East Sydney is often the forgotten suburb. Tucked into a narrow strip alongside Hyde Park it stretches from Oxford Street to The Domain. It is one of the oldest remaining parts of Sydney, especially in the lower portion nearest the harbor. The first official land grant was in 1793, but unofficial habitation by the settlers was much earlier, and before that, while the Aborigines did not camp here, they did depend on this area for food and would have visited here almost daily.
It owes its early existence to a stream that once flowed from the swamp that was located where Hyde Park is now found. it was a short stream, but important to the Aboriginals for thousands of years. Besides the fresh water, in times of heavy rain it carried the mud from the swamp into Woolloomooloo Bay and built up the extensive mud flats that once were there (see My Woolloomooloo for the story of the reclaiming of the mud flats) The mud flats were a rich source of shellfish and crustaceans and the bay was rich in fish that fed when the tide covered the mud.
The first white settlers soon learned the importance of this food resource and fisherman's huts quickly sprung up at the bottom part of the stream. The course of the stream can easily be traced partly from simply finding the lowest portion of the streets and also by finding Stream Street. This is between two lanes on the southern side of William Street. When buildings first appeared here they all backed onto the stream. When the stream was put into an underground pipe and covered over, in this portion the street actually follows the original curves of the stream as it meandered at one time through the trees. Stream Street is an ugly little lane, but by accident the backs of light industrial buildings that line it give the impression of the banks of a river, and walking the street (a lane really) allows one to visualize this forgotten part of Sydney's history. Currently you will find it on no Sydney tourist guide, so you have the added bonus of discovering a hidden secret.
Before the buildings the top part of East Sydney was farmland. John Palmer had a vineyard, there were dairy cows and a market garden. Remember this when you spot the name of a nearby street - Palmer Street.
Riley Street also has history to be discovered. Near the lowest portion of Riley Street, numbers 6 and 8 are old terraces. The plaque on the front informs the passer-by that this land was first granted in 1793 and that it was acquired by Ann Riley in 1822. That was a time when she was a neighbor of John Palmer and a village grew up around their houses, all adjacent to the stream which was directly behind Mrs Riley's house.
Today East Sydney is known for its quaint houses, its cafes and art galleries and restaurants. Stanley Street has become famous as a restaurant strip with a "little Italy" flavor. This stems from the large numbers of italians who made this their home in the days of ship based mass migration. Artists are generally aware of "No Names". This simple trattoria has been serving cheap but tasty pasta for decades. Now is easy to find the "No Names" name on cafes in many places, but here in a room above Stanley Street is where the idea started.
My favorite cafe near Stanley Street is actually a Mexican cantina called Cafe Pacifico. A walk up gaily painted stairs takes the visitor into a world that that could easily be in Mexico. It is easy to tell when something is fake and done just for looks. Cafe Pacifico, on the other hand, is very much the real thing.
Cars are another characteristic of East Sydney. Cars for sale, mostly presige cars like Ferrari and Masserati. There is also a Ford dealership and the unusual sight of second hand lots that are located in shops in the street. In East Sydney there are no outdoor car lots like you find every where else. Masserati makes cars that are among my favorites, I love their lines, their grace and beauty.
Another form of beauty is fitness and from the PCYC to places selling fitness equipment to the wonderful little boxing gym in Crown Street, I love their color and liveiness in the streetscape.
East Sydney I walk through at least weekly, often more often, and it is a rich part of my life.