Category Archives: Travelogue

No Speedo? Then Don’t Try To Go Swimming In France – Seriously!

A boy — wearing an approved swimsuit — jumps into the public swimming pool in Auxerre, France. Credit: Adeline Sire

If you’ve traveled outside of the US this summer, a foreign language may not have necessarily been the biggest stress factor of the trip. Local customs are often what get us stumped.

Take a trip to the local pool, for example. Seems like an easy and universal-enough activity to not have to jump through the daunting hoops of cultural differences, right? Wrong. It can be an uncomfortable experience.

I am a native of the city of Auxerre, Burgundy, in France. It’s a lovely place of about 35,000 people, rich with medieval history.

It’s small, but it boasts many remarkable historical monuments, including a cathedral and an abbey from the Middle Ages and some ancient churches and chapels. It sits in the middle of the Burgundian hills, known for their excellent wines.

The city has another, more modern attraction that locals are proud of: its phenomenal public pool — or as it’s called there, the Nautical Stadium. It has four indoor heated pools with a jacuzzi, and three outside pools including an Olympic-sized one with a long, swirly slide. It is an extravagantly large — for its town — aquatic facility, built on the green banks of the river Yonne.

People travel from surrounding towns and villages to spend the day there, sunbathe on its beautiful lawns and snack at its eatery, when they are not swimming. You pay a small fee to get a bracelet which gives you access to the facilities. There’s nothing tricky, except for the bathing suit rules.

You see, in most French public pools, there are strict regulations about the kind of bathing suit you can wear, and therefore share with others, in the water.

For illustration: (L) Not approved swimwear. (R) Approved swimwear. Credit: Adeline Sire

Simply put, where hygiene is concerned, your swimsuit cannot be something you could be found wearing outside the pool. That means no trunks, Bermuda shorts, T-shirts or anything that is not strictly meant for swimming.

Auxerre’s pool administrators say they do not want people to drag any dirt on, or under, their summer attire into the pool. So if you are going to join the masses of swimmers — all 2,000 of them on a busy summer day — you’ll have very little cloth covering your own birthday suit.

Where else would you be told to wear something shorter and tighter, no matter your shape? Man, woman or child, you’ll have to wear some form of spandex, something tight, the kind Speedo makes. Something that often leaves nothing to the imagination — and it’s not to everyone’s liking.

If you are caught entering the pool with biking shorts, running shorts or trunks, lifeguards — turned fashion police — will blow the whistle and send you back to the lobby where you will be asked to purchase proper attire. This is where convenient vending machines come in.

In the Auxerre pool lobby, there are machines that vend soft drinks, sandwiches and espressos, and others that dispense anything needed for the pool, from ear plugs, soap, shampoo and goggles, to swimwear.

A vending machine at the public pool in Auxerre, France, dispenses swimsuits. Credit: Adeline Sire

A mannequin in swimming trunks with a big “forbidden” sign around its neck in the pool’s lobby is supposed to illustrate, for unsuspecting tourists, the kind of bathing suit that is acceptable. As a result, looking around, there is a certain repetitiveness to the swimsuit designs worn by men and boys.

There are four different designs in all, perhaps because that is all that is available at the vending machine or at the inexpensive sports store in town.

In the years since those regulations went into effect, I cannot remember hordes of disgruntled tourists getting outraged about this. But occasionally, one gets caught with his pants long (men more than women for obvious reasons) and is not happy about it.

The French have just gotten used to this, but for some visitors, the fact that municipal administrators have the authority to get you dressed to their liking — or un-dressed as the case may be — is completely infuriating. That is one of those unavoidable cultural quirks travelers must contend with in France.

As a resident of the United States, used to the uncompromising French swimsuit rules, it’s always disconcerting to me that anyone would be allowed to walk straight into an American public pool, from the street to the water, fully dressed, trunks over underwear, T-shirt over chest and sometimes with water shoes on.

That could make me love the French “no clothes — just Speedos” rules even more.

But perhaps there are no people on Earth prouder of their public pools than Icelanders. Iceland, where I just spent a few days, is rich with geothermal springs and big cities enjoy naturally heated outdoor pools. Because there are no chemicals in those pools, swimmers are expected to take a meticulous soap-and-scrub shower before entering the pool.

We were told that the rules are strictly enforced everywhere, and so visitors oblige.

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland. Credit: Adeline Sire

This was my experience recently at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa near Reykjavik, where a very polite young staff lady looked on and directed all female visitors to shower in the nude before letting them into the hot spring. No one seemed to object. But then again, people were not told what to wear.


The Potala Palace (Winter Palace); Norbulingka (Summer Palace); and Jokhang Temple Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet.

The saddest thing about the Potala is that it is devoid of its spiritual head, the Dalai Lama. There is something desolate about lines of tourists and pilgrims circumnavigating the massive, empty complex. One can only hope that, given time, His Holiness will return, and give life back to this icon.



Potala Palace in simplified Chinese (top), traditional Chinese (middle) and Tibetan (bottom).

The Potala Palace (Tibetan: ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་, Wylie: pho brang Potala) inLhasa,Tibet AutonomousRegion,China was the residence of theDalaiLama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the1959 Tibetan Uprising. It is now a museum and World Heritage Site

The palace is named afterMount , the mythical abode of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. The 5th Dalai Lama started its construction in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (died 1646), pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government, situated as it is between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa. It may overlay the remains of an earlier fortress called the White or Red Palace on the site, built by Songtsen Gampon 637.

The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 m. thick, and 5 m. (more than 16 ft) thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes. Thirteen stories of buildings—containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues—soar 117 metres (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the “Red Hill”, rising more than 300 m (about 1,000 ft) in total above the valley floor.

Tradition has it that the three main hills of Lhasa represent the “Three Protectors of Tibet”. Chokpon, just to the south of the Potala, is the soul-mountain (Wylie: bla ri) of Vajrapani , Pongwari that of Manjushri, and Marpori, the hill on which the Potala stands, represents Avalokiteśvara.

The walls of the Red Palace

The site on which the Potala Palace rises is built over a palace erected by Songtsen Gampo on the Red Hill. The Potala contains two chapels on its northwest corner that conserve parts of the original building. One is the Phakpa Lhakhang, the other the Chogyel Drupuk, a recessed cavern identified as Songtsen Gampo’s meditation cave. Lozang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, started the construction of the modern Potala Palace in 1645. The external structure was built in 3 years, while the interior, together with its furnishings, took 45 years to complete. The Dalai Lama and his government moved into the Potrang Karpo (‘White Palace’) in 1649. Construction lasted until 1694, some twelve years after his death. The Potala was used as a winter palace by the Dalai Lama from that time. The Potrang Marpo (‘Red Palace’) was added between 1690 and 1694.

The new palace got its name from a hill on Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari) att the southern tip of India—a rocky point sacred to the bodhisattva of compassion, who is known as Avalokiteśvara, or Chenrezi. The Tibetans themselves rarely speak of the sacred place as the “Potala”, but rather as “Peak Potala” (Tse Potala), or most commonly as “the Peak”.

The palace was slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959, when Chinese shells were launched into the palace’s windows. Before Chamdo Jampa Kalden was shot and taken prisoner by soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army, he witnessed “Chinese cannon shells began landing on Norbulingka past midnight on March 19th, 1959… The sky lit up as the Chinese shells hit the Chakpori Medical College and the Potala.” It also escaped damage during the Cultural Revolution in 1966 through the personal intervention of Zhou Enlai who was then the Premier of the People’s Republic of China. Tibetan activist Tsering Woeser claims that the palace, which harboured “over 100,000 volumes of scriptures and historical documents” and “many store rooms for housing precious objects, handicrafts, paintings, wall hangings, statues, and ancient armour”, “was almost robbed empty.”On the other hand, tibetologist Amy Heller writes that “the invaluable library and artistic treasures accumulated over the centuries in the Potala have been preserved.”

The Potala Palace was inscribed to the UNRSCO World Heritage List in 1994. In 2000 and 2001Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka were added to the list as extensions to the sites. Rapid modernisation has been a concern for UNESCO, however, which expressed concern over the building of modern structures immediately around the palace which threaten the palace’s unique atmosphere.[18] The Chinese government responded by enacting a rule barring the building of any structure taller than 21 metres in the area. UNESCO was also concerned over the materials used during the restoration of the palace, which commenced in 2002 at a cost of RMB180 million (US$22.5 million), although the palace’s director, Qiangba Gesang, has clarified that only traditional materials and craftsmanship were used. The palace has also received restoration works between 1989 and 1994, costing RMB55 million (US$6.875 million).

The number of visitors to the palace was restricted to 1,600 a day, with opening hours reduced to six hours daily to avoid over-crowding from 1 May 2003. The palace was receiving an average of 1,500 a day prior to the introduction of the quota, sometimes peaking to over 5,000 in one day.[19] Visits to the structure’s roof were banned after restoration efforts were completed in 2006 to avoid further structural damage.[20] Visitorship quotas were raised to 2,300 daily to accommodate a 30% increase in visitorship since the opening of the Quinsang railway into Lhasa on 1 July 2006, but the quota is often reached by midmorning . Opening hours were extended during the peak period in the months of July to September, where over 6,000 visitors would descend on the site.

The former quarters of the Dalai Lama. The figure in the throne represents Tenzin Gyatso,The incumbent Dalai Lama

Built at an altitude of 3,700 m (12,100 ft), on the side of Marpo Ri (‘Red Mountain’) in the center of Lhasa Valley,[23] the Potala Palace, with its vast inward-sloping walls broken only in the upper parts by straight rows of many windows, and its flat roofs at various levels, is not unlike a fortress in appearance. At the south base of the rock is a large space enclosed by walls and gates, with gold porticos on the inner side. A series of tolerably easy staircases, broken by intervals of gentle ascent, leads to the summit of the rock. The whole width of this is occupied by the palace.

The central part of this group of buildings rises in a vast quadrangular mass above its satellites to a great height, terminating in gilt canopies similar to those on the Jokhang. This central member of Potala is called the “red palace” from its crimson colour, which distinguishes it from the rest. It contains the principal halls and chapels and shrines of past Dalai Lamas. There is in these much rich decorative painting, with jewelled work, carving and other ornamentation.

The Chinese Putuo Zongchen Temple, UNESCO World Heritage Site, built between 1767 and 1771, was in part modeled after the Potala Palace. The palace was named by the American television show Good Morning America and newspaper USA Today as one of the “New Seven Wonders”.

The Leh Palace in Leh, Ladakh, India is also modelled after the Potala Palace.

The Lhasa Zhol Pillars

Lhasa Zhol Village has two stone pillars or rdo-rings, an interior stone pillar or doring nangma, which stands within the village fortification walls, and the exterior stone pillar or doring chima, which originally stood outside the South entrance to the village. Today the pillar stands neglected to the East of the Liberation Square, on the South side of Beijing Avenue.

The doring chima dates as far back as c. 764, “or only a little later”, and is inscribed with what may be the oldest known example of Tibetan writing.

The creation of the Tibetan script is traditionally attributed to Thonmi Sambhota who is said to have been sent to India early in the reign of Songsten Gampo where he devised an alphabet suitable for the Tibetan language by adapting elements of Indian scripts.

The pillar was erected during the reign of the early Tibetan emperor, Trisong Detsen (755 until 797 or 804 CE) in the village of Zhol (which has disappeared because of recent construction), which stood just before the Potala Palace. It was commissioned by the powerful minister Nganlam Takdra Lukhong, generally considered an opponent of Buddhism.

The inscription starts off by announcing that Nganlam Takdra Lukhong had been appointed Great Inner Minister and Great Yo-gal ‘chos-pa (a title difficult to translate). It goes on to say that Klu-khong brought to Trisong Detsen the facts of the murder of his father, Me Agtsom (704-754) by two of his Great Ministers, ‘Bal Ldong-tsab and LangMyes-zigs, and that they intended to harm him also. They were then condemned and Klu-kong was appointed Inner Minister of the Royal Council.

It then gives an account of his services to the king including campaigns against Tang China which culminated in the brief capture of the Chinese capital Chang’an (modern Xi’an) in 763 CE during which the Tibetans temporarily installed as Emperor a relative of Princess Jincheng Gongzhu (Kim-sheng Kong co), the Chinese wife of Trisong Detsen’s father, Me Agtsom.

It is a testament to the generally tolerant attitude of Tibetan culture that this proud memorial by a subject was allowed to stand after the re-establishment of Buddhism under Trisong Detsen and has survived until modern times.

The pillar contains dedications to a famous Tibetan general and gives an account of his services to the king including campaigns against China which culminated in the brief capture of the Chinese capital Chang’an (modern Xian) in 763 during which the Tibetans temporarily installed as Emperor a relative of Princess Jincheng Gongzhu (Kim-sheng Kong co), the Chinese wife of Trisong Detsen’s father, Me Agtsom.

Traditionally among the celebrations for Tibetan New Year, or Losar, a team of sportsmen, usually from Shigatse, would perform daredevil feats such as sliding down a rope from the top of the highest roof of the Potala, to the Zhol Pillar at the foot of the hill. However, the 13th Dalai Lama banned this performance because it was dangerous and sometimes even fatal.

As of 1993 the pillar was fenced off so it could not be approached closely (see accompanying photo).

Potala adorned with two Buddhist silk banners, Koku, (gos sku) for the Sertreng ceremony (tshogs mchod ser spreng) with the Shol Doring (pillar) is in the foreground in 1949

The Lhasa Zhol pillars in 1993.


