The History of Sydney

Federation Sydney
1902 - 1917

Period covered - 1st May 1902 to 1917

The dawn of a new century combined with the Federation of the Australian states to form the Commonwealth of Australia brought a new sense of expectancy, hope and vision for the future to the towns, cites and rural areas of Australia. The outbreak of the Bubonic plague in The Rocks area of Sydney in 1900 was just the catalyst needed to engender a reformist attitude in the minds of the city fathers. Land resumption was the tool used by the city council to get rid of the old and bring in the new. Large sections of The Rocks and Surry Hills were razed and rebuilt. The commercial waterfront areas of Darling Harbour were resumed en masse and redeveloped to better handle the vast amount of goods now passing through the port of Sydney, the existing facilities having become totally inadequate.

Modernisation and beautification became the buzz words in planning circles. For the first time in the city's history, serious thought was given to the city's transport infrastructure as a whole and included the further development of roads, railways and harbour facilities. The idea of extending and electrifying the railways was proposed and eventually became a reality. The construction of a permanent link between the north and south shores of Sydney harbour became a number one priority. Model suburbs, based on contemporary housing developments in Europe and North America, were proposed as an alternative to the high density housing of the Victorian era that rapidly fell out of favour with the outbreak of the plague. Though some of the ideologies ended up getting lost in the translation from concept to reality, the essence of a new, better place to live remained.

Sydney continued to expand, its major growth areas being along the railway lines, and to a lesser extent, tram lines. The North Shore began to look more like suburbia and less like rural England, the urban developments which extended west along Parramatta Road and the western railway line grew towards and eventually merged with those around Parramatta. The pockets of settlements in the south and west began to merge into one as did the coastal settlement both north and south of Sydney Harbour.


The first car imported Into New South Wales, a 1900 De Dion Bouton

By far the biggest change in transport occurred with the arrival of the motor car, though it was slow to make its impact initially as its was only affordable by the rich. The first car to hit the streets of Sydney - a 1900 De Dion Bouton - chugged its way along Harris Street, Pyrmont, in April 1900. By 1911, there were 3,975 cars, three vans and 2,788 motorcycles on Sydney's roads. By 1939, the numbers had mushroomed to 216,443 cars, 85,742 vans and lorries and 23,009 motor cycles. By comparison with horse drawn vehicles, in 1900 there were 35,218 horses kept in the metropolitan area which were mainly privately owned and used to pull sulkys. Sydney had 155 coachbuilding establishments which employed 1,754 people. On Castlereagh Street between Circular Quay and King Street there were seven coachbuilders and one coach importer. By the end of World War II, only a handful remained, and then only in the outer suburbs.

During the early years of motorised transport, the thrill of owning a car was restricted to the rich, though year by year, they became more and more affordable. In 1920, when the average weekly wage was £4/14/-, a new Chevrolet cost £545. By 1926, the weekly wage had risen to £5/2/11, but the cost of a new Chevrolet had fallen to £210. Sydney's first petrol bowser was installed at a garage in Wentworth Avenue in 1926. The first traffic lights were installed on the corner of Kent and Market Streets and began operation on 13th October 1933. Pointsmen supervised the corner for nine months until the government was sure that drivers understood how they worked and were comfortable with them.

Under the first Metropolitan Traffic Act, which became law in 1902, a speed limit of 8mph (13kph) was imposed on roads within a 6km radius of the General Post Office in Martin Place. Councils outside of that area were free to set their own limits, most adopted a limit between 10 and 16kph. By 1937, the speed limit in built up areas had been gradually increased to 50kph and 80kph on open roads. Just as the motor car impacted personal transport, so the advent of the motor bus had a major effect on public transport. The first motor bus travelled from Oxford Street to Potts Point in December 1905, heralding a new era in public transport and the beginning of the end of the horse bus and later the tram. By 1929, there were 612 buses travelling on 155 routes, operated by over 100 companies. Buses were responsible for opening new areas on Sydney's outskirts such as Baulkham Hills which were out of the reach of existing tram and train routes.


Though the routes followed by today's suburban trains had all been constructed and were in regular use by the turn of the century, these lines had been laid with the primary object of providing transportation links between Sydney and the rural centres throughout New South Wales rather than a public transport service to the people of Sydney. The increased amount of passenger transport in the metropolitan area during the latter half of the 19th century forced the Government to take a long, hard look at the whole suburban railway network.

In 1894, the Engineer-in-Chief, Henry Deane made an eight month trip overseas to study railway development. The results of his findings and his recommendations being contained in his report of 1895, 'Proposed System of Rapid transport for the City of Sydney and suburbs'. The plan included the installation of more suburban stations than were originally planned, the duplication of all lines to allow two-way traffic, the construction of a railway tunnel under the harbour, electrification of the Blue Mountains and Illawarra lines, the conversion of the Sydney tram system from steam power to electricity, the building of an electrified railway to Canberra using power generated from the waters of the Snowy Mountains, a rail link to Sydney's eastern suburbs and the building of a new Sydney railway terminal. The electrification programmes and the building of Central station were the only recommendations to be implemented during his term of office along with the extension of the Darling Harbour goods line to Lewisham via Rozelle in modified form.

In 1906, the Sydney rail terminal was moved from Redfern to an imposing new building constructed on the site of the old Devonshire Street Burial Grounds, which today is known as Central Railway Station. At the time, it consisted only of the section now used for interstate and intercity rail services. The platforms used by today's suburban trains were added ten years later when the underground lines to St James and Wynyard were being built. A spur line was built to Botany for the sole purpose of transporting exhumed coffins from the old Devonshire Street Cemetery to the Botany cemetery. The line was later modified and extended to create the Botany goods line in use today.

