History of The Rocks – Soak up Australia’s early history.
All you have to do is take a walking tour of The Rocks and hear the tales of convicts, sailors and free settlers as you walk down the original flagstones that date from the earliest days of the colony. The Rocks is the birthplace of white Australia when the First Fleet’s 1300 people set up camp around the fresh water of the Tank Stream.
The Rocks is where the convicts first lived while the free settlers built their houses further up the hill towards what is now Cumberland Street. It had an unsavory reputation for its brothels, drinking houses, opium dens, gambling and robbers. But it was also a dynamic trading port, surrounded by deep water on three sides, where boats pulled up to unload their cargo that was housed in warehouses that are still standing today.
The Rocks is the most historic part of Australia with over 100 heritage sites and buildings that are well over 150 years old.
Cadman’s Cottage was built in 1816 on the banks of Sydney Harbour and is one of the few remaining buildings from the first 30 years of the colony. The water transport building and sailor’s home was built on the waters’ edge but the sea has resided over 100 metres since then.
You can visit the archaeological evidence of the Gadigal people who lived in the area for 400 years before the 11 ships of the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour and changed their lives forever. The crushed shells from the Gadigal were used in the mortar that is found in the standstone blocks all around The Rocks.
Some of earliest entrepreneurs built their businesses in The Rocks such as Mary Reibey, who arrived as a convict in 1791 and started out from a small house in The Rocks then ran a trading and shipping business. She went on to build a number of fine houses and own one third of all the property in The Rocks while raising a large family.
Another enterprising convict was Francis Greenway who was sent to Australia because he forged a financial document. He became Australia’s first great architect and many of his famous buildings remain such as the lighthouse at Watsons bay and St James Church in Queens Square. He was commemorated on the $10 note, not bad for a forger. The notes were taken out of circulation in 1984.
You can visit the Maori Lane named for the Maori Whalers who lived there after they left New Zealand where they were persecuted. The Rocks had Australia’s first Chinatown too.
The Rocks had other historical periods apart from the convict past. In the 1870s, The Rocks community was overrun by notorious larrikin gangs called The Rocks Push. Around 1900 the bubonic Plague devastated Sydney and triggered a mass demolition of housing and important buildings in The Rocks.
In the 1970s there was a move to tear down The Rocks’ eclective architecture and it was stopped by Jack Mundey, the secretary of the Builders Labourers’ Federation. He started the Green Bans around Sydney that ultimately led to the preservation of the area.
(Have you any history or stories you would like to share of the area you live or work in? Please share with us.) ~ Jeanette.