Category Archives: Field Trips

Sovereign Hill and Ballarat

Despite a morning of car problems,

we made it to Sovereign Hill.

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This place is AMAZING.

You have to visit if you get a chance.

I’ve wanted to visit Sovereign Hill for years.

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Sovereign Hill is called an ‘open air museum’

as it’s set up to represent life in the 1850s during the Ballarat gold rush.

And it does an EXCELLENT job of it.

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There is so much to see and do

so thank goodness for their two days tickets!

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Oh and make sure you sit down with the daily schedule

and plan out what you want to see and do BEFORE you arrive.

There is so much on offer that it takes some thinking

to make sure you can make it fit comfortably into your two days.

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And save some extra pennies for all the paid extras on offer at Sovereign Hill.

You won’t regret it.

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So what’s there to do at Sovereign Hill?


there are buildings GALORE to visit

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and in most of them there are costumed staff to engage with.

These dear ladies were baking

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biscuits to hand out to the visitors.

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The school wasn’t functioning the day we visited

(it only functions on holidays and weekends)

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but we could look inside.

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We, of course, stepped into the library

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and browsed the books on offer.

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They weren’t to my tastes,

except for these few.

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There were also stores to browse and shop in.

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The grocer’s store was fascinating.

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(Is that hideous creature in the window a lamb?

I may never eat lambie again if it is.)

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And, yes, you could purchase some of the items in the stores.

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Aren’t these little drawers are gorgeous?

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My favourite items were the books

but, surprisingly, I didn’t purchase any.

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At the drapery,

there were all manner of women’s

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and men’s garments.

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There stovepipe hats caught my eye

and reminded me of Abraham Lincoln.

(Just think, Abraham Lincoln was coming to prominence in the US

at the same time that Australia was having its gold rush period.

I love making these kinds of connections with history pieces.)

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Our favourite shop, and everyone else’s favourite shop too,

was the confectionery store.

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Aren’t the lollies in their jars pretty?!

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Yes, they tasted as good as they looked.

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We bought a mixed bag to nibble on.

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There were other places to visit as well,

such as the funeral director’s ‘business’ establishment,

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the bowling saloon

(which was full of school kids

so we gave it a wide berth),

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and the post office

(which is a functioning Australia Post store).

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When you are sick of shopping

(as if that would ever happen when you have two teen sons and a hubby),

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you can go and see some demonstrations.

Try to see them all.

Even the ones that you wouldn’t think would be interesting,

were fascinating.

Like this wheelwright demonstration.

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These videos show the hub of the wheel being made.

First, they have to turn the log segment into the right shape.

Then they have to drill the holes for the spokes.

Then the hub has to dry for years

before they can add the spokes!

I had no idea how much work went into making a wagon wheel.

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We also enjoyed the candle making demonstration.

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Here’s part of the process…

Candles in the past were made of tallow, which is animal fat,

and smelled awful and burned with a very smokey flame.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it.

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Our favourite demonstration was the candy-making demonstration.

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The smell in this room was divine.

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So imagine the sweet smells as you watch this video.

Apparently, this candy press would have been made of lead in the past!!

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Yes, Sovereign Hills makes all of their own lollies.

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To break these sheets of candy into individual pieces,

they simply drop them into a container.

Yep, high tech techniques used in the making of these lollies.

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Oh and make sure you taste one of the warm raspberry drops from this demonstration

and then go and buy a whole bottle!

Trust me.

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The red coats passed us in the street as well.

Probably after our bottle of raspberry drops!

The musket demonstration was also good.

(the firing was MUCH louder in real life!)

Make sure to stop and chat with the policeman.

He’s a real larrikan.

Apparently the police weren’t totally committed to upholding the law,

if ‘not upholding the law’ was more profitable to them.

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Make sure to stop and talk to the staff and volunteers.

They have a lot of valuable, interesting information

to share with those who stop and ask

and show an interest in their passion.

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Also, make time in your day to watch the various little performances

that pop up around the town.

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They are quite funny.

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This one played out on the gold fields.

A lady’s dress was stolen and the police were on the hunt for the stolen goods.

(Sorry about the ‘crack’;

I know, now you aren’t going to be able to ‘not’ see it.

Sorry again.)

Oh and there are also tours you can take while at Sovereign Hill.

I know.  The list of things to do is HUGE.

We took as many tours as we could.

This photo was taken while we were on the Goldfields tour.

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How many people do you think would have lived in this humble abode?

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Apparently, mum, dad and something between 12 and 15 kids!

Don’t ask me where they all slept.

I can’t imagine more than six or eight people sleeping in here.

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You also HAVE to visit the underground mines

(unless you are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark!).

Pay the extra for the paid tours.

They are well worth it.

(We did two of the paid tours

and wish we did the third as well).

But, get there early to book your spot

or you might miss out.

And make sure to do the free Red Hill self-guided tour as well

(and don’t be put off by the signs about lots of stairs;

there’s hardly any and they are easily managed, even in my long skirt).

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To get to the underground mines,

you travel down in this stylish tram.

(If my memory serves me well,

you go down about 20 metres underground).