Even before the first section of track had been laid in Sydney back in the 1850s, there had been vigorous debate as to where the Sydney terminus should be located. Originally, it was planned for the hay market area but William Randall, who was employed to construct the first line between Sydney and Parramatta, successfully had its location moved to Redfern, so that a branchline to the Darling Harbour wharves could be incorporated into it. For 20 years, Randall's replacement John Whitton pushed to have the line extended to a station under Hyde Park, but Gov. Denison was strongly against the idea and blocked it. Chief Commissioner Edward Miller Gard Eddy also pushed for Sydney's main railway terminus to be moved closer to the city centre but it was not until Deane became Engineer-in-Chief that it happened.

It was E.W. O'Sullivan, the Minister for Public Works who selected the site for Central Station. By the time it was opened on 4th August 1906, there were a number of Government ministers including the new Minister for Public Works, C.A. Lee, who questioned whether it had been built in the right place, believing that further extensions into the city centre would be needed in the future. To this end, Deane had set aside land at the eastern side of the station for this purpose.

Between the time of the opening of the original Redfern terminal and the new Central terminal, the number of locomotives in the railway's fleet had grown from 4 to 620. Passenger carriages serving the Sydney metro area now numbered 681 compared to the initial 28, and the number of seats for suburban passengers had risen from 924 to 36,929. By 1926, when the first section of the underground city circle was opened, 111.6 million passengers travelled on 627kms of track annually. The newly appointed Engineer-in-Chief James Fraser expressed doubt as to the public transport system's ability to cope with anticipated growth without major changes being made. His first report included many recommendations made by Henry Deane 12 years earlier. He advocated the complete electrification of the suburban rail system, the extension of the railway into the central business district by means of underground lines and the connection of the North Shore line with the rest of the suburban rail system via a tunnel.

Norman Selfe's winning design at the second Sydney Harbour Bridge competition c.1903

The task of implementing Fraser's recommendations was entrusted to John Job Crew Bradfield who was appointed Chief Engineer for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway construction within the Public Works Department. Bradfield studied bridge and railway construction in Europe and America before unveiling his masterplan in 1913 which rejected the popular idea of a tunnel in favour of a cantilever bridge providing both road and rail links between north and south. Railway lines would be placed on either side of the roadway on the bridge. The tracks would go underground after leaving the bridge and join up with the underground rail loop on opposite sides of the circuit. The western tracks would connect with the existing North Shore line which at that time terminated at St. Leonards. The tracks on the eastern side of the bridge would connect at the northern end to a light rail service to Mosman. After joining the underground loop, the line was to be extended to the east and south, terminating at Bondi Beach and Maroubra respectively.


The earliest use of electric trams in Sydney was an experimental test line established between Waverley and Randwick in 1890. Two years later this line reverted to full steam operation and the electrical equipment was transferred to the North Shore for the North Sydney to Spit Junction line, opened in 1893. This line was extended to Mosman Whsarf in 1897 and then from North Sydney to Willoughby via Crows Nest in April 1898. The first full electric service on the south side of the Harbour opened as an extension of the Cable Tramway, from Ocean Street, Edgecliff to Rose Bay, in October, 1898. In 1896, construction of a new electric tram line between Circular Quay and Pyrmont, along George and Harris Streets began and in 1897, electrification of all existing steam tram lines was accepted as policy. A major central generating facility was deemed a requirement and construction commenced on the Ultimo Power House and Ultimo Tram Depot in 1898 for this purpose.

Electric traction was a major improvement over other power systems, enabling much higher loadings, much lower running and maintenance costs and more frequent services. The trams were larger, more comfortable and convenient for passengers and the better services provided increased their popularity. Numerous new lines were opened, existing lines extended, rolling stock purchased and the electrification of the existing steam tram lines proceeded rapidly. Steam rolling stock was pushed further out until only isolated lines in outer areas of the city remained as steam. Those that were closed without being electrified were the Parramatta to Castle Hill line, the Arncliff to Bexley line and the Sutherland to Cronulla Line. The Kogarah to San Souci Line was converted to electric trolley buses.

The Balmain Counterweight Dummy

The electric trams could handle the steep terrain of Sydney much better than the steam trams, but some hills were just too much. One of these was the 1/4 mile of Darling St in Balmain which led to the wharf, which had a grade of 1 in 8.25. To enable trams to operate this section, a counterweight trolley was installed under the road surface, connected by cable to a cable tram grip dummy on the track on the surface. A tram descending would push the grip dummy ahead of it (which raised thecounterweight). On the return journey, the grip dummy would give the tram a helpful push. This unique contraption can be seen at the Sydney Tramway Museum, Loftus.

Northern Beaches Tramways

Trams had been operating from North Sydney to The Spit since September 21 1893 but had yet to reach the northern beaches peninsula. On the 9th March 1899, the Manly to Pittwater Tramway League was established and it successfully petitioned for a tramway throughout the area. The first section of the Manly to Narrabeen tramway was opened on 3rd January 1902. It ran from West Esplanade, down the Corso, along the beach, along Carlton Street, Pittwater Road to Balgowlah Road and terminated by the lagoon (then called Curl Curl, now known as Queenscliff Lagoon). Initially the service was powered by steam but the service ran at a loss, so the trams were horsedrawn until October 1907, when a steam service was renewed. In April 1910, the line was extended to Brookvale and the official travelling time was 24 minutes. The following year electric power was introduced.

