the rocks 1

If you could read my mind, what a tale my thoughts could tell

Sydney March 2014 (4 images)

The Rocks is an urban tourist precinct and historic area in Sydney’s city centre. The Rocks was established shortly after Sydney’s formation in 1788. The original buildings were made mostly of local sandstone, from which the area derives its name. From the earliest history of the settlement, the area had a reputation as a slum, often frequented by visiting sailors and prostitutes. During the late nineteenth century, the area was dominated by a notorious gang known as The Rocks Push.

By the early 20th century, many of the area’s historic buildings were in serious decay. In 1900, bubonic plague broke out, and over several decades the state government resumed areas around The Rocks with the intention of demolishing and rebuilding them. In February 1971, a group of local residents formed the Rocks Residents Group to oppose the plans. The residents’ group requested a Green ban from a local trade union organisation, the Builder’s Labourers Federation, which had become increasingly active in preventing controversial developments. The union was led by a man named Jack Mundey and ultimately they were successful, with renovations instead of demolishment transforming the area into a commercial and tourist precinct. Jack Mundey is now known as “The father of The Rocks” and the above wall mural is dedicated to him. Of course, the same trade union had a more sordid side as well, and was ultimately banned and deregistered for corruption.

the rocks 2

Running the gauntlet

One notorious area of the Rocks was the Suez Canal, a narrow lane way which tapered towards the main road, thus resembling a sewer. There were brothels and supposedly opium dens here. It was frequented by prostitutes and larrikins and was the domain of The Rocks Push gang. They conducted crimes such as theft, assault and battery against police and pedestrians in the Rocks area. In particular, female members of The Push would entice drunks and sailors into the narrow lane off the main road at the spot you see above, to be assaulted and robbed by the gang. There are now interpretative panels of gang members describing the history of this area.

the rocks 3

Sewer’s Canal: When you gotta go, you gotta go

the rocks 5
A gentler street life in The Rocks

The Rocks is an important part of the history of Sydney with a chequered past. Now, if only the walls could talk…

These days, street life in the The Rocks is perhaps a little more sedate and gentrified. It is a nice area for street photography and it happens to be the access point to the pedestrian footpath of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Bridgeclimb.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

If these walls could talk…


60 thoughts on “If these walls could talk…

      • Yes….Murders, gangs, opium…Like a Jack Londonยดs book….I have never been to Australia, but you can bet if I go I wll visit the Rocks!!! Thanks for the story!!!! Beautiful Black and White pics!!!

      • If I ever come to Sydney (which is not very likely) I will make sure to visit this area ๐Ÿ™‚ Your visual and narrative input has tickled my curiosity. Have a good Friday, Draco!

  1. to remain in him says:

    It was a double pleasure – to watch photos and read about the history of your city. Thank you for sharing!

  2. The wall mural is striking. Using rock wall to dedicate the The father of The Rocks, is an awesome idea! Great B&W photos, as always, Dragon!

  3. Nelson says:

    The second photo, being able to catch someone in such a small space, it’s either you were lucky or it took you some shots to get it …… it’s a beautiful one

  4. And now I have Gordon Lightfoot’s song going round my head ๐Ÿ™‚
    I have wandered around The Rocks, but obviously missed some of these interesting ‘bits’. Nice image of the two guys on the bench.
    Jude xx

    • Sorry about that. ๐Ÿ™‚

      One has to venture down the small lanes in this area and the council has put up plaques to highlight points of interest. And nowadays, Suez Lane allows rear access to a quaint french patisserie with one of the best almond croissants in Sydney IMHO.

  5. That wall mural of โ€œThe father of The Rocksโ€ is an amazing piece of art! Lovely photos and interesting story about this place! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yes, it is very striking when you first see it. That’s a staircase running just above his eyes. I need to try to get a picture of someone inside his head. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thank you.

  6. Fabulous photographs accompanied by an interesting story about Sidney. Parts of your story sounded like an old gangster movie and I had clear visions of what went on in that alleyway. Quick, cover my eyes! Love the Gordon Lightfoot lyric, too. Perfect touch!

  7. JL Kenney says:

    I love that first shot and the way the stairway is incorporated into the portrait.
    (and all the cars are on the wrong side of the road!)

    • Thanks. I need to go back and shoot someone as they’re walking on the stairs. ๐Ÿ™‚

      During the Olympics, the government was so nervous about visitors safety, they painted signs on almost every intersection to remind people which side the cars are on – see here

  8. kuujinbo says:

    Great shots. Nice to hear something good came out of something else that started off so bad. ๐Ÿ™‚ The history of ‘Suez Canal’ was especially interesting to me.

  9. very peculiar area, it was very interesting to read about it and look at your shots at the same time… love the first and the second shots… amazing timing in the second one!! that narrow alley would be great for portrait shoots too… while watching at the first one I was thinking it would be interesting to try and get a front view of the wall with the mural with someone climbing those stairs… and then I read you also thought about that ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚
    and what a nice perspective in the fourth photo of that famous bridge, which I also know from your photos ๐Ÿ™‚ brilliant series, Draco…

    • Thank you. Immediately on the left in the last photo is a staircase to the Harbour Bridge. In the alley, I prefocussed and half depressed the shutter and waited – only 3 attempts needed. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I know the exact shot I want for the wall mural. No one in the foreground and 2 people walking through his head whilst talking. I really need to take that shot! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I hope you’re having a great day.

  10. As the above commentor said, The Rocks looks like like a piece of art. I never got the chance to visit it when I was in Sydney, what a pity. Don’t know why but I’ve always gotten the vibe that The Rocks was a quiet place (compared to Sydney’s CBD)?

    • It’s a tourist zone by day, with food markets on fridays and weekends. Pretty lively at night with numerous pubs and eateries. And on new years eve, impossible to move – 1000’s jam packed in.

  11. credo che il pensiero sia proprio giusto quello che tu hai espresso…se i muri potessero parlare…eppure parlano pur nel loro silenzio! il loro evidente degrado parla piรน di mille voci
    grazie per questo splendido reportage
    notte felice

    I think the thought is exactly right that you expressed … If the walls could speak … and yet speak in their silence! their apparent degradation speaks more than a thousand voices
    Thanks for this beautiful reportage
    happy night

  12. Thanks for the wonderful images and back story.

    I don’t know where we went wrong,
    But the feeling’s gone
    And I just can’t get it back.

    It was a song about the breakup of his marriage. Disarmingly honest, sad, and beautiful all at the same tome.

    Have a great week!


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