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Brayden LOVED these mine tours,

especially the mine tram.

I can imagine a lot of people wouldn’t enjoy these trams.

For 90 seconds as you descend,

you are plunged into pitch black

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to help your eyes adjust to the dark environment in the mines.

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But, considering how the early miners

would have traveled up and down

(in the lifts, pictured below, with SEVEN other men!)

the mine tram was the deluxe way to travel.

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Once in the mine,

your guide takes you through the tunnels,

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stopping at key locations to tell you stories

and share information.

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I was interested to discover that these wooden struts

aren’t really for supporting the ceiling,

like they might appear.

They were used as an early warning system.

When the ceiling moved, perhaps threatening to fall,

the struts were designed to temporarily support the ceiling

while the poles flexed and bowed,

giving the miners warning and time to escape.

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Now, for the highlight of any Sovereign Hill visit…

the goldfields and panning.

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When you arrive,

make sure you ask for a demonstration on how to pan for gold.

There’s a knack to it.

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Then grab a shovel

and fill your pan with dirt,

preferably from the centre of the creek.

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Every morning,

they sprinkle this water with gold

so you are searching for real gold

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and you will find some,

if you put in the effort.

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This was our first piece of gold

on our very first pan.

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Brayden had a real knack for gold panning

and he experienced a little ‘gold fever’

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and had us returning to the goldfields repeatedly

over the two days we were there.

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Here’s some more gold he found.

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Hubby was living in hope of striking it rich

to recoup the money we’d sunk into our sick car.

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Suffice it to say,

based on what we found,

he wasn’t able to quit his day job

OR pay off his car.

Look very very carefully and you can see our couple of teeny tiny gold specks.

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Now, if you do want to see a LOT of gold,

make sure you go and see the gold pour demonstration.

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How cool is this…

This gold ingot is worth $160 000AU

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Even after all of that,

there is MORE to do.

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You can explore and walk around the Chinese camp.

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Make sure you visit the Chinese temple

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and the Chinese camp store.

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There were all sorts of interesting things sold there.

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And peek inside each of the tents.

Each is different and unique.

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My boys weren’t all that keen on the Chinese way of carrying things.

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Think of the muscles you would build, boys.

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We had a blast at Sovereign Hill

and we’d happily return

and enjoy everything all over again,

especially if we lived closer.

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But, we squeezed in as much as we could in two days

and enjoyed absolutely everything.

There’s nothing negative at all to say about the place,

except perhaps that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much

if we’d visited during the peak season.

(I highly recommend visiting OUTSIDE of holiday and weekend times.)

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So, we said our farewells to Sovereign Hill and Ballarat

and prepared to hit the road again

the next morning.

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Posted by on December 9, 2018 in Australian Holiday, Field Trips, History


Another Day in Sydney

Our second day in Sydney was beautiful.

We had gorgeous blue skies, which was a nice change from the rainy day we had on our first day in Sydney.

So we quite enjoyed our 30 minute stroll from our hotel to Circular Quay.

We even stopped to check out the monuments and statues that we passed.

We should all do that more often as there are some amazingly interesting things to see and learn this way.

For example, we stopped to look at this anchor, just a block or so from Circular Quay,

to discover that it was the anchor of the Sirius.

Yes, THAT Sirius!  The flagship of the First Fleet!

The Sirius carried Captain Arthur Phillip to Australia in 1788.

Sadly, the Sirius was shipwrecked two years later off the coast of Norfolk Island.

This anchor and several other artifacts have since been recovered from the Sirius.

So do stop to look at monuments wherever you find then.

It’s well worth your time.

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With our nice blue skies, we were able to get some much nicer photos of the views around Sydney Harbour.

So, we spent the first hour of our day wandering around Circular Quay taking photos.

First of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

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and then of the Sydney Opera House.

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Isn’t she pretty?

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Oh yes, and we took a couple of typical tourist shots too

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where we placed ourselves in front of the icons.

Okay, well not directly in front of.

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No, we didn’t catch a show at the Opera House.

There was nothing on that appealed to us, the prices also didn’t appeal to us.

Even the tour prices were outrageous,

so we settled for a walk around and a quick read of their teeny tiny Visitor’s Centre,

which is really just a wall of photos and info and a gift shop.

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Simply walking around the Opera House is lovely

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and there are plenty of views to be seen.

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But we didn’t dally long at the Opera House.

We had a long list of places to visit

and we’d be coming back to the Opera House later in the evening.

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Our next stop was the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Museum and Lookout

….IF we survived all of the stairs.

First, there were the Argyle Stairs,

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then there’s the Cumberland Street Stairs

to get you up to the road level of the bridge.

Thankfully, there’s a nice little view half way up

so you can stop and pretend to check out the views

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or take a dozen pictures or so,

while you catch your breath.

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Inside the Pylon, there is a museum and a lookout

and about 200 more stairs.

No, there are no lifts.

BUT, the price is much much better than the Sydney Tower Eye price

and we thought the views were amazing.

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We started at the little museum, halfway up the pylon.

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It really is only a ‘little’ museum,

but it’s a nice break before continuing your climb.

