The Rocks

see also Sydney Architecture- The Rocks walking tour

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01 The Orient Hotel 02 Former Rocks Police Station  03 Australasian Steam Navigation Co. 
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04 Palisade Hotel  05 The Garrison Church 06 Lord Nelson Hotel
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07 Terrace Houses, Lower Fort Street 08 The Observatory 09 British Seaman's Hotel
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10 The Harbour View Hotel 11 The Hero of Waterloo 12 Mercantile Hotel
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13 Public Urinal 14 Richmond Villa 15 Old Fort Street School
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16 St. Patrick’s RC Church 17 Walsh Bay Wharves 18 Cadman's Cottage
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06 St Patrick’s Hall and School 20 Observer Hotel 21 St Philip's Church
22 Susannah Place Museum 23 The Argyle Cut 19 Lilyvale
24 Brooklyn Hotel 25 Former Science House 26 HARBOUR TOWER


The earliest European Sydneysiders – convicts, soldiers, whalers and sailors – all walked this route. Later came the shipping magnates, wharf labourers and traders. The Rocks and Millers Point have been overlaid by generations of change, but amongst the bustling modern city streets remnants and traces of these early times can be found. Pubs and churches, archaeological digs and houses all evoke memories of past lives, past ways.


Circular Quay West, The Rocks
Circular Quay West, The Rocks

The Rocks is a tourist precinct and historic area near the central business district (CBD) of Sydney, Australia. It borders on the Bradfield Highway, leading to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is immediately adjacent to Circular Quay (Sydney Cove), the site of Australia's first European settlement in 1788.

The Rocks became established shortly after the colony's formation. The original buildings were made mostly of local sandstone, from which the area derives its name. From the earliest history of the settlement, the area had a reputation as a slum, often frequented by visiting sailors and prostitutes. During the late 1800s, the areas was dominated by a gang known as the Rocks Push. It maintained this rough reputation until approximately the 1970s.


Campbell's Cove, The Rocks

Campbell's Cove, The Rocks

Terrace Houses, Lower Fort Street, The Rocks

Terrace Houses, Lower Fort Street, The Rocks

A street in The Rocks

A street in The Rocks

Earth Exchange Museum from Hickson Street, The Rocks

Earth Exchange Museum from Hickson Street, The Rocks

By the early twentieth century, many of the area's historic buildings were in serious decay. In 1900, bubonic plague broke out, and the state government resumed areas around The Rocks and Darling Harbour, with the intention of demolishing them and rebuilding them. Part of the area was demolished, but redevelopment plans were stalled by the outbreak of World War I. During the 1920s, several hundred buildings were demolished during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. However, the outbreak of World War II once again stalled many of the redevelopment plans, and it was not until the 1960s that serious attempts to demolish much of the area were revived.

In 1968, the state government gave control of The Rocks to the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority, with the intention of demolishing all the original buildings, re-developing them as high-density residential dwellings. In February 1971, a group of local residents formed the Rocks Residents Group to oppose the plans. They felt that the new dwellings would result in increased rents, which would force out the traditional residents of the area. The residents' group requested a Green ban from the Builder's Labourers Federation, who had become increasingly active in preventing controversial developments over the previous four years.

By 1973, the union had imposed the ban, and after discussions with the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority, a 'People's Plan' was developed. By October 1973, it appeared that the redevelopment would proceed as originally planned, using non-union labor. For two weeks, demonstrations by local residents and unionists followed, with numerous arrests being made. Liberal Premier Robert Askin was in the midst of an election campaign, and used the protests as a means of conveying his law and order message to voters. However, the green ban stayed in place until 1975, when the state union leadership was overthrown, and was ultimately successful, as can be seen in the buildings that survive today. Instead of demolishing The Rocks, renovations transformed the area into a commercial and tourist precinct.

Today the Rocks is a partly gentrified area, but still contains a significant proportion of Housing Commission properties, and there is still a significant problem of urban poverty in this district. As housing stock becomes dilapidated, government policy is to sell the now extremely valuable public housing units to private owners, in the expectation that they will restore the properties.

