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.
I loved the Rocks area
with all its little laneways,
its hidden nooks,
its uneven paving,
the convict sandstone blocks,
but, most of all, it’s old buildings and their stories.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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?!
Now for a hidden wonder, tucked away in a place that many people overlook – Foundation Park.
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.
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.
The area is designed to help you visualise what it might have been like to live there
and it’s such an amazing space.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
So, if you want to know more, you are simply going to have to go on a Rocks Walking Tour for yourselves.
Next, we’re off to Hyde Park Barracks.