Category Archives: Travelogue

Yuanmingyuan (The Garden of Perfect Brightness), The Old Summer Palace (Qing Dynasty), Beijing, China

I am currently reading Edward Rutherfurd’s “China” and the Yuanmingyuan plays an integral part in much of the story in the 1860s. I find this fascinating

Brief Introduction

Located in the northern part of the Haidian District of Beijing, Yuanmingyuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness), aka Old Summer Palace, was one of the most important imperial gardens of the Qing Dynasty. Its other nickname, King of Gardens, offers a clue to the totality of its physical setting, its splendid – and splendidly laid out – architecture, which included richly adorned halls, temples and pavilions, and its magnificent gardens, both in the narrow and in the broad sense, the latter being in the sense of a park, since some of the Old Summer Palace’s gardens were in fact replicas of entire parks from other localities round about the country, in much the same way that modern-day Chinese theme parks now incorporate reduced-size replicas of famous international landmarks such as Niagra Falls (in USA), the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, and the Eiffel Tower.

Yuanmingyuan in the Past Source from the web

The park’s many ponds and lakes are dotted with small islets, and countless bridges span the park’s streams, while charming walkways, some tree-lined, connect this vast expanse of grass, trees, water, rockeries, and buildings. Water is in fact the central theme of the Old Summer Palace. Parks are of course synonymous with trees and green grass; the Old Summer Palace has both in abundance, as well as ponds, lakes, and streams. No wonder then, that the original Old Summer Palace park complex was five times larger than the Forbidden City (the official “reception” palace of Chinese emperors) and eight times larger than Rome’s Vatican City.

History of Yuanmingyuan

The park was first built by Emperor Kangxi as a gift to his fourth son Prince Yinzhen, who later succeeded his father as Emperor Yongzheng. After the death of Emperor Yongzheng, his son, Emperor Qianlong, who, it must be said, was an even more ardent lover of gardens, continued to invest heavily in the Summer Palace gardens. Thus the combined effort of three generations of emperors, beginning with Emperor Kangxi and ending with this grandson, Emperor Qianlong, made of Yuanmingyuan an incomparable gem among royal gardens the world over. As the French writer and humanist, Victor Hugo, speaking of the treasure trove of artworks amassed at the Summer Palace once wrote: “All the treasures of our [European] cathedrals could not equal this fabulous and magnificent oriental museum… “.

In its heyday, Yuanmingyuan consisted of three different gardens: Yuanmingyuan, or the Garden of Perfect Brightness proper (the entire imperial garden complex was itself known as the Garden of Perfect Brightness); Qichunyuan, or the Elegant Spring Garden; and Changchunyuan, or the Garden of Eternal Spring. Five Chinese emperors – Emperors Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing, Daoguang and Xianfeng – spent prodigious amounts not only of money here, but also of their time, receiving guests, discussing the business of state, or simply relaxing with friends and family. In this regard, the Summer Palace served as an extension of the Forbidden City.

However, as feudal China drew to an end, the Qing Dynasty government’s crises multiplied as well as deepened. Yet, amidst these woes, including a reduced income stream that forced the Qing Dynasty emperor to curtail some of his private hunting and holiday activities, the emperor never ceased to lavish money on Yuanmingyuan, so devoted was he to this national treasure. For example, inside the park’s temples are numerous statues of the Buddha and Boddhisatvas in a variety of poses – and in a variety of materials, such as gold, silver, bronze and jade. Alas, most of the treasures of this once glorious summer palace are gone, having been burned or looted during repeated foreign raids, first in 1860 as part of the second Opium War, and again in 1900 as part of the effort to crush the Boxer Rebellion.

In fact, the debacle over the February 25, 2009 auction, staged by Christie’s in Paris, of two bronze fountainheads nominally belonging to the estate of the late fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, is directly related to the 1860 looting of the Summer Palace (there was only one imperial summer palace in those days), since the rightful owner of the two fountainheads, one depicting a rabbit, the other a rat, is China. The auction itself was controversial, sparking official protests from the Chinese government, but the outcome of the auction was even more controversial: the winning bidder – a Chinese patriot, it turns out – refused to pay, claiming that the artworks belong to the Chinese people.


In China today there is considerable controversy over whether the Old Summer Palace should be restored to its original glory or not. The Chinese people seem to be divided into two mutually exclusive camps on the issue, with one group wishing to keep the park as it is, i.e., as a reminder of past national humiliations, while the other group wishes to draw a line under the past and move forward. The latter group argues that it serves no constructive purpose to hold Beijing’s once glorious Summer Palace hostage to events that occurred over a century ago, and that more could be achieved in returning the park to its original splendor, albeit, sadly lacking in the treasures of which it was looted.