(Standard Tibetan: ནོར་བུ་གླིང་ཀ་; Wylie: Nor-bu-gling-ka; simplified Chinese: 罗布林卡; traditional Chinese: 羅布林卡; literally “The Jewelled Park”) is a palace and surrounding park in Lhasa, Tibet, China, built from 1755. It served as the traditional summer residence of the successive Dalai Lamas from the 1780s up until the 14th Dalai Lama’s exile in 1959. Part of the “Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace”, Norbulingka is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was added as an extension of this Historic Ensemble in 2001. It was built by the 7th Dalai Lama and served both as administrative centre and religious centre. It is a unique representation of Tibetan palace architecture.

Norbulingka Palace is situated in the west side of Lhasa, a short distance to the southwest of Potala Palace. Norbulingka covers an area of around 36 hectares (89 acres) and considered to be the largest man made garden in Tibet.

Norbulingka park is considered the premier park of all such horticultural parks in similar ethnic settings in Tibet. During the summer and autumn months, the parks in Tibet, including the Norbulinga, become hubs of entertainment with dancing, singing, music and festivities. The park is where the annual Sho Dun or ‘Yoghurt Festival’ is held.

The Norbulingka palace has been mostly identified with the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lamas who commissioned most of the structures seen here now. During the invasion of Tibet in 1950, a number of buildings were damaged, but were rebuilt beginning in 2003, when the Chinese government initiated renovation works here to restore some of the damaged structures, and also the greenery, the flower gardens and the lakes.

In Tibetan, Norbulingka means “Treasure Garden.” or Treasure Park”. The word ‘Lingka’ is commonly used in Tibet to define all horticultural parks in Lhasa and other cities. When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Norbulingka was renamed People’s Park and opened to the public.

The palace, with 374 rooms, is located 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) west of the Potala Palace, which was the winter palace. It is in the western suburb of Lhasa City on the bank of the Kyichu River. When construction of the palace was started (during the 7th Dalai Lama’s period) in the 1740s, the site was a barren land, overgrown with weeds and scrub and infested with wild animals.

The park, situated at an elevation of 3,650 metres (11,980 ft) had flower gardens of roses, petunias, hollyhocks, marigolds, chrysanthemums and rows of herbs in pots and rare plants. Fruit trees including apple, peach and apricot were also reported (but the fruits did not ripen in Lhasa), and also poplar trees and bamboo. In its heyday, the Norbulingka grounds were also home to wildlife in the form of peacocks and brahminy ducks in the lakes. The park was so large and well-laid-out, that cycling around the area was even permitted to enjoy the beauty of the environment. The gardens are a favourite picnic spot, and provide a beautiful venue for theatre, dancing and festivals, particularly the Shodun or ‘Yoghurt Festival’, which is at the beginning of August, with families camping in the grounds for days, surrounded by colourful makeshift windbreaks of rugs and scarves and enjoying the height of summer weather.

There is also a zoo at Norbulingka, originally to house the animals which were given to the Dalai Lamas. Heinrich Harrer helped the 14th Dalai Lama build a small movie theatre there in the 1950s.

Norbulingka Palace of the Dalai Lamas was built about 100 years after the Potala Palace was built on the Parkori peak, over a 36 hectares (89 acres) land area. It was built a little away to the west of the Potala for the exclusive use by the Dalai Lama to stay in during the summer months. Tenzing Gyatso, the present 14th Dalai Lama, stayed here before he fled to India. The building of the palace and the park was undertaken by the 7th Dalai Lama from 1755. The Norbulingka Park and Summer Palace were completed in 1783 under Jampel Gyatso, the 8th Dalai Lama, on the outskirts of Lhasa. and became the summer residence during the reign of the Eighth Dalai Lama.

The earliest history of Norbulingka is traced originally to a spring at this location, which was used during the summer months by the 7th Dalai Lama to cure his health problems. Qing Dynasty permitted the Dalai Lama to build a palace at this location for his stay, as a resting pavilion. Since subsequent Dalai Lamas also used to stay here for their studies (before enthronement) and as a summer resort, Norbulingka came to be known as the Summer Palace of the Dalai LamaThe 8th Dalai Lama was responsible for many additions to the Norbulingka complex in the form of palaces and gardens.

However, it is sometimes reported that 6th 5(4@through to 12th Dalai Lamas died young and under mysterious circumstances, conjectured as having been poisoned. Most of the credit for the expansion of Norbulingka is given to the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lamas.

It was from the Norbulingka palace that the Dalai Lama escaped to India on 17 March 1959, under the strong belief that he would be captured by the Chinese. On this day, the Dalai Lama dressed like an ordinary Tibetan, and, carrying a rifle across his shoulder, left the Norbulinga palace and Tibet to seek asylum in India. As there was a dust storm blowing at that time, he was not recognized. According to Reuters, “The Dalai Lama and his officials, who had also escaped from the palace, rode out of the city on horses to join his family for the trek to India”. The Chinese discovered this “great escape” only two days later. The party journeyed through the Himalayas for two weeks, and finally crossed the Indian border where they received political asylum. Norbulingka was later surrounded by protesters and subject to an attack by the Chinese.

The summer residence of the Dalai Lama, located in the Norbulingka Park, is now a tourist attraction. The palace has a large collection of Italian chandeliers, Ajanta frescoes, Tibetan carpets, and many other artifacts. Murals of Buddha and the 5th Dalai Lama are seen in some rooms. The 14th Dalai Lama’s (who fled from Tibet and took asylum in India) meditation room, bedroom, conference room and bathroom are part of the display and are explained to tourists.

Built in the 18th century, the Norbulingka Palace and the garden within its precincts have undergone several additions over the years. The vast complex covers a garden area of 3.6 km2 including 3.4 km2 of lush green pasture land covered with forests. It is said to be the “highest garden” anywhere in the world and has earned the epithet “Plateau Oxygen Bar.”

The Norbulingka is the “world’s highest, largest and best-preserved ancient artificial horticultural garden”., which also blends gardening with architecture and sculpture arts from several Tibetan ethnic groups; 30,000 cultural relics of ancient Tibetan history are preserved here. The complex is demarcated under five distinct sections. A cluster of buildings to the left of the entrance gate is the Kelsang Phodang (The full name of this palace is “bskal bzang bde skyid pho brang”), named after the 7th Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso (1708–1757). It is a three-storied palace with chambers for the worship of Buddha, bedrooms, reading rooms and shelters at the centre. The Khamsum Zilnon, a two-storied pavilion, is opposite the entry gate. The 8th Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso (1758–1804) substantially enlarged the palace by adding three temples and the perimeter walls on the south east sector and the park also came to life with plantation of fruit trees and evergreens brought from various parts of Tibet. The garden was well developed with a large retinue of gardeners. To the northwest of Kelsang Phodrong is the Tsokyil Phodrong, which is a pavilion in the midst of a lake and the Chensil Phodrong. On the west side of Norbulingka is the Golden Phodron, built by a benefactor in 1922, and a cluster of buildings which were built during the 13th Dalai Lama’s time. The 13th Dalai Lama was responsible for architectural modifications, including the large red doors to the palace; he also improved the Chensel Lingkha garden to the northwest. To the north of Tsokyil Phodrong is the Takten Migyur Phodrong which was built in 1954 by 14th Dalai Lama and is the most elegant palace in the complex, a fusion of a temple and villa. The new summer palace, which faces south, was built with Central Government funds, and completed in 1956.

The earliest building is the Kelsang Palace built by the Seventh Dalai Lama which is “a beautiful example of Yellow Hat architecture. Dalai Lamas watched, from the first floor of this palace, the folk operas held opposite to the Khamsum Zilnon during the Shoton festival. Its fully restored throne room is also of interest.”

The Norbulingka ’s most dramatic area was the Lake Palace, built in the southwest area. In the centre of the lake, three islands were connected to the land by short bridges. A palace was built on each island. A horse stable and a row of four houses contained the gifts received by the Dalai Lamas from the Chinese emperors and other foreign dignitaries.

Construction of the ‘New Palace’ was begun in 1954 by the present Dalai Lama, and completed in 1956. It is a double-story structure with a Tibetan flat roof. It has an elaborate layout with a maze of rooms and halls. This modern complex contains chapels, gardens, fountains and pools. It is a modern Tibetan-style building embellished with ornamentation and facilities. In the first floor of this building, there are 301 paintings (frescoes) on Tibetan history, dated to the time when Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama met Chairman Mao Zedong As of 1986, the palace had an antique Russian radio, and a Philips console still containing old 78 rpm records.

The entire Norbulingka complex was delimited by two sets of walls. The area encompassed by the inner wall, painted yellow, was exclusively for the use of the Dalai Lama and his attendants. Officials and the Dalai Lama’s royal family lived in the area between the inner yellow wall and the outer wall. A dress code was followed for visitors to enter the palace; those wearing Tibetan dress were allowed; guards posted at the gates controlled the entry, and ensured that no western hat-wearing people (which was made popular in Tibet during Lhamdo Dhondups time) were allowed inside. Wearing shoes inside the park was banned. Guards at the gate offered a formal arms salute to the nobles and high-ranking officials. Even the officials at the lower category also received a salute. The gates outside the yellow wall were heavily protected. Only the Dalai Lama and his guardians could pass through these gates. Tibetan mastiff dogs kept in niches of the compound walls, and tied with long yak hair leashes, were the guard dogs that patrolled the perimeter of the Norbulingka.

On the east gate to the Norbulingka there are two Snow Lion statues covered in khatas (thin white scarves offered as a mark of respect), the Snow Lion on the left is accompanied by a lion cub. The mythical Snow Lion is the symbol of Tibet; according to legend they jump from one snow peak to another. Most of the buildings are closed now; have become storehouses or used as offices for those who take care of the maintenance works. Some additional buildings seen now are souvenir kiosks catering to the visitors.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Norbulingka complex suffered extensive damage. However, in 2001, the Central Committee of the Chinese Government in its 4th Tibet Session resolved to restore the complex to its original glory. Grant funds to the extent of 67.4 million Yuan (US$8.14 million) were sanctioned in 2002 by the Central Government for restoration work; restoration work beginning in 2003 mainly covered the Kelsang Phodron Palace, the Kashak Cabinet offices and many other structures.

Norbulingka was declared a “National Important Cultural Relic Unit”, in 1988 by the State council. On 14 December 2001, UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site as part of the “Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace”.The historic ensemble covers three monuments namely, the Potala Palace, winter palace of the Dalai Lama, the Jokhang Temple Monastery and the Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace built in the 18th century considered a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The citation states: “preservation of vestiges of the traditional Tibetan architecture”. This is viewed in the context of extensive modern development that has taken place under Chinese suzerainty in Tibet. The Chinese State Tourism Administration has also categorized Norbulingka at a “Grade 4 A at the National Tourism (spot) level,” in 2001. It was also declared a public park in 1959.

Takten Migyur Potrang

Tyokyil Potrang

Norbulingka Shoton Festival

Beautiful Norbulingka Park


Plan of the complex from Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet by Sarat Chandra Das, 1902

The Jokhang (Tibetan: ཇོ་ཁང།, Chinese: 大昭寺), also known as the Qoikang Monastery, Jokang, Jokhang Temple, Jokhang Monastery and Zuglagkang (Tibetan: གཙུག་ལག་ཁང༌།, Wylie: gtsug-lag-khang, ZYPY: Zuglagkang or Tsuklakang), is a Buddhist temple in Barkhor Square in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Tibetans, in general, consider this temple as the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. The temple is currently maintained by the Gelug school, but they accept worshipers from all sects of Buddhism. The temple’s architectural style is a mixture of Indian vihara design, Tibetan and Nepalese design.

The Jokhang was founded during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo. According to tradition, the temple was built for the king’s two brides: Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Both are said to have brought important Buddhist statues and images from China and Nepal to Tibet, which were housed here, as part of their dowries. The oldest part of the temple was built in 652. Over the next 900 years, the temple was enlarged several times with the last renovation done in 1610 by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Following the death of Gampo, the image in Ramcho Lake temple was moved to the Jokhang temple for security reasons. When King Tresang Detsen ruled from 755 to 797, the Buddha image of the Jokhang temple was hidden, as the king’s minister was hostile to the spread of Buddhism in Tibet. During the late ninth and early tenth centuries, the Jokhang and Ramoche temples were said to have been used as stables. In 1049 Atisha, a renowned teacher of Buddhism from Bengal taught in Jokhang.

Around the 14th century, the temple was associated with the Vajrasana in India. In the 18th century the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty, following the Gorkha-Tibetan war in 1792, did not allow the Nepalese to visit this temple and it became an exclusive place of worship for the Tibetans. During the Chinese development of Lhasa, the Barkhor Square in front of the temple was encroached. During the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards attacked the Jokhang temple in 1966 and for a decade there was no worship. Renovation of the Jokhang took place from 1972 to 1980. In 2000, the Jokhang became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an extension of the Potala Palace (a World Heritage Site since 1994). Many Nepalese artists have worked on the temple’s design and construction.

The temple, considered the “spiritual heart of the city” and the most sacred in Tibet, is at the centre of an ancient network of Buddhist temples in Lhasa. It is the focal point of commercial activity in the city, with a maze of streets radiating from it. The Jokhang is 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) east of the Potala Palace. Barkhor, the market square in central Lhasa, has a walkway for pilgrims to walk around the temple (which takes about 20 minutes). Barkhor Square is marked by four stone sankang (incense burners), two of which are in front of the temple and two in the rear.

Jokhang Temple interior building

Rasa Thrulnag Tsuklakang (“House of Mysteries” or “House of Religious Science”) was the Jokhang’s ancient name. When King Songtsen built the temple his capital city was known as Rasa (“Goats”), since goats were used to move earth during its construction. After the king’s death, Rasa became known as Lhasa (Place of the Gods); the temple was called Jokhang—”Temple of the Lord”—derived from Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha, its primary image. The Jokhnag’s Chinese name is Dazhao; it is also known as Zuglagkang, Qoikang Monastery, Tsuglakhang and Tsuglhakhange.