The close proximity to Circular Quay and the views of the iconic Harbour Bridge, as well as the historic nature of many of the buildings, mean that the Rocks is very popular with tourists. It features a variety of souvenir and craft shops, and many themed and historic pubs. The Rocks Market operates each weekend, with around 100 stalls. There are numerous historic walks through the area, visiting historical buildings such as Cadman's Cottage and Sydney Observatory, and the Dawes Point Battery, which was the first fortified position in New South Wales.

Hero of Waterloo, one of Sydney's oldest pubs

Hero of Waterloo, one of Sydney's oldest pubs

Two separate pubs in The Rocks claim to be Sydney's oldest surviving pubs. Its situation beside Circular Quay has led to several hotels in the area due to the picturesque views. A passenger boat terminal and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney is also situated beside the Rocks area. The precinct can also be accessed by rail, as it is within walking distance of Circular Quay station.

Heritage Pubs in the Rocks
 In 1788 conditions in Sydney Cove were unfamiliar and harsh for the First Fleet, gaoler and convict alike. One of the few pleasures afforded these unfortunate folk was alcohol, in particular, rum. In fact rum was once a form of currency and paid for the building of one of the first permanent hospitals in New South Wales.

Once the fledgling colony had found its feet and began a to build a settlement, public drinking houses were among the first commercial structures to go up, especially in The Rocks. Pubs quickly became a central focus of social life for the young colony: everything from birthdays, weddings and christenings to wakes and coronial inquests were held in The Rocks hotels.

Today there are 13 heritage pubs in the precinct, each has an interesting story to tell about the people who lived, worked and played in The Rocks. The architectural heritage of The Rocks is also engraved on the facades and interiors of these historic pubs. Styles and materials changed as each one was built, renovated, demolished, rebuilt and remodelled several times over its lifespan.

Some pubs in The Rocks have a colourful and notorious past. The upright Church-going and genteel residents of the area were constantly complaining about the rough and ready labouring types that would congregate in the hotels and bars. Being close to the waterfront they also attracted sailors and wharfies: well known as heavy drinkers who were not afraid of a ‘blue’ if someone upset them. A lot of hard drinking and even harder fighting would have occurred in the ‘good old days’ of early opening and early closing. The Rocks ‘Push’ and the larrikin tradition are strongly identified with drinking during this period. But the days of the infamous ‘six-o-clock swill’ are over. Until the 1970s pubs used to close at 6pm and the patrons, in those days mostly men, would crowd the public bar to gulp down as many beers as they could. Today publicans are more conscious of attracting a sophisticated clientele that is more inclined to drink responsibly and enjoy a meal with their beverages. Many of The Rocks pubs are now offering fine, contemporary Australian food as well as award-winning wines and boutique beers in bottles and on tap.

The modern pubs of The Rocks are meeting places and ‘watering holes’ in the tradition of their forebears and namesakes. Each year on important occasions, such as New Year’s Eve, St Patrick’s Day and Anzac Day, The Rocks pubs provide venues for family and friends to gather, to ‘eat, drink and be merry’. The Rocks certainly is a ‘fun’ place to be during these celebrations and just about any Friday or Saturday night. There’s a great variety in atmosphere, menus and music played: everything from Trad Jazz to swing; Karaoke to contemporary rock and Irish ballads.

Historic pubs in The Rocks
We can recommend a walking tour of the pubs and if you follow our list you’ll see them all, without having to double back, or cross your tracks. This tour is in the tradition of the Aussie ‘pub crawl’, but we advise you not to go overboard, stay on your feet and keep your wits about you.

The Orient Hotel, 87-89 George Street
There is evidence of activity on this site since the earliest days of the British colony. It was close to the hospital and the Surgeon General’s house was here from 1790 to 1816. The property changed hands several times but by 1851 it is recorded as the "Marine Hotel", in 1876 it became "Buckham’s Hotel" and in 1884 was renamed "Orient Hotel". It is the largest existing hotel in the area on a strategic corner site. In 1978 it was renovated and the exterior restored to the original elevation.

