An alpha world city, a global player and Australia’s largest and best-known city, Sydney has come a long way from a disreputable penal colony to the vibrant, culturally diverse place it is today. Indigenous people once lived throughout the area and fished the waters of the harbour, but the arrival of the First Fleet brought great suffering for both the Aboriginal people and the Europeans. The Europeans struggled to farm and acquire land while the Aboriginals were displaced from their ancestral lands and fought to survive diseases against which they had no immunity.
Although many Aboriginals died thanks to their contact with the newcomers, many others survived, and it was largely thanks to them and their knowledge of this land that the settlers were able to make lives for themselves. Their wisdom and knowledge of the land provided the Europeans with the information they needed to farm, fish and survive.
Free settlers began to arrive decades after the arrival of the first convicts, and their numbers soared during the 1830s. Although a total of 80,000 convicts had been transported to Sydney over a period of more than 50 years, by 1851, those who had been transported comprised just 15% of the population. No longer was Sydney a prison settlement. Instead, it was evolving into something more complex and eventually into the city it is today.
Early life in Sydney was not easy both due to the unfamiliarity of the land and the climate and due to the population. Although many people were transported for crimes such as forgery or prostitution, many others, particularly the Irish convicts, were answering for more serious crimes. Public beatings were commonplace, and those who were willing and able to work hard often had the best chance of surviving these early, brutal days. Many of Sydney’s most spectacular historic buildings came from convict labour, and the workers were often rewarded with freedom and land grants. After emancipation, many made Sydney their permanent residence.
Many of these earliest settlers chose what is now the central business district, or CBD, as their home. The more well-to-do made their homes near the centre of town while sailors and others in the working class tended to choose cottages in The Rocks. The City of Sydney was formally established in 1842. Early settlement tended to be cluttered and disorderly, but Governor Macquarie had a clear vision for Sydney. The Macquaries are perhaps best known for their development of the Botanic Gardens, which continue to be a top destination today and provide expansive green space and an incredible display of native and non-native plants.
Although the metropolitan area extends considerably beyond the boundaries of the CBD today, the CBD continues to be the main commercial centre in the city today and encompasses the stretch of land from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour. Although much of this area is dominated by businesses and commercial headquarters, the CBD also includes Hyde Park, the Sydney Opera House, the Australian Museum, the Pitt Street Mall, the State Library of Sydney and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The CBD also includes some of the tallest skyscrapers in Australia, including Sydney Tower, the World Tower and Governor Phillip Tower as well as such historic buildings as the State Parliament House and the Supreme Court of New South Wales.