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Harbour History

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Our historic places features buildings, landmarks and other objects that transport visitors to bygone eras, providing them with rich insights into the development of Sydney Harbour…

Discover why our network of historic sites has enduring significance for First Nations People and learn how they fit into the nation’s convict, colonial and defence narrative. PLUS, check out DigiTales (NEW) – a series of entertaining articles, acquainting you with famous and obscure historical figures synonymous with our sites. 

DigiTales (NEW)

Meet the famous, infamous and not-so-famous people linked with our places on Sydney Harbour...

Read informative and entertaining articles, written by our community of knowledgeable volunteers, acquainting you with notable and obscure historical figures including Bungaree, Lachlan Macquarie, Captain Thunderbolt, Charles Ormsby and more. 

Image caption: Governor Lachlan Macquarie, 1895, Portrait (pencil), National Library of Australia, PIC Drawer 7711 #U6798 NK3333 

650X550 Governor Lachlan Macquarie 1895 Portrait National Library Of Australia

Our places

Delve into the history of our network of protected places on Sydney Harbour...

Chowder Bay (Headland Park, Mosman)

Located on the Mosman shoreline, Chowder Bay is a place of enduring significance for the Borogegal People and played an important part in the defence of Sydney during World War I. The area was occupied by the military from the 1890s until 2000, when it was opened to the public.

Image caption: Chowder Bay and Clifton Gardens, Sydney, New South Wales ca. 1878-79, National library of Australia

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour

Cockatoo Island’s heritage buildings and distinctive terrain offer insights into the complex history of this former convict penal establishment, naval ship dockyard, industrial school for girls, and reformatory. The island has strong continued ties to the First Nations, having served as a meeting place for the Eora People prior to colonisation.

Georges Heights (Headland Park, Mosman)

The homeland of the Borogegal People, Georges Heights occupies a significant place in Australian history, being the place of the first ‘friendly’ contact between Europeans and Aboriginal People. In the 200 years following colonisation, the area was occupied by military forces and, during World War II, it played a crucial role in the defence of Sydney.

Image caption: 80 pounder RML gun at Georges Heights, circa 1890, William Vosper (photographer), State Library of NSW, FL1231925.

Macquarie Lightstation (Vaucluse)

Completed in 1818, Macquarie Lighthouse was designed by convict architect Francis Greenway and named for Lachlan Macquarie, the NSW Governor who commissioned it. Crumbling sandstone foundations led to the construction of a replacement lighthouse in 1883. Designed by James Barnet to closely resemble the original, this lighthouse continues to operate, ensuring the safe passage of vessels into Sydney Harbour.

Image credit: Macquarie Lighthouse, 1909 (Hurley Negative Collection) Frank Hurley, National Library of Australia

Former Marine Biological Station (Camp Cove, Watsons Bay)

Like Sydney Hotel and Katoomba’s Carrington Hotel, the Former Marine Biological Station was designed by colonial architect John Kirkpatrick. Built in 1881 as a place for Russian scientist Nikolai Nikoleavich de Miklouho-Maclay to study local marine life, the station was later acquired by the Australian Army to house officers.

Image Caption: The Former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove, State library of NSW, FL1228185

Middle Head (Headland Park, Mosman)

A place of enduring significance for the Borogegal People, Middle Head once played an important role in the defence of Sydney. Gun emplacements were built in response to the Napoleonic Wars, and during World War II, barracks were constructed to house soldiers. After the war ended, Middle Head housed a training facility (ASOPA) for Australians serving the developing world.

Image caption: Photo: Big gun practice at Middle Head, Circa 1884 to 1917, Sydney NSW, Bryna Bamberry, National Museum of Australia, 1986.0117.6223

North Head Sanctuary (Manly)

North Head Sanctuary was the backdrop for some of the earliest interactions between First Nation People and Europeans, and the area was also used to quarantine people with deadly epidemic diseases. During the Second World War, North Head was one of the most heavily fortified sites in Australian history.

Image caption: The quarantine burial ground, Spring Cove, Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, George French Angas, 1847, National library of Australia.

Sub Base Platypus (North Sydney)

Located in Cammeraygal Country, Sub Base Platypus was most recently HMAS Platypus, an Australian Navy submarine base. The site has also hosted a gasworks, as well as workshops for manufacturing and maintaining torpedoes for use in the Second World War.

Image caption: Neutral Bay Gasworks viewed from Kurruba Wharf, c 1910 (City of Sydney Archives, Graeme Andrews Collection: 083425)

Woolwich Dock and Parklands (Hunters Hill)

Woolwich Dock is a maritime precinct steeped in history. Carved from 85,000 cubic meters of excavated sandstone, the dock was used during both World Wars to repair damaged vessels. Later, the Army used it as a base for their marine transport operations.

Image caption: Dry dock at Mort's Dock, Woolwich, Government Printing Office Archive, 1957, State Library of NSW, FL2112915