City of Sydney Historical Association

Become a COSHA Member
You will receive:

  • A forward program of our monthly events
  • A Monthly Newsletter with a record of our speakers’ talks
  • Information on other History Events in NSW

Download New Membership Form


tr> tr> tr> tr> tr>
JULY 2023 JUNE 2023 MAY 2023
"Left Wingers and Bohemians of 20th Century Sydney" "Death by Demolition" "Ernest Shackleton and the seventh continent"
Speaker: Wayne Johnson Speaker: Helen Carter Speaker: Kevin Fitzpatrick

Archaeologist Wayne Johnson focused on the 20th century, with mentions of the art-cinema in the 1930s, touching on the Communists and ASIO but with an emphasis on the 1950s-1970s left wing push and the likes of Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, Margaret Fulton etc.

A lot of this centred on the Newcastle Hotel, one of Sydney’s best-known bohemian hotels, the haunt of artists, actors, entertainers and journalists.on the corner of George Street and Sussex Street.

Balmain archivist Helen Carter traced the history of demolished houses in the Balmain area (Balmain, Birchgrove, and Rozelle) from its earliest house (built c 1815) to an inter-war bungalow recently demolished in November 2021.

There are many examples varying from a marine villa to the humble iron house. Starting with the idea that the demolition of the houses was a crime, it soon becomes clear that there were various reasons for their destruction.

This interesting talk included photographs, advertisements and plans that give us evidence of what types of structures existed, their internal details and their owners or occupants were. A snapshot of life in a unique and early Sydney suburb in the 19th and 20th century.

Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), renowned Anglo Irish Antarctic Explorer never achieved his life goal to reach the South Pole. In 1915 his Imperial Antarctic Expedition foundered when his ship The Endurance sank in the Weddell Sea. His leadership skills enabled him to escape the ice against all odds with all 28 crew saved.

Shackleton's legacy was preserved photographically through Sydney-born Frank Hurley.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, with a background in leadership training and development and a love of history was captivated by Shackleton's achievement. In 2015 the centenary year of Shackleton's escape from the ice he travelled to Antarctica and followed part of Shackletofn's escape journey.

"Kathleen Muriel Butler - the godmother of the Sydney Harbour Bridge" "Treasure House - The Stuart Dawson Story" "Tooheys and their hotel interests"
Speaker: Bill Phippen Speaker: Geoff Nadin Speaker: Dr Lisa Murray

John Bradfield was, by his own proclamation, ably assisted in building the bridge by his ‘Confidential Secretary’. Much of her work would be considered engineering by any standard, although she was formally unqualified.The participation of women in all aspects of society, including engineering, developed greatly during the 20th century.

A young Australian woman, Kathleen Butler, was a pioneer in her time and well recognised in Sydney in the 1920s but is now largely forgotten. Despite great innate ability her career was stymied by the exclusion of married women from many occupations. We learnt of the work of this woman, and also something of the character of the man for whom she worked – Bradfield. He recognised ability and embraced it. He encouraged Butler and pushed her forward at every opportunity.

Author Geoff Nadin told the story of a once famous Australian family. In February 1998, in South Kensington, London an unremarked daath occurred of 75-year-old retired taxi driver David Stewart Dawson.

This was the same David who, fifty years earlier in Australia had inherited a life of privilege and luxury, lived at Sydney’s best addresses, married two beautiful women, and then lost it all in scandal and shame..

This is the story of the Stewart Dawsons: watchmakers and jewellers, Australian pioneers of Jazz Age popular culture. It’s also a story of marital duplicity and deception, hubris and abuse of privilege, hedonism, fraud, and criminal violence leaving a trail of victims and damaged lives, where there were few happy endings.

Dr Lisa Murray, the 2021 Hertzberg Fellow, has been exploring the business archive of Tooheys Limited held in the State Library of NSW.

Lisa shared some of her insights and discoveries from tapping these historical records, including the brewery's involvement in the "Tied-House System" to expand their market share. She demonstrated the digital mapping she has undertaken of Tooheys tied-hotels, based on data extracted from the collection.

This significant collection promises a deeper understanding of the way the breweries controlled the industry and influenced pub culture in New South Wales.

"Australia and The Pacific" "Heritage Houses on Parramatta River" "Beating France to Botany Bay"
Speaker: Ian Hoskins Speaker:Angela Phippen Speaker:Margaret Cameron-Ash

This revealing, sweeping narrative history begins with the shifting of the continents to the coming of the First Australians and, thousands of years later, the Europeans who dispossessed them. Hoskins explores colonists' attempts to exploit the riches of the region while keeping white Australia' separate from neighbouring Asians, Melanesians and Polynesians.

He examined how the advent of modern human rights and the creation of the United Nations after World War Two changed Australia and investigates our increasing regional engagement following the rise of China and concludes with the offshore detention of asylum seekers and current debates over climate change. Hoskins questions Australia's responsibilities towards our increasingly imperilled neighbours


In this illustrated talk historian and COSHA member Angela Phippen talked about the existing 19th century historic houses of the Ryde LGA. Last year she told us of many older houses that have been demolished over the last century. However you will be pleased to learn that many beautiful and important buildings have survived and are still in use. Angela showed us some of these houses and tell us their stories.


