Is The Rocks too touristy for your liking? A glimpse into the lives of the past inhabitants might help you see beyond the crowds of the weekend markets and further your appreciation of this historical cobbled place. Mimi Wong walks The Rocks with the Australian Architectural Association and finds scandalous insights.
A place of early European settlement from an open-air gaol, to warehouses, sailors’ homes and dens, The Rocks has been transformed into quaint cafes, hip restaurants, eclectic boutiques, art galleries and museums contributing to the vibrant city of Sydney today.
My previous visit long-ago to the Rocks had been dampened by the maddening crowds at the Weekend Markets which I had sworn never to return. However, today I find myself waiting eagerly for the tour to start in the front of the juxtaposed modern building of boxes which is the new extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art. This random composition of boxes is incongruent to the historic stone-clad building next to it; and like the majority of the population, we either accept it or hate it. Without ambivalence, our guide explains the designer’s concept which is to preserve the integrity of its next-door neighbour by differentiation while also remaining true to itself. So with an enlightened mind, we started our journey.
Included in the walk itinerary was a stop at Dawes Point to examine the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. As an architectural graduate myself, this was quite a highlight as I have never known that the four impressive pylons supporting the bridge were purely decorative! What a jest to be told that they were not even in the original design and were only added to satisfy public concern about the structural integrity of the bridge!
A few more stops later, we came to a park for a sweeping vantage view of Barangaroo. As the guide explains the naming of ‘Barangaroo’ and its relation to ‘Bennelong Point’, I couldn’t help but start to envision the future of Sydney. From its humble birthplace at The Rocks to a new major development metamorphosing the City of Sydney into a city of the 21st Century with new residential, commercial, recreational and cultural precincts.
As we covered the kilometres, we had literally walked through history and changes in The Rocks. We were kept enthralled by the juicy tale of bigotry and scandals of its colourful past occupants. One place that had remained intact was the Susannah Place built in 1844 by Irish immigrants. This venerable piece of domestic architecture shows the tough living conditions endured by the working class early migrants.
As the saying goes, ‘time flies when you are having fun.’ The delightful leisurely stroll with a group of architectural enthusiasts and locals through the changing landscape quickly came to a close after 2 hours. As I proceeded to a new hip café for coffee, I find myself seeing The Rocks in a new perspective and saying: ‘I shall be back!’
- Article: Mimi Wong
- Images: Vincent Lam