Work Starts at Museum

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales

    In 1922 work on the long proposed underground railway in Sydney recommenced, and for the next ten years the city would be torn asunder by the demolition and construction which would soon include the Harbour Bridge.

    Quoted dates for the start of work vary between the 17th and 20th February but the article below sets out the precise circumstances. It should be noted that the ‘Dooley’ referred to was James Dooley, the Premier, and there was an election in the offing.

    This was in fact not a start of work but a restart after more than four years of inaction. Some work had been done in 1916 and 1917, most notably in the Botanic Gardens, where gaping excavations were abandoned and flooded, but at the Liverpool Street station site little more than hoardings, sheds, and the exclusion of the public from large areas of their park had occurred.

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The Evening News Friday February 17, 1922. Page 5.



How First Soil Was Turned

    Two old men, with whiskers and cherrywood pipes, crossed their legs on a seat in Hyde Park this morning.
    “I see Dooley's made a start.” one of them said.
    “Yairs.” his mate answered.
    Then silence. They dreamed in the sun.
    They were in that part of Hyde Park fenced in, at the corner of Liverpool and Elizabeth streets – where the merry-go-rounds and hoop-las used to be.
    Somewhere in a corner of the enclosure a man was hitting a nail with a hammer. A few men with pick-axes sauntered along to a little wooden house in the centre. Then a couple of horses appeared. They were harnessed to a little hand-plough.
    One of the men in flannels drawled out the order, hitched up his dungarees, and followed along behind the horses with a good grip of the handles of the plough.
    And that was the start of the City Railway.
    With nobody to look and nobody to cheer – the two old men with the cherry wood pipes and the whiskers were asleep in the sun – that plough cut a furrow about 50yd long in the enclosure – and the City Railway was begun.
    But it was explained that though this was the first soil turned for the tunnel, the work would not start in earnest till Monday. Then probably about 200 men would be on the job digging deep down into the earth.
    It would no doubt be nice for somebody to be able to say with a long pull of the pipe, in years to come: “Well, I saw the first soil turned for the City Railway. I remember when young Jimmy and I …..”
    But that would be impossible now. The only spectators were the old men with whiskers and the cherry wood pipes – and they were asleep in the sun.
    And even if they had seen it, it would not be much good – probably they'll only live another 20 years.

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    The ‘official’ photo of the work is dated 20th February and shows a more substantial horse team, rather than the two beasts of the previous Friday, but the fact remains that much of the work was done by ploughs, men with shovels hand loading carts, with minor support from a couple of steam-powered ‘navvies’. The second photo, taken only two months later, showing the open cut for what will be Liverpool Street station, now known as Museum, illustrates the volume of soil and shale which men and horses could move.

    There would be continuous work until 1932 by which time electric trains were running to St James and Wynyard on the City Circle and across the Bridge to the North Shore.

    The photos exist in several collections, but those here presented are specifically from the albums of Kathleen M. Butler, held in the Mitchell Library.

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