Friday, 7 May 2010


As Sydney matured as a city, the citizenry felt the need to upgrade city services. During the 1880s the push was on to 'do' something about the state of the dirt cart tracks that passed for city streets.

Wood was used to weigh down manhole covers too. This gem is in Philip Street outside Football (NRL) headquarters.
This perceived need arose at around the same time as the development of the northern side of the harbour which was covered with tallowwood trees - a variety of eucalypt. Nowadays we may suck in an audible sigh of dismay, but the supply in those days appeared plentiful. The trees were felled and milled into blocks for creating 'paved' roadways. Well before the days of Mr Ford's assembly line, a team of men and boys would pass the blocks, stomp the blocks, tar the blocks, then sand the blocks. It was backbreaking and menial and assaulted the sinuses!

These two examples, both found in Philip St, show the gradual change from woodblock to bitument and concrete to weigh down manhole covers
Woodblocking fell into disrepute and disuse by the end of the 1920s when it was clear the motor car was here to stay and that woodblocks would not survive both the increased weight and the increased traffic. Woodblocking gave way to bitumen.

Above is a photograph from The City of Sydney site, showing Castlereagh Street in the early '20s. Part of the road surface has been washed away and spot filled with bitumen, even though the rest of the surface was woodblock.

Below is a section of George St (North) outside the Orient Hotel where a sample of woodblocking has been recently relaid to enable us to see how it used to be. Not far away, through the Argyle Cut and beside the Garrison Church there is a section of road surface where the layers of bitument are washed away during periods of intense raid, exposing the woodblocking beneath.


TheChieftess said...

Fascinating...never knew about "woodblocking"!

Mary Ann said...

This is news to me as well. I suppose bitumen is what we call asphalt in the US? Looks like it, and is a 'quick fix' for a deteriorating road.

J Bar said...

That really is fascinating. I had no knowledge of woodblocking.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Jayne said...

Here in Melb the streets could be said to be paved, not with gold, but with red gum blocks.
Beautiful, sensuous, delectable red gum *sigh*.
Other gums were used,too, but red gum seems to have been the most popular.

Bruce Caspersonn said...

Good stuff Julie, we'll make a road worker out of you yet.

Andrew said...

As per Jayne, and Melbourne still has at least one street with exposed wood blocks. They are not very smooth for driving on but very superior to muddy track ruts.

diane said...

Interesting stuff. Where do you dig up this info?

Joan Elizabeth said...

I knew I had seen wood blocked streets somewhere ... I guess it was Melbourne. Along with cobblestones they speak so beautifully of the past.