Walking around Sydney’s city centre it’s easy to become consumed by fast paced hustle and bustle. Take a minute to slow down and discover Sydney’s history underfoot – you will not be disappointed!

We begin our trail at the Parbury Ruins on the corner of Windmill and Pottinger Streets in the historic Millers Point. Unearthed in 2000, archaeological investigation uncovered the footings of a 2 bedroom cottage built in the 1820s. Though now hiding beneath a residential complex, illuminated viewing windows provide a view into the archaeological site, complete with interpretation panels.

Exit the Parbury Ruins onto Pottinger Street and continue up Ferry Lane. Constructed in 1848, the lane created direct pedestrian passage to the North Shore Ferry which berthed at the bottom of the lane. While walking up the lane, you’ll see the footings and remnant walls of earlier houses.

Turn right onto Lower Fort Street and then left to walk through the Argyle Cut. Construction of this imposing engineering feat began in 1843 using convict labour, and hammer and chisel to break through the rock. The cut, designed to connect Millers Point and Sydney Cove, was completed in 1868 with explosives and paid council workers finishing off the job.

Turning right onto Cambridge Street will lead you to Susannah Place Museum. Housed in four terrace houses built by Irish immigrants in 1844, the museum tells the story of the people and families who called The Rocks home. Museum visits take the form of a guided tour, and stories about the former residents of the Susannah Place terraces bring the archaeological ruins to life. Be sure to time your visit for the 2pm, 3pm or 4pm tours. Additional tours are run on weekends at 2.30pm and 3.30pm.

The Big Dig, situated opposite Susannah Place on Gloucester Street, features some of Sydney’s oldest ruins, dating back to the late 1700s. Excavation of the site began in 1994 and led to the discovery of over 30 homes and shops. Situated under and around a YHA hostel, The Big Dig is open to the public free of charge from 7.00am to 7.00pm. Guests of the hostel can enjoy a free tour of the site on Mondays at 10.30am. There is also a booming school program run by Sydney Learning Adventures and Sydney Living Museums.

Make your way down to Circular Quay and up Young Street to the Museum of Sydney on Bridge Street. Standing in the museum’s public forecourt, you will notice metal discs outlining the first Government House, built in 1788 for Governor Phillip. Inside are the exposed foundations and archaeological artefacts found during the 1983 excavation of the site.

The last stop on our trail is the Hyde Park Barracks Museum a short walk up Bridge Street and into Macquarie Street. Constructed by convicts in 1819, the barracks housed male convicts until 1848 and was then used as a depot for female immigrants until 1886. The buildings were then repurposed to house law courts and government offices until conservation and restoration work began in the 1970s. A lengthy archaeological investigation was carried out, revealing over 100,000 relics largely collected by the building’s rat population. They dragged clothing and personal artefacts to build their nests under floorboards and in the cracks and crevices of the building unwittingly preserving an important part of Australia’s history.

To tour the museums on the City Archaeology trail, you can use the Sydney Museums Pass ($18 Adult and $9 Concession – valid 3 months from date of purchase) which provides entry to the Museum of Sydney, Hyde Park Barracks, Susannah Place Museum as well as the Justice & Police Museum. All other sites listed are open to the public free of charge. For more information on these important historic sites read the article What lies beneath.


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