It is an argument that is perhaps echoed in the current American debate over whether “Ground Zero”, the site of the 9/11 attacks that demolished the Twin Towers of New York City, should remain a graveyard-like memorial to the past, or should be rebuilt into something even more spectacular in order to draw a line under the past. A neutral economist might take the view that the best way to avenge the looting of the Summer Palace would be to return the palace to its former glory, thereby making it a first-class tourist destination that could reclaim at least some of the wealth that it lost. It might also strengthen the argument for someday returning the original artworks that this sumptuous palace once housed.

Plan of the Old Summer Palace buildings and gardens — Beijing.
Master plan for Yuanmingyuan in the app, with red lines showing pre-defined visitor route
Photo by Steven Buss

The British and French at their worst? The burning of China’s magnificent Summer Palace

n 1860 Western forces burned the Summer Palace, a wonderful and magnificent building to the northwest of Beijing, China. British and French troops pillaged the palace, and then burned it to the ground in a terrifying act during the Second Opium War. Here, Scarlett Zhu explains what happened and responses to the attack.

The looting of the Summer Palace by Anglo-French forces in 1860.

“We call ourselves civilized and them barbarians,” wrote the outraged author, Victor Hugo. “Here is what Civilization has done to Barbarity.”

One of the deepest, unhealed and entrenched historical wounds of China stems from the destruction of the country’s most beautiful palace in 1860 – the burning of the Old Summer Palace by the British and French armies. As Charles George Gordon, a soldier of the force, wrote about his experience, one can “scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places being burnt.”

The palace that once boasted of possessing the most extensive and invaluable art collection of China, became a site of ruins within 3 days in the face of some 3,500 screaming soldiers and burning torches. Dense smoke and ashes eclipsed the sky, marble arches crumbled, and sacred texts were torn apart.  At the heart of this merciless act stood Lord Elgin, the British High Commissioner to China, a man who preferred revenge and retaliation to peace talks and compromise. He was also a man highly sensitive to any injustices or humiliation suffered by his own country. Thus, the act was a response to the imprisonment and torture of the delegates sent for a negotiation on the Qing dynasty’s surrender. However, as modern Chinese historians would argue, this was a far-from-satisfactory excuse to justify this performance of wickedness, as before the imprisonment took place, there had already been extensive looting by the French and British soldiers and the burning was only “the final blow”.

The treasures of the Imperial Palace were irresistible and within the reach of the British and French. Officers and men seemed to have been seized with temporary insanity, said one witness; in body and soul they were absorbed in one pursuit: plunder. The British and the French helped themselves to all the porcelain, the silk and the ancient books – there were an estimated 1.5 million ancient Chinese relics taken away. The extent of this rampant abuse was highlighted even more by the burning of the Emperor’s courtiers, eunuch servants and maids – many estimates place the death toll in the hundreds. This atrocious indifference towards human life inflamed international opposition, notably illustrated by Hugo’s radiant criticisms.

The response to the attack

But there was no significant resistance to the looting, even though many Qing soldiers were in the vicinity – perhaps they had already anticipated the reality of colonial oppression or did not bother themselves with the painful loss of the often-distant imperial family. But the Emperor, XianFeng, was not an unreceptive spectator; in fact, he was said to have vomited blood upon hearing the news.

However, there was evidence to suggest that some soldiers did feel that this was “a wretchedly demoralizing work for an army”. As James M’Ghee, chaplain to the British forces, writes in his narrative, he shall “ever regret the stern but just necessity which laid them in ashes”. He later acknowledged that it was “a sacrifice of all that was most ancient and most beautiful”, yet he could not tear himself away from the palace’s vanished glory. Historian Greg M. Thomas went so far as to argue that the French Ambassador and generals refused to participate this destruction as it “exceeded the military aims of their mission”, and would be an irreparable damage to an important cultural monument.

Nowadays, what is left of the palace are the gigantic marble and stone blocks, which used to be backdrops of the European-style fountains situated in the distant corner of the Imperial gardens for entertaining the Emperor, since those made out of timber and tile did not survive the fires. The remains acted as a somber reminder of the West’s ransack and the East’s “century of humiliation”.

This is more than a story of patriotism, nationalism and universal discontent. History used to teach us that patriotism isn’t history, but rather propaganda in disguise. Yet how could one ignore and omit a historical event so demoralizing and compelling on its own, that it is no longer a matter of morality and dignity, but a matter of seeking the truth, tracing the past and its inseparable link with the present? When considering the savage and blatant destruction of the Old Summer Palace, along with the unspoken hatred of the humiliated and the suppressed, it seems therefore appropriate to end with the cries of the enraged Chinese commoners as they witnessed the worst of mankind’s atrocities: “Kill the foreign devils! Kill the foreign devils!”

