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Top 5 Hidden Histories in Sydney

Home > Sydney > Free | Historic Houses | Lists | Outdoor | Walks
by Barry J (subscribe)
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Published May 17th 2018
Lose yourself in Sydney
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Be amazed again (by Pezibear / Public Domain)


Sydney's icons, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Bondi Beach and the Sydney Cricket Ground, are easy to find - just follow the tourists. But if you're a seasoned local, how do you recapture that sense of wonder at seeing a special site in Sydney for the first time?

Wherever you live in Sydney, there are secret delights and with a few hints, you can walk into our history. Follow the footsteps of urban legends, remaining decades after developers rebuild suburbia.

To begin the journey, you'll need a sense of adventure and your finest period costume to blend into the sepia images of Sydney's hidden history. At each of these sites, chat with the neighbours to hear more of the secret stories.

Choose from one of these hidden history spots throughout Sydney:

Castlecrag Walter Burley Griffin
Famous for designing Canberra, Australia's concrete capital, Walter Burley Griffin experimented with natural architecture east of Chatswood to create Castlecrag.

This set of striking homes overlook an envious ocean, lapping closer to shore to touch the crafted stonework. Influenced by Rudolph Steiner's spiritual philosophy of Anthroposophy, he created buildings as records for life a medieval life.

On streets with names snatched from the Middle Ages, Walter designed sandstone castles which became instant monuments. Wander the suburb, peering at homes at 136 and 140 Edinburgh St, 8 and 12 in The Parapet (Walter resided in no. 8), 3 Camelot and 15 The Citadel.

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Apple pie (by Dan Parsons / CC BY 2.0)


Inner West
Wander these streets with a keen eye and you'll find a series of landmarks deserving of the silver screen. You'll need a weekend or two to enjoy these highlights:
Try to replicate the mighty pose of Chesty Bond in Hampshire Lane, Camperdown.
Realise your Great Expectations at the Camperdown Cemetery on Church St. Eliza Emily Donnithorne lies here, the inspiration for Charles Dickens's Miss Havisham.
Do you want fries with that? Refuel at Australia's busiest McDonalds on the corner of Parramatta Rd and Bridge St, Stanmore.
- Bring your favourite confectionery to hold back the tears when you visit the World's Finest Chocolate Factory, sadly closed, at the corner of Corunna and Bridge St, Stanmore. Enjoy your sugary treat while imagining Sydney's version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory in its prime.
- Hold your nose at the Chimney House at 125 Corunna Rd, Stanmore. A Victorian-age design, the ventstack emerges from the Queen Anne revivalist styled cottage. The sewerage ventilation has endured, allowing residents to survive without permanent pegs on their noses.
- For true believers in the analogue recording medium, especially audio cassettes and LPs, return to a simpler era at the former Mastertouch Factory on 96 Crystal St, Petersham. The site produced piano rolls, the pre-programmed cylinders allowing tone-deaf pianists to captivate an unwitting audience. Many of the rolls are entertaining a new generation in the halls of the Powerhouse Museum.


Ryde one of Australia's favourite Grannies
Red Delicious, Royal Gala, Pink Lady, Sundowner. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and the Granny Smith apple, glowing green and packing a distinctive tart flavour, matches the temperament of its propagator Maria Smith.

After discovering the hybrid with a clever bit of cross-pollination, she aggressively marketed the new variety until it became a staple in kitchens around the world.

The shiny green fruit is now the key ingredient for some of our favourite desserts, including apple pie, apple crisp, apple sorbet, apple crumble, apple strudel, apple sauce and apple turnover.

Maria Smith now rests at St Anne's Church in Ryde. Pay your respects before visiting the nearest bakery for your favourite Granny Smith-inspired pastry.

To celebrate this Aussie apple, visit the annual Granny Smith Festival in the streets of Eastwood in October.

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Walter Burley Griffin in costume? (by National Library of Australia)


Balmoral the former site of the Star of the East Amphitheatre
On the corner of Edwards Bay Rd and Wyargine St on Edwards Beach in Balmoral, one of Sydney's strangest buildings took shape in the 1920s.

It began with the obsessions of a curious collection of locals, preparing for the imminent second coming of a saviour. They constructed an amphitheatre await the predicted arrive but as the foretold date slipped into history, the site was abandoned. The group retreated to their headquarters, the nearby Manor, a 50-room mansion on the corner of Iluka and Morella Rd.

The amphitheatre was used by the Theosophical Society, with inspiration from the teachings of Giordano Bruno, a martyr for science and patron saint of the society. He was judged to be a heretic more for his anti-Catholic statements in the 16th century, than his scientific theories. His initials are still heard daily across Sydney via the AM radio station named in his honour, 2GB.


Kurnell's Cliffside Homes
Perhaps some of Sydney's earliest 20th-century waterfront homes, the cliffsides at Kurnell host a collection of cave-like houses carved from the sandstone.

Reminiscent of traditional American Indian caves in the mesas of the Mojave Desert, these homes are a unique and fascinating mixture of sculpture and function.

After the first cliff dwellers 'moved in' in the 1920s, their residents continued the DIY renovations, adding a coat of paint, carpets and a refrigerator. They remained in their seaside homes until a forced eviction in the 1970s.

Begin your search for ocean views at the obelisk at Captain Cook's Landing Place Reserve or follow the track via Inscription Point on Cape Solander Drive.



Where is your favourite piece of history in Sydney? Please leave a comment. We'd love to hear your ideas.
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