Moving house

Looking up is moving to a new site that incorporates the Dictionary of Sydney’s organisational information, full access to the Dictionary’s resources, tips on ways readers can contribute to and support the Dictionary, and offers us some exciting new possibilities for feedback and community building around Sydney’s history.

You’ll be able to find and follow us at:

Please come over, sign up for updates, follow us on all the usual social media and join the conversation. Subscribers who receive updates by email should keep receiving posts from the new site, but if you don’t hear from us soon, please just re-subscribe.

Don’t forget to update your bookmarks!

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Hellenic Sydney

Evzones (Greek soldiers) who led the Greek Day march in Sydney, 28 February 1941, State Library of Victoria an016346

One of our new articles is about Sydney’s Greek communities, one of the largest and oldest groups in the city, with a venerable tradition and great pride.

Panayiotis Diamadis has written for us about the Hellenes of Sydney, who hailed from all over the Mediterranean, but traced their ancestry back to Greece. There’s been a long two-way traffic between Sydney and Greece, as well. The first Greek arrivals were convicts in 1829, later pardoned, who helped start the Camden vineyards. By the end of the nineteenth century, churches and social groups were being formed, and a thriving community was taking steps to protect its language and religious traditions.

This essay sets out the history of one of Sydney’s best known migrant communities, which has become an integral part of the modern city.

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Messing about in boats

The Dictionary never loses sight of the fact that Sydney is a maritime city, and two articles in the latest batch flesh out some of the different kinds of ships that have plied the harbour since the Europeans arrived.

The tug Hero towing Pamir to Sydney Heads, 1947 photograph by Max Dupain, National Library of Australia nla.pic-an21125310

Randi Svensen’s Tugboats is a lively account of this indispensable trade, which has been crucial to Sydney’s working port since 1831. A number of families worked their tugboats over generations, and built lasting businesses and reputations.  Some of the tugs themselves became celebrated icons of perseverance and survival, like the Hero, a tug whose 70-year career included over 3 years underwater.

Where the tugs mostly stayed inside the harbour, Sydney’s whaling fleet ranged far and wide, returning to port for processing, refitting, resupplying and leisure of many kinds. Mark Howard’s article shows just how economically important whaling was to the young city, and links the industry to many Sydney personalities and places.

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Art for art’s sake

Photograph by Jill Lummis of stained glass window in St Paul's Anglican church, Cobbitty 2011

Sydney’s always been an arty place, from the carvings and dances of the traditional owners, and the sketchbooks and pianos of the early settlers, to the art societies and chamber music of the twentieth century and beyond.

The latest addition of material to the Dictionary continues our interest in these themes. Graeme Skinner has written a clutch of entries on musicians and groups of early twentieth century Sydney. Cyril Monk and his wife and colleague Varney Monk, father and daughter George and Iris de Cairos-Rego, and Ernest Truman would have met at concerts by the Austral String Quartet and Collegium Musicum, or performances of Collits Inn, Varney Monk’s prizewinning musical.

Silas Clifford Smith has given us another piece on early twentieth century artists, the XV Independent Group of Artists, who reacted against modernism during World War II, forming their own school based on ‘craftsmanship’.

Craftsmen of a different kind built the wonderful stained glass that Sydney is so rich in. Beverley Sherry‘s essay on this art form is lavishly illustrated and comprehensive, and will make you look at the windows around you in a different light. From the windows of Sydney University’s famous Great Hall, to the stained glass at Sydney Airport, this essay shows the depth of architectural design and technical expertise that has produced Sydney’s stained glass.

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From water to ice

The story of Sydney’s water supply is an epic, now told by Maclaren North in the Dictionary’s new article on Water. From the Tank Stream, and the Botany swamps, through Busby’s bore and Centennial Park, to the Nepean Tunnel and Ryde pumping station, and finally Warragamba Dam and the desalination plant, water has continued to flow in Sydney only because of the derring-do of ambitious engineers and politicians.  Yet Sydneysiders take it for granted every time they turn on their taps. The huge infrastructure projects of the nineteenth century seem difficult to credit now, in a period where governments are loathe to borrow, even to secure essential services. But Sydney would not have grown the way it has without water.

Delivery of ice in the city c1900 by Frederick Danvers Powers, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW a422009 / ON 225, 22

Ice, on the other hand, was a luxury item. Nigel Isaacs takes us through the fascinating story of the ‘frozen water trade’, which brought American lake ice by insulated ship to Sydney in 1839. Many native-born  Sydneysiders would never have seen ice of any sort, and the coolest drink available would have been a bottle of beer dangled in a river on a rope, so it’s not surprising that it caused a sensation. Read about the ‘sherry cobbler, ice cream, mint juleps and brandy smash’ that was served at Sydney’s best establishments while the ice lasted, and thank your lucky stars for the invention of refrigeration (helped along by Sydney engineer, Norman Selfe).

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Party like it’s 1899

Sydneysiders love a party. Especially in summer.

In recent years, New Year’s Eve has become a huge celebration, complete with a theme, massive fireworks, music, and even an iPhone App.

But this is not new. Hannah Forsyth‘s article, newly published in the Dictionary, shows how people have been celebrating the New Year for many decades, from New Year’s Day celebrations in the nineteenth century, to the nocturnal revels which were enabled by reliable, bright lighting in the streets.

George Street, near the markets, on New Year's Eve 31 December 1878 Australian Town and Country Journal, 4 January 1879, p 24

For much of the twentieth century, the focus of New Year’s Eve was Kings Cross, with ongoing conflict between revellers and police trying to maintain decorum. It wasn’t until the fireworks shifted the public gaze to the harbour that Kings Cross quietened down on 31 December.

Have a great night, and stay safe.

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The Yanks are coming

Life with the American Squadron by Harry Ingham, 1908, National Library of Australia nla.mus-an6964576

The breakaway of the American colonies was a factor in the establishment of the penal colony at Port Jackson, and the first Americans arrived in Sydney with the First Fleet. They’ve been here ever since, as Margaret Park outlines in her new article on Americans, added recently to the Dictionary.

The history of Sydney’s Americans is a long and illustrious one, if not entirely smooth sailing. Americans have toured and visited as writers, boxers, members of circuses, theatre troupes and musical extravaganzas, and many have stayed. Sydney has also hosted many American sailors and soldiers over the years, with complex results. Journalists, architects, manufacturers and businesspeople have also come from the States to Sydney, and stayed for a while or for good.

From Billy Blue to Kristina Keneally, Americans have helped to shape Sydney, with their skills, tastes, fashions and hard work. Long may it continue.

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