Destruction of the Summer Palace


The World’s Creepiest Abandoned Theme Parks

Theme parks that fall into disrepair seem to receive the same fate around the world: rusting roller coasters, overgrown swings and the eerie absence of children’s laughter.

From giant, decaying Gulliver statues to an overgrown yellow brick road, these are the theme parks left to the annals of time. A creepy experience awaits all who enter.

1. Dadipark, Belgium


Decaying Dadipark (Image: Reginald Dierckx/Flickr)

Opened in 1950, Dadipark, Dadizele, was closed in 2002, reportedly after a young boy had his arm ripped off on the Nautic Jet water ride.


Starting life in the 1950s as a church playground, Belgium’s Dadipark was transformed into an amusement park in the 1980s. Although it was initially popular, with a million people visiting at its peak, disaster loomed.

Pel Laurens/Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0

In 2000, a child lost his arm on one of the rides and two years later the park closed. This was supposedly due to renovations, but these refurbishments never happened and the park was eventually abandoned.

Pel Laurens/Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0

However, unlike many other deserted amusement parks which become tourist attractions in their own right, Dadipark is set to soon be transformed into a residential area, with the rides demolished and a grassy recreational area planned instead.


2. Okpo Land, South Korea


Fatal Okpo Land (Image: Reginald Dierckx/Flickr)

A once-popular theme park at the southern tip of South Korea. It was shut down in 1999 after a number of fatal accidents.


3. Land of Oz, North Carolina


Land of Oz charred (Image: Thomas Kerns)

A Wizard of Oz-themed amusement park in North Carolina, the Land of Oz was deemed a success when it opened in 1970. However, it closed in 1980, after a fire in 1975, reportedly started by disgruntled former employees, destroyed some of its Oz artifacts, including the dress worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film.

It was hoped the park might become a year-round attraction as a ski resort, but these hopes were not fulfilled. There are few things creepier than a yellow brick road left to rot.


4. Gulliver’s Kingdom, Japan


Fallen Gulliver (Image: Mandias/flickr)

Only open for four years from 1997 to 2001, Gulliver’s Kingdom was built near Mount Fuji near Aokigahara, an infamous suicide spot. The park was based on the novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, as the giant creepy Gulliver statue is testament to.

Mandias/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In prime position in the park was an enormous 147-foot (45m) statue of Lemuel Gulliver, tied to the ground by tiny Lilliputians as per the story. It’s not just this eerie statue that put off visitors though. The location of the park was inauspicious – it sat next to both Aokigahara, a dense forest where an unusually high number of people have taken their own life and also the former headquarters of Aum Shinrikyo, a religious cult that killed 13 people in a nerve gas attack in Tokyo March 1995.

Mandias/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The park opened in 1997, but closed just four years later after failing to attract visitors. Gulliver’s Kingdom was then demolished in 2007, leaving just concrete slabs and exposed foundations where the creepy statue once lay.


5. Pripyat Amusement Park, Chernobyl, Ukraine


Pripyat radiated (Image: Getty)

Perhaps one of the world’s best-known abandoned theme parks, the park near Chernobyl was due to open on May 1, 1986. Then three days earlier on April 26, disaster struck Chernobyl. The park opened for a few hours the following day to entertain locals before the city’s population was ordered to evacuate.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

This now derelict amusement part tells a wider, more tragic story than just a few abandoned Ferris wheels. Located in Pripyat, Ukraine, the park was one of the many areas of the city to be left behind by residents after the devastating Chernobyl disaster of 1986.


The explosion halted the park’s opening, which was supposed to take place just four days later, and so it was left to be swallowed by nature. Over 30 years on, the rides are covered in rust and there’s not a soul to be seen.

Kateryna Upit/Shutterstock

Its rusting Ferris wheel has become a symbol of the disaster, standing motionless in the abandoned city, which is much like a ghost town, except for the occasional tour group exploring to understand the catastrophe for themselves.


6. Encore Garden, Taiwan


Tragic Encore Garden (Image: Alexander Synaptic/Flickr)

The park in the hills above Taichung City closed after the 921 earthquake in Taiwan in 1999, which killed more than 2,400 people.

