Sydney stories

Sydney stories

Voices of Millers Point

A vivid picture of the past, with stories of homes being demolished to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and billycart races along the 'Hungry Mile'.

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Voices paint vivid picture of Millers Point's past

Stories of houses being demolished to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and billycart races along the ‘Hungry Mile’ are among a major collection of oral history interviews involving Millers Point residents now available for online listening.

The interviews with people, including a priest, a shopkeeper, waterside workers, a former Builders Labourers Federation unionist and the children of a publican, reveal many fascinating and colourful stories about the Millers Point community over the past 100 years.

Over 60 hours of oral histories across 79 digital audio tapes were recorded in 2005 for the Department of Commerce, and are being made available for the first time through the City of Sydney’s website.

The original recordings were produced by oral historian Frank Heimans, who said the interviewees had a strong sense of allegiance and belonging to the heritage-listed area.

Millers Point was first developed in the early 1800s and following the bubonic plague in 1902 was redeveloped with infrastructure and housing for the maritime industry and its workers.

The oral histories bring to life the shopkeepers, local characters and the day-to-day lifestyles of the people who lived there during the 20th century.

Harry Lapham recalls buying butter by the pound, tobacco sales banned on Sundays and long queues outside the bakery for Sargent’s meat pies. 

Another long-term resident, Alice Brown, who was born in 1917, remembers houses being pulled down to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and being one of the first to walk across it in 1932 despite it raining “cats and dogs”.

Son of a local wharfie, Des Gray, was born in 1944 and reminisces about the mischief he and other children enjoyed in and around the wharves, jumping on board ships, playing in the wool sheds and billy-carting along the “Hungry Mile”.

Historian Shirley Fitzgerald was also interviewed for the project and talks about the long-term impact of the bubonic plague on the area.

The original master tapes of the Millers Point oral history collection are archived by the State Library of NSW who, along with the NSW Land and Housing Corporation, supported the City’s project to make the interviews available online.

Millers Point was one of the first areas to be entirely listed on the State Heritage Register by the NSW Government, recognising its heritage significance and value to the people of NSW and Australia.

Image: The view from Observatory Hill in 1882 with Goat Island on right. City of Sydney Archives.  

Stories about our city

Looking for information for a school project about your local area? Curious about cultural aspects of the local area? Want some historical information about the city’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?

These resources provide a wealth of cultural history and knowledge about life in Sydney, including people, places, events, art, work, commerce, shelter and the environment. Through oral, written and pictorial documents, you can learn about neighbourhoods, citizens’ beliefs, their relationships with the community, and daily life in Sydney.

Sydney Barani

Named after the Aboriginal word of the Sydney language for ‘yesterday’, Sydney Barani provides histories of people, places and events in the local area that are associated with Sydney’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Dictionary of Sydney

All the different aspects of Sydney life, from the first arrival of people to the present, are documented through a collection of articles and photographs. 

Newtown Project

Brings together essays, photographs and other types of historical information that cover this colourful area of Sydney.

Sydney Oral Histories

Showcases the voices of Sydney people past and present, with interviews centred around themes including art and culture, shelter, built and natural environments, and work, commerce and industry.

Last updated: Friday, 18 September 2015