Friday, June 23, 2023





Dawes Point is a suburb of the City of Sydney, located on the north-western edge of the Sydney central business district, at the southern end of Sydney Harbour Bridge, adjacent to The Rocks. At times Dawes Point has been considered to be part of The Rocks, or known as West Rocks, part of Millers Point, or part of it known as Walsh Bay.

Name Origin:

The promontory at the western end of Circular Quay was known to the Aboriginal people as Tar-Ra. It was chosen as the site for an observatory by Lieutenant William Dawes, who arrived with the first Europeans. Dawes came with a recommendation from the Astronomer Royal, Dr Nevil Maskelyne, and some instruments from the Board of Longitude, with which to study the heavens. The point was initially named Maskelyne Point, but as Dawes lived there while he was in the colony from 1788 until 1791, the area became known as Dawes Point.

Dawes kept the colony's first meteorological records here, and it was also here that Dawes pinned the town's first clock to a rock face. He encouraged friendship with local Aboriginal people, including a young girl Patyegarang, from whom he learned some of the language of the Cadigal people. Dawes's notebooks, held in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, remain one of the most precious records of the local language.

Marine Lieutenant William Dawes

Marine Lieutenant William Dawes had been sent to New South Wales to assist the military keep order in 1788. He was a cultured man, who took an avid interest in astronomy (the telescope at Dawes Point) and in the local Indigenous people and their languages. So much so, that when Pemulwuy killed Governor Phillip’s gamekeeper and the Governor ordered him to go on a punitive expedition against the natives, Dawes refused to go. He argued that the gamekeeper, John MacIntyre, had caused provocation to Aboriginal people around the harbour, and may have deserved his fate. In the event, Dawes was prevailed upon to go on the expedition, which proved utterly fruitless. Nevertheless, the bad blood this whole incident brought between Dawes and the Governor ultimately led to his leaving the colony in December, 1791.


From the earliest days of the colony it was a significant as the site of the first observatory and one of the earliest gun placements.

The 'Observatory' was a simple timber and shingle cottage. A powder magazine and primitive fort and gun emplacement were built not long after, though these soon fell into disrepair.

Dawes Point was the site of the first guns mounted in Sydney by Dawes in 1788, contained Sydney's first cemetery and later Dawes Point Battery. Walsh Bay was the site of Sydney's port facilities. The wharves have today been converted to apartments, theatres, restaurants, cafes and a hotel.

In 1819 Francis Greenway designed a castellated fort to replace the earlier structure, as part of the defences of the town. The fortunes of the harbour fortifications waxed and waned with changing perceptions of external threats, and following several upgrades this fort was eventually rendered obsolete by fortifications closer to the harbour heads.

Citadel at Sydney,c 1825

Fort Phillip, Flagstaff Hill, Sydney, c. 1841

In 1803, Fort Philip was built on the site under the direction of Governor Hunter to defend the new settlement against a possible attack by the French and also from rebellious convicts. The fort was never required to be used for any such purposes. In 1825 the eastern wall of the fort was converted to a signal station. Flags were used to send messages to ships in the harbour and to the signal station on the South Head of the harbour. The site was known as Flagstaff Hill during and after the Macquarie era.

The control of defence sites was handed over to the federal government following Federation, but Dawes Point was excepted as it clearly no longer had any real defence function. Because of its position, it has long been a popular spot from which to watch harbour regattas and fireworks displays.

In 1925 part of the fort was demolished, while part was used by the British firm Dorman & Long, builders of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bridge required the demolition of several rows of nearby houses as well, and once the bridge was built, the area below it became Dawes Point Park. Lower Fort Street, facing west Circular Quay, was once one of Sydney's premier streets. It ended up almost under the bridge, and the inhabitants of its large fine houses, now mostly offices or subdivided into flats, need to suspend conversation whenever a train rumbles over the bridge.

Up until 1906, a cannon was fired at Dawes Point every day at 1 pm – a useful marker of time for the town. The cannon was removed during the construction of the bridge, but replaced in the park in 1945.

One of the curiosities of the area is a much photographed 1880s cast iron urinal. It originally stood on Observatory Hill, but when the Sydney City Council removed it and proposed selling it off in the 1970s, there was a barrage of protest. Eventually the urinal reappeared in George Street, under the bridge. This location is also famous in working-class memory as one of the major pick-up points for wharfies who would assemble here and hope that their number would be called out, providing them with work on ships in port that day.

Urinal Observatory Hill 1968

By the 1840s, the people of Dawes Point and Millers Point were a maritime community in which rich and poor mixed more than elsewhere in Sydney. Wharf owners and traders lived and worked beside those who worked on the wharves and bond stores, as well as those who arrived and left on ships.

