[Editor: An article by by Clarinda Sarah Thom (Menie Parkes), giving her childhood reminiscences of Sydney (NSW). Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1910.]
Sydney sixty years since.
A different Sydney indeed. No trams, no trains, no bridges, no mountain retreats, no seaside resorts, no refreshment rooms, no telegraphs, no telephones, no gramaphones, no cinomatographs. A steamer twice a day up the Parramatta River. A few very small ferries on the harbour. Annandale was a country gentleman’s residence; the Glebe an outlying suburb. There were green fields between Redfern and Sydney, and barren hills of sand behind Oxford-street, then called South Head-road.
There were lovely gardens here and there in those days, even in George and Pitt streets. I have eaten pears beneath the tree in Pitt-street, between Hunter and Moore streets; and grapes off the vine in Bligh-street. I have picked strawberries by a brookside in Woolloomooloo; and gathered peas near where St. Barnabas’ Church now stands.
I have carried MSS. to the old “Herald” office in Lower George-street, going down steps into a sunken room, just about where now are bird shops. I once found a packet of mixed coins on a ledge in an old round house which stood in Bent-street, opposite the Union Club. When I was a child I used to pick flowers on the banks of the Tank Stream as it ran from Hunter to Bridge streets, and follow it until it emptied into the harbour on Circular Quay. I remember a stony walk which climbed up behind where wool stores now stand, beneath the fence of Government House grounds, and ran round through wild flowers and by shelly beaches to the gardens, not then brought so close to the water as they are now. I have gathered oysters and shells round about Miller’s Point, and picnicked on Pinchgut Island before it became Fort Denison.
My father used to take me over to Pyrmont to get wild flowers. A rough, rugged place it was then. And he would also take me in a rowing boat across to the North Shore, and we would gather waratahs, flannel flowers, and Christmas bells. The latter we did not then call by these names, but I remember the flowers, and many others. I can remember no dwellings in either of these places, though I think there must have been some few.
At that time there was a great square in the midst of Sydney, enclosed by high and thick stone walls. There were strong gates, guarded by sentries, at the top of Hunter-street, near Wynyard-street, and at both ends in York-street. A row of barrack buildings faced what is now York-street, on the west side. Here were located the military forces. There were no volunteers in those days. Here all drill, etc., took place, and onlookers were admitted freely if well-behaved. I remember the troops used on Sunday to march to old St. Phillip’s Church, where service was conducted by Archdeacon Cowper, a stately old man, the father of our late Dean Cowper. It was a favourite pastime of the children living around to gather in the square and follow them for the sake of the music. We used to try to march to time with them, as we also went on our way to church. We would stand by while they filed in at a side door, and then my little brother and I would go and sit in the porch with the other children. We could neither hear nor see the preacher, and it was often very hot, and we would grow heavy with sleep. Then there came a cross old beadle who stirred us up with his rod or turned us out if we were inclined to whimper. But we had the compensation of watching the soldiers file out, form, and march back to barracks, while we strutted along beside them.
Ah, yes; they were slower days, those. But they were happier days, I think. The race for life was not so strenuous. The barricades of examinations did not rise on every road to success; nerve diseases were not so rife, and rest was a possible thing, if it were needed, without ruin as an accompaniment.
C. S. T.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 13 April 1910, p. 5
This article was mentioned by A.W. Martin, in Letters From Menie (Melbourne University Press, 1983, page 166), as an original copy of the article has been kept as a cherished possession by the descendants of Menie Parkes.
MSS. = manuscripts