Sydney's PuntsFrom the first year of settlement on Sydney Cove, the colonials used hand operated punts to make crossing from one side of Sydney Harbour to the other, and later, from one side of the Paramatta, Lane Cove, Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers to the other. Most of the punts established on the Hawkesbury still operate at the places where they were first established, though today they are government owned, motorised, cable-driven, and large enough to carry motor vehicles. Only one punt in the inner suburban area - between Mortlake and Putney on the Paramatta - still operates.
In 1840, experiments were carried out into the viability of operating steam powered vehicular punts guided by cables. Due to the impracticalities of laying cables across the busier parts of Sydney Harbour which is very deep, cable punts were never used in Port Jackson itself, but have been used at various times at The Spit, Putney, Ryde and Gladesville. Cable punts began operation at Putney Point and Uhr's Point in the 1840s. The Uhr's Point service provided a vehicular link between Concord Road and Church Street, Ryde, until 1935 when it was replaced by the first of two bridges which today carry vehicular traffic from Concord to Ryde. The Putney to Mortlock punt (above) is still operational and is the last of its kind on the Parramatta River/Sydney Harbour waterways. A non cable-guided punt operated between Milsons Point and Sydney from the 1860s until 1932 when it was withdrawn with the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Ferries and vehicular punts operated at numerous points along the Georges River for close to a century. A service across the Georges River at Lugarno provided the link between Forest Road and Old Illawarra Road, which had formed the main road south from Sydney to the Illawarra region, since the 1840s. Opened in 1843, it was operated by Charles Rowna. A new punt service at Blakehurst was a major reason for the diversion of traffic from the Lugarno route to the Illawarra to a newer route through Sutherland. The Blakehurst punt was made obsolete in 1929 when the Georges River Bridge was built, by which time the Princes Highway was taking the bulk of traffic south to Wollongong. The Lugarno punt continued to operate until the late 1970s when the Alfords Point bridge made it obsolete.
The Spit punt, 1880s
Sydney early colonists were quick to discover the problems and pleasures of a long narrow isthmus of, mainly, sand and native vegetation that lead towards steep cliffs. The sandy part was on the Mosman side of a narrow and tidal affected channel. The cliffs were on the other side. Getting across in the early days of settlement involved either swimming or rowing with one s horse swimming astern.
A hand powered cable punt run by Peter Ellery plied the tidal gap between The Spit and the area now known as Seaforth from 1850. Ellery charged 6d for passengers and 1/6d for horse drawn vehicles. Ellery worked various hand-powered punts until 1888 when the government took over and soon installed the first steam-powered cable punt. This ferry, which connected with a tram service to Mosman after 1900, continued in service until toll gates and a timber lift-span bridge were brought into operation on 23rd December 1924. A 'temporary structure", this bridge was replaced by the current concrete and steel bridge in 1958. Built at a cost of $2.2 million, it features a lift-up section which allows access to the upper Middle Harbour by tall-masted ocean-going yachts. The concrete ramp used to board the punt is still visible at the water's edge on the northern bank. All are cable ferries.
The Mortlake Ferry, also known as the Putney Punt, is a cable ferry that runs across the Parramatta River, connecting Hilly Street, Mortlake and Pellisier Road, Putney. This vehicular ferry was opened on 16 May 1928. The service was established to serve the factory areas of Mortlake. The ferry opening pre-dated the nearby Ryde Bridge which opened in 1935, and it was one of several vehicular ferries operating across the Parramatta River at the time.
The Mortlake Ferry is one of ten remaining vehicular cable ferries in New South Wales, and the only one still in use on Sydney Harbour or its tributaries. While carrying much less traffic than it has in the past, the ferry still operates daily and is protected by a heritage order by the National Trust of Australia. The ferry is operated by a private sector operator under contract to New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), carries a maximum of 15 cars plus passengers at a time, and is free of tolls. The crossing is some 300 metres (980 ft) in length and takes approximately 5 minutes.
A government-run punt service began on the Nepean River in 1823 which led to several new buildings being constructed on the Penrith side of the river. The first bridge over the Nepean River was opened in 1856 and was duly swept away by floods in the following year and again in 1860. Until it was proved that newer bridges could withstand the floodwaters common to the area, punts continued to be well patronised.
When the Great North Road was built in the 1820s between Sydney and the Newcastle/Hunter Valley districts, it crossed the Hawkesbury River near the inn of Solomon Wiseman, an emancipated convict, who had moved into the Hawkesbury district in 1806 and set up an inn. The new road crossed the river near Wiseman's inn. Wiseman took advantage of this by offering hospitality to travellers, and applying for and being granted a seven year lease on the rights to transport goods and travellers across the Hawkesbury River. It was this service which gave the location its name. A punt service still operates at Wiseman's Ferry but is Government run. The diesel powered cable punt was constructed in 1926 and replaced a smaller steam operated one. Similar ferries also operates up stream at Webbs Creek, Lower Portland and Sackville. Further downstream, a government run punt operates on Berowra Creek at Berowra Waters.