Margaret Cameron-Ash rewrites the history of the founding of modern Australia. It tells how the French had a jump start in the race for a Pacific empire, but English officials then launched their own pursuit around the globe. The contestants finally met in Botany Bay, with the French just five days too late. Behind the scenes, American explorers, spies and a future US President made contributions that assisted the winners and prevented the continent from becoming a French possession.

JULY 2022 JUNE 2022 MAY 2022
"THE TASMAN MAP: The Biography of a Map" "Rum: A Distilled History of Colonial Australia!" "Look Up Sydney!"
Speaker:Ian Burnet Speaker:Matt Murphy Speaker:Margaret Betteridge

Did you think that Captain Cook was the first European to map Australia and Matthew Flinders the first to circumnavigate? No Way!

Abel Tasman, the Dutch East India Company and the first Dutch discoveries of Australia.

Every visitor who passes through the vestibule of the Mitchell Library stops to admire the magnificent marble mosaic of the Tasman Map which fills the entire vestibule floor.

This story of the first Dutch voyages to discover Australia is set against the background of the struggle of the newly formed Dutch Republic to gain its independence from the Kingdom of Spain and the struggle of the Dutch East India Company for trade supremacy in the East Indies against its Portuguese, Spanish and English rivals. Abel Tasman was the first European to circumnavigate Australia despite the fact that for much of his travels he was not in sight of land. Historian and author Ian Burnet tells fascinating stories from this little known part of Australian history.

Could the Rum Rebellion have been averted if Major Johnston wasn't hungover?

Would the Eureka Stockade have been different if the rebels weren't pissed?

How were prisoners to get drunk if Macquarie closed the only pub in the gaol?

And why should sailors under fourteen be deprived of their sixteen shots of rum per day?

Questions like this are raised in Matt Murphy's account of Australia's colonial history. Brimming with detailed research and irreverent character sketches, Rum looks at not just how much was drunk in colonial Australia (a lot!), but also the lengths people went to get their hands on it, the futile efforts of the early governors to control it, and the often disastrous and/or absurd consequences of its consumption.


While we are familiar with our city at street level, how often do we look up above our heads? When we do, what can we see? From sculpture to statues, stained glass to sandstone, flags to faces, there are fascinating details in some surprising places when you Look Up Sydney. This illustrated talk by curator Margaret Betteridge brang a new level of exploration, curiosity and greater respect for the architectural vision which has brought ornament to our landmark buildings. Margaret Betteridge manages the City of Sydney’s Civic Collection, a fascinating collection of artworks, furnishings, memorabilia and official gifts. Using historical and contemporary artworks in the City’s Civic Collection, she inspired us all to Look Up Sydney!

"The mighty Sunderland Flying Boat - in War and Peace" "Riches to Rags and Riches Again – the Story of Surry Hills" "The Convict Valley"
Speaker: Denis Smith Speaker: Dick Whitaker Speaker: Mark Dunn
In 1939 10 Squadron went to England to collect nine brand new Sunderland flying boats and to fly them back to Australia. War broke out just as they arrived in England so Australia loaned the nine flying boats and all their crews to RAF Coastal command. They spent the whole war chasing and sinking U Boats in the South Atlantic. In peace time flying boats operated from Rose Bay. A trans-Tasman flying boat service began in April 1940 which at its peak, saw a fleet of four Sandringhams servicing the route and making the seven hour crossing to Auckland. Services to Lord Howe Island, Fiji and Tahiti were introduced The final commercial flight from Rose Bay, an Ansett service to Lord Howe Island, left on 10th September 1974, closing a brief but important chapter in Australia's aviation history. The site of the Rose Bay flying boat terminal is today used by a company offering joy rides in a float plane.
The story of Surry Hills is one of the more remarkable tales of Sydney. In the early days the suburb attracted some of the “Colonial Gentry” of the time and during the 1840’s Surry Hills had become a desirable residential area. The gold rush of the 1850’s saw a massive population boom across Sydney with increased housing pressure for Surry Hills and by 1890 the area had become virtually built out. Surry Hills became widely described as a “slum”, with “blighted living conditions”. The winds of change arrived in the 1950’s with a major influx of post war migrants – the Greeks, Italians and Lebanese, who purchased many of the cheap old terraces - that they then refurbished. During the 70’s and 80’s young urban professionals joined the party, enjoying the proximity to the city and the fascinating lifestyle of residing in renovated 19th century terraces. By the 1990’s, Surry Hills was back on the rich-listers agenda, with the much-despised terraces of the past attracting 7 figure sums. Today Surry Hills is a diverse cosmopolitan suburb well known for its art galleries, antique dealers, cafes and pubs, fashion and rag trade outlets. A wonderful outcome for a unique area.

The Hunter Valley north of Sydney is not remembered for its convict past. And yet the convict history of the Valley reaches back to the earliest years of the British colony in NSW. Escaping convicts were the first British subjects to visit and live in the area, and from 1804 Newcastle was established as a permanent convict outpost.

Shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Australian History 2021 The Convict Valley (Allen & Unwin 2020) explores this early convict history and the interactions with local Aboriginal populations that shaped the story of the Hunter Valley from the first encounters until the end of the convict era in the 1840s and 1850s.

