I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published February 13th 2017
Doing Time In The Rocks
There can be few places, if any in Sydney, which speak more about the history of the city itself or of the colonisation of Australia than The Rocks. Here you'll find examples of architecture dating back to the earliest days of European settlement, archaeological evidence and written history of a life that must have been incredibly hard given the adverse climate, lack of arable soil and the isolation.
Remnants of early settlement are everywhere in The Rocks. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The Rocks have seen it all. The harsh reality of early settlement, the execution of convicted felons, decades of drunken debauchery and crime, development of a world class port and trade, initially dependent on sealers and whalers but then followed up by exports of primary produce, particularly wool, as early settlers moved inland and developed grazing lands.
Nurses Walk winds through some of the lanes and passageways found in The Rocks. The walk was created in 1979 to commemorate the work of nurses, unpaid convicts, who worked in two makeshift hospitals in the area between 1788 and 1816. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
It was even hit with an outbreak of Bubonic plague at Millers Point in 1900. The Rocks and surrounding waterfront were cordoned off and locals tasked with cleaning and disinfecting all buildings in the affected area.
Partly in response to the outbreak of plague the Government took ownership of almost the entire peninsula, from about the site of present day Darling Harbour right up to Dawes Point, and set about demolishing and rebuilding large sections of The Rocks, regarded by many at that time as a slum.
Suez Canal is one of the surviving narrow lanes which criss-crossed The Rocks. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The start of construction of the Harbour Bridge in 1923 resulted in the demolition of more properties and further modernization of the district.
From then, but particularly in the post-war era right up until the late 1990's redevelopment of The Rocks became a very hot political potato.
Local residents protested and clashed with police, eventually joining forces with unions to have 'Green Bans' imposed which prevented any major works until a compromise was eventually reached in 1975.
In 1977 the NSW Heritage Act was created which set out to guarantee the protection of historic sites and in 1999 the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority was formed to take ownership and manage The Rocks.
Campbells Cove today is a popular starting point for harbour boat tours including the 'tall ship' SOREN LARSEN, operated by Sydney Tall Ships. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Today The Rocks boasts more than 100 listed heritage sites including the oldest remaining house, Cadman's Cottage (Circa 1816), parts of Fort Phillip on Observatory Hill (Circa 1804) and the oldest European structure dating back to 1791, the Dawes Point Battery. The nearby Hyde Park Barracks were completed in 1819.
It's one of Australia's most significant historic sites and very near the top of the list of 'must see' attractions for most visitors to the harbour city.
Apart from its living, breathing history The Rocks has its very own style of shopping experience, covering everything from top name brands to emerging artisans & designers.
Handcrafted jewelry, artifacts and works of art, including great examples of indigenous art, sit shoulder to shoulder with a broad range of fashion and accessories.
Streets and laneways that were once regarded as slums are today home to galleries, retail outlets, cafes, restaurants and hotels but all retaining the classic colonial architecture for which The Rocks is renowned. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The Rocks Markets operate Saturday and Sunday between 10 AM and 5 PM. They're in Jack Mundey Place, just off George Street and right in the heart of The Rocks historic precinct.
You'll be taken-aback by the number of stalls offering handcrafted pieces, fashion, home wares, arts and craft.
It's also a great place to be on Fridays for the weekly Rocks Friday Foodie Market held between 9 AM and 3 PM. The rest of the week the cobbled laneways of The Rocks are home to more than 50 cafes, restaurants, hotels and assorted eateries all keen to tempt your taste buds.
Markets of all kinds are a major attraction of the modern day Rocks. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Oozing history and with fine foods and retail therapy available in abundance this is surely one of Sydney's greatest attractions. It has to be said, if you haven't been to The Rocks you haven't been to Sydney.
Getting There ……
The Rocks are literally in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, minutes from the Opera House and right around the corner from Circular Quay with its rail, bus and ferry services.