Pub Crawl Your Way Through Sydney's History

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Sydney is Australia's oldest city and has loads of history just outside (and sometimes inside) its pubs. So, get some money out of the ATM, put on some sturdy walking boots and find out about Sydney's past the fun way.

Submitted: May 16, 2008

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Submitted: May 16, 2008




Sydney is the city of glitz, glamour and gold. People come here to make money, but few really hit the big time. For the tourist, Sydney has everything from nightclubs to beaches. But there is another side of Sydney that is not often explored. Sydney is not just a thriving modern metropolis, it is also Australia's oldest city.

On January 26, 1788, a British flag was raised in what is now Sydney, and a speech was made by Governor Philip inaugurating the new colony. Since then Sydney has changed from a far flung outpost of the British Empire where you sent criminals, to a cosmopolitan city, but the remains of Sydney's history is still there. All you need to do is look around and you will see Sydney's history as you pass by.

In fact, Sydney's history lies so thick on the ground, (especially in the Sydney City area itself), that you could go on a pub crawl and have a historical tour at the same time. This in fact is what this book tries to do. As you wander from pub to pub a theme of Sydney's history is presented, it might be Chinese immigration or convict revolts, but the story is linked by pubs where you can enjoy a rest and have a bit of recreation. Nearly all the photos are done by the author, so please forgive the quality of the prints.

Since it is a pub crawl, I assume that you will not be driving, so all instructions are designed for someone who is either walking or catching public transport. If you do intend on driving I suggest you nominate a designated driver that remains sober. Also all these establishments provide meals or are close to shops where you can get takeaways. I suggest that any pub crawlers use their common sense and eat where possible. Sometimes the journeys are long ones so it might be an idea to bring some supplies. The rules in Australia are very strict about drink driving and are enforced with enthusiasm by the police.

This pub crawl cannot be physically completed in a day. Some places are just too far away and there are too many pubs to visit. I suggest taking it as it comes and only going as far as you can then continuing it at another time, or if a particular tour (or chapter) agrees with you then do just that one and leave the rest.

So what better place to start than Sydney's oldest hotel? There are actually two contenders, but we will start at the Lord Nelson Hotel at Millers Point. (See picture on left.) This is on the corner of Argyle Place and Kent Street. There are a couple of ways to get there, but I suggest the train. Go to Circular Quay station. Walk out onto the harbour. You can roughly divide the Old Sydney Town in two. To your right where the Opera House is where the people of quality established themselves, to the left, is the Rocks, where the convicts were kept and it later became a notorious part of Sydney. We will follow in the footsteps of the convicts and head towards the Rocks.

Go out to the harbour and turn left. There is a walkway that you can follow around and take in the views. Keep going past the Contemporary Arts Museum that is on your left. Walk past that and you come to the beginning of Argyle Street. Turn left and go up the hill. You are now in the middle of the Rocks. At the beginning of the colony's history, this was the Harlem or the Bronx of Sydney. Nowadays, it is a tourist trap. The cynical amongst us might say nothing much has really changed. At least the small alley ways are still there, so the spirit of the place lives on. I suggest that after this journey that you explore the Rocks and get the feel of what early Sydney roads and streets were like and then you might appreciate the New South Wales Main Road Department more.

As you go up the hill you will notice the Argyle Cut. It was made to provide access from George Street to Millers Point and Darling Harbour. It apparently was first suggested in 1835 by the Herald newspaper. In 1840 a start was made, faltered, started again in 1844 and finished after 10 years. Originally hand cut, it was apparently finished off with explosives.

Keep on going up the road, to your right you will see a church on the corner of Argyle and Lower Fort Streets. This is called the Garrison Church but its official name is the Holy Trinity. By the 1840s the area around Millers Point had lost its notoriety and had become the place where the wealthy lived. Something like what is happening to Kings Cross in Sydney today. However, unlike today, Sydney then was an outpost of the British Empire and as such had its own garrison, or troops sent to guard it. Having convicts made the situation all the more urgent.

The church's foundation stone was laid in 1840 and since then it has been associated with the Australian military. If you go inside, you will see memorials to different regiments all over the walls. The most interesting are the pre-1870 memorials which are situated on the wall of the main entrance.

The stone building next to the church is I believe the Holy Trinity School. Australia's first Prime Minister, Sir Edward Barton was a pupil. Subsequently it was used as a Parish Hall. From the barred small windows it seems that kids have always been rascals at school and will never change.

However, just down below where the garrison used to pray, another great Australian tradition was also in full swing. Turn right down Lower Fort Street as you go out the main entrance of the church. On the corner of Lower Fort and Windmill you will find the Hero of Waterloo Hotel. While it had a patriotic English name, some of its activities were certainly not. Apparently there was a tunnel built at the pub that led down to the waterside to help facilitate its smuggling activities. It seems that Millers Point might have been where the rich liked to live, but some of the notoriety of the area from the early colony seemed to survive.

If you are lucky when you visit the pub and there is spare staff, you can go see the smuggler's tunnel. The best time is the weekend. When I went there was only one person on the bar, so I could not get access to it. Apparently it is in the keg room.

But we still not have got to our main objective, the Lord Nelson. Go outside the main entrance of the pub and turn right and go back up to the Holy Trinity Church. Turn right and keep going until you get to the Lord Nelson. It was first licensed in 1841. It is also a brewery so you can taste some good quality beers though they are more expensive than the normal tap beers. So as you can see, just a short walk brings you a history lesson and a few beers. Also we have not yet begun to scratch the surface as just up the road you have the Observatory. However, that is for another chapter. Next, we'll investigate the other pub that says it is the oldest pub in Australia and find out about a long lost engineering feat.

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