Take prostitutes, convicts, and the bubonic plague, sprinkle in a healthy dose of union agitators and razor-wielding gangs, and you have the makings of central Sydney’s Rocks neighborhood. During this 3-hour Rocks Walking Tour, we’ll focus on Sydney’s social history, from the convict settlements located here in the 19th century to more recent immigrant groups and their struggles for equality. Along the way we’ll uncover a dynamic portrait of multicultural and multifaceted Sydney, one rich in stories and colorful personalities.
"Everything worked on this tour. We had such a wonderfully knowledgeable guide. [Our docent] seemed to know just about everything about the area.”
Rocks Walking Tour
We’ll start out along the western edge of Sydney Cove where we’ll begin at the beginning—the arrival of the First Fleet. But, unlike the more traditional course through the political history of Sydney’s early history that we take on our Sydney History Tour
, we’ll veer into social history and look at how immigrants, workers, women, families, and—yes—convicts shaped this city over two centuries into a leading global metropolis.
Merchants and Prostitutes
During our time together we’ll visit a variety of monuments, from historic homes like Cadman’s Cottage to archaeological sites like the Big Dig under the Sydney YHA. This will enable us to discuss the presence of the Cadigal people in this area before European contact, and the successful waves of immigrants who settled here—from the European dockworkers in the 19th century to Chinese merchants in the 20th. We’ll wander the narrow, picturesque alleys crisscrossing the shadows of the Harbor Bridge, looking at how different groups inhabited and made their living here, from the shop owners along Gloucester Street or the strumpets (prostitutes) who contributed mightily to the economic vitality of this area in the 19th century.
We will also look at the labor movement in Australia, which had a strong presence in the Rocks, partly due to the Harbor Bridge construction project. We’ll spend a good amount of time in the shadow of the bridge, or perhaps climb its pylon, and learn about the green bans, a labor protest movement aimed at preventing the destruction of historic buildings and gentrification of the neighborhood.
At the end of our time together we’ll have a better idea of the social forces at work in Sydney over time, and how different groups of settlers have each made a contribution to the character of the city.
Note: This walk involves some fairly steep ascents and descents via flights of stairs. Please wear comfortable and appropriate footwear and bring a sunhat and a bottle of water.
photo credits to Kristina D.C. Hoeppner and Governor Macquarie.
Is this a relatively tough walk?
This walk does have several flights of stairs both in ascent and descent. In total, there are about 6 flights up and about 3 flights down. These range from 10-25 steps.
Can the steps be avoided?
We can avoid these stairs by walking a different route, but this may shorten aspects of the walk. For clients who might struggle with stairs, we recommend our Making Of Sydney
Will there be much shade along the walk route?
Much of the walk will be out of cover, but our docent will do their best to go under shade where possible. We recommend wearing a sunhat and bringing some water.