Before and after fieldwork tasks

Miller Point – a community in change

Millers Point – a community in change, is a geography fieldwork program run by the Observatory Hill Environmental Education Centre. It involves you completing pre fieldwork tasks (to help you better understand your fieldwork), participating in the fieldwork and following up the fieldwork back at school by writing a Geography Action Research Report.

Before fieldwork tasks

Visit the secondary resources below to familarise yourself with the suburb and answer the pre fieldwork questions in your student workbook.

  1. Read the history of Millers Point and Walsh Bay below. More detailed information about Millers Point’s history and the issues effecting the community can be found at the SMH Website, ‘Millers Point – under the hammer
  2. Visit the NSW Land and Property Information Six Maps website to view a current, and historical (1943) map of the suburb. Type Millers Point into the search box (top left). Click the base maps icon (top right) and ‘Looking for 1943 Imagery / Sydney 1943 imagery. Slide the scroll bar on the right to move between current and historic views.
  3. Visit the Australian Bureau of Statistics to learn about the demography (population) of Millers Point.
  4. Visit the City of Sydney Population Forecast website to find out how the population in this precinct of Sydney will rise (Millers Point is in the CBD and Harbour precinct)
  5. View the Youtube film clip – Who is Millers Point and ‘The Project‘ TV clip to learn about a major issue affecting the community. Further information about the Millers Point community can be found at the Friends of Millers Point community website

After fieldwork tasks

Use your secondary research data above, your primary data from your fieldwork booklet notes and the Additional Secondary Resources at the bottom of this page to answer the fieldwork question:

“Describe the Millers Point community and the factors causing change in the community. What are the main impacts of change and how is the community responding to them”.

The history of Millers Point and Walsh Bay

More detailed historical information about Millers Point can be found on City of Sydney’s Dictionary of Sydney website.

AboriginalPrior to white settlement, Aboriginal people from the Gadigal Clan of the Eora Nation lived near the cliffs and rocky shores around Millers Point and present day Headland Park Barangaroo. The area near Dawes Point (under the Harbour Bridge) was originally known by the Aboriginal names of Tar-ra and Tullagalla. Aboriginals used the waters for fishing from bark canoes, or they would spear fish in the shallow waters. Maritime activity was originally centred on Circular Quay but Millers Point started to develop in the 1830’s as maritime and commercial activity moved away from the congestion of Sydney Cove and moved around Dawes Point to Millers Point and Darling Harbour East.



colonial1Colonial mapMillers Point was named after ‘John Leighton or Jack the Miller, who had arrived as a convict in 1804 and had built one of the first windmills on Observatory Hill. The village became a vibrant and cosmopolitan community. Maritime activity became increasingly export-oriented during the 20’s and 40’s. Wharves and warehouses expanded in size to accommodate the ever increasing tonnage of wool that was replacing whale oil as the main cargo on the Millers Point wharves. It was during the next ten years that the village of Millers Point emerged as merchants, sailors and labourers moved into the area to work within the growing maritime and mercantile infrastructure of the area. Millers Point also provided homes for many of the well-to-do merchants who took advantage of the closeness to the wharves to engage in their shipping businesses. These homes were built on the high ridges particularly in Lower Fort St.

The gold rush of the 1850’s bought new growth to the area particularly through the export of wool. Steam ships began to appear replacing the fast wool clippers that would race each other to be the first to deliver wool to England. Wharves and storage companies expanded their activities by building new jetties and storage sheds. By1880, Sydney had become a major maritime city but

colonial2by 1890 there was a depression leading to the Great Maritime Strike of 1890. By this time, many parts of Millers Point consisted of slum-like housing and the maritime facilities were decaying. In 1900 the bubonic plague struck Sydney, brought in by rats from ships. Over 100 Sydney residents died from the plague. The government began a clean-up campaign that including reconstructing the seawalls around the docks to prevent rats from jumping ship and coming onto the land. During this time, the Sydney Harbour Trust was set up to carry out a massive redevelopment of Sydney’s waterfront. Henry Dean Walsh was the engineer-in-chief of the Sydney Harbour Trust when it was established in 1901. His engineering and administrative abilities were evident in the remodelling of Dawes and Millers Points, including the design and construction of the Walsh Bay and Jones Bay wharves and cargo-handling systems. Walsh designed a new system of wharves, stores and associated roads and hydraulic systems to service them. This reconstruction made the wharves better suited to modern shipping. The development was complete by the 1920s when Walsh Bay became a main landing point for thousands of new migrants.