Only two of the merchant houses, built by and for the early wharf owners, survive. One is Walker's 50-foot wide villa built around 1825 and now part of Milton Terrace at 7-9 Lower Fort Street; the other is the home and offices of Edwards and Hunter, built in 1833 above their wharves which is where the Wharf Theatre now stands.

Mostly prosperous in its early years, the area was less desirable by the 1890s. At the beginning of the 20th century, the government compulsorily acquired all private wharves, homes and commercial properties in the Rocks, Dawes Point and Millers Point. Modern and efficient wharves with dual level access were built, as well as new accommodation for workers, such as the Workers Flats of Lower Fort Street designed by Government Architect Vernon.

In the 1960s and '70s, high-rise offices were proposed for the area, but Green Bans, supported by community and unions, helped thwart these plans.

Following the Green Bans, and its most prominent campaign, The Battle for The Rocks, urban planning included more community consultation. The Rocks Green Ban was lifted so the Sirius Building could be built to house those displaced by The Rocks redevelopment and to house members of the maritime community whose families had lived in The Rocks, Dawes Point and Millers Point since the earliest years of the Colony.

During 2014–18, the majority of the area's social housing was sold and its tenants left the Millers Point area. The NSW Government also sold the Sirius Building for redevelopment as private apartments.

Sydney Observatory today

Sydney Harbour Bridge from Observatory Hill in the rocks

Dawes Point and Sydney Cove from the Sydney Harbour Bridge shortly after its opening in March 1932

Pier One on Walsh Bay

Aerial view of Dawes Point from the east


Southern approach of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Dawes Point to the right.

Dawes Point Battery, 1870s
First permanent fortification in Sydney constructed on the site of Dawes' observatory. The current archaeological site below the southern pylon of the Harbour Bridge reveals a powder magazine, officer quarters, guardhouse and circular battery .

Sydney Cove from Dawes Point, by Joseph Lycett, 1817

Dawes Point battery, c1890.

Recent archaeological digs uncovered the underground sections of the fort which have been preserved by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. The partial restoration and interpretation of the archaeological remains of the fort, which include its powder magazine, gun battery and Officers' Quarters, give an impression of the fort's importance in the strategic defence of Sydney.

The current park was created after the completion of the Bridge and by the late 1930s five of the cannon from the battery were reinstated close to their original position as a reminder of the former battery. The site had an unexpected defence revival in 1941 when two anti-aircraft guns were mounted on top of the south pylon of the Harbour Bridge.

Archaeological test trenches excavated by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority in February 1995 revealed a potentially high rate of survival of remains of the battery. Further excavations uncovered the underground sections of the fort, which have since been restored by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. One of the fort's five cannon has been refurbished and reinstated to its original position. The fort's sandstone powder magazine has been fully restored with a combination of its original 2 tonne stones and recently quarried yellow-block sandstone from Pyrmont.

Nearby, the footings of the fort's adjoining Officer's Quarters have been exposed, creating a virtual floor plan. One of the fort's five cannon has also been refurbished and reinstated to its original position. The fort's sandstone powder magazine (below) has been fully restored.

Restored gunpowder room

In June 2001, while restoring the powder magazine, workers uncovered one of the concrete cable-saddles which was used to restrain the two-halves of the bridge during construction. The remains of the redundant saddle (below) have now been incorporated into the project and remains on permanent public display.

The above Georgian-style Old Colonial sandstone building incorporates parts of an original c. 1833 to c. 1835 dwelling house, the existing sandstone house was constructed in 1842 under the ownership of Joseph Farris. The sandstone building now known as “Darling House” was built by Joseph Farris in 1842, a period of great depression in Sydney. Darling House holds a particular historical, social and architectural significance due to its influence on the history and early social development of Millers Point and early colonial Australia. Darling House is distinctive as it is one of only a few remaining free standing dwellings in it’s area.

Image shows the townhouses in the Dawes Point area of Sydney more than a century ago

A historic house built by convicts more than 180 years ago has undergone a  multi-million dollar transformation and is now one of the most eye-catching homes in Sydney.  The Harbour Master's home in Dawes Point, Sydney was built in 1832, and sits just metres from the city's iconic harbour and bridge. Built by convicts, it has undergone a stunning multi-million dollar transformation and is now one of the most eye-catching homes in Sydney. When the heritage-listed property hit the market for the first time in more than a century in 2009, it was snapped up on a 99-year lease for $1,005,000.

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