Our history and heritage

Working harbour: Sydney’s maritime heritage

A look back to life lived by the water.

  • Semi-Circular Quay, Sydney Cove, 1867

    A seagoing barque is working cargo with the aid of a small steam crane. Customs House (left) is yet to attain the form we now know while the Paragon Hotel (right) is already open for business. A royal standard flies above a triumphal arch for the visit of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Millers Point from North Sydney, c. 1880

    Looking towards Darling Harbour with Pyrmont Bridge in the distance. Millers Point is in the middle ground with ships. Blues Point is in the foreground.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Looking east along Darling Street, Balmain, before 1900

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Ship’s crew, ‘Captain Cook’ c.1905

    The pilot steamer had 2 separate crews which ran either 12 or 24 hour shifts, as required.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Darling Harbour, 1909

    Looking south. Note the coal hulk Fortuna, the amount of landfill, the early gasometer and the pre-stressed moulded concrete fittings.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Paddle ferry ‘Benelon’ refloated, with Diver Lyell, 30 June 1923

    Benelon was sunk in a collision off Sydney Cove in June 1923.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • ‘Kedumba’ under harbour bridge, August 1930

    Car ferry Kedumba was built in 1913 and was retired in 1932 when the harbour bridge was completed.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Fighting fire in bags of copra at Levers works, White Bay, 1930s

    Firemen and the crew of the lighterage tug Saucy Jack are trying to douse the (probably) self-ignited copra.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Ferry ‘Koondooloo’ and passengers, 1938

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives
  • Ferry ‘Kanangra’ at Commissioners Steps, Sydney Cove, 1954

    Looking south-east across Circular Quay, 28 October 1954. In this busy image, you can see the ferry’s captain watching his passengers leave. In the background, construction of the Cahill Expressway and an advertising sign for Holden.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives

The history of Sydney’s working harbour since the 1850s has been captured for generations to come in the City of Sydney Archives.

Many of the photographs in the collection – some 10,000 images – were recently donated to the City by Graeme Andrews OAM, who started snapping and collecting photos of Sydney's ferries when he was 17. But his passion grew to embrace everything on and around the water.

“As a child I went to Fort Street Primary School by the ferry from Mosman Bay and got to know the skippers and deckhands and occasionally even fell into the water,” Mr Andrews, 75, said.

“I’ve ‘lived’ the harbour for about 70 years and my image collection is my tribute to a place that was – the future is for someone else to image and evaluate.”

Mr Andrews has kept his career close to the water too, working as a petty officer in the Royal Australian Navy until 1968 and the reserve until 1979. He also worked full-time as a journalist-photographer and later as master of Manly and Sydney ferries, tugs and harbour craft.

During this time, his camera was always by his side, but he also bought photographs, exchanged them and inherited them.

The Working Harbour collection features photos from Mr Andrew's collection that cover the large area of waterways between Lake Macquarie to the north of Sydney, south to Port Kembla and west to the Nepean River.

There are dozens of photos of well-known ferries as well as images of both Sydney Harbour Bridge and the AMP skyscraper being constructed, and wharves being built at Darling Harbour in 1909.

The Working Harbour collection includes images by other passionate photographers, such as Rob Montgomery, Fred Saxon and the Dufty family of ship photographers, who made their living selling photographs to ships’ passengers and crew in the early 1900s.

See more of the collection at City of Sydney Archives.

Published 6 January 2014, updated 3 June 2021