7. Spreepark, Berlin, Germany


Spreepark has a history (Image: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty)

Shut in 2001, Berlin’s Spreepark opened in 1969 as East Germany’s only amusement park and welcomed 1.5 million visitors a year in its heyday. When it closed, due to falling visitor numbers, owner Norbert Witte packed up six of the park’s most popular rides into shipping containers and had them sent to Peru – a new park in Lima never quite took off and Witte’s problems grew when some of the rides were shipped back to Germany and customs officers discovered 167 kilograms of cocaine hidden in the mast of the Flying Carpet. Tours of the abandoned park ran until last year when the city council put up a perimeter fence to protect the remaining rides.


Spreepark once saw over 1.5 million visitors a year, but decades after it opened in 1969, the park ran up millions of euros worth of debt, and it couldn’t renovate the rides that needed attention. It eventually fell into disrepair, and today stands abandoned east of the German capital.

Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images

Despite its closure, the amusement park is still popular with locals, who visit the ghostly site now used for events, performances, festivals, markets and screenings.


Originally known as Plänterwald, the park was renamed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 to Spreepark. And there’s hope for yet another new chapter in the park’s history too. Thanks to a regeneration project that includes a beer garden, exhibition space and even a rebuilt Ferris wheel, the site could welcome thrill-seekers again in 2022.


8. Jazzland, New Orleans


Flooded Jazzland (Image: Matt Ewalt/Flickr)

Originally opened by Alfa Smartparks, Jazzland was bought by Six Flags in 2002. The attractions company turned around the park’s fortunes and planned to turn it into a water park. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit, devastating the park and flooding much of it. The park never reopened and is now owned by the City of New Orleans. It lies abandoned.

Erik Jorgensen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Instead of the screams of joy and laughter once heard in the park, it’s now silent, with graffiti gracing almost every surface, and disused roller coasters, dodgems and Ferris wheels rusting away, never to be used again.

Erik Jorgensen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

It’s not always abandoned, though, as the park occasionally sees life as a filming location. Blockbusters such as Jurassic World and Dawn of the Planet of the Apeshave been filmed here. There have been talks of redeveloping the park but nothing has ever stuck, and in 2019 the mayor said they were considering demolition. Today, though, it still stands as a example of the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.


9. Dunblobbin, Crinkley Bottom Theme Park, England


Rotting Dunblobbin (Image: Urbanexboi/SWNS

Originally part of Noel Edmond’s Crinkley Bottom theme park, Dunblobbin, Mr Blobby’s once-home, was abandoned and left to rot after the rest of the park in Somerset was renovated and turned into a hotel and wildlife park. Rumour has it the ghost of the ’90s television character haunts this rundown shack.

10. Dogpatch USA, Arkansas


Deadly Dogpatch (Image: Clinton Steeds/Flickr)

The ownership of Dogpatch USA changed hands a number of times before the park closed in 2002. It was put on eBay for US$1 million (A$1.4 million) in 2002, but there were no bids. In 2005 a teenager was driving through the park, he says with the owner’s permission, when he collided with a length of wire strung between two trees and was nearly decapitated. After a successful lawsuit, he was awarded the deed to Dogpatch when the owners failed to pay compensation. There are murmurings of a reopening.

11. Dreamland, Margate, England


Dreamland slumbers (Image: Deadmanjones/Flickr)

The Kent attraction is set to reopen this summer as a “Reimagined Dreamland” following an 11-year campaign to save the amusement park from destruction. It was first opened in 1880 but closed in 2003 after a number of rides were sold to other theme parks.

12. Cornwall Coliseum, England


Silent Gossips (Image: ndl642m/Flickr)

Dating back to the 1930s, the entertainment complex became increasingly popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s before losing business to the Plymouth Pavilions in 1991. The venue declined until 2003 when only the Gossips nightclub remained. Development plans are said to be in the pipeline but no work has begun.

13. Camelot, Lancashire, England


Camelot lost (Image: ndl642m/Flickr)

Based on the story of the Knights of the Round Table, Camelot opened in 1983 on land once covered by the largest lake in England, Martin Mere, also known as the Lost Lake of Sir Lancelot after it is believed that Sir Lancelot’s parents fled to its shores from enemies in France. After it closed in 2009, numerous plans have failed to develop the area and so it lies in ruin.


Located in the English county of Lancashire, this theme park opened in 1983 and was a popular family attraction.Now however, this incarnation of Camelot has sadly seen better days. It operated for almost 30 years, but visitor numbers and poor food ratings led to the park’s downfall. Its closure was finally announced in 2012, and some of its rides and roller coasters were sold off. You can ride the Whirlwind, for example, at Germany’s Skyline Park. 

Silver Arrow Photography/Shutterstock

The Magical Kingdom of Camelot, to give it its full name, had roller coasters, children’s rides and staff dressed in medieval costumes. The site has had a few ups and downs since closure, with planning sought for a housing development quashed by the council, and another plan for new homes jettisoned by the developers in 2018. Today, parts of the park remain in a state of disrepair, with some rides such as Knightmare, pictured, only removed and sold for scrap in February 2020.


