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Sydney history - Parramatta Female Factory, Hyde Park Barracks, The Rocks

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The history of Sydney as a region goes back forever but the European settlement of this part of Australia began in earnest in the late 18th century. And it was a tough time, [a] because there were no facilities for the settlers and [b] because the majority of early arrivals - the boat people of the day - were convicts sent from Britain as a form of punishment. Much of their early impact has been lost but as the settlement expanded, permanent buildings were erected and thankfully, today, some remain. Once you know the story behind a building, history has a very real danger of becoming fascinating. Warning: do not continue reading if you wish to avoid becoming hooked on history.

The Parramatta Female Factory was its real name and the building exists today in the grounds of the Cumberland Hospital in North Parramatta. There is a society which seeks to preserve the building and tell its story; and what a story. It was created as a refuge for the many female convicts transported Down Under. It was a humble building to begin with and burnt down. Finally a new building was designed by Francis Greenway and what a story he could tell.

Greenway was a convict sent from England, worked hard, was pardoned and who went on to design scores of Sydney's first buildings - the Hyde Street Barracks, Government House and St James' Anglican Church in King Street are three living examples of Greenway's designs. So this top-notch architect also designed the current Female Factory. At one stage more than 1000 women were housed therein. It was a refuge, a jail, a factory [the first goods exported from Australia were produced in this venue] a hospital, a marriage bureau and more and when it closed it became a lunatic asylum. There were riots in the Female Factory and the basis for labour reform could well be traced to the conditions of the slaves, er, workers therein. There is enough history in this one building to keep you intrigued for ages.

The Hyde Street Barracks are another example of the design genius of Francis Greenway. The barracks were constructed to serve at first as a hostel for male convicts. These were men transported from England to work as labourers on projects Down Under. It was a downmarket B and B for crims. It's interesting that the building has now been given state, national and international recognition on the heritage listings of significant buildings. It took over from the Parramatta Female Factory when it admitted female residentsafter the chaps were asked to leave. It was even an asylum at one time.

The Barracks have been used as law courts and as government offices but in the 1980s the occupants were turfed out and the whole building turned into a museum - in part a museum of itself. Tourists and locals can now discover the life of the convicts who lived in this very building in the early days of Sydney Town.

The Rocks is an area in the heart of Sydney close to Circular Quay and the southern end of the famous coathanger bridge. It was a popular area in the early days of Sydney. There were many small houses, close to the docks, frequented by sailors and it was often the setting for poverty, disease and crime. The Rocks gets its name from the rocks, the sandstone used to build many of the houses. Its history is colourful to say the least.

Many of its buildings have been demolished and by the 1970s there was a push to get rid of the remaining original dwellings. Think of the real estate value of those houses. The developers moved in and the residents fought back. They recruited the union of builders' labourers and a green ban was slapped on the development. Tension and more tension. The end result is that the locals won and that's why you can stroll The Rocks today and still see many of the area's original houses.


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