It was hard to grow crops in Pyrmont, but easy to raise animals. Surgeon Harris made Ultimo a deer park. Others operated small dairies – often a shed and a couple of cows: five of Sydney’s 8 dairies in the 1890s were in Pyrmont, and one in John Street kept going into the twentieth century….

Operating 1937–1971. Demolished 1992. In the mid-twentieth century, a visitor to Bank Street – a busy thoroughfare bordered by small enterprises – would be amazed by a substantial building on the eastern side, not far from CSR. The building’s massive rectangular form, decorated with patterned pre-cast concrete tiles, could only evoke fantasies. One glimpse of…

Caneite factory

CSR was always alert to opportunities, and had the skilled engineers and the capital to grasp them. As well as sugar and industrial spirits, the company added a third string to its bow. The fibre that remains after sugar cane has been crushed – bagasse – can be used as fuel, but can also be…

CSR

CSR Main Office and Gatehouse

From modest beginnings in the 1870s, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) grew into an industrial giant with headquarters and refining capacity in Pyrmont, mines in Western Australia, sugar mills in Fiji, Queensland and New Zealand, chemicals in Western Sydney, and building materials everywhere. By the mid twentieth century it ranked second to BHP in…

Distilling vats on Jones Street, 1961

Distillation is a process used to separate a pure liquid from a mixture of liquids. It works when these liquids have different boiling points. Distillation is often used to separate ethanol – the alcohol in alcoholic drinks – from water, by heating the mixture to specific temperatures. Distilling in Pyrmont began as a by-product of…

Bread was a staple food in Sydney, so Macarthur built a windmill as early as 1807, to grind wheat into flour. That venture was premature, but when the train line from the country reached Pyrmont in the 1840s, millers grasped the opportunity to bring in wheat, grind it into flour, and sell it to the…

When City West Development Corporation (CWDC) planned the redevelopment of Pyrmont and Ultimo, they were impressed by the success of Canary Wharf, redeveloping derelict London docklands into a high-tech precinct. Happily for CWDC, they operated outside some of the usual procedures of government, and were free to court firms adopting modern technologies, notably IT and…

Metal working was prompted by the establishment of shipyards – Thomas Chowne by 1851 followed by Goodlet & Smith. In 1855 the Australasian Steam Navigation Company (ASNC) acquired Darling Island and built slipways and workshops. The need for metal workers then attracted Fyfes Iron Foundry in 1855 and the City Iron Works in 1865. During…

When electricity came to Sydney at the turn of the century, demand was immediate and expanded swiftly. Ultimo Power Station, commissioned in 1899, powered the inner city tram network. Continual technical improvements enabled Ultimo (and the White Bay power station) to cope with increasing demand until electric trams were withdrawn in the 1950s and the…

Pyrmont quarries flourished from the 1840s to the 1940s. They transformed the local landscape, and their distinctive sandstone created majestic public buildings in Sydney and other cities. The quarry-masters – notably Charles Saunders – brought stonemasons from Scotland and elsewhere, to operate the most up-to-date machinery. They patronised the earliest churches and public houses, and…

Sugar is a product that nobody needs but everyone wants, so it has been highly valued ever since 1788, when it was especially valuable in the form of rum. In the later nineteenth century, when cane sugar was grown in northern Australia and in Fiji, it was possible to extract sugar roughly from the molasses,…

Shipping was vital to the early colony, as transport was so much easier by water than by land. Shipbuilding was banned until 1813, to prevent convicts from escaping. After that, deep water sites around Darling Island and in Johnstons Bay soon attracted shipbuilders. Banfield & Allen built a schooner and a ferry, Bower & Drake…

It is impossible to overstate the symbolic as well as the real significance of shipping in Australia, a country ‘girt by sea’. British colonists arrived in world-class ships, and for many years relied absolutely on sea-borne supplies. They were not very impressed by the canoes in which Aboriginal people criss-crossed the harbour and caught fish….

Darling Harbour was the busiest port in Australia, employing hundreds of Pyrmont men. It was also Australia’s most turbulent worksite. The Maritime Strike broke out here in 1890, and here it was crushed. Stevedoring companies demanded cheap, casual labour and tension was inevitable. During the “Great Strike” of 1917 for example, wharfies struck to support…

Timber was essential from the first days of the colony. 14 carpenters sailed in the First Fleet, to build the houses and barracks the colonists would need, and to repair the wooden ships on which the community relied. As soon as they landed therefore, they began looking for timber. Pyrmont was an early target, but…

Railway yards to Darling Harbour 1932, City of Sydney archives

Private Transport Until the 1840s Pyrmont people travelled on foot, or in small boats. When draft horses were introduced to haul sandstone from the new quarries to building sites, it was common to see timber jinkers haul huge loads through the streets while people still walked to work, to school or to pubs. When CSR…

From the 1860s increasing volumes of wool passed through Sydney by rail from the interior to Darling Harbour. Throughout the 1880s, no fewer than twenty wool stores were built on the peninsula. At their maximum extent their floor space was over 100 acres (40 hectares), a third of the area of the peninsula. They became…