The Rocks: Beginning of The Rocks

The Rocks: Beginning of The Rocks
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This clip uses old paintings and engravings to trace the early history of the Rocks area from its inception.

Summary by Damien Parer

The director’s effective and sometimes quirky choice of artwork, combined with snappy editing and a quiet but evocative music track, makes this an entertaining summary of the establishment of The Rocks and an enticing start to what might otherwise have been a pedestrian promotional film.


The Rocks: Sydney, Australia synopsis

This sponsored documentary traces the beginning of The Rocks in Sydney Cove to its present redevelopment as a tourist precinct. A young female tourist appears throughout the film as a linking device.


The Rocks: Sydney, Australia curator's notes

The short documentary was commissioned by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority to promote tourism and shows their involvement in the redevelopment.

Notes by Damien Parer


Education notes

This clip shows colour footage of The Rocks, Sydney, followed by a series of black-and-white still drawings, a photograph and paintings from the period that illustrate the early history of the area. A narrator describes the settlement of The Rocks, its colourful early history and its significance as an international port.

Educational value points

  • The development of The Rocks, located at the foot of what is now the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the western shores of Sydney Cove, began on the 'foundation day’ of British settlement, 26 January 1788. Governor Captain Arthur Phillip selected Sydney Cove as the site for Australia’s first British penal colony in 1788, after surveying Botany Bay and deeming it unsuitable for settlement. The Indigenous Eora people were the original inhabitants of the area.
  • The Rocks was named after the local sandstone that was used to build many of the original buildings and the clip depicts some of the early buildings at Sydney Cove, such as Campbell Storehouses and Cadman’s Cottage, that have survived repeated redevelopment attempts and plans.
  • In 1900, bubonic plague broke out in The Rocks, and part of the area was demolished. Redevelopment plans were stalled by the First World War. More buildings were demolished during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1920s and plans to rebuild were again interrupted, this time by the Second World War. During the 1960s further attempts by the New South Wales Government were made to demolish the remaining buildings and redevelop the area. A large part of The Rocks was finally preserved after a long community campaign was conducted by local residents and the NSW Builder’s Labourers Federation in the 1970s.
  • The clip includes an early photograph showing the poor living conditions at The Rocks. The buildings in the settlement were built very close together and had poor sanitation. The Rocks soon became a destination for sailors and the area was frequented by prostitutes and warring gangs.
  • The Rocks was considered a slum and maintained this reputation until planning and development began to restore it in the 1970s. The area is now home to the Sydney Theatre Company and a number of opulent hotels but it also has a relatively high proportion of Housing Commission houses and high-rise flats. The Rocks is nevertheless a tourist attraction of cultural and historical significance.
  • The clip presents a portrait of Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), the first governor of NSW, who commanded the First Fleet in 1788 and founded the first British settlement in Australia at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. Phillip is remembered for his optimism, vision, fair policies regarding the treatment of convicts and the friendship he extended towards the 29 clan groups that made up the Eora people. In an attempt to aid relations he employed Bennelong, an Indigenous Australian man, to advise him on the Eora people’s language and customs. During his term of office the infant colony struggled with a lack of equipment, supplies and skilled workers (particularly farmers). Frustrated by the lack of support from the British Government and by opposition from his officers as well as the convicts, Phillip’s health began to suffer and he sailed to England to seek medical advice in 1792, taking Bennelong with him and presenting him to King George III. At the time of Philip’s departure the British population of NSW was 4,221 (including 3,099 convicts).

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Kingcroft Productions
Terry Ohlsson
Executive producer:
John R Pola & Associates Pty Ltd
Philip Bond
Philip Bond
Original music:
Robin Lee Sinclair

This clip starts approximately 2 minutes into the documentary.

Titles read, ‘Produced by Terry Ohlsson, Written and Directed by Philip Bond’. We see the buildings and ships at the dock. We then see photographs and illustrations of people going about daily life of the time. Concluding with one of Captain Phillip and a two sailing ships at sea.

Narrator The Rocks, Sydney, Australia. A point of arrival for two centuries of Australian immigrants, and a place where visitors from overseas could expect mixed receptions. From day one, foundation day of European settlement, 26 January 1788, the history of The Rocks has been as colourful as it has been varied. The virgin rocky and tree-covered slopes on the western shores of Sydney Cove soon became a collection of insanitary hovels and taverns for seafarers from all parts of the world. Life was cheap for the early settlers, and entertainment fast and bawdy. When Captain Phillip first sailed his fleet through the heads of what is today Sydney Harbour and anchored in Sydney Cove, he could not have foreseen the nautical traffic that was to follow.