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