Tibetans viewed their country as a living entity controlled by srin ma (pronounced “sinma”), a wild demoness who opposed the propagation of Buddhism in the country. To thwart her evil intentions, King Songtsen Gampo (the first king of a unified Tibet) developed a plan to build twelve temples across the country. The temples were built in three stages. In the first stage central Tibet was covered with four temples, known as the “four horns” (ru bzhi). Four more temples, (mtha’dul), were built in the outer areas in the second stage; the last four, the yang’dul, were built on the country’s frontiers. The Jokhang temple was finally built in the heart of the srin ma, ensuring her subjugation.

To forge ties with neighbouring Nepal, Songtsen Gampo sent envoys to King Amsuvarman seeking his daughter’s hand in marriage and the king accepted. His daughter, Bhrikuti, came to Tibet as the king’s Nepalese wife (tritsun; belsa in Tibetan). The image of Akshobhya Buddha, which she had brought as part of her dowry, was deified in a temple in the middle of a lake known as Ramoche.

Gampo, wishing to obtain a second wife from China, sent his ambassador to Emperor Taizong (627–650) of the Tang dynasty for one of his daughters. Taizong rejected the king’s proposal, considering Tibetans “barbarians”, and announced the marriage of one of his daughters to the king of Duyu, a Hun. This infuriated Gampo, who mounted attacks on tribal areas affiliated with the Tang dynasty and then attacked the Tang city of Songzhou. Telling the emperor that he would escalate his aggression unless the emperor agreed to his proposal, Gampo sent a conciliatory gift of a gold-studded “suit of armour” with another request for marriage. Taizong conceded, giving Princess Wencheng to the Tibetan king. When Wencheng went to Tibet in 640 as the Chinese wife of the king (known as Gyasa in Tibet), she brought an image of Sakyamuni Buddha as a young prince. The image was deified in a temple originally named Trulnang, which became the Jokhang. The temple became the holiest shrine in Tibet and the image, known as Jowo Rinpoche, has become the country’s most-revered idol.

The oldest part of the temple was built in 652 by Songtsen Gampo. To find a location for the temple, the king reportedly tossed his hat (a ring in another version) ahead of him with a promise to build a temple where the hat landed. It landed in a lake, where a white stupa (memorial monument) suddenly emerged over which the temple was built. In another version of the legend, Queen Bhrikuti founded the temple to install the statue she had brought and Queen Wencheng selected the site according to Chinese geomancy and feng shui. The lake was filled, leaving a small pond now visible as a well fed by the ancient lake, and a temple was built on the filled area. Over the next nine centuries, the temple was enlarged; its last renovation was carried out in 1610 by the Fifth Dalai Lama.

The temple’s design and construction are attributed to Nepalese craftsmen. After Songtsen Gampo’s death, Queen Wencheng reportedly moved the statue of Jowo from the Ramoche temple to the Jokhang temple to secure it from Chinese attack. The part of the temple known as the Chapel was the hiding place of the Jowo Sakyamuni.

During the reign of King Tresang Detsan from 755 to 797, Buddhists were persecuted because the king’s minister, Marshang Zongbagyi (a devotee of Bon), was hostile to Buddhism. During this time the image of Akshobya Buddha in the Jokhang temple was hidden underground, reportedly 200 people failed to locate it. The images in the Jokhang and Ramoche temples were moved to Jizong in Ngari, and the monks were persecuted and driven from Jokhang. During the anti-Buddhist activity of the late ninth and early tenth centuries, the Jokhang and Ramoche temples were said to be used as stables. In 1049 Atisha, a renowned teacher of Buddhism from Bengal who taught in Jokhang and died in 1054, found the “Royal Testament of the Pillar” (Bka’ chems ka khol ma) in a pillar at Jokhang; the document was said to be the testament of Songtsen Gampo.

Life-sized Statue of Shykamuni

Beginning in about the 14th century, the temple was associated with the Vajrasana in India. It is said that the image of Buddha deified in the Jokhang is the 12-year-old Buddha earlier located in the Bodh Gaya Temple in India, indicating “historical and ritual” links between India and Tibet. Tibetans call Jokhang the “Vajrasana of Tibet” (Bod yul gyi rDo rje gdani), the “second Vajrasana” (rDo rje gdan pal} and “Vajrasan, the navel of the land of snow” (Gangs can sa yi lte ba rDo rje gdani).

After the occupation of Nepal by the Gorkhas in 1769, during the Gorkha-Tibetan war in 1792 the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty drove the Gorkhas from Tibet and the Tibetans were isolated from their neighbors. The period, lasting for more than a century, has been called “the Dark Age of Tibet”. Pilgrimages outside the country were forbidden for Tibetans, and the Qianlong Emperor suggested that it would be equally effective to worship the Jowo Buddha at the Jokhang.

In Chinese development of Lhasa, Barkhor Square was encroached when the walkway around the temple was destroyed. An inner walkway was converted into a plaza, leaving only a short walkway as a pilgrimage route. In the square, religious objects related to the pilgrimage are sold.

During the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards attacked the Jokhang in 1966 and for a decade there was no worship in Tibetan monasteries. Renovation of the Jokhang began in 1972, and was mostly complete by 1980. After this and the end of persecution, the temple was re-consecrated. It is now visited by a large number of Tibetans, who come to worship Jowo in the temple’s inner sanctum. During the Revolution, the temple was spared destruction and was reportedly boarded up until 1979. At that time, portions of the Jokhang reportedly housed pigs, a slaughterhouse and Chinese army barracks. Soldiers burned historic Tibetan scriptures. For a time, it was a hotel.

Two flagstone doring (inscribed pillars) outside the temple, flanking its north and south entrances, are worshiped by Tibetans. The first monument, a March 1794 edict known as the “Forever Following Tablet” in Chinese, records advice on hygiene to prevent smallpox; some has been chiseled out by Tibetans who believed that the stone itself had curative powers. The second, far older, pillar is 5.5 metres (18 ft) high with a crown in the shape of a palace and an inscription dated 821 or 822. The tablet has a number of names; “Number One Tablet in Asia”, “Lhasa Alliance Tablet”, “Changing Alliance Tablet”, “Uncle and Nephew Alliance Tablet” and the “Tang Dynasty-Tubo Peace Alliance Tablet”. Its inscription, in Tibetan and Chinese, is a treaty between the Tibetan king Ralpacan and the Chinese emperor Muzong delineating the boundary between their countries. Both inscriptions were enclosed by brick walls when Barkhor Square was developed in 1985. The Sino-Tibetan treaty reads, “Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory. If any person incurs suspicion he shall be arrested; his business shall be inquired into and he shall be escorted back”.

According to the Dalai Lama, among the many images in the temple was an image of Chenrizi, made of clay in the temple, within which the small wooden statue of the Buddha brought from Nepal was hidden. The image was in the temple for 1300 years, and when Songtsen Gampo died his soul was believed to have entered the small wooden statue. During the Cultural Revolution, the clay image was smashed and the smaller Buddha was given by a Tibetan to the Dalai Lama.

In 2000, the Jokhang became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an extension of the Potala Palace (a World Heritage Site since 1994) to facilitate conservation efforts. The temple is listed in the first group of State Cultural Protection Relic Units, and has been categorized as a 4A-level tourist site.

Pilgrims prostrating before entering the Johkang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet

On February 17, 2018, the temple caught fire at 6:40 p.m. (local time), before sunset in Lhasa, with the blaze lasting until late that evening. Although photos and videos about the fire were spread on Chinese social media, which showed the eaved roof of a section of the building lit with roaring yellow flames and emitting a haze of smoke, these images were quickly censored and disappeared. The official newspaper Tibet Daily briefly claimed online that the fire was “quickly extinguished” with “no deaths or injuries” at the late night, while The People’s Daily published the same words online and added that there had been “no damage to relics” in the temple; both of these reports contained no photos. The temple was temporarily closed after the fire but were reopened to public on February 18, according to official Xinhua news agency. But the yellow draperies had been newly hung behind the temple’s central image, the Jowo statue. And no one was allowed to enter the second floor of the temple, according to the source of Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service. The fire burned an area of about 50 square meters. The temple’s golden cupola had been removed to guard against any collapse and protective supports had been added around the Jowo statue, according to Xinhua On February 19, 2018, the Dalai Lama’s supporters based in India reported eyewitness accounts that “the source of the fire is not the Jowo chapel but from an adjacent chapel within the Jokhang temple premises known in Tibetan as Tsuglakhang” and confirming that there were “no casualties and damage to property is yet to be ascertained”.

The Jokhang temple covers an area of 2.51 hectares (6.2 acres). When it was built during the seventh century, it had eight rooms on two floors to house scriptures and sculptures of the Buddha. The temple had brick-lined floors, columns and door frames and carvings made of wood. During the Tubo period, there was conflict between followers of Buddhism and the indigenous Bon religion. Changes in dynastic rule affected the Jokhang Monastery; after 1409, during the Ming dynasty, many improvements were made to the temple. The second and third floors of the Buddha Hall and the annex buildings were built during the 11th century. The main hall is the four-story Buddha Hall.

The temple has an east-west orientation, facing Nepal to the west in honour of Princess Bhrikuti. Additionally, the monastery’s main gate faces west. The Jokhang is aligned along an axis, beginning with an arch gate and followed by the Buddha Hall, an enclosed passage, a cloister, atriums and a hostel for the lamas (monks). Inside the entrance are four “Guardian Kings” (Chokyong), two on each side. The main shrine is on the ground floor. On the first floor are murals, residences for the monks and a private room for the Dalai Lama, and there are residences for the monks and chapels on all four sides of the shrine. The temple is made of wood and stone. Its architecture features the Tibetan Buddhist style, with influences from China, Indian vihara design and Nepal. The roof is covered with gilded bronze tiles, figurines and decorated pavilions

The central Buddha Hall is tall, with a large, paved courtyard. A porch leads to the open courtyard, which is two concentric circles with two temples: one in the outer circle and another in the inner circle. The outer circle has a circular path, with a number of large prayer wheels (nangkhor); this path leads to the main shrine, which is surrounded by chapels. Only one of the temple murals remains, depicting the arrival of Queen Wencheng and an image of the Buddha. The image, brought by the king’s Nepalese wife and initially kept at Ramoche, was moved to Jokhang and kept in the rear center of the inner temple. This Buddha has remained on a platform since the eighth century; on a number of occasions, it was moved for safekeeping. The image, amidst those of the king and his two consorts, has been gilded several times. In the main hall on the ground floor is a gilded bronze statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) tall, representing the Buddha at age twelve. The image has a bejewelled crown, cover around its shoulder, a diamond on its forehead and wears a pearl-studded garment. The Buddha is seated in a lotus position on a three-tiered lotus throne, with his left hand on his lap and his right hand touching the earth. A number of chapels surround the Jowo Sakayamuni, dedicated to gods and bodhisattvas. The most important bodhisattva here is the Avalokiteshwara, the patron saint of Tibet, with a thousand eyes and a thousand arms. Flanking the main hall are halls for Amitabha (the Buddha of the past) and Qamba (the Buddha of the future). Incarnations of Sakyamuni are enshrined on either side of a central axis, and the Buddha’s warrior guard is in the middle of the halls on the left side.

In addition to the main hall and its adjoining halls, on both sides of the Buddha Hall are dozens of 20-square-metre (220 sq ft) chapels. The Prince of Dharma chapel is on the third floor, including sculptures of Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Bhrikuti, Gar Tongtsan (the Tabo minister) and Thonmi Sambhota, the inventor of Tibetan script. The halls are surrounded by enclosed walkways.

Decorations of winged apsaras, human and animal figurines, flowers and grasses are carved on the superstructure. Images of sphinxes with a variety of expressions are carved below the roof.

The temple complex has more than 3,000 images of the Buddha and other deities (including an 85-foot (26 m) image of the Buddha)[9] and historical figures, in addition to manuscripts and other objects. The temple walls are decorated with religious and historical murals.

On the rooftop and roof ridges are iconic statues of golden deer flanking a Dharma wheel, victory flags and monstrous fish. The temple interior is a dark labyrinth of chapels, illuminated by votive candles and filled with incense. Although portions of the temple has been rebuilt, original elements remain. The wooden beams and rafters have been shown by carbon dating to be original, and the Newari door frames, columns and finials dating to the seventh and eighth centuries were brought from the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.

In addition to walking around the temple and spinning prayer wheels, pilgrims prostrate themselves before approaching the main deity; some crawl a considerable distance to the main shrine. The prayer chanted during this worship is “Om mani padme hum” (Hail to the jewel in the lotus). Pilgrims queue on both sides of the platform to place a ceremonial scarf (katak) around the Buddha’s neck or touch the image’s knee. A walled enclosure in front of the Jokhang, near the Tang Dynasty-Tubo Peace Alliance Tablet, contains the stump of a willow known as the “Tang Dynstay Willow” or the “Princess Willow”. The willow was reportedly planted by Princess Wencheng.

The Jokhang has a sizeable, significant collection of cultural artefacts, including Tang-dynasty bronze sculptures and finely-sculpted figures in different shapes from the Ming dynasty. Among hundreds of thangkas, two notable paintings of Chakrasamvara and Yamanataka date to the reign of the Yongle Emperor; both are embroidered on silk and well-preserved. The collection also has 54 boxes of Tripiṭaka printed in red, 108 carved sandalwood boxes with sutras and a vase (a gift from the Qianlong Emperor) used to select the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.




