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The Big Dig

Home > Sydney > Free | Unusual Things to do
by Vanessa M (subscribe)
I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published July 4th 2015
Sydney Harbour YHA offers convenient accommodation in the tourist hub of The Rocks. It also sits above a major archaeological excavation which was carried out in the 1990s and has remained open and exposed for public viewing thanks to the building being raised off the ground.

The dig can be viewed (free of charge) at multiple inside and outside areas. It's the outdoor areas which are particularly good for casual visitors though, and these are accessible to the public between dawn and dusk every day. Entrances can be found between the Cumberland and Gloucester Streets, often leading directly to the site. The hostel's foyer also offers views and can be ventured into as well.

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Outdoor walkways offer easy viewing over part of the dig


Discoveries made during The Big Dig excavation (which was carried out before the hostel was built) include the foundations of homes (the earliest dating from 1795) and over 750,000 artefacts. These have added greatly to our understanding of early Sydney life.

Individual stories have also been pieced together, including the intriguing life of convict George Cribb. Cribb was suspected of dealing in illegally produced alcohol, but while he was arrested, no evidence of his crime was found. The recent dig, however, uncovered a small alcohol still in the well of his property, along with other household items (as if they had been thrown down there to avoid discovery).

More information on Cribb can be found on signs at the site. Alternatively, you can read about him here.

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George Cribb prospered in the colony, as you will discover at The Big Dig


Another feature you will quickly at the site is the series of wire animal sculptures that are starting to be added. One of them, a horse by Glen Doyle, is in the main outdoor area where the Whalers Arms Hotel once stood, facing onto Gloucestor Street. Like the other sculptures, it helps orient the casual visitor, here indicating where the stables were.

Right next to this particular area is the free-standing Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre. It has two classrooms and runs programs which are popular with school groups, including some from university.

For the average visitor though, if you want to know more about the site, you can also visit The Rocks Discovery Museum, where some of the discovered artefacts have been put on display. The Big Dig is also part of a wider history walk throughout The Rocks, which will give you an insight into the whole area's past.

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Even passers-by can appreciate the history discovered here, with panels evoking the old buildings displayed out on the streets
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Why? Understand how different Sydney was only a few hundred years ago
When: Sunrise to sunset daily
Phone: 61 2 8272 0900
Where: 110 Cumberland Street, The Rocks
Cost: Free
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