Circular Quay West, The Rocks
The Rocks is a tourist precinct and historic area near the central
business district (CBD) of Sydney, Australia. It borders on the
Bradfield Highway, leading to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is
immediately adjacent to Circular Quay (Sydney Cove), the site of
Australia's first European settlement in 1788.
The Rocks became established shortly after the colony's formation. The
original buildings were made mostly of local sandstone, from which the
area derives its name. From the earliest history of the settlement, the
area had a reputation as a slum, often frequented by visiting sailors
and prostitutes. During the late 1800s, the areas was dominated by a
gang known as the Rocks Push. It maintained this rough reputation until
approximately the 1970s.
Campbell's Cove, The Rocks
Terrace Houses, Lower Fort Street, The Rocks
A street in The Rocks
Earth Exchange Museum from Hickson Street, The Rocks
By the early twentieth century, many of the area's historic buildings were
in serious decay. In 1900, bubonic plague broke out, and the state
government resumed areas around The Rocks and Darling Harbour, with the
intention of demolishing them and rebuilding them. Part of the area was
demolished, but redevelopment plans were stalled by the outbreak of
World War I. During the 1920s, several hundred buildings were demolished
during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. However, the
outbreak of World War II once again stalled many of the redevelopment
plans, and it was not until the 1960s that serious attempts to demolish
much of the area were revived.
In 1968, the state government gave control of The Rocks to the Sydney Cove
Redevelopment Authority, with the intention of demolishing all the
original buildings, re-developing them as high-density residential
dwellings. In February 1971, a group of local residents formed the Rocks
Residents Group to oppose the plans. They felt that the new dwellings
would result in increased rents, which would force out the traditional
residents of the area. The residents' group requested a Green ban from
the Builder's Labourers Federation, who had become increasingly active
in preventing controversial developments over the previous four years.
By 1973, the union had imposed the ban, and after discussions with the
Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority, a 'People's Plan' was developed. By
October 1973, it appeared that the redevelopment would proceed as
originally planned, using non-union labor. For two weeks, demonstrations
by local residents and unionists followed, with numerous arrests being
made. Liberal Premier Robert Askin was in the midst of an election
campaign, and used the protests as a means of conveying his law and
order message to voters. However, the green ban stayed in place until
1975, when the state union leadership was overthrown, and was ultimately
successful, as can be seen in the buildings that survive today. Instead
of demolishing The Rocks, renovations transformed the area into a
commercial and tourist precinct.
Today the Rocks is a partly gentrified area, but still contains a
significant proportion of Housing Commission properties, and there is
still a significant problem of urban poverty in this district. As
housing stock becomes dilapidated, government policy is to sell the now
extremely valuable public housing units to private owners, in the
expectation that they will restore the properties.
The close proximity to Circular Quay and the views of the iconic Harbour
Bridge, as well as the historic nature of many of the buildings, mean
that the Rocks is very popular with tourists. It features a variety of
souvenir and craft shops, and many themed and historic pubs. The Rocks
Market operates each weekend, with around 100 stalls. There are numerous
historic walks through the area, visiting historical buildings such as
Cadman's Cottage and Sydney Observatory, and the Dawes Point Battery,
which was the first fortified position in New South Wales.
Hero of Waterloo, one of Sydney's oldest pubs
Two separate pubs in The Rocks claim to be Sydney's oldest surviving pubs.
Its situation beside Circular Quay has led to several hotels in the area
due to the picturesque views. A passenger boat terminal and the Museum
of Contemporary Art, Sydney is also situated beside the Rocks area. The
precinct can also be accessed by rail, as it is within walking distance
of Circular Quay station.
Heritage Pubs in
In 1788 conditions
in Sydney Cove were unfamiliar and harsh for the First Fleet, gaoler and
convict alike. One of the few pleasures afforded these unfortunate folk
was alcohol, in particular, rum. In fact rum was once a form of currency
and paid for the building of one of the first permanent hospitals in New
Once the fledgling colony had found its feet and began a to build a
settlement, public drinking houses were among the first commercial
structures to go up, especially in The Rocks. Pubs quickly became a
central focus of social life for the young colony: everything from
birthdays, weddings and christenings to wakes and coronial inquests were
held in The Rocks hotels.
Today there are 13 heritage pubs in the precinct, each has an
interesting story to tell about the people who lived, worked and played
in The Rocks. The architectural heritage of The Rocks is also engraved
on the facades and interiors of these historic pubs. Styles and
materials changed as each one was built, renovated, demolished, rebuilt
and remodelled several times over its lifespan.
Some pubs in The Rocks have a colourful and notorious past. The upright
Church-going and genteel residents of the area were constantly
complaining about the rough and ready labouring types that would
congregate in the hotels and bars. Being close to the waterfront they
also attracted sailors and wharfies: well known as heavy drinkers who
were not afraid of a ‘blue’ if someone upset them. A lot of hard
drinking and even harder fighting would have occurred in the ‘good old
days’ of early opening and early closing. The Rocks ‘Push’ and the
larrikin tradition are strongly identified with drinking during this
period. But the days of the infamous ‘six-o-clock swill’ are over. Until
the 1970s pubs used to close at 6pm and the patrons, in those days
mostly men, would crowd the public bar to gulp down as many beers as
they could. Today publicans are more conscious of attracting a
sophisticated clientele that is more inclined to drink responsibly and
enjoy a meal with their beverages. Many of The Rocks pubs are now
offering fine, contemporary Australian food as well as award-winning
wines and boutique beers in bottles and on tap.
