Step back in time on this small group walking tour of The Rocks in Sydney. Enjoy a guided stroll around the historic precinct with a local guide, and hear fascinating tales of convict and colonial capers. The tour visits three heritage pubs and includes a drink at each venue. Duration: 2.5 hours (approx.)
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There’s a lot to see and do around Sydney Harbour.
Highlights include the beautiful Sydney Opera House, bustling Circular Quay and The Rocks historic precinct — which is where the story of modern Australia began.
When Rum Ran The Rocks is a historical walking tour of The Rocks offered by Sydney Urban Adventures. It’s part history lesson/part human-interest tale/part pub crawl. I start the tour with a vague notion of the history of European settlement of Australia, and end it with a deeper appreciation for the people who, by and large, established the city of Sydney that we know today.
I meet our guide Kirsty and the rest of the tour group at Circular Quay. We head off towards the first port of call on this walking tour — the Memorial Compass in First Fleet Park. Here Kirsty gives us a rundown on what to expect during the tour. We make our way past the Museum of Contemporary Art and up the Harbour Master Steps to get a panoramic view of Sydney Harbour. We’re in luck. No cruise ship has docked for the day and we get a clear shot of the Opera House across the water with our various cameras and phones.
A statue of Governor William Bligh stands on the edge of The Rocks precinct. If you’re an Aussie doing this tour, you may remember history lessons (or the odd TV show) depicting Bligh as a somewhat questionable figure in Australia’s history. However, Kirsty’s commentary gives me a better idea of what it actually took to control the colony — particularly the infamous Rum Corps, and how it set out to depose Bligh during the Rum Rebellion of 1808.
From there we delve deeper into The Rocks, and we’re soon surrounded by colonial-era buildings. It’s like stepping into a different century. One of the most enchanting places we visit is Foundation Park, which features preserved remnants of convict houses. When Kirsty explains how many people would have lived in these homes at any given time, I’m suddenly thankful for my own modestly sized apartment!
We travel through the backstreets to The Big Dig — a colonial archaeological excavation site near the YHA hostel. Kirsty shares some details about stonemason and pardoned ex-con Richard Byrne, whose home once stood here. Built in the early 1800s, the discovery is less about the structure of the home and more about the items found inside: jars, trinkets and knick-knacks. They really humanise Byrne’s story.
Hart’s Pub is our next stop on this tour. It’s another beautiful heritage-listed building and an important site for Sydney’s beer aficionados (if you’re familiar with The Rocks Brewing Company, it started here). We settle in to enjoy a drink in an atmosphere steeped in history.
Leaving the pub, we explore the area from Observatory Hill down towards George Street. Kirsty introduces us to an alleyway that foot traffic on George Street would normally overlook. Known as the ‘Suez Canal’, it was from here that the infamous Rocks Push Gang terrorised the neighbourhood in the late 1800s. It’s a reminder that while The Rocks is now a beautiful place, it was once home to desperate people mired in crime and poverty. The antics of the Rum Corps were just the beginning!
Our When Rum Ran the Rocks walking tour ends at Phillip’s Foote pub — named in honour of Captain Arthur Phillip (the first governor of New South Wales). It’s a fitting spot to raise a final glass to an incredible chapter in Australian history.
Erica Enriquez is a Sydney-based freelance writer. She travelled as a guest of Sydney Urban Adventures.
Additional images: Bigstock