In April 1911, the Minister for Works said that an extension north from Brookvale to Narrabeen would only be undertaken if Warringah Shire improved the facilities for tourists at Narrabeen Lakes, in particular for boating. This was to include work at the lake-sea entrance so that more water would cover the exposed dry areas of the lake. Once this was done, work on the line began. On 3rd August 1912, the line to Collaroy was opened. Mrs McGowen, the wife of the Premier. The trip from Manly to Collaroy took 41 minutes.

Work begin on the final section of the Brookvale to Narrabeen tramway in August 1913. This section, from Collaroy Beach, covered a distance of 1.6 km and included a goods depot and siding at Narrabeen. The new tramway opened for traffic without an official ceremony on 8th December 1913, however local residents had their own celebrations. They decorated the first tram with wildflowers collected from the local areay. The journey from Manly to Narrabeen now took 50 minutes. Trams departed every 15 minutes. A planned extension from Narrabeen to Newport was abandoned, initially because the outbreak of World War I and the insufficient manpower and materials available as a consequence. By 1921, the costs of building the line was deemed too high and the population between Narrabeen and Newport considered too scattered to justify a tram service. All trams on the northern beaches peninsula ran on a single track with a series of passing 'loops' which slowed down travel. By April 1920 more loops had been introduced along the track and the journey time between Manly and Narrabeen had been reduced to 39 minutes.


During the latter half of the 19th century, sail had given way to steam power. Steel hulls began replacing the timber hulls of earlier times. These technological advances meant ships now being built were of a much larger size and carrying capacity. Consequently, facilities in ports around the world had to be upgraded to handle the larger ships and heavier cargoes being offloaded and the heavily congested port of Sydney was no exception. The Sydney Harbour Trust addressed the problem by instigating a number of major upgrades around Sydney Harbour. These included the installation of fuel bunkers and associated wharf facilities at Gore Cove and Berry's Bay on the north shore for coastal and international shipping respectively and facilities for harbour vessels at Ballast Point, Balmain; a new finger wharf at Wooloomooloo Bay designed specifically to handle Australia's growing wool exports; the total re-development of the Walsh Bay area utilising the latest maritime cargo handling technology.

1915 - Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, Woolloomooloo Bay

At the peak of its service as part of the Port of Sydney, Woolloomooloo Bay had a total of 11 berths, four of which were part of the wharf. Built between 1910 and 1915, the 400 metre long structure was built primarily as the exit point for Australia's wool exports. It is the last non-naval wharf in Woolloomooloo and is the world's largest timber-pile finger wharf and the longest jetty ever built on Sydney Harbour. It comprised of four sheds, berths 6 to 9, with each shed having an office block with walls of battened fibro.

It was from the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf that soldiers embarked and returned home from military service in both world wars. When the Australian Government introduced its assisted passage scheme to attract migrants from Europe in the 1950's, the wharf became the major entrance point into Australia for many new arrivals attracted to Australia by the scheme. The wharf's passenger terminal, built in 1956, was designed for liners up to 20,000 tons. It was similar in design to those built at Walsh Bay (Pier One) and Pyrmont, which together handled 150,000 passengers a year at their busiest, one third of which came through Woolloomooloo.

By 1987, containerisation and the advent of air travel had left the wharf redundant and it remained an empty shell for over a decade. Though its architectural significance had been recognised by a heritage listing on the register of the National Estate, a commission of inquiry into plans to re-develop the site resulted in the revoking of the 1987 permanent conservation order on the wharf which claimed the cost of conserving it was too high. One thousand of its piles were said to be rotten and the cost of repairing the substructure alone was estimated at $15 million. When, in November 1990, the State Government announced the imminent demolition of the Wharf, the Building Workers Industrial Union, supported by the Friends of the Finger Wharf, the Royal Institute of Architects and the National Trust, placed green bans on the project even though by 1991 it was already being left off planning maps. Numerous proposals came and went until 1996 when the green light was given to re-develop the wharf.

Completed in 1990, the redevelopment incorporated a 273-room three-star hotel at the southern end and 345 luxury apartments at the northern end, along with restaurants, retail stores and a 63-berth boating marina whilst large sections of the interior were left intact. These included three bays of the Berth 6 shed being left undivided (the hotel reception area), the preservation of one of four lifts (now a dining room of one of the restaurants), the eight pairs of huge lattice-timber goods conveyors, one of eight machinery rooms and much of the old corrugated steel, fibro and multi pane sashes and chain-wire cladding along the streets. The exterior facades were restored in Federation style.

The Walsh Bay docks area

The rocky terrain of the Walsh Bay area limited its early use to fortifications (Dawes Point and Observatory Hill), an anchorage for whalers in Walsh Bay, and windmills. More intensive settlement began the 1820s and was extended by a number of Crown grants in the 1830s. During that decade the basis of the maritime industry that was to dominate the area was established and would continue to be developed until its completion the 1920s. In the 1830s substantial merchants' residences were built in the along the ridge, together with a number of hotels - The Lord Nelson (1834) and Hero of Waterloo (1844) are the only ones which remain. Construction of shipping wharves at Millers Point began in the same decade and were scattered irregularly along the shoreline from Dawes Point to Darling Harbour. The north shore ferry began operating from Walsh Bay to Blues Point in the 1840s, the location of its wharf is indicated by Ferry Lane.

