The 70-metre-long tapestry depicting the conquest of England by Norman invaders in the 11th century is creating excitement in Britain after France confirms it will loan the historically significant piece.
Lewd women, grisly murders, sailors drinking themselves to death and typhoid. Sounds like your typical 19th century port.
Early Hobart’s Wapping district was known as a sewer-ridden slum, but was that really the case? Who else lived there and why did it disappear?
Former Hobartian Jane Orbell-Smith, who now lives in Brisbane, wanted to know more about the slum she’d heard about when growing up in the 1970s.
So she posed the question to the ABC’s Curious Hobart team: “What is the history of the Hobart area known as Wapping?”
“When I was growing up no-one lived there. It had a reputation of being a bad slum area with dreadful crime, poverty and disease,” she said.
Curious Hobart is amonthly ABC project which invites you to have a say in the stories we cover such as the history of Hobart’s trams and whether there are secret tunnels under the city.
Where was Wapping?
The settlement sprang up around Hobart’s early wharf at Hunter Street and endured until it was almost obliterated by industrial and commercial pressures of the mid-20th century.
While it saw many phases, the profile remained one of poverty and prostitutes, housing Hobart’s poorest of the poor.
The name originated from the Wapping area in London which had a similar profile. At one time, both were the site of executions.
It was bordered by Liverpool, Campbell and Macquarie Streets and on the eastern side, Park Street, now the Brooker Highway.
The streetscapes are gone or bear little resemblance to the former layout, except for the back alleys around the Theatre Royal.
Amongst the pubs and workers’ cottages, the Theatre Royal opened in 1837 and remains Australia’s oldest working theatre.
The original building had a tavern beneath the auditorium which hosted cockfights among the mayhem of drunken revelry and prostitutes plying their trade.
Who lived there?
The people of Wapping were working class employed by the nearby factories — jam, tanneries, ice, soap, gasworks and a slaughter house among them — which were established near the Hunter Street wharf.
Robyn Everist, who has been taking tourists around Wapping since 2010, points out that while the district was poor, local services met many of their needs; milliners, a butcher, a school and even a barrister.
Wapping had its own Ragged School, a Hobart version of the free education which charities ran in Victorian England.
“The organisation which set up the school wanted to differentiate between the schools being provided for the fine elite folk of society and those recipients of charity, to put you in your place to make sure you knew you were lower class. You were able to be educated, but your future serving higher classes was controlled,” Mrs Everist said.
She believes former convict Ikey Solomon is also likely to have been a Wapping resident.
It’s said Solomon was one of the characters from London’s Wapping on whom Charles Dicken based his Oliver Twist character, Fagin.
Solomon’s shady reputation as a trainer of pickpockets and receiver of stolen goods preceded his arrival in the 1820s in Hobart where he set up as a tobacconist and made a successful attempt to reunite with his wife.
Was it really a disease-ridden slum?
Mrs Everist and others say not at all.
“For it to be a slum it had to have non-permanent housing. This had permanent housing, this area had houses built of stone and brick and only a small portion of them were made of timber,” she said.
Michael Sprod, co-author of Down Wapping published in 1988, said disease was certainly evident because the rivulet was used upstream to dump household waste, and it regularly flooded.
“There was cholera and typhoid outbreaks in Hobart not just down there as a result of poor sanitation, particularly around the rivulet, right up until the mid-19th century until the council got its act together.”
Mrs Everist said Wapping got a bad rap because it was full of people who “liked a rowdy life, who drank far too much and weren’t part of fine society”.
“It got this bad reputation of being somewhere you don’t want to go, a slightly dangerous place to go.
“But the people who lived here saw it completely differently. They saw themselves as a nice close-knit community, able to help your neighbours and look after your own.”
But there is no escaping the seedy side and its reputation of being on-the-nose was accurate, given the nearby industries and the fact it was at the end of the Hobart rivulet — the city’s early sewer.
The reputation for crime and vice was not surprising given the proliferation of pubs and prostitutes; 15 on one corner alone recorded in one early statistic.
In the early days drinking holes for seafarers, British troops and the navy dotted the area, with 13 pubs in just a few blocks.
“There certainly were lot of pubs downs there but there were also a lot in the city — they were smaller .. neighbourhood bars like we are going back to now almost,” Mr Sprod said.
“Hobart was a very busy whaling port and seamen of that type came off the boats with lots of money and wanting a bit of entertainment and recreation.”
Was it as bad as people thought?
Much of the area’s early social history is garnered from newspaper reports recording crimes ranging from publicans taking out orders to stop wives from drinking to some truly grisly murders.
In one particularly nasty crime in the 1820s, John Leech brutally stabbed his wife to death with a stick. He left her with horrific injures but despite crying out for help for 30 minutes, no-one came to her aid.
Leech went to the gallows for his actions which he believed were fully justified because of her “unfeminine behaviour.”
There are also accounts of seamen drinking themselves to death.
“There was a high influx of sailors and whalers who would be living away for many months and then they get off their ships and some drank themselves to death,” she said.
