Darling Harbour Just Isn’t The Same

If you visit Darling Harbour in Sydney, you are going to see Light Rail, and Entertainment Venues, plus a great restaurant and shopping precinct. While this has been there for many years, it wasn’t always this way.

Darling Harbour Today

Back in the 1970’s and beyond, this area was a huge goods yard, where perishable and other goods arrived from around NSW to be distributed to outlets in Sydney, or exported overseas. The area commenced operation in the early days of the colony, being named after Governor Darling in the early 1800’s. Once train lines were established in the mid 1850’s a large goods yard was developed on the site.

In 1970, my first year of employment, I used to spend Fridays at Sydney Tech, and the railway line from Sydney station to Darling Harbour travelled right underneath. I also remember that year Her Majesty’s Theatre burnt to the ground, and recall seeing the smouldering roofless structure from the roof of the Tech College.

The tunnel from Sydney Station to Darling Harbour was built in 1855, making it the oldest Railway tunnel in NSW and possibly Australia. Perishable freight from the Illawarra would terminate at Darling Harbour, and it was used for the locos to return to the depot at Everleigh.

This tunnel is now abandoned but still there.

Darling HArbour Was A Busy Goods Yard In The 1970’s

The current light rail uses the far two tracks where the ancient 19 class is pushing some perishable wagons back. You can see this by the direction of the smoke.

The yard was extremely busy, with lots of arrivals and departures either by way of the goods lines (now the light rail) or a line from near Sydney Terminal that passed under Broadway.

Pyrmont Power Station towered over the northern end of Darling Harbour. By the time I visited as part of my training in 1970, it was being used as back up in case the city lost power. One generator was kept working, so emergencies could be handled. It is now long gone, as is the White Bay power station.

Here is the power station with a couple of steam locos shunting in the area.

Visiting the area to take photos of the trains was not as easy as it might seem. For one there were constant shunting movements and you had to be alert to not be in the path of an approaching train. Then there was the large amount of valuable goods, which some unscrupulous characters might pilfer. There were Railway Detectives patrolling the area and if they stopped you, it could result in an interrogation. We countered this by visiting the Railway Headquarters in Wynyard and obtaining an “Indemnity Form”, an official document giving permission to be on railway property.

1903 poses for a time exposure with fill in flash

One night, I visited with a friend to get some time exposures, After setting up our tripods and obtaining a couple of nice photos, the detectives arrived in their suits. On this occasion I used a fill in flash to capture more detail of the 1890 built locos. They operated in continuous service for over 80 years.

We were questioned and then asked to leave, marking the end of the outing.

Pyrmont Bridge still exists and these days is a pedestrian crossing of Darling Harbour. The bridge is periodically opened for tourists to observe and occasionally tall ships pass through as well.

3108 passes under Pyrmont Bridge with a shunter in charge of operations

The Hickson Street Cutting was another popular area. These days the wharf there is a departure point for cruise ships. Back then a railway line ran onto the wharf. There was a quite a grade here and a 30 class would really struggle to get its load up the hill.

Heads Towards HIckson Road Cutting

In many ways, it is sad that all of this no longer exists and is just a memory. Sure, the light rail still uses the old goods line heading beyond Darling Harbour, and I believe you can still see the occasional rail protruding from the roadway in the wharf area, but this thriving hub of commerce that powered the colony for many years no longer serves that function.

There is a great video showing the lives of those who worked in the harbour that is well worth watching.


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