18 February 2018 — 3:47pm

The most important Tibetan pilgrimage site, the Jokhang Temple in old Lhasa, was ablaze on Saturday night but few details have been released by the Chinese government about the extent of the damage.

The 7th Century Tibetan building, which sprawls over 2.5 hectares, is protected by law and is listed for its “outstanding universal value” by the United Nations cultural protection agency, UNESCO.

Jokhang Monastery, one of the oldest Tibetan monastery in Lhasa, western China’s Tibet province, in 2007.

Photo: AP

London-based Tibetan expert Robert Barnett told Fairfax Media: “The Jokhang is widely regarded as the most sacred site in Tibetan Buddhism, with thousands of pilgrims travelling across the plateau for centuries to reach there and still doing so today, when allowed to.”

“It was the earliest Buddhist temple to be built in Tibet and is seen by many Tibetans as the symbolic heart of the country and of its cultural heritage.”

A UNESCO report in 2016 stated the temple was in a good state of conservation but noted fire was a “high disaster risk” and prevention measures were in place.

After multiple videos of the large fire in Lhasa’s old town, in which Tibetans can be heard gasping and crying, spread on social media on Saturday night, Chinese state media confirmed there had been “a partial fire in the Jokhang Temple. The fire was quickly extinguished and no casualties reported”.

Dharma wheel on Jokhang Temple.

Photo: Alamy

The fire had broken out at 6.40pm, and the Communist Party secretary for the district, Wu Yingjie, had “rushed to the scene”, the official Tibet Daily reported on its social media account.

Barnett, author of Lhasa: Streets with Memories, dismissed later reports by some people on social media that the Jokhang Temple was not affected.

“This kind of confusion reflects the control on information in Tibet, where there is extremely limited official news as well as constant campaigns threatening people who ‘spread rumours’, meaning anything seen by the authorities as supporting the Dalai Lama and ‘hostile forces’ or as potentially leading to unrest,” he said.

While the fire may have started in the adjoining Meru Nyingpa on the Barkor Circuit, it had spread to the eastern part of the main Jokhang Temple, and could be seen on the video, he said.

“The extent of the damage remains unclear.”

The news agency Xinhua was among the Chinese official media outlets reporting the fire, and said the Jokhang Temple was “renowned” for Tibetan Buddhism and had a “history of more than 1300 years and houses many cultural treasures, including a life-sized statue of Sakyamuni when he was 12 years old”.

According to UNESCO reports, the hall surrounded by accommodation for monks on four sides was constructed of wood and stone, and housed more than 3000 images of Buddha and other deities, as well as treasures and manuscripts. Its murals depicted historical scenes.

Tibetan scholars said official information about the fire was limited, raising concerns about damage. Access to the temple area was said to have been restricted.

Tibetans had celebrated the start of the Losar Tibetan New Year on Friday.

Xinhua reported on Sunday afternoon that the Barkhor square around the temple had reopened to the public after a closure caused by the fire.

The Jokhang Temple would be closed from Monday to Thursday in a “scheduled” closure, Xinhua said.”

View Potala Palace from Jokhang Temple

Devouted Pilgrim in front of Barkhor Temple

* A note on Dhvaja (flags or banners)

These are not how Westerners perceive flags to be.

Dhvaja (Victory banner) – pole design with silk scarfs, on the background the Potala Palace

Kosigrim at English Wikipedia • Public domain

Dhvaja (Skt. also Dhwaja; Tibetan: རྒྱལ་མཚན, Wylie: rgyal-msthan), meaning banner or flag, is composed of the Ashtamangala, the “eight auspicious symbols.”Dhvaja in Hindu or vedic tradition takes on the appearance of a high column (dhvaja-stambha) erected in front of temples. Dhvaja, meaning a flag banner, was a military standard of ancient Indian warfare. Notable flags, belonging to the Gods, are as follows:

▪ Garuda Dhwaja – The flag of Vishnu.

▪ Indra Dhwaja – The flag of Indra. Also a festival of Indra.

▪ Kakkai kodi – The flag of Jyestha, goddess of inauspicious things and misfortune.

▪ Kapi Dhwaja or Vanara dwaja (monkey flag) – The flag of Arjuna in the Mahabharata, in which the Lord Hanuman himself resided

▪ Makaradhvaja – The flag of Kama, god of love.

▪ Seval Kodi – The war flag of Lord Murugan, god of war. It depicts the rooster, Krichi.

Dhvaja (‘victory banner’), on the roof of Jokhang Monastery.

Within the Tibetan tradition a list of eleven different forms of the victory banner is given to represent eleven specific methods for overcoming “defilements” (Sanskrit: klesha). Many variations of the dhvaja’s design can be seen on the roofs of Tibetan monasteries (Gompa, Vihara) to symbolyze the Buddha’s victory over four maras.

In its most traditional form the victory banner is fashioned as a cylindrical ensign mounted upon a long wooden axel-pole. The top of the banner takes the form of a small white “parasol” (Sanskrit: chhatra), which is surrounded by a central “wish granting gem” (Sanskrit: cintamani). This domed parasol is rimmed by an ornate golden crest-bar or moon-crest with makara-trailed ends, from which hangs a billowing yellow or “white silk scarf'”(Sanskrit: khata) (see top right).

Dhvaja (‘victory banner’), on the roof of Sanga Monastery.

As a hand-held ensign the victory banner is an attribute of many deities, particularly those associated with wealth and power, such as Vaiśravaṇa, the Great Guardian King of the north. As roof-mounted ensign the victory banners are cylinders usually made of beaten copper (similar to toreutics) and are traditionally placed on the four corners of monastery and temple roofs. Those roof ornaments usually take the form of a small circular parasol surmounted by the wish-fulfilling gem, with four or eight makara heads at the parasol edge, supporting little silver bells (see the Jokhang Dhvaja on the left). A smaller victory banner fashioned on a beaten copper frame, hung with black silk, and surmounted by a flaming “trident” (Sanskrit: trishula) is also commonly displayed on roofs (see the dhvaja on the roof of the Potala Palace below.


▪ Bass, Catriona. 1990. Inside the Treasure House: A Time in Tibet. Victor Gollancz, London. Paperback reprint: Rupa & Co., India, 1993

▪ Dowman, Keith. 1988. The Power-places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim’s Guide. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and New York. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0

▪ Palin, Michael (2009). Himalaya. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-7538-1990-6.

▪ Seth, Vikram (1990). From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-013919-2.

▪ Tibet: A Fascinating Look at the Roof of the World, Its People and Culture. Passport Books. 1988. p. 71.

▪ This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Lhasa”. Encyclopædia Britannica. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 529–532. (See p. 530.)

▪Beckwith, Christopher I. (1987). The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-02469-3.

▪ “Reading the Potala”. Peter Bishop. In: Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places In Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays. (1999) Edited by Toni Huber, pp. 367–388. The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, H.P., India. ISBN 81-86470-22-0.

▪ Das, Sarat Chandra. Lhasa and Central Tibet. (1902). Edited by W. W. Rockhill. Reprint: Mehra Offset Press, Delhi (1988), pp. 145–146; 166-169; 262-263 and illustration opposite p. 154.

▪ Larsen and Sinding-Larsen (2001). The Lhasa Atlas: Traditional Tibetan Architecture and Landscape, Knud Larsen and Amund Sinding-Larsen. Shambhala Books, Boston. ISBN 1-57062-867-X.

▪Richardson, Hugh E. (1984) Tibet & Its History. 1st edition 1962. Second Edition, Revised and Updated. Shambhala Publications. Boston ISBN 0-87773-376-7.

▪ Richardson, Hugh E. (1985). A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions. Royal Asiatic Society. ISBN 0-94759300-4.

▪ Snellgrove, David & Hugh Richardson. (1995). A Cultural History of Tibet. 1st edition 1968. 1995 edition with new material. Shambhala. Boston & London. ISBN 1-57062-102-0.

▪ von Schroeder, Ulrich. (1981). Indo-Tibetan Bronzes. (608 pages, 1244 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications Ltd. ISBN 962-7049-01-8

▪ von Schroeder, Ulrich. (2001). Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Vol. One: India & Nepal; Vol. Two: Tibet & China. (Volume One: 655 pages with 766 illustrations; Volume Two: 675 pages with 987 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd. ISBN 962-7049-07-7

▪ von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2008. 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet. (212 p., 112 colour illustrations) (DVD with 527 digital photographs). Chicago: Serindia Publications. ISBN 962-7049-08-5

▪ An, Caidan (2003). Tibet China: Travel Guide. 五洲传播出版社. ISBN 978-7-5085-0374-5.

▪ Barnett, Robert (2010). Lhasa: Streets with Memories. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13681-5.

▪ Barron, Richard (10 February 2003). The Autobiography of Jamgon Kongtrul: A Gem of Many Colors. Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 978-1-55939-970-8.

▪ Brockman, Norbert C. (13 September 2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-59884-655-3.

▪ Buckley, Michael (2012). Tibet. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 978-1-84162-382-5.

▪ Dalton, Robert H. (2004). Sacred Places of the World: A Religious Journey Across the Globe. Abhishek. ISBN 978-81-8247-051-4.

▪ Davidson, Linda Kay; Gitlitz, David Martin (2002). Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland : an Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-57607-004-8.

▪ Dorje, Gyurme (2010). Jokhang: Tibet’s Most Sacred Buddhist Temple. Edition Hansjorg Mayer. ISBN 978-5-00-097692-0.

▪ Huber, Toni (15 September 2008). The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-35650-1.

▪ Jabb, Lama (10 June 2015). Oral and Literary Continuities in Modern Tibetan Literature: The Inescapable Nation. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-1-4985-0334-1.

▪ Klimczuk, Stephen; Warner, Gerald (2009). Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries: Uncovering Mysterious Sites, Symbols, and Societies. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 978-1-4027-6207-9.

▪ Laird, Thomas (10 October 2007). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-4327-3.

▪ Mayhew, Bradley; Kelly, Robert; Bellezza, John Vincent (2008). Tibet. Ediz. Inglese. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-74104-569-7.

▪ McCue, Gary (1 March 2011). Trekking Tibet. The Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-1-59485-411-8.

▪ Perkins, Dorothy (19 November 2013). Encyclopedia of China: History and Culture. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-135-93569-6.

▪ Powers, John (25 December 2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 978-1-55939-835-0.

▪ Representatives, Australia. Parliament. House of (1994). Parliamentary Debates Australia: House of Representatives. Commonwealth Government Printer.

▪ Service, United States. Foreign Broadcast Information (1983). Daily Report: People’s Republic of China. National Technical Information Service.

▪ von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2001. Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Vol. One: India & Nepal; Vol. Two: Tibet & China. (Volume One: 655 pages with 766 illustrations; Volume Two: 675 pages with 987 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd. ISBN 962-7049-07-7

▪ von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2008. 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet. (212 p., 112 colour illustrations) (DVD with 527 digital photographs mostly of Jokhang Bronzes). Chicago: Serindia Publications. ISBN 962-7049-08-5

Australian Icons: Big Rock; The Mermaids; Aboriginal Rock Carvings; Gun Battery; 16th Century Spanish Visitor? – Ben Buckler/North Bondi, NSW.

To many tourists, Bondi, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, is just a beach, a long expanse of sand and surf. However, Bondi beach itself is divided between the suburbs of Bondi and North Bondi – and don’t try to tell any local they are all the same area! North Bondi us partly situated on a long point of land creating the northern head of Bondi Bay. Wrapped around the point are steep cliffs, and rugged rocks that are lashed by the full fury of the surf. This barren area is known as Ben Buckler.

Map of North Bondi/Ben Buckler
Map of North Bondi/Ben Buckler
Ben Buckler is the name of the northern headland of Bondi Bay. There are many conflicting stories about how a headland came to have a male name, but what is undisputed is that the first recorded use of the name was in 1831, when a land grant to Richard Hurd at North Bondi was described as being ‘…to a point called Ben Buckler’. The three most common theories about its naming are:

• It was named for a convict Benjamin Buckler or Ben Buckley, who lived locally with the Aboriginal people from 1810. His friend and fellow convict James Ives claimed he was killed near the point now bearing his name when the rock shelf on which he was standing collapsed. He also claims that the headland was formerly known as ‘Ben Buckler’s leap’.

• A variation on the story has a bushranger called Ben Buckley who, after taking part in many adventures and after obtaining his liberty, lived in a cave in the rocks at the northern end of Bondi Beach and was a known local character.

The rugged cliffs and rocks of Ben Buckler
The rugged cliffs and rocks of Ben Buckler
• Obed West (1807-1891) claimed that it was a corruption of an Indigenous word ‘benbuckalong’. Others have claimed that the Indigenous word was originally ‘baal-buckalea’.

But is there a Governor Lachlan Macquarie connection? This was first raised in an anonymous letter to the Sydney magazine the Australian Town and Country Journal on 25 May 1878. The writer, using the nome de plume, ‘Old Colonist’ claimed that the name Ben Buckler was a corruption of a name bestowed upon the headland by Macquarie. He went on to argue that Macquarie named it ‘Benbecula’ in honour of the island of the same name located in the remote Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.

Macquarie was born on one of the Hebridian Islands, Ulva, and would have been familiar with other islands in this group. The west coast of Benbecula has golden sand beaches, including one long sweep of beach Poll na Crann, with sand dunes behind them, the same coastal environment as Bondi Beach had before its development. Macquarie was born on island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland in 1762 and may have visited Benbecula, although this cannot be confirmed.

Macquarie would have travelled along the South Head Road, (now Old South Head Road) which had been constructed in 1811 and along parts of this Bondi Beach and its northern headland would have been visible. Did it look like Benbecula from a distance?

