Shirley Fitzgerald is the former City Historian and the author, with Christopher Keating, of Millers Point: the Urban Village. In her interview she discusses her personal background, her career in history, and, at length, the history of the Millers Point area and the many factors which have influenced its development. In the excerpt below she analyses the government response to the appearance of Bubonic Plague in Millers Point in 1900.
This interview is part of Housing NSW’s 2005 Millers Point Oral History Project. The City of Sydney acknowledges the State Library of New South Wales as the archival custodian of the project and digital preserver of the masters.
I do think there’s a lot of evidence to indicate that it really was the excuse the government was looking for. They had a genuine concern about the state of the wharves, that a lot of the wharves were fairly unsanitary, and more importantly, inefficient. The colony, the nation; we’d just become a nation; had just gone through a major depression and a major collapse in trade and so on, and there was a very strong need on the part of the government to involve itself in efficient trading practices and part of that meant efficient use of the wharves.
In terms of Millers Point it meant getting hold of that private wharfage so that it could be redeveloped as more efficient work space. The Plague I guess was a godsend because it did give them the excuse to resume, and they resumed the wharves and they resumed a certain amount of housing as well.