JUNE 2021 MAY 2021 APRIL 2021
"The Cato Street Conspiracy : The Australian Connection"  "In her own Image: Greek-Australian Women" "Sydney Public Sculptures"
Speaker: Kieran Hannan Speakers: Leonard Janiszewski & Effy Alexakis Speaker: Robijn Alexanda
Little known in Australia now the Cato Street group is in the top three groups of conspirators caught in their attempts to change Britain into a people’s republic and free Ireland. Eleven conspirators were tried for high treason and sentenced to death by being 'hung, drawn and quartered'. They were the last in England to ever receive this penalty, and the last in the 1800s to be convicted of high treason.However, the King respited these harsh sentences to 'hanging and beheading' for five, 'transportation for life' for another five, and 6 months' imprisonment for one.
The stories of Greek-Australian women over almost 200 years reveal and revel in individual and collective successes, failures, hopes and dreams, of an Australia of challenges, a Greece of memory and a faith in the unfolding of a potentially unlimited future. This presentation attempts to instigate a detailed inquiry into a historical understanding of Greek-Australian women.

We have an enduring fascination with the gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome, and this talk was a look at public sculptures in Sydney depicting these characters and Greek myths. Sculptures are spread throughout Sydney city, Hyde Park and the Botanical Gardens.
Robijn Alexanda is an Art Historian with a special interest in religious art and symbols and she gave us a completely different look at the sculptures in our city.

 "William Wilkinson Wardell - The Pope's Architect in Australia" "When the country comes to the City" "Demolished Houses of the Parramatta River"
  Speaker: Shirley Fitzgerald Speaker: Angela Phippen
William Wilkinson Wardell designed more than 60 Roman Catholic churches in England and Australia. These churches were built in the Gothic Revivalist style popularised by Augustin Pugin, who himself designed over 70 Catholic churches including 5 cathedrals in the UK.Among Wardell’s most notable Australian buildings are St Patrick’s in Melbourne and St Mary’s in Sydney- Australia’s only two heritage cathedrals of international architectural quality. In Sydney, Wardell designed St Mary’s Cathedral and St John’s College at Sydney University. In Melbourne, he designed Government House, the Mint and Customs House. He was one of the 400 civil servants who were dismissed from their government positions on the infamous 1878 ‘Black Wednesday’.

Shirley is involved in a long running campaign to save the Huskisson Anglican church site from over development. Her story involves 2 acres of land, 3/4 of it Anglican, 1/4 of it the local Aboriginal Land Council and it is a ripper of a story involving a Cyril Blacket Church, indigenous graves, and some lovely old trees. It also includes political intrigue, community commitment and religious bigotry. Being a dyed-in-the-wool urban historian long at home in the middle of Sydney, she told of her unexpected journey into new ways of looking at history.

In this illustrated talk historian Angela Phippen discussed the history and demise of five prominent houses that graced the Parramatta River, in the modern day Ryde Local Government Area.

"A Sydney Wildman - the John Norton Story" "The building of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge" Closed due to Covid-19
Speaker: Dick Whitaker Speaker: Bill Phippen  
Cyril Pearl’s book “The Wild Men of Sydney ” was about John Norton, Patrick Crick and William Willis – all crooked politicians who were heavily involved in the land scandals of the 1890’s and 1900’s. In addition to his political activities Norton achieved notoriety in a very different way. He became extremely rich through his media ownership of “Truth” newspaper a weekly scandal sheet. His story is a tragedy, that saw him become one of Australia’s first populist media figures, but despite his enormous wealth ended with the wreckage of his family as his descent into alcoholism inexorably took ove.r In this look at the life and Times of John Norton, amateur historian Dick Whitaker draws from several sources: Cyril Pearl’s “The Wild Men of Sydney” is a must for anyone interested in the Norton story. In addition extensive use has been made of articles in contemporary newspapers – including the writings of Norton himself and cartoons that were used in “Truth” under Norton’s direction
When the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was completed in May 1889 it was the last link in a continuous railway network connecting areas north of Brisbane through Sydney and Melbourne to Adelaide and beyond. It was a necessary pre-requisite for federation and Henry Parkes said as much in his speech at the opening. The reason that a structure, almost within the suburbs of Sydney, was the last to be built, on a railway which stretched for thousands of miles, was the immense engineering difficulty of the site. At the time of opening it was an internationally acclaimed wonder, having the deepest foundations of any bridge in the world. Built by American contractors, Sam Ryland and Edwin Morse, they took a scrap book a & photo albums of their work home at the end of the job. 125 years later Bill Phippen tracked the albums down in Kansas City & Washington from where high resolution scans of the images were prepatriated and these inspired a book about the whole saga. In 2019 The Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was recognised by Engineers Australia with the Colin Crisp Award for documentation of engineering heritage.