The modern pubs of The Rocks are meeting places and ‘watering holes’ in
the tradition of their forebears and namesakes. Each year on important
occasions, such as New Year’s Eve, St Patrick’s Day and Anzac Day, The
Rocks pubs provide venues for family and friends to gather, to ‘eat,
drink and be merry’. The Rocks certainly is a ‘fun’ place to be during
these celebrations and just about any Friday or Saturday night. There’s
a great variety in atmosphere, menus and music played: everything from
Trad Jazz to swing; Karaoke to contemporary rock and Irish ballads.
Historic pubs in The Rocks
We can recommend a walking tour of the pubs and if you follow our list
you’ll see them all, without having to double back, or cross your
tracks. This tour is in the tradition of the Aussie ‘pub crawl’, but we
advise you not to go overboard, stay on your feet and keep your wits
The Orient Hotel, 87-89 George Street
There is evidence of activity on this site since the earliest days of the
British colony. It was close to the hospital and the Surgeon General’s
house was here from 1790 to 1816. The property changed hands several
times but by 1851 it is recorded as the "Marine Hotel", in 1876 it
became "Buckham’s Hotel" and in 1884 was renamed "Orient Hotel". It is
the largest existing hotel in the area on a strategic corner site. In
1978 it was renovated and the exterior restored to the original
This site was the home of marine artist Frederick Garling in the 1820s. In
1848 Robert White Moore built a two-storey public house called the
"Observer Tavern". This pub was often used for coronial inquests as the
city morgue was just across George Street. The original hotel was
demolished in 1906 and the present building went up a couple of years
later. Conservation work began on the hotel in 1991 and the
archaeological remains of Garling’s house were discovered. These
elements are open to public viewing at the back of the hotel.
Mercantile Hotel, 25-27 George Street
For many years this site was everything but a pub: a coal and timber yard,
a stables, a fruit and vegetable shop and a vacant lot. By 1915 it had
become a pub called the "Mercantile Rowing Club Hotel". If you look
around the external façade you’ll see that the rare Art Nouveau tiling
is still intact.
Harbour View Hotel, 18 Lower Fort Street
A relative ‘newcomer’ to The Rocks; it only went up on its present site in
1922, though there was a pub with this name in Dawes Point Reserve from
the 1870s to around 1920. The Harbour View is designed in the "Free
Classical" style of the inter-war years and its curved front wall makes
an important contribution to the streetscape. The glazed tile signage is
one of the few remaining examples of this style in the CBD.
Hero of Waterloo, 81-83 Lower Fort Street.
George Payten was obviously a spiritual man. In 1842 he built the nearby
Garrison Church (in Argyle Street) and a year later the Hero. The stone
for both church and public house probably came from a quarry in nearby
Kent Street. According to local legend there was a secret passage in the
basement of the Hero that came out on the wharves at Walsh Bay.
Ruffians, it is said, would use the tunnel to "shanghai" (drug and
kidnap) young men and force them to serve on ships that visited the
Lord Nelson Hotel, 19 Kent Street.
Today the Lord Nelson is a micro-brewery and hotel. Six types of beer are
made on the premises and tours of the brewery are available. The stone
building in the Old Colonial Regency style was built in 1836 and it
became a pub in 1841. It is a rare example of a working pub from the
early nineteenth century.
Palisade Hotel , 35 Bettington Street.
The halfway mark and the furthest we venture from The Rocks precinct. The
Palisade was built in 1912 on a sandstone bluff overlooking the wharves
in Walsh Bay. Like many other hotels in the area this one replaced an
earlier Palisade. This pub was popular with labourers working on the
Sydney Harbour Bridge from 1923 to 1932.
Captain Cook, 33 Kent Street
The present building went up in the 1920s to replace an earlier hotel on
this site since 1880.
Glenmore, 96-98 Cumberland Street
Situated in a more salubrious precinct in The Rocks the Punchbowl hotel
was on this site from 1816 to the 1840s. In 1919 the brewer Tooth and Co
Ltd was granted a 50 year lease and built the Glenmore at a cost of
£7,905 7/4d. The rooftop beer garden offers unparalleled view over The
Rock and Sydney Harbour.
Australian Hotel, 100-102 Cumberland Street
The original Australian Hotel was next door at 116 Cumberland Street which
is now part of the archaeological dig site. This was also a
brewery-owned pub from 1915. The hotel retains many of its original
features, despite several renovations. In 1992 it was restored to the
way it appeared when it first opened, a true "diggers pub" from the
early 20th century.
Harts Pub, 10-14 Essex Street
This site has a long history with the first buildings going up sometime
around 1816. The Hart Buildings, originally a row of terraced houses,
were constructed between 1890 and 1900 in a restrained Federation Arts
and Crafts style. The buildings were originally dwellings and have been
commercial premises at some time during their life. When the ANA hotel
was constructed the buildings were incorporated for use as a pub.
Brooklyn Hotel, 231 George Street
This site was the original military parade ground for the colony but was
built on by the mid 1900s. In 1884 the existing terraces were demolished
and replaced with a four storey Italianate building that included a
hotel. After several name changes it became the Brooklyn in 1898.
Fortune of War, 137 George Street
The Fortune of War was established by 1839 and a public house has traded
on this site ever since, though it’s had a few changes of name and
by: tourism new south wales