14. Pontins, Blackpool, England


Perished Pontins (Image: Getty)

The Blackpool holiday park closed in 2009 after steadily falling visitor numbers. It has been earmarked for redevelopment with planning permission granted for housing but as yet remains half-demolished. A Pontins holiday resort in Hemsby, Norfolk, met a similar fate.

15. Geauga Lake, Ohio


Geauga stagnant (Image: Getty)

Opened in 1887, the amusement park ran alongside a water park until 2007 when the former closed. It remains empty while the water park still operates today as Wildwater Kingdom.

16. Boomers! Dania Beach, Greater Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Kateryna Upit/Shutterstock

Is there anything creepier than a frozen Ferris wheel or a creaking roller coaster track? At these abandoned theme parks, there’s no fun to be had. Some were left to rot and ruin after natural disasters, while others suffered nuclear catastrophe or financial struggle. Click through to see haunting images of some of creepiest abandoned amusement parks in the world.

David Bulit/Shutterstock

The Hurricane, a 100-foot-tall (30m) wooden roller coaster, was the main attraction at Boomers! Park in Dania Beach. It was the longest wooden roller coaster in Florida when it first opened in 2000 and, although it was part of the Boomers! Park, it was owned and operated independently. It was shut down by its operators in 2011 with the owners citing “business reasons”. It’s thought the humid climate in Florida made maintaining the roller coaster unviable.

David Bulit/Shutterstock

The rest of the park stayed open, attracting visitors to its colourful mini-golf course and arcades until April 2015, when the park was closed to make way for development.

David Bulit/Shutterstock

However, once closed, the park lay dormant for long enough to let the vegetation take over a little. While several plans to demolish the roller coaster and the buildings on site were made over the years, it wasn’t until recently that a new development started taking shape. Now called Dania Pointe, it’s a 102-acre space with offices, luxury apartments, retail stores and restaurants

17. Joyland Amusement Park, Kansas, USA

Randy/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita, Kansas opened in the 1940s and was once the largest theme park in central Kansas, with a wooden roller coaster and 24 other rides. It enjoyed a long life, entertaining residents of the state and visitors passing through. But in 2004, disaster struck.

Randy/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The park was the scene of a serious accident in which a teenager fell from the Ferris wheel and was injured. Joyland was then closed and, apart from a brief lease of life in 2006, remained empty and grew increasingly dilapidated, with vandals and thieves flocking to the deserted space to break windows, start fires and mark it with graffiti.

Randy/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2015, after more drama including severe windstorms, alleged arson attacks and looting, demolition began. Locals, some of whom had visited with three generations of their family, stopped by to take their last photos of the park before the attractions were hauled away.

18. Nara Dreamland, Japan

JP Haikyo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Japan certainly has its fair share of creepy theme parks. Nara Dreamland, in southern Japan, was opened in the 1960s as the country’s “answer to Disneyland”. It was dreamt up by a local businessman, who was inspired after a trip to the USA.

JP Haikyo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

It was a reasonably popular theme park, but as Universal Studios Japan opened, visitor numbers dwindled. The park was closed in 2006, and it soon became popular with urban explorers. Those fascinated by ruined landscapes visited the park to take photos and explore the empty rides.

thecrypt/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Until 2016, when demolition of the park began, it had been abandoned for ten years and resembled a ‘nightmare-land’ rather than a Dreamland, with rust and overgrown foliage engulfing the roller coaster tracks, and the sinister silence of desolate rides.

19. Yongma Land, Seoul, South Korea

Christian Bolz/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

This tiny abandoned theme park has now become an attraction in itself. While you can’t ride the merry go rounds or dodgems at Yongma Land, pay a small fee to enter and you can wander among the derelict grounds as you wish.

Christian Bolz/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Established in 1980, Yongma was popular with the locals in Seoul. But when Lotte World opened in 1989, featuring indoor and outdoor rides, Yongma lost favour, and the park’s income dwindled. It was closed in 2011 due to suffering profits.

Christian Bolz/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Today, the park is popular with photographers who come to take artistic shots of its once bright and breezy attractions. It has appeared in music videos, and is now owned by a local businessman who will turn on the lights of the carousel for you for a fee.

20. Wonderland, China

Joe Wolf/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

This Chinese theme park never welcomed visitors. Wonderland, around 20 miles (32km) outside of Beijing, was pipped to be the largest amusement park in Asia, but it was a promise that proved too big for the developers.