Closed due to Covid-19 Closed due to Covid-19 Closed due to Covid-19
JUNE 2020 MAY 2020 APRIL 2020
Closed due to Covid-19 Closed due to Covid-19 Closed due to Covid-19




"Iconic Australian Inventions" "Tall Tales - Stranger than fiction" "The Stony Ground: The Remembered Life of Convict James Ruse"
When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788, they came to stay and to transplant from Britain an array of fully fledged methods and institutions. Australia’s isolation and distinctive geography and climate however forced the new settlers to change their ways and would continue to stamp Australian innovation with a distinctive character of its own. The national characteristics that brought the British to Australia rapidly became the basis for one of the greatest divergences between the homeland and the colony, many innovations and inventions of the day being now being used in our daily lives and taken for granted. We had a look at some of these iconic Australian discoveries and inventions from the 19th century colonial era through to our present time, some coinciding with the country’s post-war housing boom as demand for homes on quarter-acre blocks in the suburbs escalated. Chemist Ian Thompson worked in Australia and overseas in the formulation of chemical products and holds a number of patents to his name.
A bit of a tradition with the City of Sydney Historical Association, each year we have some of our COSHA members presenting some of the stranger stories from the past. This year three different COSHA members presented.

Betty Candy: ‘The strange Antecedents of the Dog on the Tuckerbox’

Ruth Saunders: "AFTRS and Elephants"

Celeste Radcliff: ‘Australia’s Prince of Thieves’

Cornish convict James Ruse was reputedly the first man to step ashore in 1788, carrying an officer on his back. He was put in charge of other convicts at the first settlement farm and among the first pardoned. At Experiment Farm in Paramatta became the continent’s first settled farmer – the first ex convict to be granted land – marrying Elizabeth Parry, the first woman to be emancipated. A few years later Ruse establishes plot number one on the banks of the Hawkesbury bringing himself into direct conflict with Aboriginal people. Michael Crowley’s historical novel The Stony Ground: The Remembered Life of James Ruse explores why this farm labourer repeatedly finds himself on the cusp of history

  Jane & Darcy "Murder, manslaughter, suicide, mishap"
"Remembering the Magic of Childhood" "Folly is not always Folly" & Annual General Meeting
Children find magic in so many things because their imagination knows no boundaries. In this fascinating illustrated talk, cultural historian, Warren Fahey, shared some of the songs, stories, games and traditions he has collected over the past fifty years. His next book, ‘A Hop, Skip & a Jump’, to be published early 2020, surveys how Australian children have been entertained over the centuries in both the bush and cities.

Did Jane Austen (1775-1817) have an Australian connection? In ‘Jane & D’Arcy’, Australian author Wal Walker makes this groundbreaking claim. ‘Jane and D’Arcy’ is the history of Jane Austen and a young Irish surgeon D’Arcy Wentworth. ‘Folly is not always Folly’ tells the story of their first meeting, family connections, their romance and adventures, and their separation, on the eve of D’Arcy’s departure for New South Wales.

Wal Walker is a grandson of D’Arcy Wentworth’s great grandson. He has written his family’s untold story of D’Arcy and Jane Austen. Wentworth (1762-1827) was the love of her life. Through a close reading of Austen and a deep knowledge of Wentworth’s life, Walker demonstrates where and when they might have met, and what brought them together.

Murder in colonial Sydney was a surprisingly rare occurrence, so when it did happen it caused a great sensation.
People flocked to the scene of the crime, to the coroner's court and to the criminal courts to catch a glimpse of the accused. Most of us today rarely see a dead body. In nineteenth century Sydney, when health was precarious and workplaces and the busy city streets were often dangerous, witnessing a death was rather common. And any death that was sudden or suspicious would be investigated by the coroner.
Catie Gilchrist explored the nineteenth century city as a precarious place of bustling streets and rowdy hotels, harbourside wharves and dangerous industries. With few safety regulations, the colourful city was also a place of frequent inquests, silent morgues and solemn graveyards. This is the story of life and death in colonial Sydney.

"The Holtermann Goldfields Collection" "Taronga Park Zoo - A History" "Her Mother's Daughter - a memoir"

In 1951, 3,500 glass plate negatives in cedar boxes were found in a garden shed in Chatswood. This extraordinary discovery turned out to be the most complete record of the goldfields era anywhere in the world. Bernhardt Holtermann commissioned the photographs after finding the world’s biggest specimen of reef gold at his Star of Hope mine in 1872. The plates were donated to the Mitchell Library in 1952. Patrick Dodd from the Library told us the fascinating story behind the Holtermann Collection and showed us some of the fascinating images from that time 

In 1916 and following 60 years of deliberation, frequent acrimonious debate and occupying diverse locations embracing the Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park, Moore Park and Billy Goat Swamp, Sydney’s zoo found itself settling on the southern slopes and shores of historic Bradleys Head. The zoo’s subsequent 100 year journey, and one not without its challenges, saw the creation and development of a nationally and globally renowned conservation enterprise and one arguably occupying the planet’s most striking and breathtaking zoological locations. During his 25 year association with Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoo, speaker Guy Cooper fielded a range of responsibilities. Linked initially to a major sponsorship and later Board member and Deputy Chairman, he chaired the Finance and Marketing Committees prior to occupying the role of Director and Chief Executive from 1998 to 2009. His connection continues in the role of an Executive Patron of the Taronga Foundation.

Nadia Wheatley is an Australian Writer whose publications range from biography and history to fiction and picture books. The Life and myth of Charmian Clift was the only biography to have won the Australian History prize, NSW Premier’s History awards. More than just a memoir, Her Mother’s Daughter is a social history of the challenges many Australian women faced in their careers and marriages during the first half of the 20th century.