By the 1880s, many merchant's houses of Millers Point had been replaced by rows of terrace houses which were the homes of the local maritime workers. The still un-named bay housed the wharves of many major export companies such as Dalgetys, Towns', Moore's and Dalton's, but much of these facilities were now obsolete and access was both choked and difficult. The outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in 1900 in the area surrounding the bay led to the resumption of large portions of land for redevelopment. This pre-empted a total re-think of the use of the bay as part of the Port of Sydney. The newly created Sydney Harbour Trust was given the task of redeveloping the area.

The Trust's primary commercial aim was to redevelop the wharfage along modern lines. However, because of the quantity of housing under its control it became landlord for Millers Point and between 1900 and the 1920s effectively transformed the area into what could best be described as a company town. As well as the reconstruction of Walsh Bay, the Trust, together with the Government Housing Board, constructed workers' housing, shops, kindergartens, hotels and warehouses and also refurbished and reconstructed many existing buildings. In this way the population which serviced the port was accommodated nearby with all its community facilities. The Engineer-in-Chief of the Trust was H.D. Walsh, the man after whom the bay was subsequently named. He oversaw the design and construction of a new system of wharves, stores and associated roads and hydraulic systems to service them. A wide service road, Hickson Road, was excavated around the foreshore and the steep topography was used ingeniously to service the wharves at two levels. Overpass Bridges above Hickson Road give access to the upper levels of each shore shed.

Construction of the whole complex took place between 1906 and 1922. Wharf 1 was completed in 1913. Wharf 2/3 and sheds were completed in 1920-1921. Wharf 4 /5 and sheds completed in 1920-1921. Wharf 6 /7 and sheds completed in 1918. Wharf 8 /9 and sheds completed in 1912. The Administrative Block was completed c1912. Wharf 10A /10B was completed in 1906-1908 and sheds altered in 1918-1921 but later demolished in 1976. Superseded by changing shipping technology in the 1970s, the Walsh Bay complex is believed to be the only one of its type surviving in the world.

The Walsh Bay Wharves

The wharves themselves were technologically advanced for their time, being constructed on a standard modular timber design but incorporating many innovations. These included the incorporation a rat proof sea wall in response to the Bubonic plague, the outbreak of which was attributed to the rats which infested previous wharf structures at Walsh Bay. Today the wharves and the Bond Stores contain many significant advanced technological and engineering artifacts of their time such as ladderways, a wool bale handling system of elevators, elevator platforms and bale stacking systems, trucking gangway, overhead pulley systems, floors hatches, wooden rollers, hydraulic operated overhead travelling cranes, electric lifts, a power system comprising accumulator, pump and electric motor, high pressure pipes, a three tonne hydraulic lift and two hydraulic hoists.

A standard modular timber design was developed for the construction of the wharves, wharf sheds and shore sheds so that they could easily be adapted to the requirements of individual sites. Some structures of the wharf area such as the remains of Towns Bond, Bond Stores Nos. 1 and 3 predate the Sydney Harbour Trust work. The wharves were constructed of turpentine piles spaced on a 3 metre grid which were spliced together to reach down to rock some 45m below sea level. The rows of piles were capped with an iron-bark headstock and tied together by iron-bark girders. The whole was covered with brush-box decking. Later this was covered with a concrete deck. The typically two storey wharf sheds are of simple post and beam construction. Oregon roof trusses forming a double gable are supported on hardwood storey posts. Ventilation and clerestory lighting are features of the wharf shed roof. Wall cladding consists of infill panels of hardwood weatherboards, sliding doors, glazed sashes or galvanised iron. Roofs are galvanised iron or asbestos cement.

Travelling platforms run the full length of the wharf shed. Shore sheds are of similar construction and sit on solid fill retained by the precast concrete rat proof sea wall. the 'L' shaped wall is constructed of precast reinforced concrete trestles and erected at Walsh Bay between 1907 and 1910. The wharves were at their busiest between the wars but fell into gradual decline after World War II, eventually ceasing to function as part of Sydney harbour's docking facilities in 1977 by which time the advent of containerisation had sealed their fate. The whole wharf area has recently undergone major redevelopment.

1914 - Sydney's Wartime German Concentration Camp

Holsworthy Concentration Camp detainees

Between 1914 and 1919, a German Concentration Camp existed in what is today the Holsworthy Military Area. Under the provisions of the War Precautions Act, essentially any person in Australia with a German or Austrian link was liable under the Act to be termed "the enemy" and subject to internment. 6,890 people were interned there, of whom seven hundred were naturalised British subjects (Australian Citizens), seventy of which were Australian born. The internees included Serbs, Croats, Dalmatians, Swiss, Bulgarians, Americans, Belgians, Russians, Dutch and a Scot. They were later joined by captured ship crews, including the crew of the German Raider S.M.S. Emden sunk by H.M.A.S. Sydney in a naval action off the Cocos Islands on 9th November, 1914, and residents from other British territories in South East Asia and the Pacific Region.

In 1914 the term "Concentration Camp" had a different connotation to that of today, our view having been coloured by the atrocities which took place in Nazi concentration camps of World War II. When the Holsworthy camp was established, it was simply to concentrate people in one place, an approach which had been used by the British against the Boers in South Africa some years earlier. From February 1917 to 21st January, 1918 the internees constructed all but the first 2.2km of a railway line from Liverpool to Holsworthy Military Area. Some built the camp jail, recreation centre and sergeants mess. Others grew vegetables in a twenty five acre area fronting the Georges River or worked in the sawmill or sandstone quarry from which stone was cut for the construction of the buildings. By mid 1915 the camp had three theatres, a picture show, tennis courts, football ground, band pavilion, and an orchestra.