Joe Wolf/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Construction was halted after disagreements over property prices and a political corruption scandal. Ever since, the park – which was only partially constructed and is now littered with half-finished buildings – has been mostly empty, drawing only photographers and local kids to explore its eerie skeleton.

Joe Wolf/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

After 15 years of abandonment, much of the attraction was demolished in 2013, leaving only foundations in place of the empty buildings. Reports have said that a luxury shopping centre will be built in its place.

21. Ho Thuy Tien, Hue, Vietnam


Today, it stands abandoned and its water slides, the only attraction that was ready at the time of opening, lie dormant with no gushing water and screeching thrill-seekers. Instead, you’ll just see the odd curious backpacker, and perhaps a herd of cows who are now helping keep the weeds at bay.


Set in lush countryside around five miles (8km) to the south of the city of Hue in central Vietnam, it’s easy to see the potential this aqua adventure park once held. But the once blue splash pools are now smelly and stagnant, and the flumes have been left to rot.


Perhaps the most intriguing structure in the park is this giant sculpture of a dragon, overlooking a lake. Urban explorers have even climbed inside, via a staircase located in the beast’s body, to peer out from its gnashing teeth.

22. Ghost Town in the Sky, Maggie Valley, North Carolina, USA

Abandoned Southeast

Known as Ghost Town in the Sky, this abandoned Wild West-themed amusement park has seen as many ups and downs as its Red Devil roller coaster pictured here. Located on Buck Mountain, a mountaintop site towards the bottom of the Great Smoky Mountains, the park opened in 1961 and closed for good in 2016. Today it lies in ruins. It’s featured here courtesy of Abandoned Southeast, in images taken by photographer Leland Kent.

Abandoned Southeast

At the height of its popularity, Ghost Town attracted thousands of guests every year. In the early 1970s, the park welcomed 400,000 visitors during its peak seasons, from families to Wild West enthusiasts.

Abandoned Southeast

From the early 2000s a series of mechanical failures, expensive repairs and lack of cash meant the park was on a downwards spiral. In early 2009, Ghost Town’s owners failed to secure any further funding and declared bankruptcy. Now the park has been left to Mother Nature.


Eel Pie Island, Richmond upon Thames

Earlier called Twickenham Ait or simply ‘the Parish Ayte’, this is the largest island in London’s stretch of the Thames, lying between Twickenham and the Ham riverside lands

The ait is rumoured to have been the site of a monastery and much later was supposedly used as a ‘courting ground’ by Henry VIII. From at least the early 17th century it attracted day-trippers, who came to picnic or fish here, and later to enjoy the renowned pies that were made with locally caught eels and served at the White Cross public house. Although this culinary speciality is the most obvious (and likely) explanation of the island’s present-day name, another story suggests that a royal mistress who had a house here called it Île de Paix (island of peace), which was folk-anglicised as ‘Eel Pie’.

Twickenham Rowing Club has been based on Eel Pie Island since 1880, twenty years after it was founded by local resident Henri d’Orleans, Duc d’Aumale.

Many of the island’s wood-framed properties date from the early 1900s, when they were used as summer houses by wealthy Edwardian Londoners. The structures survive well and fetch high prices. The island’s pedestrian bridge was built in 1957.

In the 1950s and 60s the ait became famous for its noisy jazz club at the Eel Pie Island Hotel, where the Rolling Stones first emerged, and The Who, Pink Floyd and Genesis also played gigs early in their careers. Eel Pie Island has even been called ‘the place where the Sixties began’. The hotel closed in 1967 and briefly became something of a hippie commune before it burned down during its demoliton in 1971.

Hidden London: Eel Pie boatyard and Phoenix Wharf

In 1996 a boatyard and 60 neighbouring artists’ studios also burnt down. An appeal brought donations from the local community in Twickenham as well as from several rock stars.

The island is nowadays home to around two dozen artists’ studios, situated in and around the boatyard. Twice a year, the studios open their doors to visitors, providing an opportunity to talk to the artists and buy or commission new artworks.

Most of the island is private property and there’s not much opportunity to wander off the sole arterial path. As Miss Immy points out in her delightfully illustrated blog post on the subject, “To be honest, unless it’s the artists’ open day weekend, or you happen to know someone who lives on the island, there is very little to see there these days.”

Postcode area: Twickenham TW1
Website: An Oral History of Eel Pie Island
Further reading: Twickenham Museum web page on Eel Pie Island


Seven Abandoned Buildings In Australia

The interior of the old Peter’s Ice Cream Factory in Taree, on the NSW mid-north coast. Photo: Lost Collective

Broadway Hotel — Woolloongabba, QLD

Grand old pubs dot the corners of many an Australian main street. Many are still buzzing with activity, but the abandoned Broadway Hotel, in the Brisbane suburb of Woolloongabba, had stood proudly since it was built in 1889 until fire gutted it in 2010, leaving it derelict. There have been plans to redevelop the site, but the hotel has been listed on the Queensland Heritage Register since 1992 and cannot be demolished.