In 1906 the discussion began again in a local paper The Bondi Weekly when a land subdivision on the headland, known as the Queenscliffe Estate, began rumours that Ben Buckler’s name was to be changed to Queenscliffe.

On 29 June 1915 Captain J. W. Watson of the Australian Historical Society decreed that ‘the name of Ben Buckler is a corruption of Ben-becula, the name given by Macquarie.’ There is no primary evidence for any of the claims for the name Ben Buckler, making the debate about it all the more fascinating.

Published by Waverley Library from Local History source material, 2012.

The Big Rock

The Big Rock aka Mermaid Rock
The Big Rock aka Mermaid Rock
On the flat rock platform below the cliffs of Ben Buckler, Bondi’s northern headland, sits a huge boulder. Attached to its side is a brass plate which reads:

“Municipality of Waverley. This rock weighing 235 tons was washed from the sea during a storm on 15 July 1912. January 1933. J. S. MacKinnon. Town Clerk.”

It was fixed to the rock on 16 March, 1933. On Saturday 13 July, 1912 Sydney was under the influence of monsoonal activity resulting in a steady downpour of rain. Conditions deteriorated the following day and the weather was described by The Daily Telegraph as ‘a cyclonic storm – a bleak southerly gale raging, with fierce rain squalls. During the afternoon the rough weather on the coast continued with, if anything, greater fury.’

The Sydney Morning Herald described the weather as coming ‘from a cyclonic disturbance between Lord Howe Island and the central coast of NSW’ reporting that the wind was up to 113 k.p.h. along the coast, from Manly to Long Bay, beaches sustained serious damage. The wild weather continued over the weekend with newspaper reports describing waves at Tamarama as ‘rolling in like mountains’ and sea spray breaking at points ‘which had previously been unvisited by the waters of the Pacific’. Bronte Baths were damaged by this storm and the force of the sea threw huge boulders into the Bogey Hole.

Plaque placed by Waverley Council
Plaque placed by Waverley Council
On Bondi Beach the ocean had washed up to the edge of the concrete wall which then ran behind the beach, completely covering the sand. At Bondi Baths a gigantic plank, probably a diving board, described as being ‘about a foot in thickness’ was snapped in half.

The Watts family who lived in the old ‘Castle’ Pavilion, the forerunner to the current Bondi Pavilion, right on Bondi Beach reported being terrified by the storm as the south-facing beach bore the full front of the weather. It was after this wild weather subsided that a giant boulder on the North Bondi rock platform was first noticed. It was reported that the force of the mountainous seas which swept along the beaches during these storms had thrown up this enormous submerged sandstone rock from the ocean onto the rock platform. In November, 1932 it was grandly titled ‘Bondi’s Gibraltar’ by the Sydney Morning Herald which reported on Waverley Council’s decision to put a ‘tablet’ on the rock twenty years after its presence was first recorded, in order to record its history.
Cover of the Bondi View, June/July 2002.

Did it fall down – or was it thrown up? The long-accepted position on how The Big Rock came to be sitting on the North Bondi rock platform was that the boulder had been thrown up during the wild storms of July 1912, something that those who witnessed it had no trouble in believing. Soon after the storms a scientist, Carl A. Sussmilch, took measurements of the rock, talked to locals and calculated its weight at 232 tons. He noted deep eroded grooves near it which ran along the rock platform toward the sea and deduced that the force of the storm lifted the rock up from under the sea, flipped it over and with the aid of the strong wind skimmed it along the surface of the platform.

Cover of the Bondi View, June/July 2002
Cover of the Bondi View, June/July 2002
He believed it had been turned over, leaving a new surface on top and marinegrowth on the underside. Local residents were divided; some believed the rock had always been there, claiming that they had frequently changed into their swimming costumes behind it. Another view was that there used to be many smaller rocks around this huge one and it was these smaller ones which were washed away during the storms, leaving The Big Rock exposed and prominent in a way it hadn’t been before and leading to the belief that it had suddenly appeared.

Regardless of some views to the contrary, the position that The Big Rock was washed up in the July 1912 became the accepted one and this position is repeated in most histories of Bondi Beach. In mid-2002 Bondi resident Lee Cass, then editor of local paper The Bondi View disputed the long accepted theory that The Big Rock was thrown up by the sea. His detailed rebuttal analyses the accepted wisdom about The Big Rock and finds it all wanting. He proposed an alternative view, that The Big Rock fell from the headland at Ben Buckler and furthermore that it was in place as long ago as 1888. His article ‘The Big Rock: exploding the myth’ appears in The Bondi View June-July 2002 edition a copy of which is available in Waverley Library in the Reference, i.e. non-lending, serial collection.

The Big Rock becomes Mermaid Rock in  April 1960. For decades afterwards, despite having no mermaids, the rock continued to be referred to as Mermaid Rock. However that name, along with the memory of the mermaids who made it their rocky throne, has now almost disappeared and the boulder has gone back to its first, and basically self-descriptive title The Big Rock.

In  June 2012, almost 100 years since the ferocious storm which is generally believed to have thrown up The Big Rock from its former watery home, extraordinarily powerful weather hit the east coast of Australia. This battered our beaches and the accompanying wild winds caused extensive damage. At Bondi huge seas rolled in, covering the sand and sending enormous waves crashing against the breakwater at the northern end of the beach and overrunning the promenade. Emergency service workers described it as possibly a ‘one-in-100-year storm’ it seems well-timed indeed.

Published by Waverley Library from Local History source material, 2012. Reference: ‘The Big Rock: exploding the myth’ from the Bondi View June-July 2012 ed,

The Mermaids

Mermaids looking out to sea
Mermaids looking out to sea
There were originally two Bondi mermaids who sat on the Big Rock at Ben Buckler.Because the mermaids used to sit there this rock is also often referred to as Mermaid Rock. Only the remains of one of the mermaids is still in existence. She is on permanent display in a special perspex case on the 1st floor, Waverley Library, 32-48 Denison Street, Bondi Junction. The mermaid statues were modelled on two local women:

• Jan Carmody, who was Miss Australia Surf, 1959

• Lynette Whillier, champion swimmer and runner-up in the Miss Australia Surf, 1959

The Mermaids
The Mermaids
Sculptor Lyall Randolph created the mermaids from bronze-coloured fibreglass that he filled with cement. He first tried to sell the idea of the mermaids to Waverley Council, but the Council refused to pay for them.

So Lyall erected them on the Big Rock at his own expense. He claimed that because they were placed a certain distance offshore the space they occupied was not under the jurisdiction of Waverley Council, but the Department of Lands. He claimed that the Department had approved his statues. The mermaids were installed on 3 April 1960.

One month after they appeared university students chiselled mermaid Jan from the Big Rock and removed her as part of a Commemoration Day prank! She was later recovered under mysterious circumstances at the Engineering School, Sydney University. Repaired, she was restored to the Big Rock to rejoin her fellow mermaid Lynette. The cost of repair met by public subscription – the public loved the mermaids so much that they paid for Jan to be put back together again.

The surviving mermaid in Waverley Library
The surviving mermaid in Waverley Library
Heavy seas claimed Lynette in 1974; swept off the Big Rock in a storm she disappeared forever. Jan lost an arm and her tail in the same storm. For two years Jan sat alone on her rocky throne until Waverley Council removed what was left of her in 1976, storing her in a Council Depot where she was forgotten for many years. Re-found in the late 1980s she was moved to Waverley Library, where, in 1999, the Friends of Waverley Library paid for her remains to be preserved by Sydney Artefacts Conservation.




Aboriginal Rock Carvings

Contemporary Bondi Beach is popular with surfers and sun-lovers. In earlier years, Aboriginal people also found it an attractive place, with its abundant nearby fresh water, fish and rocky shores full of shellfish. The name Bondi, also spelt Bundi, Bundye and Boondye, comes from the Aboriginal ‘Boondi’. According to some authorities, this means ‘water tumbling over rocks’, while the Australian Museum records its meaning as ‘a place where a fight with nullas took place’.
Early British arrivals identified Aboriginal pathways running from Port Jackson to the coast. In 1882, Obed West described Aboriginal men walking from Sydney harbour to Coogee or Bondi with bark canoes on their heads, looking for the best fishing spots. A midden of shellfish debris and artefacts at the edge of the dunes has now disappeared under modern development.
In 1899, a large cache of stone artefacts that came to be known as Bondi points were found at the northern end of the beach. These long thin blades were shaped to use as spear points and barbs and were first called ‘chipped-back surgical knives’ because they are shaped like scalpels.


Situated on the southern or sea side of Bondi Golf Course, adjacent to a sewerage treatment plant, there stands a substantial panel of Aboriginal rock carvings depicting various fish species. They are carved into the flat sea-cliff at a fishing rock known to the Indigenous people as Murriverie or Marevera. They were formed by pecking at the rock surface with pointed stones or shells, and extended over 60 metres southwards.
The largest group shows an eight-metre figure of a shark that appears to be attacking a male figure that could be an iguana or lizard. This could be the first record of a shark attack at Bondi. It was earlier thought to be a whale, as there are two other rock engravings of whales at Bondi, but the dorsal and pectoral fins identify it as a shark.

A separate panel shows two fish and a boomerang. The southernmost portion of the group has been cut deeper and is probably of an older date, possibly up to 2,000 years old. Ancestral footprints (mundoes) that once led to the site have now faded. It is assumed that the carvings were linked to a ceremonial ground overlooking the ocean.
A low chain fence now encloses the site. The carvings were retouched and fenced in 1951. A plaque commemorates a misguided attempt in 1964 by Waverley Council to preserve the engravings by re-grooving them. They are listed on the State Heritage Inventory but are poorly drained, blistering, and in danger of being damaged. They deserve serious attention as evidence of the Aboriginal occupation of Bondi long before the blonde-haired surfers arrived.


The Ben Buckler Gun Battery

The Ben Buckler Gun Battery was constructed in 1892 as one of a set of three coastal defence fortifications for Sydney Harbour, the other two being Signal Hill Battery at Watsons Bay and the Shark Point Battery in Clovelly. These fortifications were the last link in Sydney’s outer defence perimeter, which was intended to defend Sydney from bombardment by an enemy vessel standing off the coast. The fortifications built in the 1890s around Sydney’s eastern suburbs were the culmination of some twenty years of construction of harbour defense installations that reflected the changing policy of the time to meet new technologies, threats and styles of warfare.

Gun emplacemen
The Ben Buckler Battery is a rare, intact concrete 1890s gun emplacement, which was designed and developed for the new BL 9.2 inch (234 mm) Mk VI breech-loading ‘counter bombardment’ British Armstrong ‘disappearing’ gun. The Australian colonies bought 10 of these, three for Sydney, plus an extra barrel, four for Victoria at Fort Nepean and Fort Queenscliff, and two for Adelaide, South Australia, purchased in 1888. The Adelaide guns were never installed at Fort Glenelg and the British government bought them back in 1915. The barrel of the gun that had been installed at Signal Hill Battery survives on public display at the Royal Australian Artillery Museum at North Fort, North Head.[citation needed]

The Ben Buckler gun, Serial Number 7319, is the only complete 9.2-inch in Australia and was the largest gun in New South Wales. The gun barrel weighed 22 tons and it took a total of thirty-six horses to transport the barrel from Victoria Barracks in Darlinghurst to the battery in North Bondi; the transit took over three weeks.
Soon after its arrival, the gun was installed on a hydraulically operated disappearing mount. The gun was located below ground level and beneath a domed iron shield set into a wall of reinforced concrete that was ten meters in diameter. The domed metal shield that covered the pit was intended to protect the gun from incoming shells.
Once the gun was loaded, the hydropneumatic action shunted it forward and up through a slot in the shield. After discharging, the recoil mechanism forced the gun back into its pit. This protected the gun crew while loading and made the gun a very difficult target for an enemy ship to hit.
Sometime in the 1950s the army vacated the site. The government was unsuccessful in finding a scrap metal buyer to remove the gun, so it buried the gun and gave the site over to parkland. The gun’s existence was forgotten until it was rediscovered in the mid-1990s by Water Board engineers planning a new pipeline. It is now classed as an architectural relic and is under the protection of the Heritage Council.

The “Spanish Proclamation”
From The Secret Visitors Project   

High above Bondi Beach with spectacular views out to sea you will find a small rock engraving which became one of the proofs used by aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave in support of his theory that the Spanish had landed in eastern Australia in 1595. He thought that the Spanish had made this carving as their official record of their presence and possession of the land, and termed it the Spanish Proclamation. Hargrave’s argument convinced very few people and the story associated with the engraving remains largely forgotten.

Hargrave is best known for his aeronautical experimentation, for which he is rightly recognised as a pioneer. Much of this took place in the late 19th century; once the Wright brothers flew successfully his work was superseded by others. Perhaps in part driven by relevance deprivation, during mid 1906 Hargrave was inspired by the discovery of a cannon in Torres Strait and his own memories of work in the same area in the 1870s to develop a theory that the Spanish mariner Lope de Vega in the ship Santa Isabel [or Ysabel] had been separated from Alvaro de Mendana de Neira’s expedition to settle the Solomon Islands and had instead travelled as far south as Sydney Harbour, where they stayed for perhaps 3 years before being rescued.


Figure 1. Hargrave’s recording of the ‘Spanish Proclamation’.

Hargrave presented his theory to newspapers and in a lecture to the Royal Society of NSW in June 1909. The second part of his talk was presented in December 1909 to strong negative reaction. The published Royal Society papers, and later self-published documents and newspaper letters introduced a range of evidence to support his theory. One of his key proofs was the engraving at Bondi.


