If you’re the type of traveller who really likes to get to grips with a destination’s hidden histories and sordid secrets, you’re in luck: Sydney is brimming with brilliant revelations below its sun-soaked, café-strewn surface.
We’re not just talking mildly interesting figures on how much it cost to construct the Sydney Opera House or basic titbits about how long Sydney has officially been dubbed a metropolis. Instead, we’ve dug deep into the history of this awesome Aussie city to bring you ten Sydney facts that’ll really blow your mind (promise).
1. Sydney was not the original name choice for the city
Believe it or not, Sydney wasn’t the first choice for this iconic city’s title. Back in 1788, when the first colony was founded at Sydney Cove, the fleet’s commander Captain Arthur Philip wanted to dub it New Albion, but was overruled in favour of naming the region city after Lord Sydney – the wily British home secretary who first came up with the idea of banishing convicts all the way in the Land Down Under.
Despite the fact he never even set foot on Australian soil, we still reckon it’s a whole lot catchier than Albion.
2. Trendy Surry Hills used to be the base of a female-run crime syndicate
While it’s now known for its hip brunch spots and charming village vibe, Surry Hills wasn’t always so salubrious. Sydney was founded as a convict colony, so it won’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that crime was rife during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, its wayward inhabitants – including two rival female mobsters – helped earn it the (awesome or awful?) nickname “Sin City” in the 1920s. Surry Hills was the headquarters of one such gang, specifically the Frog Hollow slum that’s now an attractive nature reserve on the corner of Albion Street and Riley Street.
3. There’s a massive underground lake beneath one of the city’s train stations
If you find yourself catching a train in or out of St James station on the edge of Sydney’s Hyde Park, consider this: that platform you’re impatiently waiting for your train to pull into is likely located right above an enormous subterranean lake. We. Kid. You. Not.
The huge body of water is a kilometre long and was formed after one of the station’s four disused underground tunnels was flooded.
Once a swimming hole, it’s now only accessible on rare history tours or via the train tracks beyond the tunnel to anyone who fancies themselves a fearless urban explorer (we wouldn’t recommend this, though, as it’s technically trespassing).
4. Sydney is home to one of the world’s most deadly spiders
Arachnophobes may want to give this fascinating Sydney fact a miss. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll definitely be aware of Australia’s numerous deadly animals – from slithering snakes to insidious insects that can paralyse you with just one bite.
The Sydney Funnel Web Spider is one such creepy crawly and as its name suggests, it’s native to the city and surrounding region. If one gets its fangs into you, its venom will kill you within the hour unless you get to a hospital pronto. Ouch.
5. The city has a floating forest
If your brain has gone into overdrive wondering exactly how a floating forest works, let us enlighten. Back in the 1970s, the decommissioned freighter SS Ayrfield – which was used to transport supplies during WWII – was one of four ships sent to Homebush Bay in northwest Sydney’s to be dismantled.
Well, that never happened and they were instead left to rot in the bay. In the SS Ayrfield’s case, mangrove trees began pushing through its hull and eventually sprouted across the ship. You can spot the wreck from The Promenade shoreline and it really does look like a speck of verdant woodland floating on the water.
6. Around a third of Sydney’s residents were born overseas
Sydney is undeniably one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world – all you need to do is look at the maths for proof. Censuses show that almost 40% of the city’s residents were born in another country, plus you’ll hear chit-chatter in over 200 different dialects as you stroll Sydney’s streets. This is all great news for visitors, as it means it’s absolutely inundated with fabulous spots to slurp on fragrant bowls of pho, tweezer delectable dim sum and get your hands greasy eating some of the best pizza in the Southern Hemisphere.
7. Sydney Harbour Bridge was only painted grey because of a shortage of paint
You can’t go all the way to Sydney without clapping eyes on the city’s legendary Harbour Bridge. The structure’s dull shade may seem a little uninspiring when you consider the bright tones of other famous bridges, however, its colour option was purely down to practicality rather than aesthetics.
With over of 270,000 litres of paint needed to cover Sydney Harbour Bridge’s magnificent bulk, grey was the only hue available in such a massive quantity. A full-time team (including two robots) are currently employed to touch up its paintwork every five years – a job which takes almost two months.
Want to know another fun Sydney fact? Paul Hogan (aka Crocodile Dundee) was one of the bridge’s first official painters before he found fame as a knife-wielding, crocodile-poaching survivalist on the silver screen.
8. You’ll find the longest moving walkway in a carpark near Woolloomooloo Bay
While they’re super convenient and make you feel like someone has just pressed the fast-forward button in real life, moving walkways are hardly a major attraction. That is unless you’re travelling along the longest, still existing moving walkway on the planet…
Tucked away in the underground carpark of The Domain (an 84-acre open air events space in Woolloomooloo Bay), the novel Domain Moving Walkway stretches for 207 metres and whizzes you effortlessly all the way to College Street and the northern tip of Hyde Park. We reckon it’s worth riding along – whether you’re driving into the city or not.
9. Sydney is the birthplace of the Granny Smith apple (and there’s even an annual festival in the fruits’ honour)
Thought the Granny Smith hailed from merry old England? Incorrect. This popular pie filler was in fact cultivated in the Eastbank district of Sydney way back in 1868 – and, legend has it, completely by accident. The lady behind the tart apple variety was Maria Ann Smith who emigrated to Sydney from the UK in 1838 with her husband.
She grew French crab apples in her garden and supposedly, when cooking them, would toss the unwanted cores out of her kitchen window onto a compost heap where eventually a brand-new seedling began to grow. The rest is, as they say, history and Eastbank has even hosted a Granny Smith Festival in mid-October since 1985. Expect to see people dressed in apple-printed t-shirts, dozens of market stalls selling apple-themed treats and novice bakers going head to head in an apple baking competition.
10. Bondi Beach hosted one of the biggest ever bikini photoshoots in 2007
It would be a crime to jet all the way to Sydney and not enjoy at least one arvo (that’s afternoon in the local lingo) on Bondi Beach. It’s one of over 100 beaches around the city and where thousands of wannabe surfer dudes and golden-skinned posers flock every year to catch a wave, soak up some vitamin D and attempt to grill burgers on one of the coin-operated barbies.
Want to know a seriously glam Sydney fact about Bondi? The Aussie city is no stranger to world records and on the 26th September 2007, Bondi Beach hosted the world’s largest bikini photoshoot. According to the Guinness Book of Records, 1010 sun-kissed Aussies posed in their bathers along the sand. Sadly, the accolade was snatched from Bondi less than a year later when Russia hosted its own record-smashing photoshoot on Riviera Beach in Sochi.
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