The Big Textile Factory — Unknown, QLD

This former textile factory was discovered by an urban exploration group back in 2012, somewhere in the industrial suburbs of Brisbane. They uncovered a warehouse full of machines, with fabric still in the feeds and rolls of material lining the timber floors, looking as though everyone had just up and left — not even having finished the day’s work. Still today the exact location has been kept a secret and the former business name of the factory also remains unknown.

Balmain Leagues Club — Rozelle, NSW

Some buildings become derelict and abandoned due to hard times, development deals gone wrong, or even government intervention. And that is the story behind the Balmain Leagues Clubs site in Sydney’s inner city. The club was forced out in 2010 when the site was earmarked for a metro station, which in the end never eventuated. The site has since been proposed for redevelopment with developers, council, and residents’ groups at an impasse over what is to be built.

Atlantis Marine Park — Two Rocks, WA

Photo: WAToday

What was supposed to be Western Australia’s answer to the Gold Coast theme parks – Atlantis Marine Park – opened in 1981, on the back of Perth’s economic boom. However, just nine years after its opening, the park shut its gates and the business magnate responsible for the nautical-themed park, Alan Bond, was soon after declared bankrupt, and later imprisoned for fraud. Today the amusement park still lies empty, although in 2015 the famous King Neptune statue was cleaned up by local developers and the owner of the land, after being vandalised in the intervening years.

Peters’ Ice Cream Factory — Taree, NSW

This factory was an important part of the mid-north coast of NSW for more than 50 years. It was built in 1939 and served the once-booming dairy industry around Taree, originally producing condensed milk for the manufacture of ice cream. The factory ceased operation in the 1990s, but still holds a significant place in the hearts of local residents, with a “Dairy Factory Reunion” held there in 2016, as part of the National Trust Heritage Festival.

Almost a Ghost Town — Hammond, SA

A single abandoned building can be intriguing, but there’s something about almost a whole town that is much more eerie. Several ghost towns dot the southern Flinders Ranges region of South Australia, yet Hammond stands out, due to the large number of buildings that still remain intact. The town began in 1879 and existed to service the rail line and surrounding farming community, but saw its decline in population start from as early as the 1930s, leaving just several houses with full-time residents today.

Wangi Power Station — Wangi Wangi, NSW

Photo: Lost Collective

The Wangi Power Station came into operation in 1958, and at one point was the largest power station in NSW. At the time of construction, 1000-odd workers camped onsite during its entire ten years it took to build. The station was eventually deemed surplus to requirements and decommissioned in 1986 with all power generation & associated equipment removed, save for a few heavy gears and skid mounts. Since then, there has been a heritage listing placed over part of the site and there have been numerous proposals for redevelopment, though none have come to fruition.

This article has been updated to show a more recent image of the restored King Neptune, and the item about the Wangi Power Station replaces one about a former zoo in western Sydney.


These Are The World’s 10 Most Haunted Places

1. Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada

What is it? Built 125 years ago, The Banff Springs Hotel was and is a luxury stop for Canadian train travellers. Now part of the Fairmont chain of hotels, “The Castle in the Rockies” has become an iconic landmark in the region’s picturesque landscape.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Guests have reported sightings of a bride falling down the staircase and breaking her neck after her dress has caught on fire. But perhaps the strangest of all is the ghost of former bellman Sam Macauley. He’s been seen helping people to their room, unlocking the door, turning on the lights and then vanishing when guests go to tip him. Rooms start at roughly $440 Canadian dollars and the ghosts are free.

2. Bhangarh Fort, Rajasthan, India

What is it? The remains of a fort city built by Raja Bhagwant Singh in 1573 AD. Once a collection of royal palaces, grand temples, bazars and mansions, today the fort is an archaeological site known as the ‘House of Ghosts’.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Long ago, a magical priest fell in love with the ruler’s daughter, a beautiful princess called Ratnavati. But his love was unrequited, so he cast a ‘love spell’ on her perfume. Ratnavati found out, threw the perfume bottle at him, which turned into a boulder and crushed him. But before he died, he cursed the princess, her family and the entire village. Bhangarh Fort is said to be forever condemned to desolation and inhabited by ghosts, making it one of India’s eeriest locations to visit.