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These lovely stain glass windows show some of the bridge workers –

a surveyor, a stone mason, a riveter and the silhouette of a ‘dog-man’ way up high,

(a dog-man is a bloke who rides on the crane lifted materials to direct them),

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a concrete worker, a rigger, and a painter.

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These workers had none of our modern day protections from work place hazards.

No, safety rails or rigging.

Not even hard hats or ear muffs.

Consequently, sixteen men lost their lives while building the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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Bridge construction began in 1924, during economic boom years,

however, a few short years later, the Great Depression hit.

The bridge would keep the economy alive during those difficult years.

In fact, the bridge was often called the ‘Iron Lung’

because of the role it played in keeping the economy going

and keeping so many men in work.

The bridge was finally completed in 1932.

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The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the largest steel arch bridge

although not the longest.

The chief engineer was John Bradfield.

He helped determine the most suitable type of bridge for the span

and then supervised the bridge’s design and construction.

Bradfield is referred to as the father of the bridge.

(Brisbanites might be interested to know that Bradfield was also in charge of the construction of Brisbane’s Story Bridge).

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I was impressed to learn that Bradfield admired both purpose AND beauty in his work.

Beauty in construction seems to be a long forgotten idea

so I was thrilled to learn that the pylons were constructed

merely for their aesthetic properties.

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Apparently the granite pylons added immense cost to the construction of the bridge,

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however, beauty held such importance in those days,

and particularly to Bradfield,

that the pylons were added

merely because they made the bridge beautiful.


I couldn’t imagine the bridge without them.

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After a quick movie about the building of the bridge,

we started climbing again.

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Lesser fit folk will appreciate the little displays on each landing

that allow tiny breaks between climbs.

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These are the ceremonial scissors (well, a replica) that were used to open the bridge.

Pretty aren’t they?

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Not that they actually did the FIRST cutting of the opening ribbon.

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After two hundreds steps we made it to the pylon lookout

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and it was worth all that wheezing, panting and thoughts that I might die.

Just check out the views!

You could walk all around the top of the pylon

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and get 360 degree views of the city and the harbour.

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It was beautiful.

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So pretty.

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Here’s one of the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge

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and here’s the bridge itself.

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Some more gorgeous harbour views.

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Oh and my men again.

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Even the views from inside the top floor of the pylon were lovely.

Check these out.

Peeking out at the bridge,

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and then the harbour and the Opera House.

I took sooooo many pictures of the views.

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Our next stop was the Rocks Discovery Museum,

a lovely, tiny and FREE museum

in the heart of the Rocks area.

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At this museum, the building itself was an artifact.

It was gorgeous.

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I loved the sandstone walls.

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Apparently the different markings on the stones,

are the different work gangs’ identifying marks.

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There were lots of hands on displays in this small museum.

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There were also a number of videos to watch and interactive technologies,

which are always a hit with the kids.

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Me, I liked the simple things –

an old shoe,

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a broad arrow marked brick,

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this bear’s grease hair cream

(made from the fat of Russian bears!),

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and these very well worn rickety stairs.

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A topic that I found interesting at the museum,

and that I’d like to read more about,

was the plague in Australia.

Too often we think of the plague as something that happened during the Middle Ages.

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We spent about an hour or so at the Rocks Discovery Museum

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before heading off to find some very overdue lunch.

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After lunch (which we had to defend from the hungry seagulls!),

we took a ferry over to the Sydney suburb of Manly.

We’d hoped to take one of the cute, slow green and yellow ferries

but instead we ended up on a Manly ‘fast’ ferry.

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It was quite a fortuitous change in plans.

and we LOVED it.

(Except when it reversed and its engines threw buckets of water over those of us at the back of the boat!)

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When you visit Sydney, you have to take a ferry ride.

The harbour views are lovely.

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(The price…not that lovely, when you factor in four people and a return ticket, but, oh well.)

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The speedy trip to Manly was definitely a highlight for us.

We chose the Manly trip because we wanted to go past the headlands to the harbour.

I didn’t realise that it was so small.

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In Manly, we didn’t have any big plans.

We just strolled around and enjoyed the waterside

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until it was time to board our cute, slow, green and yellow ferry

(yes, we finally caught one)

back to Circular Quay.

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The plan was to cruise into the Quay at sunset or thereabouts.

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Our timing was perfect!

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The city was awash in the final rays of the sun.

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It was lovely.

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The ferry went extra slow coming into the city,

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making us wonder if it was a special sunset tour.

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The tourists were crowding the front of the ferry

snapping up the gorgeous scenes.

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And who wouldn’t, when the city looked like this…

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or this.

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As we turned into Circular Quay, the night lights had taken over

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showing us different pretty scenes.

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Did you spot Luna Park tucked under the Harbour Bridge?

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After our spectacular sunset ferry ride

(worth every penny of those tickets!),

we wandered back over to the Opera House

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and climbed the stairs once again;

this time to wait for a special light show

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to be projected on the sails of the Opera House.

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The show was called Badu Gili and it bathed the Opera House sails with images from Indigenous artists.

It was spectacular

and a lovely way to end our day and our time in Sydney.


Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Australian Holiday, Family Events, Field Trips


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