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Walk on Water: Historical Walking Tour

Home > Sydney > Walks | Unusual Things to do | Tours | Outdoor | Free
by Vanessa M (subscribe)
I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published March 28th 2016
The City of Sydney has created a whole range of self-guided walking tours for curious residents and visitors to Sydney, each with a specific focus. Sometimes it's women, sometimes it's hidden laneways, or the area's commercial history, or the early colony, among others.

The focus of the most recent walk I did was water. It directs you to fountains, drinking places, public art and more. Unlike the others, it also has a virtual version: the Water, Water Everywhere online exhibition.

But that's not the only thing that sets it apart. Unlike the other walks, there is no specific route you need to take on this one. The points of interest are loosely ordered, but you make your own way between them (although I will admit that I used the online PDF. If you download the app, things might be different).

This order didn't always work for me, and some were a little out of the way, so I ended up doing a shortened version, but you can find the whole lot here.

The real walk starts with the Golden Water Mouth statue outside Chinatown, but I started my walk in Hyde Park, where there are eight points of interest across the two sections. Some of these are fascinating; did you know the obelisk on Elizabeth Street is actually a sewer vent?

sandringham gardens, sandringham garden hyde park, walk on water walking tour
The fountain within Sandringham Gardens, built to commemorate King George V and VI.


walk on water walking tour, hyde park north fountain, hyde park sydney, archibald fountain hyde park
The Archibald Fountain was built in 1932 to commemorate the association between France and Australia in WWI. Its Art Deco design depicts Apollo in the centre, surrounded by mythical figures.


From Hyde Park, I headed north towards Circular Quay, which is loosely the direction you're supposed to take. I did skip the detour into the Botanic Gardens though, because I've already seen the the points of interest there on other walks, like the Sydney Sculpture Walk. But that doesn't mean I can't show you what you'll find:

archaeology of bathing, walk on water walking tour
Walking through the Botanic Gardens, you will be directed to things like The Archaeology of Bathing, near Woolloomooloo, which traces the outlines of historic public baths.


By walking along Elizabeth Street, I found it pretty easy to see things like Anne Graham's Passage in Martin Place, Il Porcellino (The Little Pig) outside Sydney Hospital and The P&O Building Fountain by Tom Bass on Hunter Street.

passage anne graham, sydney sculpture walk, martin place fountain, martin place public art
Located at the eastern end of Martin Place, these bronze fountains represent washbasins within houses depicted by lines of black granite. They make up Anne Graham's Passage.


P&O building fountain, urinal sydney, walk on water walking tour
Tom Bass's The P&O Building Fountain was created in 1963. The following year Oz Magazine published a satirical image of three men seemingly urinating in the fountain, leading to a legal battle over the supposed promotion of 'public pissing'.


One I hit Bridge Street (just before Circular Quay) I headed west along it to Macquarie Place Park. Here you find the remains of a men's lavatory tucked in the corner (it's the dome surrounded by plants) and the cast iron canopy of an old drinking fountain.

macquarie place park, macquarie place sydney, macquarie place drinking fountain, macquarie place cast iron canopy
In 1870 Sydney had eight of these drinking fountains, all imported from Glasgow (the actual fountain is missing from this one).


When I finally made it to the harbour itself, it was time to take in the bronze discs in the pavement that represent the 1788 shoreline. These can be found on the eastern side of Circular Quay.

circular quay 1788 shoreline, walk on water walking tour, circular quay things to see
The bronze disks represent the 1788 shoreline, while a band of white granite represents the first constructed shoreline.


At this point of my walk, what had previously been a drizzle started to become a downpour, and ironically I was unprepared for actual water on this tour and had no umbrella, so I quickly sought out the Tank Stream Fountain in Herald Square and then retreated home. You can find it for yourself on the corner of Alfred Street and George Street.

tank stream sculpture, tank stream sculpture circular quay, circular quay fountain, walk on water walking tour
The settlement of Sydney was centred around a stream that emptied into Sydney Cove. This sculptural fountain is dedicated to the children that might have played there.


My walk may have been a simplified version of the Walk on Water tour but it didn't leave too much out. There were a few sites near Hyde Park that I haven't mentioned, and the stuff in the Botanic Gardens, but other than that, the rest of the walk was pretty much more examples of things already included, like old toilets, and I didn't really want to go to The Rocks or Wynyard just for that (and the public urinal in The Rocks is incorporated into the Colony History Walk, so I've seen it before anyway).

If anyone has done the whole walk though, I'd be interested to hear how it went for them.
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Why? It's one of the more interesting history walks I've done
When: Any day
Where: Throughout the City of Sydney
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Hi, you mentioned an app that has these walks. What is it called?
by thutc (score: 0|4) 1111 days ago
Fascinating article. I've lived in Sydney all my life and have just started to get out and walk around suburbs, to be a tourist in my own city. Many things are missed if we just hop into a car or use public transport to get from point A to point B. Good article.
by Faye (score: 3|1139) 1113 days ago
Do you know what I think would be awesome? If with every guide, you shared a Google Maps layer with all the places included. This would facilitate A LOT going around the spots suggested.
by secco (score: 0|2) 1114 days ago
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