The Deutsches Theatre Liverpool produced its own theatre program brochures and opened on 26th June 1915 with performances by theatrical, singing and orchestra clubs to audiences of up to 300 people. The orchestra gradually swelled to 20 members as new professional musicians came to the camp. An open air cinema commenced in July 1916 developed into a large canvas-covered building seating several hundred people and called the Austro-Hungarian Theatre.

Holsworthy Concentration Camp

By late 1918 the camp compound boasted butchers' and fruit shops, nine cafes and restaurants, a post office and a bakery. To the outsider camp life seemed rather idyllic, but the crowded conditions, poor drainage, dust, boredom and ethnic differences between the internees all took their toll. The camp amusements had been developed largely to counter the deprivations. There were riots at the camp and extortion gangs preyed on the other internees. One of the internees was the noted book illustrator Kurt Wiese who drew various cartoons depicting camp life. In his later years he became an illustrator for the Walt Disney animation feature Bambi. A number of prisoners escaped from the camp through a 120 metre tunnel and one stowed away on a ship to Java and was never apprehended. The internees began leaving the camp from mid 1919 and the last person left on 5 May 1920. Many were deported.

Although more than 210 buildings were erected to form the German Concentration Camp on the south side of Artillery Road, thorough clearing of the site after the camp's closure has resulted in almost no on site physical evidence remaining. Buildings on the northern side of Artillery Road where the guards were housed (the Sergeants' Mess, jail and recreation hall), relics of the railway (particularly the bridge over Harris Creek which is marked and dated as being built by internees), the quarry from which stone was extracted for construction of the guard's buildings and the site of the camp timber mill all survive as evidence of the Camp.


American Romanesque

Abyia, 23 Church Street Pymble

Pioneered by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson who drew his inspiration from Romanesque architecture of 11th Century Spain and France.

Predominantly commercial buildings of robust design with massive walls, bold detailed textures, round arches, clustered piers and windows, gables, towers and domes.

Westpac Bank, Broadway, Chippendale (1894; Varney Parkes)
Societe Generale House, 348-352 George Street, Sydney (1895; Edward Raht)
Queen Victoria Building, George Street, Sydney (1898; George McRae)
Burns Philp & Co., 5-11 Bridge Street, Sydney (1901)
197-199 Clarence Street, Sydney (1906; Robertson & Marks)

Federation Warehouse

Farmers & Graziers Wool store, Ultimo

Romanesque in style, but less ornate. Inspired by the buildings of Chicago architect Henry Hobson Robinson.

Solid, utilitarian look, featuring brick piers, large arches, sandstone base, lintels and sills with upper walls in brick.

The Vintage Apartments, 281-7 Sussex Street, Sydney (1893)
Farmers & Graziers Wool store, Wattle Street, Ultimo (1895; Harry C. Kent)
Former Edwards, Dunlop Bldg, Kent Street, Sydney (1897; Robertson & Marks)
Ultimo Power Station (Powerhouse Museum), 84 Mary Ann Street, Ultimo (1899)
Briscoe & Co. Bulk Store, Wattle Street, Ultimo (1901; Robertson & Marks)
The Earth Exchange Bldg, 18 Hickson Road, The Rocks (1903; W.L. Vernon)
Danchen House, Kent Street, Sydney (1900s)
Former Arthur Yates & Co Bldg, Sussex Street, Sydney (1900s)

Federation Classical

Former Parcels Post Office, Railway Square

The predominant style of civic and commercial buildings of the Victorian and Federation eras, Federation Classical was a continuation of the Classical style of the Victorian era.

Traditionally with load-bearing masonry walls, but concealed use of steel and reinforced concrete gained acceptance.

Academic Classical examples:
Former Premier's Office, Macquarie Street, Sydney (1896; W.L. Vernon)
Central Railway Station, Railway square, Sydney (1908; W.L. Vernon)
Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Road, Sydney (1909; W.L. Vernon)
Bushels & Co Bldg, 86 George Street, The Rocks (1920)

Free Classical examples:
GB Private Hotel, 405-427 Pitt Street, Sydney (1908)
Former Parcels Post Office, Railway Square, Sydney (1913; George McRae)

Federation Gothic

Land Titles Offices

End of the Gothic Revival period, as complexities of this style were becoming too expensive and craftsmen less readily available.

Suspension Bridge, Northbridge (1892)
Former NSW Board of Health Bldg, 93 Macquarie Street, Sydney (1898; W.L. Vernon)
Land Titles Offices, Queens Square, Sydney (1908; W.L. Vernon)
Former Fisher Library, University of Sydney (1909; W.L. Vernon)

Federation Freestyle

Darlinghurst Fire Station

A non residential style featuring combinations of elements and adaptations from other styles. Designs were original, often whimsical, to suit the particular location.

Being a free style, there are few common design features, however the use of two contrasting building materials and textures (eg. brick & stone) in sombre, earthy colours was preferred.

