Day 144: Roaming the Rocks

I had time for not one but two tours today, with and evening stroll around the Rocks, the earliest settlement that was to become Sydney.

Justine who started the Free Walks company eleven years ago led our walk. She felt people weren’t getting value for money on paid tours and a tip based approach was fairer.

The Rocks, across the water from the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge, is called this because like so many other literal place names across Australia and New Zealand, the new residents were saying what they saw: The Rocks was built on the rocks.

In 1788 the First Fleet, the first convict ships arrived an started the first colonial settlement in Australia.

This was decided to be an ideal location.

Rocky, hilly, unwelcoming, surrounded on three sides by water – best place for a penal settlement.

It was overcrowded and prostitution, gangs and gambling were rife. Rum was the currency… the view from England was that the colony should be cut off from the world and worldly ways so that the convicts might reform.

Ships putting into the establishing port brought black market trade so that idea went out of the window and, without legal tender, rum became the currency.

The tour started at Cadmans Cottage, the oldest in Sydney. Built 1816, John Cadman lived here the longest so it’s named for him. He became the coxon for the port – rowing a boat out to pick up convicts from the ships and ferrying them back to shore.

He was a convict, sent here for stealing a horse. His wife, for stealing a hairbrush.

The house was designed by Francis Greenway, whom we remember from this morning, don’t we? All the stories connect.

In front of the house is a statue.

This is the, and I quote from the plaque, the much maligned William Bligh – yes, he of the Bounty and the Mutiny.

After being put in a boat with some loyal men and provisions, Bligh led the men to Timor. It took them 47 days to get there.

He was cleared of any wrongdoing and made governor of Sydney… where he ended up being mutinied against again.

I’m sure Oscar Wilde would have had a pithy phrase about this: one mutiny is bad luck, two mutinous is carelessness.

The Sydney mutiny arose because Bligh was felt to be unnecessarily harsh which is rather undermined by the apparently true detail that he left his daughter fighting off the mutineers with an umbrella while he hid in the cellar.

There are three pubs claiming to be the oldest in The Rocks and therefore in Sydney.

The Fortune of War claims 1828…though the establishment it’s in was built in 1922. However there is a licence dating to 1828.

The Hero of Waterloo goes back to 1843 and this was a up to be wary of getting drunk in. You could find yourself waking up in manacles in the cellar or in a wheelbarrow being transferred to a waiting ship where you would find yourself ’employed’.

The Lord Nelson was built in 1838 as a private residence before becoming a pub.

There are many original cottages still standing, though these were built later than the original settlement buildings.

Others are simply remains, though new building like the Youth Hostel Association building incorporate these into their structure so that you see the foundations of those original buildings and displays of artefacts.

In the same area are outlined of animals

One George Cribbs found guilty of forgery was actually a butcher. He illegally slaughtered the animals up here. The bones, mostly of horses, were all uncovered here.

If life was hard for the First Fleet, life onboard the ships was much harder for those transported by the Second Fleet was worse.

Transportation was handed over to business.

To save money and increase profit rations and medication were reduced and people died on the way to Australia. Bodies were thrown overboard.

A final check would be done on the way into the harbour… bodies often washed up on shore.

Today, The Rocks is is being gentrified with original buildings exchanging hands for substantial sums and conserving the history a key part of the area’s desirability.

These attempts go back to the 1960s and 1970s with forced removals being considered. The residents negotiated a pact with the construction trades unions to support them in saving their homes.

Builders refused to work on building projects in The Rocks. When this wasn’t enough, they downed tools across the entire city.

Eviction was not carried out.

A fantastic example of community action and solidarity, in my view.

Today, this formerly public housing building has been eyed for demolition and rebuilding as an expensive apartment building.


Check out the view. The higher apartments would see more of the bay than this shot shows.

Imagine the profit. Imagine how much the rent would be.

Local residents have again taken action and the building has been Heritage Listed so it has to be conserved.

From pub quiz details to community action stories, this tour had it all.

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