Walsh Bay 2Walsh Bay was strongly linked to Millers Point where the Sydney Harbour Trust built new housing for its waterside workers. Many of these terrace houses still remain from this period, as well as the many pubs where thirsty waterside workers would gather after work.

After WWII, changes were occurring in shipping including the way cargo was loaded and unloaded. Newer wharf areas were being built at Botany Bay and Darling Harbour East and the wharves at Walsh Bay were going into decline. By the 1980’s, the age of containerisation had arrived, requiring large flat areas load and unload cargo with the use of cranes. Containerisation required fewer workers and during this period large areas of Maritime Service board housing was transferred to the Department of Housing to support low income residents. Because Walsh Bay remained as finger wharves, shipping activities deserted this area and moved around the corner to Darling Harbour East and Botany Bay. By the early 1990’s Walsh Bay was derelict and deserted, and the wharves were abandoned.

Container terminalIn the early 2000’s Walsh Bay was given a new lease of life when the NSW government decided to renew and revitalise the area. Meanwhile containerisation was continuing at Darling Harbour East. By the mid 1990’s, even this area was thought unsuitable for shipping due to the growth of the city and the difficulties of importing and exporting cargo from the Darling Harbour  site. The NSW Government decided to redeveloped this site, renamed Barangaroo, and the northern third of the site was dedicated to public parkland (to be called Headland Park) which was designed to recreate the original shoreline lost over many years of maritime development.

In recent years Millers Point, has become attractive to wealthy investors and is being gentrified. Pressure on public housing is intense, as the NSW government is in the process of selling public housing to private investors attracted by the areas heritage charm and proximity to the CBD. The amount of heritage that should be retained is constantly under debate.

With gentrification came the desire for names that were disconnected from the less respectable past. In 1993 the eastern section of Millers Point, including some of the Walsh Bay wharves, was formally listed by the NSW Geographical Names Board as a separate suburb named Dawes Point. This arbitrary division of an area that had always been tightly connected geographically, economically and socially did not reflect local understandings of what constituted Millers Point.

The massive Barragaroo development on the former Darling Harbour wharves and the Hickson Road area below High Street is transforming this part of Millers Point. The official renaming of this place as Barangaroo is just the most recent indication of a desire on the part of the developers to obliterate the time-honoured name of Millers Point.


Baragaroo Delivery Authority / History

City of Sydney Urban Dictionary – Shirley Fitzgerald and Christopher Keating, Millers Point, The Urban Village, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1991

Additional Secondary Resources

Related Government Agencies:

Barangaroo Delivery Authority

Department of Environment and Heritage

City of Sydney Council

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Resident Action Groups:

Millers Point – Dawes Point – The Rocks – Walsh Bay – Residents Action Group

Barangaroo Action Group

Related Development Companies:

Walsh Bay Finances

Lend Lease

Millers Point Newspaper Articles

Sydney Morning Herald / Domain / Millers Point

Heritage impact ignored in proposed sale of historic houses in the Rocks area says National Trust

Battle for Millers Point lost when Pru Goward took control

No room for nostalgia in Millers Point debate

National Trust criticises sale of public housing in Millers Point

Comment: Saying goodbye to Millers Point, an ancestral home

Millers Point residents win city council’s support

Millers Point Video clips

Alex Greenwich – My interview on the project about Millers Point

Who is Millers Point

Millers Point residents speak out on planned eviction

Millers Point Public Housing – Tanya Plibersek

Barangaroo Reserve’s First Birthday –  time line of development – Link

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