This is the Cadman’s Cottage, so where the hey is everyone?
It was a little before 6:00 p.m., and I was staring at this empty lot facing the Cadman’s Cottage. Days before this trip, I stumbled upon I’m Free Walking Tours as I searched for things to do in Sydney. It’s an independent, small company that offers free walking tours in both Sydney and Melbourne. It was started by Justine and Ross, 8 years ago, running on a concept that people can just turn up and join their tours. In Sydney, they have two tours. First is the Sydney Sights Free Tour, which takes anywhere between 2 to 3 hours, and would help you learn and explore Sydney. The Rocks at 6 PM Free Tour, on the other hand, takes an hour and a half to finish. It focuses on the first European settlement site in Australia, called The Rocks. As you can see in the title of this article, I chose the latter, why? I was lured by the description says, “We’ll explore its laneways, pubs, and historical buildings and tell you its stories of murders, muggings, and mysteries.” What could be more exciting than that?
If you’re coming with a group of 10 or more people then you need to register for their Private Tours. If you’re alone or going with less than 10 people then you can just show up in the meeting place at the scheduled time. Note that when you sign up for the private tours, you will be given a quotation. Another thing to consider is, this tour is not exactly free. They do accept tips, no set amount, just whatever you think is worth the trip for you. This is how they keep the group going like any other organization that runs a free walking tour.
I found a spot on the concrete stairs and waited for the others. Before long, a man in a green windbreaker sauntered over carrying a black backpack. I looked at the print on the back of his jacket, Free Tour, this is the guy. As I made the approach, I saw other people walking toward him. I waited on the sideline because the guy seems bent on talking with every single one of the joiners. While this was going on, more people started coming in until there were about 30 of us, surrounding this sandy haired guy who was busy introducing himself and asking people where did they come from.
This happened in November, I honestly can’t recall anymore what we talked about aside from me telling him my name and my country of origin. His name is Josh, a student majoring in History Honours (USYD) Focusing on Australian History. He’s a lanky guy with a clear, booming voice. Imagine we were outside, and he was leading over 30 or more people, yet we could all hear him sans a megaphone. Pretty amazing if you ask me.
As in the two other walking tours in which I had been a participant, I stayed close to the tour guide as much as I could. The others trailed behind us, mostly white people but from different nations. I spotted 3 other Filipinos in the group, but I kept to myself and never really engaged anyone in a conversation.
Josh’s story began in our place of assembly, the Cadman’s Cottage. The Rocks pertain to a neighborhood in Sydney, well known for its historic lanes and buildings, that go as far back as the 18th to the 20th centuries. It is said that there are over 100 heritage sites in The Rocks, including the oldest house in the area, the Cadman’s Cottage.
Built in 1816, the Cadman’s Cottage was used by coxswains (people in charge of a boat). Over the years, its function has been changed from being the headquarters of the Sydney Water Police to a sailor’s abode. It was named after John Cadman, a British man sent to Australia in 1798 for the crime of stealing. Back in the day, Australia was used as a penal colony. In layman’s term, this is where the British government cast away their prisoners in the 17th century.
We stopped by a brass statue of William Bligh, a British Royal Navy officer and former governor of New South Wales in 1806. He is best remembered by a military junta called, Rum Rebellion. The event went down to history as the only successful armed takeover in Australia.
It is said that during that time, rum is not just liquor, but a form of currency. Money runs low and so a barter system is practiced and used to pay wages and buy goods. Convicts, as well as military men of lower-ranking, were often paid in goods, the most popular of which is rum. The Rum Rebellion is said to be a struggle for control over the rum trade, which in this period, had an immense influence on the course of commerce and politics.
Bligh was notorious for his tyrannical approach to leadership. Before long, he has gained the ire of other leaders including John Macarthur and the officers of the New South Wales Corp. The rebellion has successfully overthrown Bligh from his position, all ending with him being found hiding under the bed.
Along George Street lay the 3 locations significant to this tour. First, we saw the oldest pub in Sydney, Fortune of War, adjacent to it is the Police Station, both are an impressive display of Victorian architecture. We also learned about the Marino bank, a bank constructed by convicts and the subject of the first banking robbery in Australian history. In 1828, a five-man robbery team led by William Blackstone went through the sewage drain to access the vault of the Bank of Australia along George Street. Over AUD 20 million worth of promissory notes and coins had been stolen.
My favorite spot and story in this tour is the narrow alley that carried a dark past, the Suez Canal. It is named so by the residents by the torrent that poured over this area when it rained.
This alley was used to be feared by the residents because of the hooligans that lurked in the shadows, waiting for unsuspecting victims, usually drunken sailors, to rob them. Suez Canal was also the battleground between two groups of thugs, the Orange and Green Pushes who used to rule The Rocks between the 1870s to 1880s.
As we stood outside the Australian Hotel, Josh told us the history of the discovery of Australia. We learned that it used to be called, Nova Hollandia (New Holland) named by a Dutch seafarer, Abel Tasman. But before that, European sailors called it Terra Australis Incognita, which translates to, unknown land of the south.
Built in 1824, Australian Hotel is one of the first pubs in the area. The hotel still stands to this day and is among the favorite watering holes of the locals and tourists alike. The old building is of Edwardian architecture, with many of its old features, such as the metal awnings, tap faucets, and saloon bar doors remain intact.
If you want to enjoy the unobstructed, panoramic view of Sydney then head down to the Observatory Hil. There you can see the world-famous, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the beautiful harbor.
Hero of Waterloo
The Hero of Waterloo is another old hotel and pub with a dark history of its own. Its cellar is said to have been used as a place for the illegal recruitment of sailors, by means of getting an unsuspecting young man drunk and then dragging him to the tunnel. The next day, the man would wake aboard a ship in which his life as a sailor, a path that he obviously did not choose for himself, would begin.
Another haunting story that seems to add appeal to this hotel is the ghost of Anne Kirkman. According to rumors, a man named Thomas Kirkman pushed his wife, Anne, down the stairs causing her demise. Since then, some paranormal activities have been reported by the guests and the staff, like the mysterious playing of the piano in the middle of the night.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
The tour concluded under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a steel through arch bridge that is one of the most popular tourist landmarks in Sydney. By then, I was tired and hungry, ready to call it a day. The tour had been long and quite informative and I tried my best to keep notes to retain all the knowledge.
We all dropped our donation to the bag that Josh was carrying and we said our thanks for the wonderful tour. By and large, the tour helped me gain a deeper understanding of Australia’s history, along with it, a better appreciation of Sydney. I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to have a dig into the history of this city.
Note: This tour happened on the 12th of November 2017.