JUNE 2019 MAY 2019 APRIL 2019
"By Muscle of Man and Horse"  "National Trust Heritage Festival 2019" "The Eveleigh Payroll Robbery of 1914"
In 1916 John Bradfield began building for Sydney one of the first underground railway in the world, and certainly the first in Australia. Although the technology of the railway itself was cutting edge for its time, the methods of tunnelling and construction were still ancient – the muscles of men and horses. A chance discovery by Sydney Trains staff in 2017 of a long-lost photo album at NSW State Archives produced a set of 1500 excellent images. Bill Phippen, civil engineer, long term admirer of the City Railway and at that time manager of the Australian Railway Historical Society archives will describe the history of the work. Since the railway was built in an existing city, the engineering images unavoidably capture the streets, parks and buildings, thoroughly destroyed in the process, which were the site of the works.

David Hunt's first book "Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia" won the Australian 2014 Indie Award for Non-Fiction Book of the Year. Girt is four parts narrative Australian history and one part satire and encourages even readers with no knowledge of Australian history to read and enjoy. “True Girt, volume 2 of The Unauthorised History of Australia”, was published in 2016 and continues Australian history in the same light vein. David is a most entertaining speaker and held us spellbound with his interpretation of our history.

Famous as the first time in Australia that an automobile had been used as a “getaway” vehicle, the Eveleigh railway payroll robbery of 10th June 1914 created a sensation in Sydney. The police identified a few strong suspects, including well-known criminals Ernest “Shiner” Ryan and Samuel “Jewey” Freeman, who were subsequently charged over the affair. Freeman’s girlfriend at the time was another underworld identity, Kate Leigh. This rather bizarre story, deep from the Sydney underworld of yesteryear, was recounted by amateur historian Dick Whitaker, who has a special interest in Surry Hills and the events around Sydney during the First World War.

"Harold Cazneaux, Pictorialist Photographer" "The Halvorsen Story" "Australia's Centenary 1888"

Sue Rosen examined Harold Cazneaux’s (Caz) life as an artist, his practice and our treatment of heritage sites reflective of the historic associative criteria. Responsible for many iconic images of Sydney in the early 20th century, Caz was internationally acclaimed as a photographer.In 2016, Sue Rosen and Roy Lumby undertook a Heritage Assessment of Caz’s home and studio at Roseville which was the subject of a development application for alterations and additions.

While the garden has been lost through subdivision, his house and studio are remarkably intact.

Noel Phelan, long time guide and presenter from the Australian National Maritime Museum told us the story of the Halvorsen family, who came to Australia with very little and worked very hard to build a better life. However they did more than that - they showed extraordinary commitment to boat building and excellent craftsmanship and boat design skills that made their boats highly desirable. They also demonstrated outstanding seamanship by sailing their yachts with great success. Halvorsen yachts won back to back handicap honours three times in the Sydney Hobart race and they also built and raced the first Australian challenger for the America's Cup - GRETEL for Frank Packer.

We had a spectacular celebration of the Bi-Centenary in 1988,but Mary Small told us the story of what happened 100 years earlier. During 1888, the year of Australia’s Centenary, the city of Sydney offered wonderful and amazing entertainments by the seaside for the public at Manly, Coogee and Bondi. The innovation of bathing machines at Coogee Beach was also an item of great interest! Sydney was caught up in the celebration of the first hundred years of British settlement in Australia. A fortnight of festivities all over Sydney included band contests, a cricket match, the dedication of Centennial Park and a Government House dinner. But as usual for Sydney residents the focus was on the beaches!!.

"Enterprise and Diversity: Greek-Australian Occupational Pursuits Beyond the Greek cafe 1810s to Present" "A Walk around Pioneer Memorial Park" "Cartographica - Sydney on the Map"
From the late nineteen century until the closing decades of the twentieth century, Greeks played a large part in Australia’s food catering industry. They continued, nevertheless, to enter a wide variety of occupations. This presentation firmly challenged the entrenched, popular stereotype of Greek-Australians as being historically defined as essentially a collection of fish’n’chip shop owners and café and milk bar proprietors. Rather, their complex and broad involvement in Australia’s mainstream development over the last two hundred years is clearly revealed, acknowledged and celebrated .

Ken Hall took us to the First Fleeters’ Memorial that is part of the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park. It was previously known as Botany Cemetery. The Heritage section began as the ‘Pioneer Memorial Park’ that was established through the dedicated effort of Mr Fred W. Read and contains many surviving memorials that were transported in 1901 from earlier burial grounds in Sydney. Pioneer Memorial Park is a heritage listed landmark of NSW, where memorials of early pioneers and prominent citizens of the colony of New South Wales still stand today - there are 746 surviving memorials of the many that were transported from the early burial grounds of Sydney in 1901.

This talk by the City's Curator, Margaret Betteridge previewed some of the fascinating research she has undertaken for a new exhibition about mapping our City, scheduled to open at Customs House in late November 2018. This exhibition will showcase different methods of finding our way across our city - from the tracks, language, stars and seasons which Aboriginal people have used for thousands of years to the hand-drawn outlines of first European settlement, along with maps of Sydney that respond to the many different ways we move around to live, work and play in our city, and is sure to appeal to everyone who loves maps and the history of Sydney.