Mr Sprod said the demographic was mixed and while prostitutes were heavily linked with the area, some of them came from outside Wapping.
“Although it was quite poor down there, they were poor but honest and, in fact, the district was probably really dominated by people who worked in the local industries,” he said.
“It was a mixture of both, clearly the waterfront area had a lot of colourful life but the Wapping district was quite closely packed with housing and plenty of people who were decent upstanding citizens.”
Mrs Everist said the residents protected their own.
“People who grew up here felt they were quite safe, you don’t pick on your own. You might mug an interloper, mug a whaler who has got lots of money because he wasn’t a local.”
Does anything of old Wapping remain?
Above ground, the Theatre Royal and a church used by the Mission to Seafarers in Campbell Street are the major structures remaining, as well as the gasworks’ chimney and remnants of brick walls.
Below ground, excavations for buildings such as the $90 million cultural perform arts centre, have revealed glimpses of former Wapping life.
Under the Menzies Centre on Liverpool Street, just on the outskirts, are examples of drains and cobble stones of yesteryear now encased in glass showcases.
None of the watering holes survive but the remnants of one — the Red Lion — still exist in the venue which was a favourite live music haunt of locals in the 1970s and 80s.
A fire place and part of an exterior wall remain from the pub which had four name changes and is now absorbed into a hotel apartment complex on Macquarie Street.
“It [Wapping] has been built over and been forgotten,” Ms Everist said.
“It’s really hard to remember an entire community once all of the buildings have been bulldozed.”
But despite this, she encourages visitors and residents alike to “get digging” and learn more about early Wapping.
“I’ve met people with older relatives who have memories of this area and that’s where we get these stories from people who say ‘no, it was a nice, tight-knit community’,” she said.
Gone but not forgotten
Mrs Everist said Wapping disappeared through neglect and lack of forethought.
The sanitation was not fixed until the people were moved out to make way for industry and transport needs.
“The council was required to take care of the unsanitary conditions and back in the late 1890s they had grand plans for reinvigorating, but it all came to nothing,” she said.
“It was much easier to condemn all of those little homes and move the people out to the suburbs and put in light industry.
“That’s when the council put in better sewerage and plumbing and redirected the rivulet underground and further back at Macquarie Point.
In the 1990s the Hobart City Council tried to reinvigorate the area with affordable apartment living.
The Sullivan’s Cove planning document stated:
The Wapping area should provide a high quality and stimulating residential environment and enjoyable, secure, safe and convenient routes for cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
The area should develop as a lively “people place” centred on Collins Street and sheltered or buffered on the high traffic edges.
But the new locals tend to disappear into the apartments which are worth upwards of $500,000, and a far cry from the original dwellings.
An attempt to reinstate the name was also part of the plan, but many Hobartians would struggle to tell you the location of the modern-day Wapping.
About our Curious Hobart questioner:
Jane Orbell-Smith grew up in Hobart and now lives in Redcliffe, Queensland.
“As a kid growing up in Hobart, whenever we passed through the Wapping area, my parents and grandparents would talk about old stories from Wapping and how tough life was for the people that lived there,” she said.
“With the development in the area, I thought it would be interesting to know more about it’s history.”
Do you have a question about Hobart?
You can suggest something for us to investigate by filling out the information below.
Go on, be Curious!
Activist and artist Robin Bell projects the word “S***HOLE” along with poo emojis and other slogans on the Trump International Hotel in Washington
Just after the last of the day’s light has faded, we stand on a hill and listen to the story of the woman with the suitcase, who gives birth to a stillborn child.
Her desperate face has been dotted throughout this performance, leading us every step of the way.
“She gave one last push and her little girl fell out from between her legs and into her hands,” lead artist Liza-Mare Syron recounts.
“Eyes shut, mouth closed … no sound, no cry. ‘Wake up little one! Wake up!’
“She put that little gurong into a suitcase and she went looking for that one old man that could give it a proper burial.”
As she recites the story, her luminous purple skirt flutters in the wind, and her face is lit by two broken glass graves.
“That’s a particular practice in communities of laying shattered glass on grave tops,” Syron says.
“That’s reminiscent of when they used to lay shells on to illuminate the grave when the sun hit it to show the spirit rising.”
This performance, named Broken Glass after those graves, is being held at St Bartholomew’s Church and Cemetery at Prospect as part of Sydney Festival.
“We’re located on this most extraordinary site on Darug country and there’s something about the way the weather and landscape interacts,” said one of the lead artists, Andrea James.
“It’s on this incredible hill and you get this most extraordinary view of a graveyard that just sweeps down a hill and then you see the horizon of the city and then you’ve got the M4 just doing what it’s doing on the side.”
‘We just go to too many funerals’
Broken Glass has been in development for four years and explores death and grief through the lens of Indigenous women.
“Some people think that grieving is a very private, individual thing, but actually for us it’s a very communal thing that has always occurred, so there’s something very special about that,” James said.
Throughout the development process, the artists grappled with their own grief.
