

They were also put in leg irons so the pants had buttons up the side of the legs

to enable the men to put on or remove their pants while still wearing their legs irons.

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Here’s something you might not know; it’s certainly something I didn’t know.

I’d always assumed that the broad arrow meant something to do with convicts.

However, that is not so.

Items were marked with a broad arrow to indicate items belonging to the government.

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Convict clothing was marked with a broad arrow because the clothing belonged to the government,

and not because it would be worn by convicts.

In fact, every segment of the clothing was marked with the broad arrow

to prevent the convicts from unpicking the clothes, remaking them and selling them on.

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Many convict-made bricks also bore the broad arrow mark.

In fact, all bricks after 1819 were marked with the broad arrow.

(By the 1830s, the bricks were marked with playing card shapes,

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to indicate the different brick makers, and also to help the mortar bind to the brick.)

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It is estimated that 166 000 convicts were sent to Australian shores

between the years of 1788 and 1868.

For many of them, Australia provided a second chance at life and a potentially prosperous future.

We forget that a number of these convicts had death sentences commuted to transportation.

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But it would have been a very difficult transition for all of them.

Most of them would never have seen their family or friends again.

An indication of this heartbreak can be seen in the love tokens

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that the convicts made for their loved ones before they departed for the ends of the Earth.

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These tokens were made by smoothing coins and engraving them with messages.

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There was so much to see and learn at Hyde Park Barracks

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as well as a gorgeous building to admire.

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And it’s the place to go in Sydney if you want to learn more about our convict past.

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We thoroughly ended our wet afternoon exploring the barracks

and would definitely recommend that others visit if they have the opportunity.

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Posted by on October 14, 2018 in Australian Holiday, Family Events, Field Trips, History


Walking Around the Rocks

The very first place we visited on our month long holiday was The Rocks area in Sydney.

We booked with “The Rocks Walking Tours” and had a fantastic experience.

It turned out that no one else had booked to join our tour

so we essentially got a personal tour of the area for a couple of hours.

It was wonderful and our guide, Brian, was a particular highlight.

He was such a knowledgeable and interesting storyteller.

If you live in the Sydney area or are planning on visiting,

we can highly, highly recommend a tour with this company.

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I loved the Rocks area

with all its little laneways,

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its hidden nooks,

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its uneven paving,

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the convict sandstone blocks,

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but, most of all, it’s old buildings and their stories.

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It was called The Rocks because…it was a rocky peninsula.

Plain and simple.

It’s where the First Fleet convicts were placed to reside.

Now, you might know this, but I didn’t.

The convicts, when they arrived, weren’t placed in jails or barracks.

Australia was their jail.  Transportation was their punishment.

Later barracks were built in Sydney, but, even then, the men were only housed there at night.

So, where did the convicts live?

Well, in whatever they built for themselves.

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Clearly none of those early habitations have survived,

however, Cadman’s Cottage has survived.

It’s the oldest residential building in Sydney, having been built in 1816.

(The little extension is an addition about twenty years afterwards).

It’s called Cadman’s Cottage because a John Cadman lived there at one point.

He had been a convict (he stole a horse), who was later pardoned,

and went on to work as a government coxswain

(the bloke in charge of the boats unloading and ferrying stores ashore).

The building was originally built to house the coxswain, and several lived here prior to Cadman.

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What I found fascinating was that this building used to be on the shoreline of Sydney Harbour,

which is now some hundred metres away from the building.

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And another interesting tidbit is that the house has sheoak shingles.

Okay, that’s not the interesting bit.

The interesting bit is how the sheoaks reportedly got their name.

The oak-like wood they found in Sydney Cove was particularly difficult to work with and inferior to the oak back home,

so it received the name she-oak, as opposed to he-oak I suppose,

if you get my drift.  🙂

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While we are talking about interesting tidbits,

have you ever heard of ‘daylight robbery’?

Do you know where the expression originally came from?

It came from a time in the UK when windows in your house were taxed.

Those with more windows, usually the rich with biggest houses, paid more tax.

The perfect solution for a ruler with a money shortage (you can’t hide windows from the tax man),

but not a very popular tax with the people, who now, seemingly, had to pay for light and air into their homes.

So, logically people blocked up their windows.

Now, the tax never came to Australia (thankfully, because I have a LOT of windows),

but people were fearful that it would and so they built their buildings accordingly.

How fascinating is that?!

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Now for a hidden wonder, tucked away in a place that many people overlook – Foundation Park.

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I loved Foundation Park, as it gave us a glimpse into how people were living in the Rocks area in the late 1800s.

Now don’t imagine a ‘park’; this is actually the site of the ruins of eight houses built into the sandstone cliff.

Space was at a premium and so people built where they could, however they could.

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Each of these homes had two rooms, each room being about three metres square.

Now imagine mum and dad and their ten kids living there!

It’s so hard to fathom.

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The area is designed to help you visualise what it might have been like to live there

and it’s such an amazing space.

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I can’t say that I’d want to have lived there.

Remember, these people had no running water or toilet facilities.

So make sure you add in the smell when you’re imagining life at the Rocks in the late 1800s.

Now imagine you are living there at the time of the bubonic plague, which was worse in squalid areas.

After the plague of 1900, which killed 103 people, the fear of further plagues

prompted the government to knock down the slums and reclaim ownership of the land around the Rocks area.