"George Hedgeland - Stained Glass Artist and Sydney Surveyor" "Sydney Postcards: History Through the Mail" "The role of the pub in 19th Century Sydney"
Angela Phippen told us the story of George Hedgeland who like many other 19th century migrants came to Australia for a new or better life.George was an English artist and stained glass artist who became a pastoralist in Queensland and later a surveyor of Sydney streets.
George had an extraordinary and varied life and his work litereally reflected the poignant and sometimes tragic story of some of the people commemorated in his windows.

Robert Mills showed us the changing faces of Sydney throughout the years from his vast collection of postcards. 100 years ago the postcard was a prime means of communicating with friends and business associates. Multiple mail deliveries per day ensured that messages sent in the am would be delivered in the pm (same day). Cards were also often produced for business use and advertised all manner of activities and products. Maps also appeared on cards. Often the only communication with family members from home the cards that remain tell history as it happened on the other side of the world

Shirley Fitzgerald, well known public historian and ex City of Sydney historian, talked about the hotels that formed the centre of the community for many in the 19th century. They are fascinating places on which to hang some good local social history. Shirley has written two books about pubs in Ultimo and Pyrmont, but also has much to tell about the place of the pub in 19th century Sydney society generally.

JUNE 2018 MAY 2018 APRIL 2018
"TALL TALES - STRANGER THAN FICTION" "Australian Heritage Festival- The Good Old Bad Old Days" "The 1857 Dunbar Disaster"

Angela Phippen, Dennis Dostine and John Brooks with their strange and probably true stories.

There was Q & A session after the speakers presented which was both entertaining and provoking.

Warren Fahey, cultural historian, author, broadcaster and performer told us the stories of the 2011 post code of Sydney’s inner-east that offers a fascinating history of Sydney’s high life, low life and, sometimes, very low life. All five precincts are alive with curious history. Warren delivered an eclectic romp through the social history of Sydney’s most famous neighbourhood from scenic roller-coaster rides at Rushcutter Bay’s White City amusement park; maritime mischief down at the ‘Loo; the scandal of ‘peeping Toms’ at Elizabeth Bay; and memories of cabaret’s greats at the Silver Spade in Potts Point, to the origins of the darker side of Kings Cross..

John Lanser, researcher and historian, told us the story of Sydney’s most famous wreck. On the night of 20 August 1857, while Sydney slept, the Dunbar arrived off Port Jackson in a rising south-easterly gale. Shortly after midnight breakers were sighted ahead and the vessel, now on a lee shore, was carried side on to the rocks between the lighthouse and The Gap. Within minutes the hull began to break up, all 63 passengers and all but one of the 59 crew perishing, but not until next morning, when bodies and wreckage were sighted floating into the harbour, did the young colony become aware of the disaster.

"Surviving the 20th Century: The Rocks 1900-2000" "Cooks River - An Unnatural History" "Cruising about town - The history of the motor car in Sydney"
The Rocks and adjacent areas of Sydney Harbour fell under the ownership of the NSW Government after 1900. Plans to redevelop the area were achieved with limited success up to World War 1, and thereafter events such as the Great Depression, the Harbour Bridge and the Green Bans left their mark. Wayne Johnson focused on some of the people, places and policies that shaped the history of The Rocks and its significant place in the development of legislation to protect the State’s heritage.

The Cooks River has been the subject of extensive pollution since settlement. The latest in a long line of human transformations of the river concerns the inundation of unsightly plastics but the river has been abused forever. Flotillas of human refuse that travel up and down with the tides. The point of using heritage is to raise awareness of the river as a resource for the people of the region. Unless the area is looked after, and that connections between people and river are re-made, the river will continue to be treated as a dump. Most people do not know it exists, and, if they do, many outsiders regard it as a muddy drain.

This looked at the transition from horses to cars and the massive transformation this produced on our urban landscape. We look at the immense extent and pace of this revolution through a series of photographs that range from 1900 to 1970 – a time during which our streetscapes were changed forever. Dick Whitaker, weatherman and historian told this exciting story.

"Palace of Tears" "What Sydney might have been: the city that could have been....." "Law and Order in Sydney 1788-1800" and Annual General Meeting

Extensive historical research forms the background to Julian Leatherdale’s debut novel set in the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath. Julian shared some surprising stories that he uncovered about this iconic hotel that was opened in 1904 by the wealthy retailer Mark Foy originally as hydropathical sanatorium including the strange but true history of the hotel and the shocking reality of the interment of Germans in NSW during World War Two.

There were many dreams in early colonial Sydney for a world standard city and many ambitious plans were made by the Governors and architects of the time, only to be dashed by interference from the old Country and the representatives who arrived out here. Ken Hall spoke about the buildings roads and other structures that might have been.  

Held in the Treasury Rooms at Sydney Town Hall, Historian Cathy Dunn reviewed some of the cases brought before the Court and Magistrate's Bench in Sydney, their outcomes and punishments. Matters include theft, drinking, rape, escape and debts. Colonial sentences consisted of lashes, executions, transportations to Norfolk Island and others.

