The Rocks: Traces of the Past Yr 3 (05): Thursday’s Special


© irene waters 2017

The Rocks is an old area of Sydney with European settlement starting in 1788, soon after the first settlement at Sydney Cove. This slum area in the early days was full of sailors, convicts and prostitutes and became known as a rough area to visit. It was called the Rocks as local sandstone was used to build houses, replacing the original wattle and thatched huts. By 1823 there was a population of around 1200. Terrace houses started being built from 1830 onwards and are a direct copy from London and France (even complete with the pitch of the roof to allow snow to fall off)


© irene waters 2017

Today these old terraces live under the shadow of the modern city. Luckily some have survived. I say lucky because after the plague of 1900 the plan was to knock these buildings down. Many were but the outbreak of World War 1 saw the cessation of the demolition at that time.


© irene waters 2017

The pink cottage is Lilyvale Cottage built in 1845 for an innkeeper Michael Farrell. Originally it was constructed as a gentlemans residence but has predominantly been used as a tavern and boarding house and is considered a good example of colonial Regency architecture. The house was sold to the Crown in 1903. The yellow house was built as a butchery with the front with big windows the shop and above a residence. Both buildings are built into the slope of the land with another story visible from the rear. These building survived not only the demolition during the plague but also the proposed demolition in the 1960/70s. Fortunately the trade unions put a ban on demolishing these old buildings (resulting in an ugly period of NSW history) but in 1975 the decision was made not to demolish any more buildings.


© irene waters 2017

Today, these buildings are nestled in amongst the modern sky scrapers and have a diverse population living inside, from the very rich to the very poor. Many of the houses are still housing commission (public housing) accommodation and a popular tourist destination.


© irene waters 2017


© irene waters 2017

My own history is linked to the Rocks. My Father’s office was the top three windows on the left in the sandstone building. This was the administrative building of the Presbyterian Church where my Father was Clerk of Assembly until Church Union led to the foundation of the Uniting Church in 1977. I wonder what my Father would have thought at the modern structure placed on top of the old Scotts Church building that was constructed in the 1840s.

IMG_0033 (2)

© irene waters 2017

My history in the Rocks goes back further.  My great -grandfather migrated from Glasgow to Sydney in 1897 arriving on the steamship “Austral.” He started his mission work in the Rocks area of Sydney almost immediately with the Sydney City Mission which had been founded some 35 years earlier based on the model of the London City Mission.

Millers Point and The Rocks in those days had a population of around 112,000 people (almost a 1/4 of the popn of Sydney at the time).  The area had more men than women (a result of the sailors that lived in the area) and was a poor, rough and violent area rife with disease, alcoholism and opium dens. After his first day of work  he wrote

I cannot express my feelings as I thought of the strange place and a strange people, but looking up to God, the thought flashed into my mind; human nature is the same in Sydney as it is in Glasgow, and so is God. So I made a start determined to take every door.”

He involved himself in the lives of the people, with no care to what religion they may follow. He set up free breakfasts for the people and intervened in domestic disputes. His diaries are a fascinating read (although at times heavy going). He became beloved by one and all, gaining many converts along the way.

The boy in the trap is my Grandfather, the man standing alone by the horse is my great grandfather. The cat and the bird just leave me wondering.

In response to Paula’s Thursday’s Special

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. Commenced a masters by research in 2014.
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12 Responses to The Rocks: Traces of the Past Yr 3 (05): Thursday’s Special

  1. Paula says:

    Life was difficult back then, but it is not much easier today, is it. I think that placing a modern building on top of a historic building especially at a place like this equals a crime. These are fascinating details about your ancestors and origin, and I am very glad I could read about them. Thank you, Irene, really 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. restlessjo says:

    I like the personal aspect of your post, Irene. 🙂 Big neighbours those little guys have. 😦


  3. klara says:

    fascinating family history! I adored it.


  4. Irene, this is a wonderful tour of Sydney. Thank you for all the information accompanying each photo – I really appreciate knowing what I’m looking at. Don’t you just wonder at what kind of idiocy allows a beautiful old building to be overshadowed by such ugly modernism? Such a horrid invasion.

    How lucky you are to have a photo of your grandfather and his father. I bet the woman sitting next to your grandfather is his mother, your great-grandmother. As for the cat and the bird – they seem to be in charge of everything – quite regal.

    Your great-grandfather was a compassionate man, a quality that has been handed down through the generations of your family.


  5. bushboy says:

    I love the Rocks area – although it was better in the 70’s. Many a pub crawl 🙂


  6. Charli Mills says:

    That’s an impressive rebalance revelation to have, to recognize what we have in common over the first strange encounters. Interesting post and photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ComputerBook says:

    How lucky you are to have a photo of your grandfather and his father. These are fascinating details about your ancestors and origin, and I am very glad I could read about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mary P says:

    How lucky you are to have a photo of your grandfather and his father. Thank you, Irene, really 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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