St Patrick's Hall, Harrington Street, Sydney (1914; Hennessy & Hennessy)
Fire Station, Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst (1912; W.L. Vernon)
Empire Buildings, New Canterbury Road, Lewisham (1905)

Queen Anne

Abyia, 23 Church Street Pymble

Around the the turn of the 20th century, improved public transport (trams, railways) meant it was no longer necessary to build concentrations of terrace houses surrounding the working class's places of work. Consequently suburban development accelerated and the dream of owning their own home on its own block of land became an achievable goal for most families.The Queen Anne style fitted the dream perfectly.

Basic layout, usually with a a corridor running to the back of the house from the front door, with the living rooms on one side of the passage and bedrooms on the other. Exteriors featured red-brown face brickwork, gables with timber and stucco ornament, tall chimneys, leadlight bay windows and timber verandah posts with ornamental brackets, balustrades and other Art Nouveau influences.

Elim, 1 Church Street, Burwood (1905; John Sulman)
Abyia, 23 Church Street Pymble Westmaling, Cnr King Georges Road and Penshurst Ave, Penshurst (c1899)

Arts & Crafts/Art Nouveau

The Arts & Crafts movement, which promoted the integration of art into everyday life through the medium of craftsmanship, reflected a desire to return to the simplistic rural way of life before the Industrial revolution. English architect William Morris, the father of the Arts & Crafts movement, reintroduced the Craftsman' image in domestic architecture and interior design, and many local architects drew inspiration from his ideals, adapting them to suit the new suburbs springing up in Australian cities.

Picturesque, informal designs, with dominant roof featuring gables, prominent eaves, tall chimneys, wall buttresses, bay windows and roughcast stucco.

Hollowforth, 146 Kurraba Road, Neutral Bay (1892; E.J. Jackson)
St Kevins, 117 Queen Street, Woollahra (1893: John Bede Barlow)
Logan Brae, 24 Louisa Road, Birchgrove (c1905)
Public School, Military Road, Mosman (1908; W.L. Vernon)
Babworth House, Mt Adelaide Road, Darling Point (c1909; David Morrow)
Brent Knowle, Shellcove Road, Neutral Bay (1914; B.J. Waterhouse)

Federation Bungalow

The word bungalow is of Indian origin, meaning a Begali House'. In colonial India, this was a single storey house with large verandahs but in the United States during the latter half of the 19th century it was loosely applied to middle classes houses catering for a casual outdoors-oriented lifestyle. In Australia, the federation Bungalow was the transition step from the more elaborate Queen Anne style home to the Californian Bungalow which became the quintessential suburban home.

Varied widely in appearance, though generally were unpretentious, squat looking (as most examples in Sydney were built on narrow suburban blocks), free standing and single storey. Gabled roof extending over the verandah were common with masonry and timber verandah supports enjoying equal popularity. The Federation bungalow in its most common form was small, mass produced and quite often thrown together quickly to meet the demand for new homes. The result was a rash of new suburbs with street after street of similar looking homes, typified by the War Service Homes estates that sprung up after World war I.

Blythewood, Beecroft Road, Cheltenham
Ranger's Cottage, Centennial Park, Sydney
The Eyrie, Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga (1912)
Joseland House, Burns Road, Wahroonga (1912; Howard Joseland)


1904 - 225 Old South Head Road, Bondi
Excellently preserved example of a two storey suburban home from the Federation period. An individually designed home with a carefully executed asymmetrical layout, it features a slate roof, a gabled front with an all timber verandah returning down one side, the verandah having slats and shingling to the upstairs balustrade. The house's timberwork compliments the fence's fine simple top-railed picket configuration and the roughcast gables have brick vents. Located on an attractive corner site, the home has retained its Federation period garden layout, making it a fine, accurate representation of a typical middle class Federation era Sydney home.

1905-1915 - 115, 117 and 11 William Street, Granville
A group of three single storey double fronted weatherboard cottages which were originally sold from the catalogue of pre-fabricated homes of spec builder George Hudson & Son Ltd. Being classic Federation cottages, they feature hipped and gambrell roofs clad with corrugated iron, front porches with timber balustrades, sash windows and timber post and brackets.

1908 - Aotea Roa, 15 Erith Street, Mosman
The Federation Queen Anne architectural style enjoyed only a short period of popularity with many of the homes of this style in Sydney being built in the Lower North Shore suburbs of Cremorne and Mosman. Though a smaller example of the style than most, this home has all the classic features of Queen Anne including face brick, tiled roof, bullnosed iron verandah, bay window and gable, the latter being decorated with an owl motif and the four-light bay window with well-detailed colour-glazed windows.


1909 - "Wyoming", 175 Macquarie Street (Corner Hunter Street), Sydney
One of the earliest block of flats in Sydney. With seven storeys plus and attic, it features dark brick facade and stone faced balconies on a stone base. Balconies only partly exceed the face of the facade. The windows were refitted in the 1980s and are now anodised rather than timber. Architect: J.Burcham Clamp.

1910 (?) - 'The Arches', 33 Catherine Street, Punchbowl
An example of the Federation Arts & Crafts architectural style being not only one of the first homes built in Punchbowl, but a rare example of this style in the Bankstown area. The home features leadlight turreted windows to the ground floor facade and a shingled gable end. The railway line through Punchbowl was opened in 1909 and its arrival heralded a building boom in the area. this home was built during that boom period.

Strickland Buildings

1912-14 - Strickland Buildings, Cleveland, Balfour and Meagher Sts., and Dale Ave., Chippendale.
Early block of flats with ground floor shops in dark brick roughcast to 2nd floor. Parapet expressed as vertical expressions of building, broken by roof. two storeys high with balconies at the first floor. Architect: R.H.Broderick.

