The Rocks and Circular Quay are the oldest part of inner Sydney. The City Centre is the central business district, and to its west lies Darling Harbour, which includes Sydney’s well-known Chinatown. The Botanic Gardens and The Domain form a green oasis almost in the heart of the city. To the east are Kings Cross and Darlinghurst, the hub of café culture, and Paddington, an area that still retains its charming 19th-century character.
Circular Quay, once known as Semi-Circular Quay, is often referred to as the “birthplace of Australia”. It was here, in January 1788, that the First Fleet landed its human freight of convicts, soldiers and officials, and the new British colony of New South Wales was declared. Sydney Cove became a rallying point whenever a ship arrived bringing much needed supplies from “home”. The Quay and The Rocks are focal points for New Year’s Eve festivities. The area is packed during the annual Vivid festival, when many of the buildings are bathed in colour for a spectacular light show when the winter sun goes down. The Rocks area offers visitors a taste of Sydney’s past, but it is a far cry from the time, little more than 120 years ago, when most inhabitants lived in rat-infested slums, and gangs ruled its streets. Now scrubbed and polished, The Rocks forms part of the colourful promenade from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the spectacular Sydney Opera House.
1. Susannah Place
This terrace of four brick and sandstone houses dating back to 1844 has a rare history of continuous domestic occupancy from the 1840s through to 1990. It is now a museum examining the living conditions of its former inhabitants. Rather than re-creating a single period, the museum retains the renovations carried out by different tenants. Built for Edward and Mary Riley, who arrived from Ireland with their niece Susannah in 1838, these houses have basement kitchens and backyard outhouses.
Piped water and sewerage were probably added by the mid-1850s. The terrace escaped the wholesale demolitions that occurred after the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900, as well as later clearings of land to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway. In the 1970s it was saved once again when the Builders Labourers’ Federation imposed a “green ban” on The Rocks, temporarily halting all redevelopment work which was destructive to cultural heritage.
2. Museum of Contemporary Art
When Sydney art collector John Power died in 1943, he left his entire collection and a financial bequest to the University of Sydney. In 1991 the collection, which by then included works by Hockney, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Christo was transferred to this 1950s Art Deco-style building at Circular Quay West.
As well as showing its permanent collection, the museum hosts exhibitions by local and overseas artists. The MCA Store sells distinctive gifts by Australian designers.
3. Campbell’s Storehouses
Robert Campbell, a prominent Scottish merchant in the early days of Sydney, purchased this land on Sydney Cove in 1799. In 1802 he began constructing a private wharf and storehouses in which to house the tea, sugar, spirits and cloth he imported from India. Campbell was the only merchant operating in Australia who managed to infiltrate the monopoly held by the British East India Company. The first five sandstone bays were built between 1839 and 1844.
A further seven bays were built between 1854 and 1861. The full row of storehouses were finally completed in 1890, including a brick upper storey. Part of the old sea wall and 11 of the original stores are still standing. The pulleys that were used to raise cargo from the wharf can be seen near the top of the preserved buildings. The area fell into disrepair during the first half of the 20th century. However, in the 1970s the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority finalized plans and began renovating the site.
Today the bond stores contain a range of fine restaurants catering to all tastes, from contemporary Australian to Chinese and Italian. Their virtually unimpeded views across Circular Quay towards the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge make these outdoor eating establishments very popular with local business people and tourists alike.
4. Hero of Waterloo
This picturesque old inn is especially welcoming in the winter with its log fires. Built in 1844, this was a favourite drinking place for the nearby garrison’s soldiers.
Some sea captains were said to use the hotel to recruit. Patrons who drank too much were pushed into the cellars via a trapdoor. Tunnels then led to the wharves and on to waiting ships.
5. Sydney Harbour Bridge
Completed in 1932, the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was an economic feat, given the depressed times, as well as an engineering triumph. Prior to this, the only links between the city centre on the south side of the harbour and the residential north side were by ferry or a circuitous 20-km (12-mile) road route which involved five bridge crossings.
The single-span arch bridge, colloquially known as the “Coathanger”, took eight years to build, including the railway line. The bridge was manufactured in sections on the latter-day Luna Park site. Loans for the total cost of approximately 6.25 million old Australian pounds were eventually paid off in 1988.
6. St Philip’s Church
The square tower of this Victorian Gothic church dwarfed by modern edifices was a local landmark when it was first built. The original 1793 church burned down and was replaced in 1810. Construction of the current building, designed by Edmund Blacket, began in 1848.
Work was disrupted in 1851, when the stonemasons left for the gold fields, but by 1856 the church was finally completed. A peal of bells was donated in 1888 to mark Sydney’s centenary, and they still announce the services each Sunday.
7. Justice and Police Museum
The buildings housing this museum originally comprised the Water Police Court, designed by Edmund Blacket in 1856, the Water Police Station, designed by Alexander Dawson in 1858, and the Police Court, designed by James Barnet in 1885. Here the roughandtumble underworld of quayside crime, from the petty to the violent, was dealt swift and, at times, harsh justice. The museum exhibits illustrate that turbulent period, as they recreate legal and criminal history.
Formalities of the lateVictorian legal proceedings can be easily imagined in the fully restored courtroom. Menacing implements from knuckledusters to bludgeons are displayed as the macabre relics of notorious crimes. Other interesting aspects of policing, criminality and the legal system are highlighted in special changing exhibitions. The museum powerfully evokes the realities of Australian policing and justice.
8. Writers’ Walk
This series of plaques is set in the pavement at regular intervals between East and West Circular Quay. It gives the visitor the chance to ponder the observations of famous Australian writers, both past and present, on their home country, as well as the musings of some noted literary visitors. Each plaque is dedicated to a particular writer, consisting of a personal quotation and a brief biographical note.
Australian writers in the series include the novelists Miles Franklin and Peter Carey, poets Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Judith Wright, humorists Barry Humphries and Clive James, and the influential feminist writer Germaine Greer. Among the international writers included who have visited Sydney are Mark Twain, Charles Darwin and Joseph Conrad.
9. Sydney Opera House
No other building on earth looks like the Sydney Opera House. Popularly known as the “Opera House”, it is, in fact, a complex of theatres and halls linked beneath its famous shells. Its birth was long and complicated. Many of the construction problems had not been faced before, resulting in an architectural adventure which lasted 14 years.
Today it is Australia’s most popular tourist attraction, as well as one of the world’s busiest performing arts centres, hosting nearly 2,000 performances for more than 1.4 million attendees every year. The forecourt is a spectacular outdoor performance space in its own right, often hosting festivals and concerts.