History and Heritage

Unlike the ancient cities of the world whose detailed history has been lost in time, Sydney was established during the 17th and 18th century era of European exploration. As is the case with many towns and cities that were established in that era, its complete history has been documented from day one - from its establishment in the woodlands of Sydney Cove in 1788 until the present day. What happened before colonisation, when the indigenous population were the sole custodians of the land, is not as clear, but enough evidence remains, both from early colonial records, and from the many occupation sites around Sydney that have survived, to piece together a broad picture of life in pre-colonial times.

To the colonial records of Sydney's history can be added the many pieces of physical evicence that survive - Indigenous occupation sites, relics from the colonial era, along with the buildings, roads and structures introduced onto the Sydney landscape by the peoples of each era in Sydney's past. Together they reveal a clear and accurate picture of how Sydney came to be what it is today. Our History and Heritage section tells what those pieces of the picture are, and where to discover and experience them for yourself.

Heritage Sites

The navigation buttons above give access to the major sites relating to Aboriginal history and heritage in the Sydney Basin, the locations in and around Sydney which have great historical significance, and the museums where various aspects of Sydney's story is told and illustrated.

The story of Sydney begins in prehistoric times with the occupation of the district by Australian Aborigines, whose ancestors came to Australia between 15,000 and 45,000 years ago. The modern history of the city began with the arrival of a First Fleet of British ships in 1788 and the foundation of a penal colony by Great Britain.

In 1901, Sydney became a state capital, when New South Wales voted to join the Australian Federation. Sydney today is Australia's largest city and a major international capital of culture and finance. The city has played host to many international events, including the 2000 Summer Olympics. This is the city's story.

The Sydney Landscape
Sydney in its natural state

Pre-Colonial Sydney
The Life and Times of Sydney's Indigenous Popular Before British Colonisation

The European Connection
British Exploration and Colonisation

Solving Britain's Convict Problem
Planning the New Colony of New South Wales

The First Fleet
Establishment of the Penal Colony on Sydney Cove: 1788-1781

Early Cononial Sydney

The Macquarie Years

Late Colonial Sydney

Victorian Sydney

The Federation Years

The Inter-War Years

Late 20th Century

Yesterday Once More

Sydney's Indigenous People

Long before the arrival of the first fleet in 1788, indigenous people occupied the Sydney Basin. Each clan, comprising of between 20 and 300 people, had its own territory through which it wandered, hunting animals and collecting food before moving camp as the seasons changed and the food supply diminished.

Relics From The First Fleet

The city of Sydney was founded on 26th January 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet of convicts and soldiers under the governorship of Arthur Phillip. A few relics and some names on a map are all that remain of the founders of the City of Sydney.

Sydney Then and Now

A pictorial history of the streets of Sydney, and how they have changed over the last 150 years.

From Bush to Farms to Suburbs

Turn back the pages of history and see how suburban Sydney came to be what it is today.

Building Sydney's Major Roads

Many of Sydney's major roads began as tracks used for centuries by the indigenous people of the Sydney Basin.

Historic Cemeteries

Discover Sydney's historic cemeteries and burial places - from First Fleeter graves and long forgotten colonial burial sites to the elaborate monuments of the Victorian and Eawardian era.

Sydney's Bushrangers

Long before Ben Hall and Ned Kelly there was Black Cesar, John Donohoe (alias "Bold Jack Donohue") and many more who terrorised the residents of colonial Sydney.

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