1912 - "Beanbah", 235 Macquarie Street, Sydney
Apartment block with assymetrical facade featuring large curved bay window, with pseudo- classical columns to 7th floor and other details to the attic or 8th floor. Mostly rendered facade with terracotta pilasters. Architrect H.E.Ross and Rowe.

1912 - St. Aubyn's Flats, Rosebank St. and Farrell Ave., Darlinghurst.
Rendered two storey Federation/Edwardian flats with stylised bay window on Rosebank Street and decoration with the flat's name at parapet level. Central stair off entrance in Farell Avenue with shop at gound level.

Kingsclere Flats, Kings Cross

1913 - Kingsclere Flats, Macleay St. and Greenknowe Ave., Kings Cross
A grand, one-of-a-kind Edwardian/ Federation block of flats. Appears more imposing than the slightly earlier "Wyoming", perhaps because there are less buildings of a similar height here than in Macquarie Street. Its brick, sandstone and timber detailing give it a large 'public school' look. Architects: Halligan and Wilton.

c.1913 - 13 St James Road, Bondi Junction
A symmetrical Federation cottage that appears to have been individually designed. Typical Federation era features in evidence include the tuckpointed face brickwork and terracotta tiled roof. The bullnosed verandah with central pyramid feature over the entry with its own pressed metal roof and pressed metal panels to valance as seen here was a popular f 6eature in homes of this era.

1915 - 114 and 116 Windsor Road, Northmead
Two single storey double fronted weatherboard homes which are typical of the working class cottages built during the late Federation period in Sydney's newly developing western suburbs. The cottages have all the Federation era features such as hipped roof clad with corrugated iron, recessed timber decorations around the verandah, gable and window hood. The land on which the cottages were built was subdivided in 1913 and sold to a pair of orchardists who built their homes there.

c.1915 - 735 Old South Head Road, Dover Heights
Though built in the Federation era, this timber cottage shares few features with the typical Federation bungalow. Apparently built as a weekender, it is very much the typical low cost weatherboard cottage of a century ago complete with corrugated iron roof, exposed rafter beams with a hipped verandah roof joined to the main roof. this home features numerous original items including its picket fence and gate, sunrise motif brackets (one of the home's few Federation features), stop chamfered posts and a front door with nine translucent panes, and triple casement windows with small coloured panes.


1902 - Ultimo Power Station, Ultimo

Sydney's Powerhouse Museum occupies the former Ultimo Power Station, which was completed in 1902 to provide power for the nearby Pyrmont Bridge and Sydney's extensive tramway system. It also supplied power to the Eveleigh Railway Workshops, allowing the complex to switch from steam to electricity.

1906 - Mitchell Library, Macquarie Street, Sydney

The Mitchell Library Wing of the State Library of NSW is the first in a row of buildings which form the majestic streetscape of modern day Macquarie Street. An impressive sandstone building, its striking Ionic columns support the huge vaulted ceiling of the vestibule and look down upon a giant mosaic replica of an old map documenting the voyage of Dutch seaman Abel Tasman in the 1640s which forms the vestibule floor.

1908 - 1913 - Land Titles Office

Queens Square, Sydney
One of the last Government buildings created in the 19th Century style, it features fine Tudor Gothic detailing. Its designer was WL Vernon.

1900s - 139 - 153 Middle Head Road, Mosman

Distinctly original suite of shops and upstairs dwellings which forms a classical and almost totally original streetscape in the Federation Arts & Crafts style. The shopfronts feature original all timber finishes. Timber stallboards with zinc ventilators, stucco walling and dark cream brickwork reflect the Arts & Craft influence, whereas the two-ring arches of the balconies in red brick, above which are parapet piers and centre panels also in red brick, are Federation Warehouse.

1912 - Culwulla Chambers

Cnr Castlereagh & King Streets, Sydney
Until this building was constructed, very little thought by both governments and individuals was given to how tall a building should be, and what a tall building should look like. Modelled on a number of trendsetting New York buildings which had started the trend for office buildings to grow upwards rather than outwards, Culwulla Chambers was Australia's first skyscraper. Though it boasted such revolutionary inclusions as fireproof construction, high speed lifts, ducted vacuum cleaning, internal fire escapes, roof top water storage and postal box system, it was its 52 metre height that raised eyebrows in both architectural and government circles. So strong was the fear that a race would commence to create the highest building, resulting in a New York-style skyline, legislation was quickly passed restricting the height of buildings to 150 feet (46 m etres) above the pavement, a rule which was to stand for 44 years.


1917 - Balls Head Coal Loader

Balls Head, Waverton
Constructed on the western edge of the Balls Head peninsula in 1917 to act as a steamship bunkering station. During its working life, the coal loader's gantry cranes and cable hopper cars unloaded and loaded coal onto the many ships, both passenger and commercial, that passed in and out of the Harbour. A freak wind storm damaged one of the gantry cranes beyond repair in November 1940, leaving only one crane in operation until the late 1950s. The Loader ceased operations in October 1992, resulting in the dismantling of the site. Only the wharf, coal loading platform, tunnels and a few brick administrative buildings remain as evidence of its former operation.