The engraving
The engraving [Figure 1] is located on the headland to the north of Bondi Beach, known since at least the 1830s as Ben Buckler. Later it was also called Meriverie [various spellings, earliest being Meriberri], which was also the name of the quarry that mined a basaltic dyke on the headland. The engraving is on exposed rock near the edge of the cliff, partly within a shallow natural depression that holds a few centimetres of rainwater. About 50 metres to the south is a large rock exposure that contains a number of Aboriginal rock engravings, later re-cut by Waverley Council. Immediately to the northwest is the tall chimney of the Bondi Ocean Outfall Sewer. The engraving is currently surrounded by a small chain fence.
The engraving shows two sailing ships in profile. Around and over them are a series of letters – BALN ZAIH – and other engravings such as a cross within a circle. They are engraved into the surface of the sandstone. They are oriented to be read from the west.
The full set of motifs are:
Ship 1 – port side view, curved hull, suggestion of rudder, sterncastle and two part forecastle, bowsprit. Measures 660 mm long by 220 mm high.
Ship 2 – starboard side view, curved hull, delineated keel, sterncastle, bowsprit, about 12 portholes marked by dots. Has deteriorated too much to allow measurement, but scaled from existing drawings is about 1000 mm long by 250 mm high.
Lettering – first line B A L N, second line Z A I H, third line W O. The O is divided into quarters with a vertical cross. Lettering height ranges from 135 mm for the Z to 150 for the B. The first two lines are about 500 mm long.

Line – a line 400 mm long with a small triangle at either tip.
The engravings were first noted by Campbell in his 1899 recording of the nearby Aboriginal engravings. He mentioned that these engravings looked much less weathered than the Aboriginal motifs [Campbell 1899: 11]. Watson and Vogan [Watson 1911] detected two different hands at work, while Hargrave conceded that the N, I and H were scratched rather than chiselled in [Hargrave 1914: 34]
When inspected in March 2010 the engraving was found to be in poor condition. Recent wet weather had resulted in part of the engraving being covered with standing water. The lettering is clear, as is Ship 1 at the bottom of the panel. The outline of Ship 2 to the right had all but disappeared, and could only be faintly detected.
Parts of the rock platform surface are exfoliating, where the hardened surface rind of stone had detached from the bedrock and popped off completely, exposing softer stone. The chains that had been erected around the panel are also dragging on the rock and abrading the stone.
Hargrave read the motifs as being a single coherent and purposeful message, cut into the shallow depression in one episode. In his scheme it was the semi-official proclamation of the survivors of Lope de Vega’s expedition, made after their rescue by the Santa Barbara in c.1600. In his reading the two ships are the Santa Isabel [or Ysabel] and the Santa Barbara. The lettering Hargrave interprets as Santa BArbara, Santa YZAbel for the ships and ‘L‘, ‘N‘, ‘H‘ being initials of the senior men present. ‘W‘ was the name they gave to this country. The cross in the circle was Spain’s symbol for conquest in the name of God.
Read together the symbols and letters meant, ‘We in the Santa Barbara and the Santa Ysabel conquered W… from point to point. By the sign of the Cross.’ The initials represent Lope de Vega and his three witnesses, N, I and H. This version appeared in his 1911 booklet and he maintained it essentially as is until his death. One variation that appeared in his later thoughts is that he thought W… referred not more generally to the eastern Australian coast but to an island formed from the higher land between Randwick to South Head, believing that this was separated by swamp or open water from the rest of Sydney in 1595.
Hargrave also believed that the name Meriverie itself was Spanish in origin, being Mare-y-ver-e = ‘Sea view’ [Hargrave 1914: 34].
History of the engraving
Hargrave’s interest
The headland at Ben Buckler had already been the scene of significant European activities before Hargrave’s attention was drawn to it. Quarrying the ‘white metal’ basaltic dyke at O’Brien’s Bondi Quarry began in 1860-61 and continued for decades. In 1888 a sewer vent was installed near the engravings as part of the Bondi Sewer. In 1910 it was replaced with the current sewer tower.
The engraving first came to notice when Aboriginal carvings were being recorded by WD Campbell, who produced a detailed corpus of engravings in the Sydney district for the Geological Survey of NSW. After describing the Aboriginal engravings immediately to the south he noted:
[s]ome clue as to the slow rate of decomposition of the rock surface is afforded by a small carving which has been done with a chisel, by a white man evidently. It is one chain north-easterly from the north end of this group; it represents the hulls of two small vessels with the old-fashioned high poop and forecastle in vogue at the time of the founding of the Colony. Although this is considerably weathered, it is not anything like so much as that which the group above has undergone [Campbell 1899: 11].
The earliest mention of the Spanish Proclamation by Hargrave is a 1:1 tracing that he made of the engravings onto linen sheet. The annotation that the engravings sat in a shallow depression that may have prevented ‘wanton vandalism’ is dated 12.3.1910 [Hargrave 1914: unnumbered]. Apart from this there is a note in his personal papers held in the Powerhouse Museum Archives dated to 18.4.1910, which follows the form Hargrave used when he had a bright idea and wanted to document it properly within his files. The note identifies the lettering and their equivalents which he would later propose as the translation. Other undated material in his papers includes comparative hull profiles of the Santa Barbara, Santa Isabel and Columbus’s Santa Maria.
The President of the Royal Australian Historical Society James H. Watson had already disagreed with Hargrave publicly over the origin of engravings of human and animal figures at Woollahra Point, suggesting that rather than being of Spanish origin they were done by convicts early in the colonial period. In Watson’s view the outstretched arms were meant to show a convict tied to a whipping frame [Watson 1909]. When Hargrave ventured more public comments in 1911 Watson issued a strong critique in a newspaper letter.
Regarding the Ben Buckler engravings the carvings on the Bondi cliffs, to my mind-and also to that of Mr. A. J. Vogan, who accompanied me when I inspected them have been done at different periods, the larger ship being much older than the other. The royal-forecastle of the smaller appears to have been added, as also the bowsprit, and is not a part of the original. The letters look much more recent than the ships. [Watson SMH 15.9.1911 p. 5]
The letter is interesting in several ways. Clearly, Watson was systematically examining the evidence Hargrave put forward in support of his theory. Secondly, he mentions Arthur J. Vogan, who was to shortly embark on his own even more fanciful analysis of Aboriginal engravings and evidence for prehistoric migrations into Australia and the Pacific.
In 1911 Hargrave wrote to the Spanish Consul seeking support to protect the engravings at Woollahra Point and Ben Buckler but without success. Around this time he also approached the Mitchell Library to see if they could fund the recovery of ‘the most important document in Australian history’ as he called the Bondi carving. They declined, suggesting instead the Australian Museum [1914: unnumbered]. An upset Hargrave wrote to his two daughters in Britain, saying that this was unacceptable, as the Australian Museum staff were wedded to the Aboriginal engravings idea. Hargrave was at the same time working with Museum staff to excavate a midden on one of the Woollahra Point blocks near his home, in the hope of finding evidence to support his theory. His exasperation at the treatment of the Spanish Proclamation spilled over into an angry letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, in which he says
Your liberal-minded readers will understand better what “discredited” means when I tell them that the Mitchell Library declines to preserve the oldest document in Australia, the Spanish proclamation at Meriveries; that the Australian Museum tells me the few things that I say relate to Spain are all rubbish; that the Historical Society, through their president and secretary, ascribe the industry of certain in telligent convicts as being accountable for things I render reasons for being Spanish. [Hargrave SMH 12.9.1911, p. 7]
One possible convert that Hargrave made in this debate was Norman Lindsay, then an illustrator at the Bulletin magazine. Lindsay was deeply interested in historical ships and was a proficient model-maker, as well as being a very competent craftsman and artist in a range of media, a trait that probably endeared him to Hargrave who admired practical skills. In the magazine The Lone Hand in 1913 Lindsay wrote his own appreciation of the Lope de Vega story, illustrating it himself. The illustrations of the Lope de Vega story cover the ship, the carving of the Spanish Proclamation [see Figure 2 below], the last castaway making the bamboo figure een by Hargrave on Ugar Island in Torres Straits and the alleged shipwreck on Facing Island.
Lindsay’s belief in the story was qualified. In discussing the Spanish Proclamation he says ‘What the lettering accompanying these carvings means I prefer to leave out of this discussion. Mr Hargrave has his theory, which is very ingenious and may be right.’ [Lindsay 1913: p. 274].


Figure 2. Norman Lindsays depiction of the engraving of the Spanish Proclamation

Hargrave maintained his belief in the inscriptions and his overall theory until his death in early 1915. Almost no-one later admitted to having followed and supported his belief, something that Hargrave himself did not find a concern:

Still, it is better to be always in a minority of one and state your views as plainly as your ability allows than to have the support of a majority who do not know the meaning of the things you have attempted to portray. [Hargrave SMH 12.9.1911, p. 7]
After Hargrave
Hargrave’s death effectively ended the speculation about these engravings. The inter-war period generally was very quiet in terms of speculations about secret visitors, a phenomenon we have yet to fully understand. Some significant new information did appear that helps us to understand the possible origin of the engravings.
A letter was published in the Sydney Morning Herald by CW Peck in 1928. Peck had written a number of books and newspaper articles on Aboriginal legends and was involved in the Anthropological Society of NSW. While he was generally sympathetic to Aboriginal people and their past he strongly disagreed with the idea that they were necessarily responsbile for the rock engravings around Sydney. He believed this on the basis of no recorded evidence by early European settlers. It was in this context that he critiqued others who believed that Aboriginal engravings were authentic, arguing that some at least were the work of whites.
There are at the present time living in or near Sydney two brothers, both over 70 years old, and both native born. … Out Palm Beach way there are aboriginal rock carvings (sic) done by these brothers in the days of their youth. … I think they sat back and laughed when Lawrence Hargreaves found out so much about the visits of some old Spaniard to Ben Buckler, and they certainly laugh at the naming of the high pooped ships crudely drawn. … Will it not be funny when the Ben Buckler drawings are fenced in, and school children are marched down to see the pictures of the Spanish ships that came here in the sixteenth century. [Peck SMH 4.10.1928: 6]
He went even further in a letter in the Sydney Sun:
The Spanish galleons on the rocks at Ben Buckler were cut by two employees of the Dredge Service who were ardent fishermen about 60 years ago. [Peck Sun 11.9.1929].
Michael Terry wrote of the engravings, uncritically accepting them as part of a broader range of evidence for Spanish or Portuguese voyaging down the east coast [Terry 1969]. The next advocate for European voyagers was Kenneth Gordon McIntyre who, although he provides evidence in support of his claim that Spanish sailed down the eastern coast, does not mention any of Hargrave’s sites.
Gilroy featured the engravings in Mysterious Australia [1995: 237-239] although he mistakenly referred to them as being on the north head of Botany Bay. The tone of his description is also equivocal about their authenticity, which is unusual as Gilroy often embraces even quite implausible anecdotal accounts of discoveries.
This part of the headland has now become a golf course which is reasonably compatible with the retention of the engravings. The Aboriginal engravings were deepened to make the images stand out in 1951 and again in 1964, a practice that has severely affected their appearance. In 1986 the Spanish Proclamation engraving was recognised and added to the Waverley Council Local Environment Plan as an item of environmental heritage. There has been subsequent vandalism and addition of new graffiti but most remain clearly legible. The protective fencing however is now doing more damage than good.
How do we critique Hargrave’s reading of the engravings? It almost is too outlandish to even know how to start and how would we convince Hargrave that it was suspect? Clearly from 1910 Hargrave had lost all perspective on his Lope de Vega theory and was unable to rationally assess any arguments or evidence contrary to his scenario. He had delivered his second Lope de Vega talk to the Royal Society of NSW in December 1909 and the reaction was so negative that they declined to hear a third instalment. Hargrave was keen to find evidence that proved his argument, and the engravings at Ben Buckler seemed to fit the bill.
Unlike Hargrave’s reading of the Woollahra Point engravings as being non-Aboriginal there is no dispute regarding the European origin of these engravings. Hargrave went to great lengths to compare the ships with other more-or-less contemporary illustrations, such as those of Columbus’s voyages. While moderately successful in showing that they were not typical of late 19th century built ships the conclusion could not be pushed too much further.
The explanation of the lettering, however, really strains credulity. Turning a bunch of letters into an elaborate message conveying information about ship names, conquest and the names of witnesses simply does not work. At different times Hargrave pleaded the illiteracy of the crew and the Peruvian slave miners but this is at odds with the importance he places on the message as Lope de Vega’s parting memorial. The idea that such an important message would be so poorly composed was one he could never surmount, and made even sympathetic supporters, such as Norman Lindsay, question this fundamental basis for his theory.
Peck’s information about these being either deliberate fakes or simply old graffiti is very specific and places their creation at about 1870. Watson and Vogan [Watson 1911] noted that the two ship engravings were of different depth, which is now borne out by the almost complete disappearance of Ship 2, and Campbell also stated they were clearly much fresher cutting than the Aboriginal engravings immediately to the south, consistently with Peck’s claim. The earliest reference I have to O’Brien’s Bondi Quarry operating is 1861, which also allows for the possibility of quarry workmen being implicated in their creation as well.
In conclusion there is second-hand but reasonable evidence that the engravings were done in about 1870, by known individuals. The condition of the engravings is consistent with a post-European date, and certainly not in the order of four centuries. The differing engraving of the motifs suggests a number of hands, and it is reasonable to suppose that they are a palimpsest made over time rather than representing, as Hargrave thought, a coherent group with a single meaning. Hargrave’s interpretation of the meaning of the engraving cannot be supported in any way. It stretches the limited content to fit his desired theory of Lope de Vega’s presence in Sydney. The reading is illogical and pushes credibility. In the face of alternative plausible explanations Hargrave’s interpretation cannot be accepted as the explanation for the engravings.