Lead artist and dancer Katie Lesley speaks about the loss of her cousin Tina during the performance.
“It was tough for me, I suffer with anxiety and depression pretty roughly so it’s been really good for me doing this show … letting certain things go,” she said.
“Things are what they are and I can’t always hold those things inside of me.”
By discussing their own grief, the women hope to highlight the large number of deaths that Indigenous people deal with.
Early in the development, artist Lily Shearer brought in the orders of service for all the funerals she had attended in her life.
They are displayed during the performance, on what is called the Wailing Wall.
“When we laid them out and put them on the wall, it impacted on how much loss and grief we suffer in our lives … it just really permeated the big losses in our community,” she said.
“We just go to too many funerals, too many people die too quickly and there’s the whole closing the gap issue that is being acknowledged but nothing’s really being done,” James added.
“There’s something profoundly sad about the way we lose so many people, so many of our young ones, so this is kind of a healing.”
A touch of the funny side of death
The performance also deals with more universal and light-hearted experiences when someone dies.
You are welcomed into a wake and offered sandwiches and biscuits and in the centre of the room — a cane casket adorned with native flowers.
But eventually the event descends into an argument over who will inherit the TV and microwave.
A mortuary scene details what is done to a body after death.
In it, Shearer lies on the table, naked except for her emu-feathered skirt.
“I hope they understand the loss at the disruption of our ancient practices,” she said.
“I also hope that there’s an influence to funeral services that if an Aboriginal like myself wants to get buried in an emu-feathered skirt and painted up in ochre and wrapped in bark to be placed in the ground not in a coffin, that that can happen.”
Robyne Jones from the Wolkara Elders group said the performance was an eye-opener.
“To come and see something like that it was amazing,” she said.
“My nanny died when I was about six and nobody ever spoke about our culture so I’m only just learning things now and I’m 63.”
It’s official — pop veteran Cher is heading to Australia in March to perform at Sydney’s glittering Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which this year is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The story of the Aboriginal fisherwomen of Sydney Harbour and their defiance against British colonists, who once excessively hauled 4,000 fish in one day, is the inspiration for a new public artwork at Barangaroo.
Lifelong Sydney resident Emily McDaniel is a descendant of the Kalari clan from the Wiradjuri nation in central west New South Wales.
When Ms McDaniel was invited to curate the new artwork, titled Four Thousand Fish, she ultimately wanted to commemorate the influential Cammeraygal fisherwoman after whom the harbour location was named.
“Sydney thinks of Barangaroo as a location first and foremost,” Ms McDaniel said.
“I want to reverse that, for people to know that she was a woman and she very strongly opposed her husband Bennelong’s interaction with the British.”
According to accounts written in 1804 by Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins, British colonists hauled in 4,000 fish from the waters of Sydney Cove during one day in 1790.
It was an excessive act that greatly affected the Eora fisherwomen of the area who practiced more sustainable methods of fishing by hand.
“When this happened it completely eliminated women from their position in the community,” Ms McDaniel said.
“[The colonists] gifted about 40 fish down the river to Bennelong — that was men giving fish to men, so women, again, out of the picture.”
Ms McDaniel said this event provided an understanding into why Barangaroo was recorded as a “difficult” character throughout history.
“When Bennelong first went to Sydney to meet the governor, she broke his fishing spears in anger and protest,” she said.
“But what we’re saying here is there’s a context for her actions, there was a reason.
“She wasn’t just angry, she was an environmentalist and she was standing up for women’s rights as well.”
While it is estimated there were around 1,700 colonists at Port Jackson at the time, Ms McDaniel said their fishing activities were excessive for that population.
“I think it was just [the colonists] reaping the country of its benefits because they didn’t connect to the land yet.”
For the artwork, Ms McDaniel brought together the talents of four Indigenous artists who created visual, audio and sculptural elements responding to the story of the fisherwomen.
Visitors to the site at Nawi Cove have been invited to scoop water from the harbour and create fish-shaped ice sculptures using cast moulds.
Once frozen, the ice fish are then placed on a large canoe moored at the end of a pontoon.
The warmth of a flame and the setting sun melts them, symbolising their return to the waters of Warrane (Sydney Harbour).
At the opening of the installation, Ms McDaniel said she was deeply moved by the participants’ actions throughout the ceremony.
“The reverence, care and precision as they placed those fish was quite beautiful to watch, they stacked them up perfectly,” she said.
“I really hadn’t prepared myself for that and I am quite moved by that.”
Ms McDaniel said she wanted visitors to be reminded of the environmental impact that current and future populations would make on the harbour’s delicate marine ecosystem.
“This isn’t a story of the past, it’s a story that has defined our future.
“These actions, from when the British first came to Australia, have really influenced the way we respond to our natural environment.
“I hope this is a project that makes Sydneysiders take responsibility for the history we’ve inherited.”
Years after her “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay’s Chris Martin, actress Gwyneth Paltrow is set to give marriage another shot after accepting “the soul-stretching, pattern-breaking opportunities” of intimacy.