1911 - 15 Bantry Bay Explosives Magazines

Killarney Heights
The Bantry Bay complex, consisting of explosive storage buildings, offices, wharves, seawalls, tramlines, a dam and landing stages, was built between 1911 and 1915. It replaced a series of hulks anchored in the bay which had been used for storing explosives for some time. The bay was chosen not only because of its isolation from existing residential areas of the time, it also was relatively close to the heads of Sydney Harbour. The twelve storage buildings of the complex, which were partially built into the hillside to deaden the effects of an explosion, have double brick walls and corrugated iron roofs designed to lift on impact. A concrete dam was built above the complex to provide water to a hydrant and hosing system outside each magazine.

During its years of use, the complex functioned as a highly specialised and industrious port with a variety of barges, boats, tugs, trams and hand trolleys being utilised to transport the goods from the boats to the magazines. It was manned by a team of 16 to 18 people who wore special clothing to protect them in case of an explosion. The shift in the transportation of explosives by rail which began in the 1950s combined with falling revenues and the high expense of maintenance of the complex led to its closure in May 1974. The complex is today in the process of being restored to its original condition. Access is restricted until restoration has been completed.


1916-1926 - Railway electricity tunnel, Birchgrove to Greenwich

Very few people know that there are in fact three tunnels under Sydney Harbour. This tunnel, which passes under Sydney Harbour from Long Nose Point to Greenwich, was the second, preceding the road tunnel by 70 years and built at a time the first tunnel, from a coal mine at Brichgove, was being dug. Railway electricity tunnel was a major technological and engineering achievement and the first such venture of its kind to be undertaken in Australia without overseas assistance. It was constructed to bring electrical power to the railway and tramway systems of the North Shore from the recently completed Ultimo Power Station.

The tunnel is lined with concrete in some areas, cast iron in some and bedrock in others. At the centre of the tunnel is a large chamber where pumps were located to remove water. One side of the tunnel is lined with reinforced concrete shelves to house the electricity cables. The tunnel held twelve cables, 8 x 11,000 volt and two 50 pair communication cables. A lack of adequate maintenance resulted in the tunnel becoming flooded in 1930. In 1952 the Electricity Commission took over all power generation in Sydney but the railways retained the tunnel and cables. Use of the the tunnel ceased in 1969. The northern entrance to the tunnel is marked by a concrete block placed over it in the reserve on the headland of Manns Point.

1905 - Richmond Concrete railway bridge

A Monier arch bridge over the Hawkesbury River, it was the first bridge to be built using a new material called ferro-concrete (now known as reinforced concrete). Other examples are at Marlborough Road, Flemington, and Bridge Road, Hornsby. Being new technology, Monier arches were shrouded in controversy and there were doubts about their safety when first introduced. They went as quickly as the came, the last examples of their type to be built in Sydney being the three bridges on Millers Point which carry Argyle, Munn and Windmill Streets over Hickson Road. They were constructed along with the cuttings and wharfage as part of the Walsh Bay redevelopment program instigated by the Sydney Harbour Trust in the early 20th century.

1902 - Pyrmont Bridge

The first Pyrmont Bridge was a timber structure, which was opened on 17th March 1858. Privately owned, a toll was charged to use it, and needless to say, it made its owner very rich. Following the adoption of the Five Bridges Plan, the bridge was purchased by the government in 1884 for $52,500 and the toll was abolished. As the bridge was a major traffic bottleneck, plans for a replacement were quickly approved and construction commenced.

The new Pyrmont bridge, which was opened to traffic on 28th June 1902, was the world's first electrically operated swingspan. Driven by a tram motor and powered by the Ultimo Power Station, which now houses the Powerhouse Museum, it follows the design of Percy Allan, who achieved international acclaim for it and went on to design 583 more bridges worldwide. John JC Bradfield, who masterminded the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was a junior member of Allan's design team. Twelve of the 369 metre bridge's spans are made of the Australian hardwood ironbark; the two opening central spans, which are still driven by the original motor, are made of steel.

The bridge was closed to traffic in 1981 following the completion of the Western Distributor but was restored and opened to pedestrian traffic on the opening of the Darling Harbour complex in 1988.

1901 - Glebe Island Bridge

In the early days of Sydney, a punt operated across the entrance to Rozelle and Blackwattle Bays. This was replaced in March 1857 by a timber bridge which had a hand cranked lift span on the south side. In the 1880s, major development of the wharves of Rozelle and Blackwattle Bays was planned, resulting in the need for a new bridge which gave access to larger vessels than the existing bridge allowed. The second bridge, which was opened to traffic in 1901, had an electrically operated swingspan which gave simultaneous inward and outward access to two ships. Though plans to replace it with a tunnel were proposed in 1924, this project never eventuated and the bridge remained in service until the 1990s when the new Anzac Bridge was opened.

1912 - Argyle Bridge

Carrying Cumberland Street over the Argyle Cut in The Rocks, of interest are the abutments to the bridge with small obelisk shaped pylons on either side of the road (at the north and south approaches to the bridge), and intact original light fittings. The parapet of the part of the bridge directly over Argyle Street was replaced in the 1950s. The original parapet of the bridge can still be seen to the south of the southern abutments.

As part of the improvements undertaken by the Sydney Harbour Trust, Gloucester and Cumberland Streets were realigned and the two road bridges over the Argyle Cut replaced by a single bridge at Cumberland Street in 1911-12. Cumberland Street had previously been located to the west of its current location. The Cumberland Street bridge replaced the lower Gloucester Street Bridge and the higher Cumberland Street Bridge over the Argyle Cut. The work also involved the demolition of 22-24 Gloucester Street, part of View Terrace (now 26-30 Gloucester Street), and construction of the abutments to the bridge and the Argyle Stairs.

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