Unearthing Parramatta’s Colonial History
Some of Parramatta’s untold history has been unearthed in Sydney’s west. It depicts what colonial history was like in early Australia.
Hidden deep under layers of dirt, was preserved piece of Parramatta’s colonial history, which was not discovered until excavation began for a new hotel as part of the Crown Group.
Below is an extract from an article published on the Crown Group website dated 11th December 2017 which gives quite a bit of detail on the site and how the Crown has established a great exhibition to protect the history and allow anyone to go and explore it.
Previously hidden underground, the remains of an 1800s convict hut and the cellar of one of Parramatta’s oldest pubs built in 1801 the Wheatsheaf Hotel, were unearthed during construction of a new apartment tower at 45 Macquarie Street.
The Wheatsheaf Hotel (1801-1809 ) was located on the “Western Road” into Parramatta and would have been one of the first major establishments people saw when entering the town from the west between 1801 and 1810.
Archaeologists also uncovered a well once used to access scarce drinking water, a wheelwright’s workshop used to create wheels for 1800s carts and a baker’s oven used to make large quantities of bread were also discovered alongside dinner plates, children’s toys, 19th century bottles and hundreds of artefacts which now form part of the display.
After excavation was completed, the sensitive site was protected with a concrete canopy to enable construction of the 590-apartment tower, and was later uncovered and incorporated into the new ‘Philip Ruddock Heritage Centre,’ which will be open to the public seven-days-a-week.
The heritage centre on the ground level of the building is officially named after former Member for Parramatta and one of Australia’s longest serving federal politicians, Philip Ruddock, who left federal politics last year and was recently elected Mayor of Hornsby.
Cr Ruddock said he was deeply honoured to have the centre named after him.
“Crown Group have done a magnificent job with this project and I am pleased to have my name associated with it,” Cr Ruddock said.
Lead archaeologist on the project Dr Ted Higginbotham said the discovery was a great surprise, since it had been previously thought the site on Macquarie Street was poorly preserved.
Dr. Higginbotham led a team of more than 20 professional archaeologists and volunteers during the excavation.
“This was an exciting discovery. Despite concrete piers from a previous development, the site was well preserved. This is the first time that the physical remains of a convict hut have been put on display. The baker’s oven, the wheelwright’s workshop, the later brick cottage could all be matched with the known historical occupants of the site,” Dr. Higginbotham said.
“The archaeology reveals the contribution of many early settlers to the development of Parramatta. The convict huts stand in contrast with Old Government House in Parramatta Park,” he said.
The Philip Ruddock Heritage Centre also features an “walk-through” educational display exploring the broader history of Parramatta and an explanatory video chronologically detailing the discovery.
As such, much of what we learned above went un-noticed by so many people in Sydney. Including me. It wasn’t until last year, when my partner and I took a walk through Parramatta Park located nearby, and we wanted something to eat afterwards we happened across the site. However, due to the COVID pandemic and lockdown, the exhibition was closed until further notice. Probably as it’s not maned and no is able to maintain hygiene throughout.
I made a mental note that I would return. Of course, I didn’t think that would be 1 year later.
It was so interesting to explore, and a fascinating site too visit, knowing that this was hidden underground for more than 200 years, and mind blowing to think what else could be hiding underground in Parramatta. And in-fact many parts of Sydney, where building have been built year after year, with new foundations on top. Layers and layers, hiding a history we have since forgotten.
The Centre is open to the public seven days a week from 10am – 11.30am and 2.30pm– 4.00pm.
Visitors can enter at their own convenience and take their time exploring the rich history of the Parramatta area. No booking is required.