200 years of Sydney - a collection of historic photos
From a tiny trading port to a bustling metropolis with towering skyscrapers: Historic photos of Sydney reveal the secrets behind some of the harbour city’s most iconic landmarks over 200 years.
Vintage photos of Sydney’s harbour region show how the city has changed over 200 years
As the first area of the harbour city settled, it provides a stark contrast of now and then
Sydney boomed as a trading port in the 1800s but by Federation was ravaged by plague
Neighbourhood has since changed radically as modern skyline took shape in late 1900s
Modern Sydney is a bustling metropolis of five million people living and working in skyscrapers and commuting to the office by train – but it wasn’t always like this.
For decades after the First Fleet landed in what is now Circular Quay, the town was a small trading port until the 1851 gold rush saw its population swell from 35,000 to 200,000 in just 20 years.
One of Sydney’s oldest and best preserved areas, Miller’s Point, tells the story of the city’s transformation, reflected in eye-opening photos through the ages.
Now a desired historical location flooded with tourists, it was one a working class settlement home to workers on the nearby wharves, hauling in grain, wool, and other commodities.
Streets were carved out of thick stone, often with convict labour, most prominently the Argyle Cut, a 20-year project starting in 1843 which tunnelled through to connect the neighbourhood to The Rocks.
Victorian-style houses sprung up along dirt streets that were later paved and the city’s tram system snaked into the area, connecting it more easily with the rest of Sydney.
Miller’s Point saw a boom in the maritime trade with workers from around the world arriving for employment on the wharves as the gold rush brought more visitors and more commerce.
Many of the area’s best landmarks like the Lord Nelson Hotel and the Hero of Waterloo pubs were built in this time, along with some houses that survived the changes to come.
Overlooking it all was the Sydney Observatory, built on a hill behind Argyle Street in 1858 giving panoramic views of the neighbourhood, Sydney Harbour, and the rest of the city.
Most of this view, particularly to the south, is now obscured by new houses and more recently office towers and apartment blocks – but the Sydney Harbour Bridge is clearly visible.
Trade began to slow down by the turn of the century and the area was hit hard by the plague in the 20th Century’s first month, leaving 106 people dead.
The area was also outdated and unsanitary due to haphazard building and the government decided to clean it up by buying all the homes and commercial buildings.
New wharves and warehouses were built for the wool trade, and dozens of homes demolished to build new ones to make room for new streets again cut out of the cliffs.
Hundreds of workmen’s flats – many of which still stand today – were constructed in terrace style to house workers and their families that laid the foundation for the area’s public housing culture.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge was constructed in 1932, after many more buildings were knocked down, and the whole area changed with streets realigned.
Miller’s Point was only spared widespread demolition in the 1970s after union and community action that stopped plans to raze it and build office towers, though much south of the Observatory was lost.
Finally, the wharves along Walsh Bay were in the past few years demolished to build the new Barangaroo precinct – just one more evolution of Sydney’s ever-changing landscape.
Source: Nic White, “From a tiny trading port to a bustling metropolis with towering skyscrapers: Historic photos of Sydney reveal the secrets behind some of the harbour city’s most iconic landmarks over 200 years”, Daily Mail Australia, February 4, 2018