While the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art may draw our attention to the psyche of the Modern Australian culture, the Rocks celebrates our colonial history. The Rocks was where the colony was first established, and in many cases has retained its original form; well to an extent since somebody decided, in their infinite wisdom, to build a freeway through the middle:
It is probably not by chance that the Overseas Passenger Terminal sits right in front of the Rocks since the many passenger liners that pass through here allow the guests on board to get a taste of Australia’s first city. As well as all of the tourist shops along Circular Quay, and of course that building on the opposite side of the harbour, the Rocks attempts to take us back to a time when Australia was first settled (if you can ignore the cars that ply up and down George St).Here you can have a beer at Australia’s first pub (if you can work out which one it is because there are two pubs that are vying for that title):
However, The Rocks is not all bitumen streets and modern cars as nestled behind George St is Nurse’s Walk, so called because it was the site of Australia’s first hospital (though that has long gone, only to be replaced by colonial buildings and a number of alleyways named after various members of the medical profession – such as Surgeon’s Lane)
The Rocks is what I would probably call an open air museum, in that as you wonder around the area and there are various plaques and buildings that tell us about Australia’s colonial days. However, they are also punctuated by the many shops, alleyways, pubs, and restaurants that permeate the area. Despite all of this, as you wonder around you can find other memorials to our early history. Many of the original buildings still remain:
if you can ignore the modern apartments that have also been built around the area:
or the skyscrapers that cast their commercial shadow over our colonial history:
as if reminding us of the end of the process that began over 200 years ago.
While there is a Rocks Discovery Museum, this seems to be little more than a collection of restored courtyards, walkways, and alleys that lead to the shops on George Street, though it no doubt will help you in finding out where to visit and see all that The Rocks has to offer.
Of course the modern seems to continue to permeate the area, even as it reflects our colonial heritage, such as the frame of this old house:
or these collections of furniture, no doubt meaning to be a cut-away of an old colonist’s cottage, allowing us to see inside a bygone age:
As I wondered around the area I even discovered an archaeological dig beneath the local YHA:
While I have an interest in archeology, two hundred year old ruins just don’t seem to do it for me. I tend to get a lot more excited over ruins like this:
At the heart of the rocks is this plinth, its three sides bearing carvings of the original settlers:
Interestingly though, nothing represents the true original colonists, namely the convicts. A number of them were political prisoners, who were dispatched to Australia to prevent agitation over the war against Napoleon, as well as people sentenced for crimes as petty as stealing bread for a starving family. No doubt these small time and political prisoners found themselves shackled together with numerous hardened criminals, separated from their homeland and thrust into a harsh and unforgiving land.
Nor are we reminded of the true original inhabitants, the indigenous population that were forced off of their land as the conquerors set up their base, and were further pushed out as the pastoralists began to fence off their land to turn Australia into a factory designed to produce raw materials to support the empire.
The Rocks is generally on the right side of the bridge, however, after walking around Dawes Point, and under the bridge (where a lone security guard stands, preventing anybody from making off with it), you come to Walsh Bay.
Walsh Bay is the old container port that has been turned into a Yuppie Fantasia:
However, along with the multitude of fisherman, you can also find the home of the Sydney Theatre Company and their magnificent bar at the end of the wharf (though it can be a bit tricky to get to – you need to go up to the first level by the elevator at the foot of the wharf and then walk down the corridor to the end). Despite the modern apartments, there are still mementos of the by-gone age, no doubt designed to add character (and value) to luxury apartments.
However, other than a few nice pubs, all that is beyond the wharf are rows of Housing Commission houses and a multitude of signs protesting the government’s plan to sell them on the market. Though if you really want a good view, especially at night, there is always Observatory Hill:
I have also written a blog post on the Pubs of the Rocks.
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2 thoughts on “The Rocks – Australia’s First Suburb”
We wandered through the Rocks one day. But I confess the modern tended to blind us to the history.
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Yes, Australia is a unfortunately a bit like that.