CSR Chemicals and Tullochs 1952


Driving through the Canada Bay suburb of Rhodes, it is easy to conclude that anything related to heritage has long since been over-ridden by factories and apartment blocks, and what remains is a soul-less landscape and an anonymous past.

Too often one reads of areas of historical interest being swept away in the haste to build more apartment towers (for reasons of both need and greed). Some may have been perceived as not having any cultural or architectural significance, so their removal is no loss. What this overlooks, is the importance of context. The demolition of one more nineteen twenties California-style bungalow may not attract much concern in the wider community; the erasure of a number of such cottages in a street changes the landscape. It is unrealistic to expect there will be no change and impractical to impose blanket bans on development. Achieving a balance is as much a political as an economic decision for local councils. As individuals, we need to reconcile these concerns ourselves and determine where the line should be drawn.

Another factor that tends to be overlooked is that heritage can add value to a property, both intrinsically as well as in monetary terms. Consider areas such as Paddington, Balmain or Surry Hills, once regarded as the least desirable places to live in Sydney. The resurrection of these suburbs has occurred through embracing their past and reconsidering how structures might be repurposed, rather than replacing them with something currently modern. The same trend is evident in Hobart’s Battery Point or in Collingwood, Fitzroy and Brunswick East in Melbourne.

One of the best ways to counter criticism that an area such as Rhodes lacks a sense of community, is to make those who move there aware of its history. It then acquires a sense of identity – a place people can relate to, rather than somewhere between where you came from and where you are going.

Rhodes House, home of Walker/Blaxland

Rhodes, despite its small size, has quite an interesting past. It is a story of change from a rural idyll to an industrial estate, of suburban housing to glass and steel towers. Pioneers such as the Walker-Blaxland, Llewellyn, Uhr and Bray families were an integral part of the early settlement of the peninsula. River front access encouraged the development of boat-building as well as the transport of produce to Sydney markets. The completion of the Great Northern Railway between Sydney – Newcastle, Hunter Valley and the Northern Rivers brought other industries including Robert Tullochs Phoenix Ironworks, which designed and built the world’s first double-decker train carriage for NSW Railways. Another manufacturer, Rider and Bell, made automobile parts and was notable as the only Australian company to manufacture brass firemen’s helmets.  

More recently, Rhodes has become a large shopping complex with a number of retail factory outlets, supermarkets, theatres, restaurants and cafes. The once polluted shoreline along Homebush Bay has been transformed into a park that adjoins Sydney Olympic Park. The State Timber Yard located on the western side of the Ryde Bridge was the reason this bridge has a central lift. The irony is that the lift was never used for this purpose. The timber yard closed in 1927 and the bridge, after numerous delays, was finally completed in 1935. The lift machinery was removed in the 1970s. The bridge is interesting for another reason. When an application was made by Ryde Council for a bridge to replace the punt that crossed the river from Uhr’s Point to Ryde Wharf (Shepherd’s Bay) the request was rejected by the State Government as too costly and not necessary. Instead, the government offered Ryde Council a loan to build the bridge, and permitted the Council to recoup its expenses by charging a toll. When this was finally paid in 1948, ownership of the bridge reverted to the Department of Main Roads and the toll was lifted. The walkway along the side of the bridge is still there.

It is said that all history is local and to better understand Australian History we need to start with our own background, be that in Australia or elsewhere. The new National History Syllabus recognises this by mandating the study of local history in primary school as an introduction to learning about Australia’s relationship with other countries in the secondary years. Mark Twain probably put it best when he said:

 “Australian history is … picturesque; It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. Full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true!”

Andrew West


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