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Sydney History That May Surprise You

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by Postcards from Shayne (subscribe)
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Published July 9th 2015
Ten historical trivia treats
I often find when playing tourist in my home town that I learn some new and fascinating trivia. Even though I've lived in Sydney all my life I love learning something new when I visit or research places in our beautiful city.

Here are some trivia treats that may surprise you.

While Sydney Harbour is famous for her good looks and iconic Opera House and Bridge, did you know she also holds the honour of being the deepest natural harbour in the world? Sydney Harbour has a volume of 562,000 megalitres and is home to diverse sea life, kelp forests and a number of shipwrecks such as the TSS Currajong. Bizarrely there are also holes as deep as 45 metres in the harbour as well as numerous sunken cars, boats and shopping trolleys.

Sydney history trivia
Our glamorous Sydney Harbour....but what lies beneath?

Bennelong Point is now home to the Sydney Opera House but it was not always so glamorous. It is named after Aboriginal man Bennelong, who was an important intermediary between the English settlers and local Aboriginal people. This piece of harbour real estate was originally used as the residence of Bennelong, then later as a cattle and horse yard, a fort and later an ugly tram depot.

Sydney history trivia
Fort Macquarie Tram Depot on Bennelong Point (Image from: Wikimedia Commons)

Barangaroo, the re-development of the old wharf precinct at Darling Harbour, is named after an important Aboriginal woman. While there is not a lot written about Barangaroo, she is described as a talented fisherwoman who often fished from her canoe. She was a member of the Cammeragal people from Sydney's north shore, and she became Bennelong's second wife. However unlike Bennelong she was distrustful of the English settlers and often angry at the way the English treated the land, each other and the few natural resources that needed to be shared. For more information about Barangaroo click here.

Bennelong Point was chosen as the site for the new Sydney Opera House in the 1950's. An international competition was held to find a design for the building. Over 200 entries were received from 28 different countries and the winning architect was Jørn Utzon, from Denmark. The original estimate to build the Opera House was $7 million over a period of 4 years? However the final cost was actually $102 million and it took 14 years to complete. It was largely paid for by a State Lottery.

Did you know there are 1,056,006 roof tiles covering the sails of the Opera House. If you're like me you are thinking that's a lot of tiles to clean! Luckily it's not an issue because the tiles on the Opera House are self-cleaning!

Not only used for Opera, the Mr Olympia body building competition was held in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House in 1980. Do you know who won? It was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came out of retirement to enter the competition after training for only 8 weeks. This was his final Mr Olympia body building title.

Taronga Zoo
has been a main attraction on Sydney Harbour since it officially opened in October 1916. However the first public zoo in New South Wales actually dates back to 1884 and was located in Moore Park in an area then known as Billy Goats Swamp. The site was originally only 7.5 acres in area but grew greatly over time. The zoo included elephants, brown bears, monkeys, birds, deer and big cats. This venue was a popular recreational attraction however by 1910 the zoo was deemed too small and a new location was chosen. Most of the animals were transferred to Bradleys Head, some by road and others by barge, when the new zoo opened.

Sydney history trivia
What a view! Giraffes at Taronga Zoo (Image Credit: Jan Derk - Wikimedia)

If you thought the giraffes at Taronga Zoo had the best view in town, you may want to think again. Imagine living in the middle of Sydney Harbour with 360 degree views. This was the charmed life of the caretakers of Fort Denison and their families. Live-in caretakers maintained the island, from the 1900's right up until the 1990's, when the National Parks and Wildlife Service took over.

Sydney history trivia
Not a bad place to live - Fort Denison

Luna Park has been a part of Sydney's harbour foreshore at Milson's Point since 1935.

Sydney history trivia
Luna Park Sydney

However you may be surprised to learn that Australia's first rollercoaster opened much earlier, in 1887 at Tamarama Beach. Called The Switchback Railway, it was a diving and plunging ride above the sands near the waterline. The ride was part of The Royal Aquarium and Pleasure Grounds along with the aquarium building, skating rink, seal pond and shark pool. You can see photos of it by clicking here.

And lastly, did you know The Museum of Sydney is built upon the ruins of a house that belonged to Governor Arthur Phillip? It was on this site that Australia's first Government House was built in 1788. When you visit this Museum you can see where the house used to stand and view the Foundation Plate.

Do you know some fascinating or surprising Sydney trivia yourself? Do tell......

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Why? Sydney trivia fun
Where: Sydney Harbour
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