The Rocks

 

To the casual observer, Sydney is a strikingly modern city, dominated by towering skyscrapers that seem to defy gravity. But those in search of a city on a more human scale will do well to take a stroll down to The Rocks, site of Australia's first European settlement and birthplace of modern day Sydney.

 

The contrast with the gleaming glass CBD is striking. Here the buildings are in the Colonial and Federation style, with balconies and intricate iron weaving on the exterior. This is a part of Sydney that oozes history as much as anywhere in post-European Australia can. The joy of areas like this is that the history is immediate - here you can stand on the very spot where history was made, and see the buildings that played host to key events.

The Rocks has a chequered past. Being the place that the British sent their most unsavoury characters as part of their eighteenth and nineteenth century policy of transportation, the Rocks area soon gained a reputation for bawdy behaviour and villainy in all its guises. 1900 saw an outbreak of bubonic plague that saw a long overdue clean-up and overhaul of the area, something that was repeated when work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge began some years later.

Situated spectacularly in the shadow of the "Old Coathanger", the Rocks is now one of the city's principle tourist attractions. This has brought its own pressures to the area, because the pre-conceived ideas that swathes of tourists bring with them tend to end up being converted into a bit of a tacky reality by businesses who are naturally keen to tap into the tourists' dollar. That said, this is an area that has retained a good deal of charm, and developments over the last few years have made it's winding narrow streets a friendly and lively place to spend time.

The Rocks' Heritage Centre is a good place to begin your day - it is situated in an old sailors home at 106 George Street. They do put on special working tours from here, but if you prefer to be bit more independent, just pick up one of their maps and walk the route yourself.

You can take in the spectre of the oldest remaining house in Sydney - Cadman's Cottage at 110 George Street that dates back to 1816. The Georgian building was originally home to the pardoned convict John Cadman, and back when he lived in it from 1827 to 1845, it stood directly on the shore.

Now standing some 50 metres back from the water's edge, it is home to the National Parks & Wildlife Service Information Centre, and the staff will be happy to talk about the cottage's history, and fill you in on the delights of the state's national parks. The National Trust Centre on Observatory Hill is housed in an old military hospital that is home to an interesting museum and gallery. Open Tuesday 'til Sunday, it is $AUD 8 in, $AUD 4 concessions.

 

If street markets are your thing then you will be in for a treat at the Rocks Weekend Market in the Rocks Square with an array of stalls offering great gift ideas. If the hubbub of the Market proves to be too much for you, never fear because there are plenty of good quality cafes around so you can kick back and watch the market in full swing over a flat white or cappuccino.

 

If you are in need of something stronger, try the Hero of Waterloo Hotel 81, Lower Fort Street, (02) 9252 4553, a genuinely Irish pub that purports to be the oldest hostelry in the city. Built as a hotel in 1843 by convict labour for stonemason George Paton, and still retains iron shackles on the walls of the cellar. It is in the colonial area of Millers Point , rich in the architecture that is synonymous with the British era.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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