Gilroy, R. 1995
Mysterious Australia, Nexus Publishing, Mapleton.

Hargrave L. 1909
‘Lope de Vega’, Journal and proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 43, pp. 39-54, 412-425

Hargrave, L. 1911
‘Australia’s discovery’ [Letter], Sydney Morning Herald, 12 September 1911, p. 5.

Hargrave, L. 1914
‘Lope de Vega’ annotated manuscript, amendment dated 23 February 1914, ML MSS 3119, Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Lindsay, N. 1913
The end of Lope de Vega’, The Lone Hand, 1 August 1913, pp. 271-277.

Peck, C.W. 1928
‘Rock carvings at Ben Buckler’ [Letter], Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1928, p. 6.

Peck, C.W. 1929
[letter to Editor], Sun [Sydney], 11 September 1929.

Watson, J.H. 1909
‘Supposed Spanish occupation of Woollahra Point’ [Letter], Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 1909, p. 16.

Watson, J. H. 1911
‘Australia’s discovery’ [Letter], Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September 1911, p. 5.

To be checked
Campbell – unpublished original field recordings of the 1899 survey – held in Mitchell Library
Figure 1 – Published in Hargrave’s self-published booklet – Lope de Vega [1911]. This recording was made in March 1910, using a full-size tracing of the engraving, which was later both photographically reduced and redrawn to scale using a reduction grid. The copyright on this image has expired.
Figure 2 – One of the drawings created by Norman Lindsay to illustrate his article on Hargrave and Lope de Vega in The Lone Hand [1913]. The copyright on this image has expired.


Australian Icons:The Ferocious Australian Drop Bear

phascolarctos malum or Thylarctos plummetus, depending on what area they are from.

According to Wikipedia ( “A dropbear or drop bear is a fictitious Australian marsupial.[1] Drop bears are commonly said to be unusually large, vicious, carnivorous marsupials related to koalas (although the koala is not a bear) that inhabit treetops and attack their prey by dropping onto their heads from above.[2][3] They are an example of local lore intended to frighten and confuse outsiders and amuse locals, similar to the jackalope, hoop snake, wild haggis or snipe.

Various methods suggested to deter drop bear attacks include placing forks in the hair, having Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears or in the armpits, urinating on oneself, and only speaking English in an Australian accent.”

I have never really looked into the lore behind our local super marsupial…the drop bear. However, this morning – it being Australia Day here – I jokingly made a reference to them in a Facebook post, saying to be careful, as I had seen them heading into the bush with a slab (carton of beer). Then my writer instinct kicked in, and I wondered just how had this mythology around the drop bear started, and just how ingrained into our iconology had it become.

Us Aussies find the whole tourist scare “campaign” about drop bears hilarious. I have a friend – an Australian – who lives in NYC and has a lot of American friends. He gets great delight out of scaring them to death, relating stories about the dangers of drop bears if touristing here, backed up with comments from us over here. I tend to wonder about the gullibility of people.

The wonderful thing about the drop bear myth is how it has come to be backed up with some pretty credible research from believable organisations and publications. It would seem that everyone wants to be in on the joke. This from the Australian Museum:

If ever there was an institution to give legitimacy to a subject, anything with the word “museum” in it would be right up there. Also, some “serious” research work from the “Australian Geographic”:,-study-says/

The research, done in a NSW drop bear Hot-Spot, has found that talking with an Australian accent helps keep them at bay.

Needless to say, spoof sights for drop bears have cropped up as well, and one has to wonder just how many overseas tourists have clicked on this link and booked a Drop Bear Adventure. Too funny.

And this from Buzzfeed:

There are also three apps to play games of Drop Bear.

Drop Bears are a great example not only of the often perverse Australian sense of humour, but is one of our endearing qualities…not taking ourselves too seriously, and liking to laugh at ourselves.

This link has someone even creating a history for them:

But perhaps more than anything is the proliferation of photos and graphics that depict drop bears. You can never say Australians don’t have a sense of humour!






























Tim Alderman
(C) 2015

Sydney Snippets – Some Historic Facts About Sydney You Might Not Know!

Cities are mysterious places, full of hidden secrets, concealed niches, rickety alleyways full of history and forgotten people and events. No matter how long you live in a city for, you will never know all its secrets, all its snippets of fascinating history.

These are some fascinating snippets about Sydney that I discovered and compiled some time back, intending to use them in a story that never happened. A couple of things I knew, most I didn’t. Hope you are as intrigued by these as I was.

Circular Quay:

•The Tank Stream ran from what were the marshes of Hyde Park, between Market and Park Streets. It followed a course roughly parallel to Pitt Street.

•A wooden bridge was originally built across the stream at the current Bridge Street. A stone bridge replaced it 15 years later.

•It got its name from 3 ‘tanks’ that were hacked into it.

•In 1795, an order was issued forbidding pollution by washing, cleaning and emptying chamber pots into it, as the stream was becoming so polluted it was almost unusable.

•Sydney’s alternate water supply from the Lachlan Swamp Scheme in Centennial Park was completed in 1867.

•By 1860, the Tank Stream stretch from Hunter to Bridge Streets was filled in, and pipes were used to carry the stream underground. It was forgotten about until torrential rain caused basements in Pitt Street to float.

•Originally, only Pitt Street ran right down to Circular Quay. Phillip, Elizabeth and Castlereagh never made it due to the costs involved.

•There was a half-penny toll to use a footbridge that ran over the mud flats of Circular Quay to George Street. When Circular Quay was completed in 1855 (the last of the convict-built enterprises), it totally buried the Tank Stream.

•Point Piper was named after a former Captain in the NSW Corp called John Piper. It was originally called Eliza Point. John Piper built Henrietta Villa.

•First Customs House was completed in 1845, and was a simple, somber two storey structure. The current classic – Revival style building, incorporating the original building, was built in 1885. Other additions were made in 1916-1917.

•The Water Police Court was built in 1853. Designed by Edmund Blackett. An extension was added at the rear in 1885 by Colonial Architect James Barnet. This is now the Justice and Police Museum.

•The Mariners Church was built in The Rocks in 1856, and has a pulpit shaped like the prow of a ship.


•The Rocks originally covered the slopes to the West of Sydney Cove. Those lower down were inundated with sewerage from those higher up. They dug trenches around their homes to prevent it running through them, but this just caused a build-up, which would fester in the heat and humidity.

•The Argyle Cut was originally started by convicts in 1843, but was finished by free labour 16 years later.

•The Chinese had a colony in Lower George Street in the 1870’s, but due to local resentment, moved to the Campbell Street Market area.

•Princes Street, The Rocks main thoroughfare, disappeared in 1926 when the bridge was built, along with 300 homes.

•The bubonic plague started in 1900. It was restricted to the area around the wharves, Millers Point and The Rocks. 303 people contracted it, and 103 died.

•The bridge over Cumberland St was finished in 1864, and in 1868 a bridge linking the north and south ends of Princes Street was finished. This disappeared with the street when the bridge happened along.

•Suez Canal is Sydney’s narrowest street, and was home to the notorious gang known as The Rock’s Push.

•MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) was originally the Commissariat Stores, this building being demolished in 1940. The Maritime Services Headquarters, which now houses the MCA, was then built.

•The Sydney Observatory on Observatory Hill, was n built in 1858. Its copper-sheathed domes still rotate on the original bearings made from cannon balls.

•Dawes Point Park was named after Lieutenant William Dawes, an astronomer with the First Fleet. He supervised the construction of the Dawes Point Battery, of which only ruins remain.

•Some of the Argyle Stores date back to the time of the first settlement, and were constructed from sandstone and brick. The granite cobblestones in the courtyard were originally brought out to Australia as ship’s ballast in the 1840’s. There are also the remnants of a water hydraulic lift.

•Garrison Church, on the corner of Argyle and Lower Fort Street, was originally called Holy Trinity Church.


•Started on 28th July, 1923.

•Opened 19th March, 1932

•Arches met at 4.15 pm, 19th August 1930.

•Architect was J.J.C. Bradfield (Bradfield Highway), Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour.


•Named Bennelong Point after an Aborigine befriended by Govenor Phillip.

•Cattle originally used the site, then a storehouse. 2 brass cannons were in place before being sent to Dawes Point.

•In 1817, Governor Macquarie laid the foundation for a fort, which would, naturally, bear his name. It was completed in 1819. It was originally four square walls, and entered by a drawbridge. It had 10 24-pounder cannon, and 5 6-pounders. There was a two-storey stone tower for 12 artillerymen to live in.

•The fort’s sea wall was removed in 1890 as part of wharf improvements.

•The fort was demolished in 1903, and replaced by a tram terminal with a fortress-like design.

•This was demolished in 1961 to make way for the Opera House.

•Opera House designed by Joern Utzon. It took 15 years to build, and cost, instead of the estimated $7 million, $102 million. The Queen officially opened it on 20th October, 1973.

•Ben Blakeney, an Aboriginal actor, played a digeridoo from the top of the sails at the opening, in memory of Bennelong and his people.


•The first was built in George Street in 1797. It was 80 feet long, made from logs and thatch, with a clay floor. It had 22 cells. It was set alight by an arsonist.

•A new ‘handsome and commodious’ prison with 6 cells stood behind a high wall in Lower George Street in 1801. Its southern wall ran up Essex Street, where its gallows presented a spectacle for residents of The Rocks. By the 1820’s, it was full.

•In 1826, the disabled vessel ‘Phoenix’ was set up at Lavender Bay for use as a prison.

•Governor Bourke (Bourke Street) ordered the Colonial Architect to design a new gaol on Darlinghurst Hill (Now Eastern Suburbs TAFE, in Forbes Street). It was opened in 1841, when the George Street prisoners were transferred to the new gaol.


•Until 1840, a 10-foot high, 2-foot thick stone wall ran along George street, and separated the commercial centre from the military centre.

•Within the walls were three double storey blockhouses, which made it the largest military barracks in the British Empire. Governor Macquarie had the wall built to restrain possible intercourse between the citizens and the military.

•The barracks wall began just north of present Margaret Street, and extended to Barrack Street, entirely occupying the area between George and Clarence Streets. The buildings stood between York and Clarence. The main gate, with a guardhouse, was in George Street, close to the present Wynyard Station ramp. In 1826, there was a guardhouse on the corner of Grosvenor and George Streets. There was a Male Orphan Asylum opposite it. The Regent Hotel now occupies much of this site, its restaurant named after early gaoler Henry Kable.

•The George Street Barracks Square became known as Wynyard Square.

•In the tradition of the Royal Navy, a tot of rum was issued to the troops at lunchtime. In 1845, Colonel Maurice O’Connell reduced the rum issue, and the entire regiment refused to attend parade. O’Connell ordered the 11th Regiment up from Tasmania to crush the mutiny. By the time they arrived, it was all over.

•In 1847 the 11th North Devonshire regiment marched out of the George Street barracks to take up billets in Victoria Barracks (Oxford Street, Paddington).

•Original graves were in paddocks on the edge of the settlement, in the ‘lines’. The ‘lines’ were four rows of convict tents between Essex and Grosvenor Streets.

•The original Barracks Square was sub-divided, and coffins were dug up in the vicinity of Clarence and Margaret Streets.

•By 1815, Market Street was the towns perimeter, and the cemetary was situated on the site of the Town Hall. Bodies were often not buried very deep, and during wet weather, the smell could be quite offensive. Over 2000 bodies were placed there over 27 years. During Macquarie’s Governorship, land was set aside one mile west of the town, and was officially called The Sandhills Cemetery, though better known as the Old Devonshire Street Ground. First interment here was in 1819, being the remains of Quartermaster Hugh McDonald of the 46th Regiment. The cemetery was badly neglected, with graves being opened, and the area used as a toilet. One of the oldest graves was of Jane Dundas, a housemaid at Government House during the time of Governor Arthur Phillip. Several vaults, one containing a coffin, were discovered during excavations for a shopping arcade during the 1970’s. Between 1819 and 1968, it is estimated that 5000 were buried in the Sandhills Cemetery. The cemetery was closed when ground was consecrated at Botany. When the Old Devonshire Street Ground was resumed for the building of Central Station, people were invited to relocate the remains of ancestors, and in 1910 they were conveyed to Botany Cemetery, and other suburban cemeteries.

•The original Sydney building allotments, as decided by Governor Phillip, were 60’ x 150’. He also planned, before returning to England, that city streets were to be 200’ wide. This, of cause, never eventuated.

•The second cove to the right of the Opera House (facing North) was originally called Garden Cove.

•Until reclamation, the harbour ran up as far as Hunter Street.

•By 1807, Garden Cove had become Walloomooloo Bay.

•On James Meehans 1807 map for The Plan for The Town of Sydney, land for Government House and what will become the Botanical Gardens is clearly marked as land set aside as ‘Crown Land’.

•The towns earliest breweries were at Kissing Point (North Shore), and what was to become Castlereagh Street.

•The brewery and the Wilshire Tannery at Brickfield Hill were heavily polluting the Tank Stream.

•In the same map, an area near the current MCA is called Market Place. Pitt Street is clearly marked, Castlereagh Street is called Camden Sntreet, and Elizabeth Street is called Mulgrave Street.

•By the time of an 1832 map, street names had become George, Pitt, Castlereagh, Elizabeth, Philip, Macquarie and King, and are clearly marked as such. In this map, Woolloomooloo Bay is called Palmers Cove, and the estate of Palmer runs up to its edge. The street terminology ‘Row’ had become ‘Street’.

•By 1821, the population was 12,000.