JOHN MACARTHUR - "Visionary or Villain" SYDNEY CEMETERIES - A Field Guide ST PHILIPS - CHURCH HILL 3 York Street

John McArthur

Speaker in Cemetary

St Philips Church

Macarthur is remembered by most people for laying the foundations of the great Australian wool industry. In fact he spent so much time away from home fighting Governors and facing a court martial in England, his practical achievements owe a very great deal to the persistence and loyalty of his wife and sons. He was a complex character. Some saw him as scheming and devious with disdain for any official who dared to thwart his ambitions. Others saw him as a brilliant publicist and organiser who did much to focus and promote attention to the potential of the colony. Patrick Dodd is a volunteer guide at the State library of NSW, the Australian Maritime Museum and HM Bark Endeavour.

It might seem like a strange thing to do but City of Sydney Historian Dr Lisa Murray compares a visit to a cemetery to visiting a sculpture park or museum and encourages everyone to visit cemetaries like they visit their local park. Lisa talked about her new book and told us some of the strange and interesting stories of many of Sydney's cemeteries and the people buried there. The ultimate handbook - from crowded inner-city plots to spacious burial grounds in semi-rural spots. Cemeteries are not simply places for the dead - they are designed for the living.

COSHA members had a conducted tour of one of Sydney’s earliest churches, the original church was built by orders of the colony's first chaplain, the Reverend Richard Johnson, using convict labour in June 1793. The wattle and daub construction church was later burnt down by convicts in 1798. The current church is the second church building on Church Hill, and was designed by Edmund Blacket. It was built 1848-56. The Church contains interesting objects from the First Fleet onwards.

JUNE 2017 MAY 2017 APRIL 2017
"TALL TALES - STRANGER THAN FICTION" Interpreting the Great Strike at Eveleigh Workshops in 1917


Phillip Black, Beryl Davis and Robert Hutchinson with their strange and probably true stories.

There was Q & A session after the speakers presented which was both entertaining and provoking.

Eveleigh Railway Workshops was a centre for one of Australia’s largest industrial conflicts in the early 20th century. Known as the Great Strike it is a great example of the voice of the people making sure that their voice is heard. The Great Strike began on 2nd August 1917 when the employees at Eveleigh and Randwick Tram Workshops downed tools in protest against new working conditions imposed during a time of war.
Laila Ellmoos told us about these troubled times and how these stories are being retold in photographs and other media at a special centenary exhibition at Carriageworks during July and August.

Peter Edwards is a member of Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) and also one of the earliest members of City of Sydney Historical Association. He was a committee member for several years, only resigning when he needed more time to finish his book. After many years of research, Peter Edwards has completed his book, The Convict Lottery.

The books has been reviewed by Christine Yeats, Senior Vice President of RAHS and a book note has been published in the March edition of the History magazine.

Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History A Very Rude Awakening RUSSELL WORKMAN: IMAGES OF SYDNEY: 1960's.

Sydney photographer Frank Hurley captured the first images of Antarctic heroes, World Wars, phenomenal landscapes and mysterious natives in far away jungles, seizing the imagination of all who saw them.
His granddaughter Toni Hurley will tell us about the man regarded as a fearless explorer, master story-teller and creator of some of the most enduring and extraordinary images of the twentieth century.

This year will mark the 75th anniversary of  the Japanese midget submarine raid on Sydney.  Three midget submarines crept

into Sydney Harbour on 31 May 1942, determined to sink the American cruiser USS Chicago. However they didn’t get very far. This is a true but farcical story of what happened to the submarines, and worse, how we –the Australians and Americans- handled the situation.

It is the most amazing narrative of our closest brush with invasion .

Presented by Peter Grose, who is a former journalist, literary agent and publisher and has written several acclaimed books. 

Russell Workman is a professional photographer who worked at both the Nicholson Museum and the Department of Archaeology at the University for many years specialising in the photography of artefacts. He has taught TAFE courses but today he concentrates on heritage photography projects. This will be a brand new exhibition of Sydney heritage photography.

Hitler’s lost Spy Governor Phillip: Sailor Mercenary, Governor Spy HILARY BELL: THE HISTORY OF SYDNEY IN VERSE:

This is the remarkable story of the Swiss born Nazi spy, Annette Wagner who arrived in Sydney in March 1938 and departed Australia in February 1940.

Less than 4 months after arriving in Australia in 1938, she acquired espionage’s greatest communication asset — broadcasting her own programs on public radio to nationwide audiences — a secure channel for transmitting coded messages.

Overlooked in the National Archives for nearly seventy years, the story of the broadcasting spy may now be told. 
This is not just an academic study. Greg Clancy’s uncle knew Wagner and flew her to Newcastle, unaware she was taking aerial photographs of the city’s its steel works during the flight.

Presented by Michael Pembroke - writer, naturalist and judge of the Supreme Court of NSW

Having selected Botany Bay as the replacement for their former North American colonies and as the place to transport prisoners from Britain’s overcrowded gaols, they adopted a new enlightened attitude which would see New South Wales offer their convict population the opportunity to redeem themselves and become model settlers in a new land. In choosing Arthur Phillip to help plan and implement this new policy, history shows us that the British Government chose the right man.

