Darling Harbour over the years

Unique city stories

Drawn from the extensive photographic collection of the NSW State Archives, these image galleries highlight the transformation of Darling Harbour.

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.

  • Black and white photograph of forreshore area with buildings across water.

    Sydney from Pyrmont, 31 December 1870. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001412

  • Black and white photograph looking across water with buildings and vegetation in foreground.

    View from Blues Point looking towards Darling Harbour, Sydney, c. 1880. Digital ID 4481_a026_000465

  • Black and white photograph across water.

    A dock area at Darling Harbour, nd. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000106

  • Black and white photograph of facade of building.

    The office of Howard Smith Co. Ltd in Day St near Darling Harbour, c. 1907. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000029

  • Black and white photograph looking along arched front of two storey wharf building.

    McIlwraith McEacharn Wharf 4, Darling Harbour, Hickson Road, c. 1920. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000229

  • Black and white photograph across water.

    View of AUSN Co Ltd wharf at Darling Harbour, nd. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000003

  • Black and white photograph looking down across buildings to water in middle distance.

    Darling Harbour from St Phillip’s Church, 31 December 1870. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001414

  • Black and white photograph

    Content sheet has: 
    9856_a017_A01700000
    Dalgety’s Wharf No. 1 at Darling Harbour, nd. Digital ID 9856_a017_A01700000

    But I don't have that image - this one is
    9856_a017_A01700006

Railyards

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.

Black and white wide panoramic shot.
Darling Harbour panorama, 1946. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001418 NSW State Archives
  • Black and white photograph looking over rooflines.

    Darling Harbour, 1932. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001425

  • Black and white photograph looking across goods yard with smoke on horizon.

    Darling Harbour, 1946. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001417

    NSW State Archives

Black and white panoramic view across buildings and water.

Darling Harbour from Railway House panorama, 27 October 1944. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001416. NSW State Archives

Pyrmont Bridge

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.

  • Black and white photograph of road with building to right.

    Approach to Pyrmont Bridge from Sydney – as original built, 1901. Digital ID 4481_a026_000890

  • Black and white photograph of partially built bridge with cranes and scaffolding.

    Pyrmont Bridge under construction, Sydney, nd. Digital ID 4481_a026_000899

  • Black and white photograph of bridge.

    Swing span building out, Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney, nd. Digital ID 4481_a026_000897

The Argyle Cut

The Argyle Cut was started in the 1830s and finished in 1859. It was created to provide a direct transport link between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour and it remained an important transport link until Hickson Road was finished in 1923.
 

  • Black and white photograph of streetscape with figures along sidewalk.

    The Argyle Cut in The Rocks – Resumption photographic survey, 1901. Digital ID 4481_a026_000165

    NSW State Archives

  • Black and white photograph looking along curved city street with Sydney Harbour Bridge in background.

    Burns Philip Wharf 7, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, 1949. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000219

  • Black and white photograph of rows of terrace houses.

    Sydney Harbour Trust employee’s homes and kindergarten in High Street, The Rocks, c. 1920. Digital ID 9856_2017_2017000230

  • Black and white photograph looking along road.

    View of Hickson Road old and new. To the left is the Grafton Bond building, formerly old Sydney Gas Works, 1923. Digital ID 9856_2017_2017000269

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.

  • Black and white photograph looking across water to wharves with smoke in distance.

    Cleansing the wharves. Digital ID 12487_a021_a021000023

  • Black and white photograph of terraced building fronts.

    Views taken during cleansing operations, quarantine area, Sydney, 1900, under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., NSW; No’s 25-27 Day Street, Sydney, 1900. Digital ID 12487_a021_a021000052

  • Black and white photograph of barge alongside wharf.

    Views taken during cleansing operations, quarantine area, Sydney, 1900, under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., NSW; Clearing the rubbish at Smith’s Wharf, 1900. Digital ID 12487_a021_a021000047

Resumptions

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. 

  • Black and white photograph

    Construction of ‘rat proof’ wharves at Darling Harbour, nd. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000004

  • Black and white photograph looking across water.

    Construction of ‘rat proof’ wharf at Darling Harbour, nd. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000009

  • Black and white photograph of arched front of wharf.

    View of a rat proofed wharf, nd. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000018

  • Black and white photograph of facade.

    Worker flats – probably built by the Sydney Harbour Trust, nd. Digital ID 9856_a017_A017000017

  • Black and white photograph of multistorey building with covered verandah along top floor.

    Old Sydney Gasworks, Hickson Road, prior to conversion for use as Sydney Harbour Trust Main Store, c. 1912. Digital ID 9856_2017_2017000207

  • Black and white photograph of fenceline going into water and industrial area beyond.

    Darling Harbour, nd. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001421

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. 

Black and white photograph with water in foreground.
Darling Harbour, nd. Digital ID 17420_a014_a014001423 NSW State Archives