Darling Harbour over the years
Unique city stories
Darling Harbour was known to the original inhabitants of the Sydney area, the Gadigal people, as Tumbalong (the southern part) and Koodgi (the northern point). For many years it was the working port for Sydney. The area was home to a myriad of finger wharves, shipyards, factories and warehouses and the thousands of people who worked there lived in nearby Millers Point and The Rocks, often in crowded and insanitary slums. Eventually the warehouses and railways yards gave way to a modern retail and entertainment precinct, a Darling Harbour that would be unrecognisable to the Sydneysiders of 100 years ago.
When the first railway opened in Sydney in 1855 it included a single line to Darling Harbour. The railway yard was situated at the Ultimo/Pyrmont end of the Harbour. By 1874 the railway goods yard was extended on reclaimed land and by 1891 all outwards goods traffic was being dispatched from Darling Harbour. By the 1960s the goods yard encompassed 56 acres (22 hectares), including 50km of track transporting 13,500 trains a year. The last goods train departed Darling Harbour in 1984.
In 1857 the first Pyrmont Bridge was built as a private enterprise. The bridge connected the burgeoning western suburbs with the City. It was a toll bridge and charged two pence for pedestrians and nine pence for carriages. It was purchased by the Government in 1884 for £49,600. Work on a replacement bridge began in September 1899 and the new bridge opened on 28 June 1902. It was a steel bridge with an electrically operated swing span section that was powered by the Ultimo Powerhouse. The swing span allowed access for tall vessels to the inner harbour area. On 7 June 1981 the bridge was closed to all traffic and reopened in 1988 as a pedestrian bridge.
Plague arrives in Sydney
Arthur Paine, a carter who worked in the wharf area, was the first person diagnosed with the plague on 19 January 1900. By March, with the number of confirmed plague cases increasing, the NSW Government and the Sydney Council began a quarantine and cleansing operation in The Rocks, Millers Point and down to Darling Harbour (as well as certain areas in Woolloomooloo, Paddington, Redfern and Manly). From 24 March to 17 July 1900, local residents were employed to cleanse, disinfect and fumigate the quarantined zone while rat catchers caught over 44,000 rats.
The bubonic plague was epidemic from 19 January to 9 August 1900. While 303 people were stricken with the plague and 103 people died, only three of the dead lived in The Rocks.
In response to the plague the NSW Government set in motion plans to resume almost the entire headland from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour. The Darling Harbour Resumption Advisory Board was established to oversee the resumptions, which included houses, wharves, factories, mills, hotels and warehouses. Initially 900 houses were bought in The Rocks and then in 1923 another 300 homes were resumed for the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Private wharves became government property and local residents became public tenants. One of the early tasks undertaken by the Board was establishing rat proof walls and wharves, like Wharf 3 in Darling Harbour.
Decline and revitalisation
The decline of Darling Harbour was slow. The shipbuilding industry slowed after World War II and the increased use of large container ships around the world meant that Darling Harbour, with its finger wharves was not ideally situated to cope with these changes. In the 1960s the establishment of a container terminal at Port Botany marked the death knell for Darling Harbour as a major commercial port. In 1984 the Darling Harbour Authority was established to plan the redevelopment of the area. Modern day Darling Harbour was “created as a gift to the people of NSW in celebration of Australia’s bicentenary in 1988.” Darling Harbour was reborn as a tourist destination, playing host to a variety of entertainment facilities, shops, bars and restaurants.