3. The Island of Dolls, Xochimico, Mexico

Photo credit: Esparta Palma

What is it? A small island south of Mexico City surrounded by the canals of Xochimico. Never intended as a tourist attraction, the island is dedicated to a young girl who died there under mysterious circumstances.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Known as Isla de las Munecas or Island of the Dolls, the creepy site is home to hundreds of decapitated dolls. But how did they get there? The island’s caretaker is said to have found a drowned girl in the canal. Shortly after finding her, he spotted a floating plastic doll, which he hung in a tree as a mark of respect. For years he hung more and more dolls in order to please the little girl’s spirit. Locals have reported sightings of possessed dolls moving their heads, opening their eyes, even whispering to each other. What started as an innocent gesture has now become one of Mexico’s spookiest attractions.

4. Château de Brissac, Loire Valley, France

Photo credit: Daniel Jolivet

What is it? Originally built as a fortress in the 11th century, Château de Brissac is the highest castle in France, with seven magnificent floors, 204 rooms and its own private opera house seating 200 people.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Home to the Cossé-Brissac family for five centuries, the “Giant of the Loire Valley” has had many notable visitors over the years including King Charles VII. One of the more unearthly guests is La Dame Verte (Green Lady). Murdered by her husband after being caught having an affair, her ghostly figure is often seen in the tower room of the chapel. With sockets for eyes and a nose, when she’s not scaring visitors her screeching can be heard echoing around the castle.

5. Hill of Crosses, Šiauliai, Lithuania

Photo credit: Zairon

What is it? A collection of over 200,000 wooden crosses on a small hill in Šiauliai, north Lithuania. The Hill of Crosses started as an act of rebellion in 1831 against the Russian uprising. Religion was forbidden by Soviet Russia and the hill was bulldozed twice during the occupation. After Lithuania’s independence in 1991, it became a holy site for many Christian pilgrims.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Just look at it.

6. Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines

Photo credit: Martin Lewison

What is it? An ancient burial practice carried out by the Igorot tribe of Mountain Province in northern Philippines.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? A burial tradition intended to bring the deceased closer to heaven, coffins are either nailed or tied to the sides of cliffs. Each coffin is only a metre long, as the corpse is buried in the foetal position, honouring the Igorot’s belief that people should leave the world the same way they entered it. Even more grisly, years ago savages from different tribes would hunt for heads and take them home as a trophy. Essentially, the dead were buried high up so nobody could reach them. Now if that’s not a haunted place to visit, we don’t know what is.

7. The Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa

Photo credit: Leo za1

What is it? Built by Dutch colonists in the 17th century, the Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in South Africa and once the seat of many government operations.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Over the years, the fortress has seen some horrendous punishments and executions, which sparked many reports of ghost-sightings. The most famous of which is ‘the Lady in Grey’, a female apparition that has been seen running and crying hysterically through the castle. Interestingly, she hasn’t been spotted since a woman’s body was found during excavations. Now home to three excellent museums and a restaurant, South Africa’s most haunted castle is definitely worth a visit.

8. Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania

What is it? This impressive 14th century castle is a national monument with a frightening reputation thanks to Bram Stoker’s chilling novel.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Bran Castle is the only castle in Transylvania that fits the description from the Gothic horror novel, Dracula. The story follows a blood-sucking vampire, Count Dracula of Transylvania and his battle with vampire hunter Van Helsing. Legend has it that in villages nearby, evil spirits called “steregoi” act like normal people during the day, but at night their souls leave their bodies and torment locals in their sleep.

9. The Tower of London, London, United Kingdom

What is it? Built in 1097, the castle, fortress and World Heritage Site has seen over 900 years of history. From regal kings to tortured prisoners, the Tower of London is one of the most haunted places in the UK.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? With such a rich history, it’s no surprise that the Tower of London has its fair share of gruesome tales. Over the years there have been many paranormal sightings, the most famous of which is Anne Boleyn, wife of notorious King Henry VIII. Beheaded by order of the King in 1536, her headless body has been spotted roaming the tower. Not just a home for the dead, look out for the guardians of the Tower… six ominous ravens.

10. Door to Hell, Karakum desert, Turkmenistan

Photo credit: Benjamin Goetzinger

What is it? A giant gas field, the size of an American football field located in the Karakum desert.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Known as the “Door to Hell”, the flaming crater could easily be mistaken for the gateway to the Underworld. The crater was formed in 1971, when a Soviet drilling rig accidentally hit a massive underground natural gas cavern. Resulting in poisonous fumes being released into the air, the hole was lit to prevent an environmental catastrophe. More than 40 years later, the hole is still burning. Camp under the stars and marvel at the crater’s infernal blaze for an other-worldly experience.


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.