This may have been the best thing for the Rocks area

as the newly acquired government land lay unused

and wasn’t snatched up by property developers keen to knock down anything in their way.

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Gosh, we heard so many great stories and I can’t relay them all.

We heard about Henry Browne Hayes, who supposedly surrounded his cottage with imported Irish peat.

Why?  Well, he was terrified of snakes,

and since St Patrick had apparently vanquished all the snakes in Ireland by blessing the land,

he figured that snakes in Australia wouldn’t dare cross over Irish land.

Hmmm…I wonder what the modern day import costs on such a thing would be.

I could do with some Irish soil around these parts.

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We also laughed at the irony of Francis Greenway’s image being on the old Australian $10 banknote.

Francis Greenway was transported for forgery and so what do Australians do?

Put his face on our currency.  Hehehe…only in Australia.

Okay, he wasn’t just a forger.  I’ll give him his proper credit.

He was a very talented architect who designed many of Australia’s first and finest buildings.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind reading more about him.

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I just want to tell you all the stories

(I made a written narration of what I learned that very night!)

and show you all the pictures,

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but, if I do that, you won’t need to visit for yourself.

Plus you’ll never hear about all the other fantastic places we visited.

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So, if you want to know more, you are simply going to have to go on a Rocks Walking Tour for yourselves.

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Next, we’re off to Hyde Park Barracks.

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Posted by on October 6, 2018 in Australian Holiday, Field Trips, History


Off on an Adventure

You won’t have noticed, because my blogging has been soooo slack this year,

but we’ve been off on a month long adventure.

We hit the road at the beginning of September and only just arrived home.

Where did we go?

Well, my five year old niece told people that we were ‘going around the world’,

however, ‘the world’ was really just the east coast of Australia.

We drove all the way from the Gold Coast in Queensland to Hobart, Tasmania, and then back again.

Our odometer recorded the journey as 6000km.

That’s a lot of sitting in the car.  (Thank goodness for audio stories!)

We went sooo many places and did soooo much that the best place to start is from the very beginning.

First up – Sydney.

Well, actually, the first day was just a whole lot of boring driving.

Nine and a half hours of it.

Thankfully much of it was dual carriageway and 110km/h.

But, still, we arrived in Sydney pretty exhausted


and had to find the oomph to face Sydney traffic.


Thankfully, we arrived on a Sunday afternoon.

I wish I could say that I planned that on purpose, but that would be a lie.

Oh and I’m so thankful that we live in the age of Google Maps,

and that Google Maps knows what to do when people can’t manage to follow her directions correctly.

There was a LOT of rerouting happening to get us to our destination.


And how sweet of Google Maps to take us on the scenic route over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


How did she know we were on holidays and would be delighted by such a trip?!

(And, no, I haven’t checked my etoll invoice yet to see just how much that cost me.

Maybe I don’t want to know.)


In Sydney, we chose to stay at Rydges in the city centre.

I know, pretty swish and costly.

But it wasn’t all that costly because we booked during a sale.

Plus, we compared the expense of staying further out, where it would be cheaper,

and then having to drive into the city each day and park,

or take public transport for four adults.

The hotel in the city came out on top for money value,

although we did have to put our car in the hotel’s valet parking.

(Don’t ask me the cost of that.  It makes me feel faint thinking about it.)

But it was worth it.

We were within walking distance of all the places we wanted to visit.

Circular Quay was literally just down the road from the hotel.

Okay, ‘just down the road’ being a 25 minute walk but it was all flat and interesting.

No, Circular Quay wasn’t necessarily ‘one of the places we wanted to visit’,

but it was the gateway to many of them.

Circular Quay is really just a harbourside transport hub.

Trains on one side, ferries on the other.

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But if you walk one way, you’ll find yourself at the Sydney Opera House,

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and the other, will take you to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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On a nice sunny day, it can be very picturesque.

However, our first day in Sydney was overcast and showery, turning to rain by the afternoon.


But we made the most of it,

and enjoyed the fact that grey skies meant less people

and cooler daytime temperatures.


Check out the jelly fish in the harbour!

The water, wherever you looked, was absolutely full of them.

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However, we didn’t dally long at Circular Quay, although the jellyfish were mesmerising.

We had to dash off to the Rocks district to meet our guide for a tour.

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A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land

This past week, we read an amazing book called,

“A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land”.

It was about Tasmania’s convict history

and it was fascinating.

It was also gorgeously illustrated

and well deserved its book award.


Brace yourself for the size of this book though.

It’s HUGE and will be a challenge for any bookshelf.

But, don’t let the size deter you from buying it.

The size enhances the amazing illustrations.


Check out the attention to detail in this book.

It’s truly impressive.

There are lots of these ‘cut-out’ type illustrations

and you could pore over them for ages.

I did!


There’s also a lot of historical detail in the book.

I learned so many new things.

But, as well as information about the convict period in Tasmania,

there’s information about specific characters too, both convicts and free people.


Over the years, we’ve read a lot of books about Australia’s early history,

and I think this is one of the best in terms of illustrations and information.

However, it’s not the easiest book to read aloud and the text isn’t very detailed,

but, I still rank this title as a great book.

Perhaps not a living book, according to Charlotte Mason’s definition,

but, if illustrations could be ‘living’, then this book would definitely be a living book.


I highly recommend it.

It has been perfect for preparing us for our trip to Hobart.


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Posted by on August 26, 2018 in History, My Library