Observer Hotel , 67-69 George Street
This site was the home of marine artist Frederick Garling in the 1820s. In 1848 Robert White Moore built a two-storey public house called the "Observer Tavern". This pub was often used for coronial inquests as the city morgue was just across George Street. The original hotel was demolished in 1906 and the present building went up a couple of years later. Conservation work began on the hotel in 1991 and the archaeological remains of Garling’s house were discovered. These elements are open to public viewing at the back of the hotel.   Mercantile Hotel

Mercantile Hotel, 25-27 George Street
For many years this site was everything but a pub: a coal and timber yard, a stables, a fruit and vegetable shop and a vacant lot. By 1915 it had become a pub called the "Mercantile Rowing Club Hotel". If you look around the external façade you’ll see that the rare Art Nouveau tiling is still intact.

The Harbour View Hotel, 18 Lower Fort Street
A relative ‘newcomer’ to The Rocks; it only went up on its present site in 1922, though there was a pub with this name in Dawes Point Reserve from the 1870s to around 1920. The Harbour View is designed in the "Free Classical" style of the inter-war years and its curved front wall makes an important contribution to the streetscape. The glazed tile signage is one of the few remaining examples of this style in the CBD.

The Hero of Waterloo, 81-83 Lower Fort Street.
George Payten was obviously a spiritual man. In 1842 he built the nearby Garrison Church (in Argyle Street) and a year later the Hero. The stone for both church and public house probably came from a quarry in nearby Kent Street. According to local legend there was a secret passage in the basement of the Hero that came out on the wharves at Walsh Bay. Ruffians, it is said, would use the tunnel to "shanghai" (drug and kidnap) young men and force them to serve on ships that visited the port.

Lord Nelson Hotel, 19 Kent Street.
Today the Lord Nelson is a micro-brewery and hotel. Six types of beer are made on the premises and tours of the brewery are available. The stone building in the Old Colonial Regency style was built in 1836 and it became a pub in 1841. It is a rare example of a working pub from the early nineteenth century.

Palisade Hotel , 35 Bettington Street.
The halfway mark and the furthest we venture from The Rocks precinct. The Palisade was built in 1912 on a sandstone bluff overlooking the wharves in Walsh Bay. Like many other hotels in the area this one replaced an earlier Palisade. This pub was popular with labourers working on the Sydney Harbour Bridge from 1923 to 1932.

Captain Cook, 33 Kent Street
The present building went up in the 1920s to replace an earlier hotel on this site since 1880.

Glenmore, 96-98 Cumberland Street
Situated in a more salubrious precinct in The Rocks the Punchbowl hotel was on this site from 1816 to the 1840s. In 1919 the brewer Tooth and Co Ltd was granted a 50 year lease and built the Glenmore at a cost of £7,905 7/4d. The rooftop beer garden offers unparalleled view over The Rock and Sydney Harbour.

Australian Hotel, 100-102 Cumberland Street
The original Australian Hotel was next door at 116 Cumberland Street which is now part of the archaeological dig site. This was also a brewery-owned pub from 1915. The hotel retains many of its original features, despite several renovations. In 1992 it was restored to the way it appeared when it first opened, a true "diggers pub" from the early 20th century.

Harts Pub, 10-14 Essex Street
This site has a long history with the first buildings going up sometime around 1816. The Hart Buildings, originally a row of terraced houses, were constructed between 1890 and 1900 in a restrained Federation Arts and Crafts style. The buildings were originally dwellings and have been commercial premises at some time during their life. When the ANA hotel was constructed the buildings were incorporated for use as a pub.

Brooklyn Hotel, 231 George Street
This site was the original military parade ground for the colony but was built on by the mid 1900s. In 1884 the existing terraces were demolished and replaced with a four storey Italianate building that included a hotel. After several name changes it became the Brooklyn in 1898.

Fortune of War, 137 George Street
The Fortune of War was established by 1839 and a public house has traded on this site ever since, though it’s had a few changes of name and ownership.

by: tourism new south wales