•The hospital appears on an 1822 map, as do Barracks and Macquarie Place, with its obelisk from which all distances from the city were marked. Pyrmont is named Piermont. There is something called Rope Walk near Macquarie Place.
•Market street ran from the Market Wharf in Cockle Bay. Parramatta and South Head Road are built, and had tollgates. The Domain is marked, originally called ‘Government Domain’. Government House was still in Bridge St. There was a windmill on the site of The Domain which was removed in 1814. Hyde Park was laid out as a racecourse. The areas of Moore Park and Centennial Park is evident. There is a house called ‘Ultimo House’, which the suburb of Ultimo would obviously have been named after.

•By 1831, the population was 16,000.

•By 1836, Sussex St is one of the cities busiest thoroughfares. On a map, Dr Harris’s Estate is clearly marked, also the suburb of Lyndhurst. As well as Ultimo House, there is an Ultimo Cottage marked. Pyrmont Bay (current spelling) Darling Point and Macquarie Point are named. Woolloomooloo is spelt ‘Wolomoloo’

•In an 1843 map, the city is divided into Wards and Parishes, including Bourke Ward, Macquarie Ward, Phillip Ward (with two’l’s’), the Parish of Alexandria, Parish of St Andrews, Parish of St Lawrence, Parish of St James, Cook Ward, Gipps Ward, and Parish of St Phillip. Balmain is named. Woolloomooloo is still spelt ‘Wolomoloo’

•The population by this time is 35,000.

•The Chippendale Estate was sub-divided in 1838. St Leonards (North Shore) had a population of 412.

•Busby’s Bore was completed in 1837. Gas lighting was introduced, and there was a gas works on the east side of Darling Harbour.


:•Redfern was named after an estate granted to naval surgeon Thomas Redfern.

•Paddington was, prior to 1850, sandhills.

•The Brickfields became Brickfield Village, then Brickfield Hill.


:Clarence Street was originally called Middle Soldiers’ Row until 1810, and Kent Street was originally Back Soldiers’ Row.

•York St was originally Barracks Row, and Church Street (probably named after the Garrison Church, and running from The Rocks) ran into it.

•In 1788, George Street was called Main Street, and was probably originally the route walked by people carrying water from the mouth of the Tank Stream to the settlement.

•Oxford Street, from the junction with Liverpool St in Darlinghurst to Bondi Junction, was the original Old South Head Road (and before that, just South Head Road).

•Jersey Road, Woollahra was originally Point Piper Road.

•Palmer Street Darlinghurst was named after Commissary General Palmer.

•Windmill Street in The Rocks was originally named for two windmills (two of five that functioned around the settlement) that operated there.

•Dickson Street was named after John Dickson, who began to grind wheat using a steam driven mill.

Always something new to learn. Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.


Pruning Floriade

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“…I have become a work of art. Welcome to the pleasuredome”
Frankie Goes To Hollywood “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”


I hate Canberra. Always have! I still have nightmares of visits there with my family when I was a youngster – the endless hours it took to get there (always with a thermos of instant coffee and cut sandwiches – no roadside cafes with bain-marie stodge and International Roast coffee for my parents), then being dragged through every door and corridor of the War Memorial, old Parliament House and every other building that the ubiquitous ‘Tourists Guide to the ACT’ booklet told us to visit. We stayed in “budget” motels, all decorated with the same teak laminex, the same matching curtains and bedspreads in orange floral fabrics, bathrooms with folded-edge toilet paper, bag-wrapped glass and a “Sanitised” paper banner across the toilet seat. All served an almost cold breakfast to your room in the morning, served on a teak plastic tray that was left outside your door. Where would we be without cold toast, rock hard pats of butter, little plastic sachets of Vegemite, peanut butter, honey and various jams;Kellogg’s ‘Variety’, and Lipton’s tea bags draping out of a stainless steel teapot? Add in the small impish squeals from my mother as she tucked sample soaps, complimentary shower caps, miniature shampoo and conditioners, and sachets of tea and coffee into the suitcase, and you have, evidently, the ideal holiday scenario. Mmm!

Then there was the weather!

The last time I was in Canberra was in 1982, to audit the stocktake in a retail store owned by Pellegrini and Co. I have to point out I wasn’t there voluntarily. Canberra was covered in fog when I arrived, and was still covered in fog when I left. I didn’t see a single minute of sunlight in all the time I was there. I determined to never return. Never let it be said that I am not softening in my old age. I decided to give it one final chance at redeeming itself.

We stayed at my partner David’s family home at Mount Annan on the Friday night – a trial on its own – then headed off for Canberra at 7.00am on Saturday morning. It no longer takes endless hours to get there, though that isn’t necessarily advantageous. Before the M5 was built, you could visit a multitude of small towns en route to the national capital. Now, you can drive there from Sydney in three hours, provided the monotony of the drive doesn’t induce a microsleep. No longer is there an obligatory stopover at Goulburn, to climb and admire the view from the eye of the Giant Merino (1). No, we had to do a detour to see this grand example of Australian kitsch. After climbing the ghastly concrete interior up into its head, I took a photograph from the eye, just to prove that I had been up there as I was sure mo one would believe me, but all it managed to capture was fingerprints, and perspex-blurred clouds. Even the souvenir store failed to intrigue us with myriad counters of boxes-that-bleat-when-shaken – what is the purpose of these? – and tiny fleece covered model sheep. Probably made in Taiwan anyway!

The other port of call to break the journey was at a tiny township called Marulan. Neither of us had ever heard of it, and the tiny castle on the signposts pointing to it captured our imagination. I was disappointed at not finding a castle in the town! Instead we find a tiny two-street town going back to the 1820’s. It’s hard to imagine that until the M5 was built, trucks would roar up and down its main street. It is one of those church/ police station/ post office/ school/ historic Victorian railway station/ pub/ general store/ and several historic homesteads-type towns. Two of these beautiful homes had been converted into a factory by the addition of a very ugly 1970’s redbrick facade. The roof peaks of the original historic buildings could be seen poking up above the added frontage. I wept at the ruination! Just to the south of Marulan are the remains of the ‘famous’ Moccador Pavlova Factory (2), which was built in the shape of a large pink and white pavlova. And I thought the giant merino was pretty hard to beat! The more modern (operating) general store and pub were the only two buildings open. Everything else was boarded up. Poor Marulan has been bypassed three times in its history, and is now totally cut off from the world. A new housing sub-division is going up, but somehow, I don’t think it’s going to relive its boomtown era again.

A quick stopover to view the currently dry Lake George, and we were in Canberra.
I’d like to say its changed, but I’d be lying. However, I have to admire its wide avenue-styled, tree lined streets. There is a lot to be said for planning a city, though I don’t really think – to be political – that I want to live or work in an area named after a predecessor of fishnet-stockinged Alexander Downer. We only got lost once – which is better going than when I went there with my father in the late 60’s. We managed to go around the circuit road so many times that I started to think Canberra only consisted of one street! David and I orienteered our way around the circuit road and finally found ourselves, though somewhat dizzy, at King’s Park.

Entry to Floriade was free – a pleasant change after paying to get into the Bowral Tulip display last year. Before venturing into the gardens, we decided to have a look at the markets set up at the entrance to the display. Now if we were expecting plants, and all things horticultural, we were to be bitterly disappointed. You could purchase Chilli Chutney – so hot that David’s mouth was out of action for the next hour – and one of the few times in my life I exercised discretion in the presence of food. I thankfully threw the hand up and avoided it, leaving the assault on my palate until lunch. On top of that is fudge in every imaginable flavour; puzzles; clothes; jewellery; sunglasses – just about everything but flowers and plants. And here was me thinking it was a horticultural show! Passing by a prominent display of willow branches spray painted in realistic fluro colours with matching watering cans – the connection between the two items is lost on me as the branches were obviously dead – we overheard another store holder commentto the owner of the matching willows and cans that he was “Glad to see you in shorts, Now we really know that summer has started”. David and I exchange a look! It may have been 28°C in Sydney that day, but it was only 20°C in Canberra, for God’s sake! A garish display of artificial flowers distracts us. Decisions, decisions. We decide to avoid the wrath of the mother-in-law by indulging David’s grandmother with a bunch – she has a great love for them, despite being a fanatical gardener. I’ve never quite understood that.

From here we traipse to the displays. There were 1,188, 011 plants. I counted them, so trust me on that. Most were in full bloom, though due to the cold weather several beds were fallow, barren grounds and hadn’t achieved blooming status. One bed that was supposed to be a mass of white lilies was just a sea of pointed green leaves. I admired them anyway, as we had come a long way to see this. Mother Nature decides what will be, and obviously this year she was being a bitch. The garden theme this year was “Poetry in Flowers”. Areas are divided into themes’, such as “Kubla Khan – Xanadu”, inspired by oriental carpets; “Ode to the Plum Blossom”, a floral interpretation of Lu Yu’s poem in camellias, viburnums and rhododendrons; “Song, From Pippa Passes” – I got the giggles thinking about what Pippa may have passed – by Robert Browning, planted with 58,000 hyacinths, muscari, narcissus and tulips; “Noise by Pooh” – the giggles are now hilarious laughter – the centrepiece of the children’s area, depicting A.A. Milne’s famous bear created with 53,000 blooms. One major problem with setting the gardens out in these phantasmagorical designs is that you can’t see them! From ground level, the designs are totally lost. “Kodak” have kindly placed some Photo-Moments stands along the way, which raise you about 2 feet off the ground, but that still isn’t enough height to give you a vista showing the designs off to there fullest. There should have been stands set about 6-8 feet off the ground to show off the displays – but then, this is our political capital, and either nobody thought of it, or the idea is still in some public servants in-box. I wasn’t even aware that the designs were in place until I thumbed through a magazine the next day at home.

Anyway, it didn’t seem to phase the thousands of beige-outfitted elderly men – Panama or tweed hats are the official headwear of the gardener male – and their partners, in three-quarter-length white or bone pants (visible panty line optional), over-blouse of blue and white floral (blowsy enough to propel them along in the breeze) and over-sized straw hats with floral hatbands, tied with a chiffon scarf tied under the chin in a giant bow – the official headwear of the gardener female. They pointed, oohed and ahed, tittered and tutted, and cupped blooms in their hands as they wandered from bed to bed. The serious gardeners stood in groups, dissecting, analysing and correcting every nuance of every flowerbed. I often wonder if these people can ever just enjoy a beautiful display as a beautiful display, or if it must always be never quite good enough.

The arrival of a very large troupe of Japanese tourists provided a momentary distraction to all the beauty around us. David and I were sitting in a tent set up as a café, eating and trying to enjoy a very limp – and obviously not fresh – Waldorf salad when they arrived. In typical Japanese tourist fashion, they were herded into two groups, segregated by large signs on green and yellow cardboard, mounted on sticks and waved in the air. The writing on them was Japanese, but considering where they were, I imagined the groups were possible named plum blossom, and cherry blossom, or something equally Japanese. Anyway, they didn’t manage to see all that much. They were shuffled into one spot, did a 360-degree rotation accompanied by the very audible click if twenty cameras going off at the same time, then they were off amongst a lot of pointing and chittering. Probably off to the market. One almost felt sorry for them.

A quick trip to the Theatre of Film and Sound to view some of the archived material from the Canberra based film preservation group ended our tour of the garden. It had taken us about two hours to cover the whole area – and yes, we did find some plants for sale. Real plants, that is! We picked up a tub of flowering Daffodils, to drop off at David’s mothers on the way back.

I can’t in all honesty say that Canberra has endeared itself to me, but they put on one hell of of a flower show!

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2004

The Big Merino, Goulburn

(1) The Big Merino:
Built in 1985 is a monument to Goulburn and the surrounding district’s fine wool industry. Standing 15.2 meters high, 18 meters long and weighing 97 tones he is an impressive life-like model of Rambo, a stud Ram from a local property, “Bullamallita”.
The complex was opened on September 20 1985 by John Brown who was the federal minister for sport, recreation and tourism. The idea was originally conceived by brothers Attila and Louis Mokany.The Big Merino was constructed by Adelaide builder Glenn Senner and took six months to build. The frame is steel, covered and shaped with wire mesh, sprayed and detailed in reinforced concrete. The architect was Gary Dutallis.
As the Goulburn bypass took effect on the city, Goulburn changed. The city expanded and a new development at the southern end meant that the Big Merino previously the first stop off the southern exit from the expressway was now stranded in no mans land. On the 26th May 2007 this grand structure moved 800 metres towards the southern exit to greener pastures.
The move has given Rambo a new lease on life with the construction of a new gift shop and a permanent exhibition from Australian Wool Innovation depicting the 200 year history of wool in Australia which is housed in the Big Merino structure. The second floor will eventually show all the stages of wool processing. Marshall Judd was commissioned to construct the under belly and three new legs representing a more complete, free standing model than previously shown.
The Big Merino gift shop displays an eclectic range of quality gift wear, cosmetics, souvenirs and accessories. We aim to supply our overseas and local visitors with the best quality products made from fine Australian merino wool. Our range includes Australian made ugg boots, locally hand-dyed gossamer-fine wool scarves, merino possum blend scarves, hats, jumpers and jackets, Mohair throw rugs and scarves, pet doonas, medical and baby’s sheepskins as well as plush sheepskins.

Mocador Pavlova Factory, Marulan

(2) The Old Pavlova Factory:
Just to the south of Marulan are the remains of the ‘famous’ Moccador Pavlova Factory which was built in the shape of a large pink and white pavlova. The factory used to manufacture pavlovas, handmade chocolates and cheesecakes and offer devonshire teas to travellers but it was a casualty of the town’s by-pass. It closed in 1991.
Read more:–places-to-see-20081124-6fx9.html#ixzz2VbstoFXr