The sandstone that underpins Sydney is the rock that gives the place its golden glow which defines the city from the majestic Sydney Heads to the solemn old piles of Victorian public buildings to the many sets of time -worn steps that have connected places high and low since the beginning of settlement.
In my humble opinion Government should act wisely to send out another fleet to take us all back to England or to some other place more likely to answer than this wretched Country, where scarcely anything is to be seen but Rocks… Rev Richard Johnson, first chaplain to the colony of New South Wales, 1788
Sydney’s first convicts were free to settle at a respectable distance from the official government centre of town – here ‘on The Rocks’. Provided they worked for the government the required number of hours, the rest of their time was their own, and the rocks beneath their feet were there for the taking.
Sandstone is a soft rock, easily worked by the first settlers who simply quarried it where they stood and built with it simple cottages, dug wells and fashioned it into drip bowls to purify their water.
Little stone cottages, shops and public houses soon dotted the area. It was all very ad hoc, and it took years to establish regular forms of title to the land, but from the start hundreds of men and women just got on with the business of living and trading and it was these rocks that gave Sydney’s first homemakers a stake in the land.
A regular street plan for The Rocks was not imposed until 1810, with the formalisation of Princes, Cumberland, Gloucester, Cambridge and Harrington Streets running north-south along the ridges.