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Sydney history

Aboriginal Sydney

Sydney has always been characterised by waves of migration starting with the first Aborigines who reached the area approximately 20,000 years ago. Their population had risen to 3,000 when Captain James Cook briefly visited Botany Bay in April 1770. The Eora display at the Museum of Sydney provides a sensitive, contemporary interpretation of their culture.

"The Coming of the Strangers"

In 1787, the first fleet sailed from England, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip, who later became Governor. The British raised their flag at Sydney Cove - now known as Circular Quay, on 26 January 1788. Australians now celebrate this date as Australia Day.

When Phillip returned to England in 1792, officers paid convict labourers and other accounts with rum rather than hard currency. Battles for social standing and economic power emerged between such groups as land grant holders, like John Macarthur, who established Elizabeth Farm, and the newly-emancipated convicts who had served out their term. The settlement soon outstripped its original site and extended west towards The Rocks and Sydney Observatory, and as far south as Brickfield Hill, which is near present-day Central Railway Station.

Matters came to a head politically with the Rum Rebellion of 1808, and Britain recalled then governor, William Bligh, to England. His successor, Lachlan Macquarie, gave the city its early 19th-century architecture. He worked with convict architect Francis Greenway to erect such edifices as Hyde Park Barracks and St James Church. However, Macquarie's extravagant expenditure angered the British government and in February 1822, he reluctantly returned home.

Urban Consolidation

During the early 1830s, a number of officials made the decision to take up land grants on prestigious Woolloomooloo Hill, establishing homesteads such as Elizabeth Bay House. Between 1837 and 1845, a Tudor-style Government House arose near the site of the present-day Sydney Opera House. Large-scale, assisted immigration was characteristic of this period, and when convict transportation to New South Wales ceased in 1840, inhabitants finally began to discard their convict label, and this was significantly followed two years later by an act which declared Sydney's status as a city.

The Gold Rush

1851 saw the discovery of gold near the central western town of Bathurst. Thousands of prospective diggers arrived by ship, many of whom later settled permanently. However, with the discovery of more valuable mines in Victoria, the excitement dissipated and Sydney embarked upon a new period of civic, cultural and social development. Elegant sandstone buildings including The Australian Museum and the University of Sydney were constructed, and in 1855, the first train line between Sydney and Parramatta became operational.

Late 19th Century

The 1879 International Exhibition placed Sydney squarely on the map. Major public buildings erected during this period include the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney General Post Office, Sydney Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building. The suburbs continued their sprawl, fuelled by the expanding rail network and the Australian dream of owning a quarter-acre block of land.

Early 20th Century

On January 1, 1901, the six Australian colonies united to form a Commonwealth, and Sydney became the state capital of New South Wales. The opening of the Central Railway Station stimulated commercial development in the south, electricity replaced gaslight, women received the vote and mixed bathing became acceptable during daylight hours. Ferries exclusively serviced the harbour, and campaigning began for an alternative crossing-route. However, the outbreak of the First World War halted any further expansion. Thousands of Australians departed to fight alongside their British allies.

Between the Wars

After the troops came home, expansion and development continued until the Great Depression in the late 1920s. Many found themselves unemployed, and political unrest swept Sydney, resulting in the removal from office of the popular Labour premier, Jack Lang. Nevertheless, 1932 saw the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Australian troops again left to support the British in Europe. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, Australia's own national security became paramount. May 1942 saw the destruction of four Japanese midget-submarines, which had entered Sydney Harbour. Shortly afterwards, the Japanese mother submarine bombed the waterfront suburbs of Bondi and Rose Bay. Fear of invasion heightened rapidly. The introduction of rationing and blackouts saw the war hit home, and many residents fled for the safety of the Blue Mountains.

Post-War Development

The post-war period was characterised by wide-scale immigration especially from Italy, Greece and Eastern Europe. Major modernist buildings such as the Rose Seidler House challenged traditional style, and a distinctive local school of architecture gradually evolved.

During the 1960s, American influence saw Australia drawn into the Vietnam War. The introduction of conscription provoked widespread civil unrest. At the same time, the city embarked upon a period of unabashed, rampant development. Sydneysiders witnessed the demolition of historical buildings, and saw them replaced by modern skyscrapers. The Sydney Opera House opened in 1973, and previously working-class suburbs, such as Paddington, with their distinctive terrace house architecture, suddenly became fashionable. Migrant groups began to colonise districts, including Leichhardt (Italians), Lakemba (Lebanese), Redfern (Greeks) and Marrickville (Portuguese). The end of the Vietnam War also saw large-scale immigration from Southeast Asia.

Rampant Development

The last few decades have seen even greater change. Thousands of apartment buildings now punctuate the skyline. Fierce battles continue to rage over controversial architecture in the city, including structures in Circular Quay, the futuristic Monorail and Fox Studios. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find traces of the past within the city. Macquarie Street and the tourist area, The Rocks, are some of the few historical landmarks that remain. However, a clean harbour, and the international-class facilities, which were part of the Olympic project, are now also a part of Sydney, a city that will always welcome the thousands of tourists who continually visit it every year.

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