Not only did he successfully lead the biggest and longest fleet transporting convicts through largely uncharted waters ever attempted to that time, but he did so with minimal loss of life due to his policies and practices to protect all concerned from the diseases normally endemic on long sea voyages.

This is a beautifully crafted and entertaining history of unexpected ‘firsts’ that have happened in Sydney. From the first use of ether by a dental surgeon, to Quong Tart’s first tea rooms, the book explores a number of people, places and events that have shaped our city today.

Written in witty short rhymes, we also learnt about the first pistol duel in 1788, the first cemetery in 1792 and the first traffic light in 1933. Towards the end there is a ‘second helpings’ section which elaborates more information on the stories explored in the book.

Hilary Bell is an Australian writer of stage, fiction, radio, screen, and theatre. Bell is a graduate of NIDA, the Australian Film Television and Radio School, and the Juilliard Playwrights’ Studio. She writes in many different areas including stage, fiction, radio, screen, and theatre.



A talk by Dr Catherine Bishop, Research Officer, Dean's Unit - School of Humanities & Comm Arts at the University of Western Sydney.





The razor gangs of Surry Hills and their female figureheads – Kate Leigh and Tilley Devine – have gained notoriety in 21st century popular culture as the epitome of Sydney’s organised crime. But local crims in Erskineville and Alexandria were equally notorious and violent. City Historian Lisa Murray shared some of her latest research on gambling, sly-grog and crime in the suburbs of Erskineville and Alexandria, drawing up the City’s oral history collection.






There are few memorials to colonial businesswomen, but if you know where to look you can find many traces of their presence as you wander the streets of Sydney. From milliners anddressmakers to ironmongers and booksellers; from publicans and boarding-house keepers to butchers and taxidermists; from school teachers to ginger-beer manufacturers: these women have been hidden in the historical record but were visible to their contemporaries.
Catherine Bishop brought the stories of these entrepreneurial women to life, with fascinating details of their successes and failures, their determination and wilfulness, their achievements, their tragedies and the occasional juicy scandal. Until now we have imagined colonial women indoors as wives, and mothers, domestic servants or prostitutes.Her book sets them firmly out in the open.

Most Sydneysiders have no idea we have our very own ship’s graveyard in Homebush Bay. They were all abandoned at the end of their useful lives mostly in the 1970s and now adorn the landscape at what is now Wentworth Point. These wrecks are also a photographer’s dream come true. As well as the old ships there, many items of maritime structures still are clinging on the shoreline.

COSHA Committee Member Betty Candy heard about these wrecks and, with a camera, decided to investigate.


JULY 2016 JUNE 2016 MAY 2016




To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Botanical Gardens COSHA arranged a guided tour for members and friends.
The Botanic Gardens were founded on this site by Governor Macquarie in 1816 as part of the Governor's Domain. Australia's long history of collection and study of plants began with the appointment of the first Colonial Botanist, Charles Fraser, in 1817. The Botanic Gardens is thus the oldest scientific institution in Australia and from the earliest days, has played a major role in the acclimatisation of plants from other regions

Hail Storm Rose Bay 1942

One of televisions well known weathermen and enthusiastic historians Dick Whitaker wasable to draw on records of how the Sydney weather can become violent.

Major storms are not new to the east coast of Australia and the location of Sydney has placed it in the path of many of these displays of the destructive power of nature.

From 1893, Lawrence Hargrave began investigations that led him to his second great invention of the box kite construction that lifted him from the beach at Stanwell Park, attached to the ground by piano wire. Much of the progress that led to manned flying machines can be traced to that event.
Michael Adams from the Lawrence Hargrave Society at Stanwell Park told his story

‘The GOVERNOR'S TRAVELS’ ‘The Refloating of the Endeavour from the Barrier Reef’ ‘The Anzac Brand, Battlefield innovations and the Engineers War’


Governor Lachlan Macquarie was a major sponsor of exploration of the colony. After Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson's successful crossing of the Blue Mountains he ordered the establishment of Bathurst, Australia's first inland city. As the colony opened its horizons, Macquarie toured many of the new settlements with his wife Elizabeth.
Our speaker, Patrick Dodd has five decades of experience in education, training, public relations and tourism. Patrick is now busier than ever as a Volunteer Guide at the Australian National Maritime Museum on HM Bark Endeavour and a Volunteer Guide at the State Library of NSW.

HMS Endeavour of the coast of New Holland, by Samuel Atkins c.1794
Far from help in 1770 and with the potential to destroy Cook’s and Banks’ voyage of discovery, the refloating and repair of the bark Endeavour was not only superb piece of seamanship but also a most significant event for the history of the settlement Australia by the British.
Drawing on the ship’s log, Cook’s journal and accounts from officers and scientists on board as well as the observations of modern historians, Researcher Carolyn Davey revealed the remarkable skill and courage the crew showed as they refloated their ship off the sharp coral.

JANUARY 2016    
Retired Police Inspector Don Eyb spoke about a Sydney favourite
‘ The Police Horses of Sydney’ .

The Police Horses of Sydney, little known to be the oldest continuous Mounted Police Unit in the world- their history, preparation and duties .They used to be on every busy city corner and today are still seen about a myriad of duties, usually at busy events when the crowds are most dense. They were also privileged to appear at the Queens Diamond Jubilee in 2012 with horse from her Household cavalry