History of Sydney

The oldest European settlement in Australia, Sydney dates back to the arrival of the First Fleet and Captain (later Governor) Arthur Phillip in January 1788. Phillip described the harbour as the finest in the world and the new penal settlement was named after British home secretary Lord Sydney.

Aboriginal people have lived in the Sydney area for at least 50,000 years and have a deep connection with the harbour. You can learn about their rich cultural heritage on tours, such as the Tribal Warrior Harbour Cruise and The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour, and at many museums and galleries.

Couple sightseeing, The Rocks

The colony’s early years were harsh, with food shortages, failed crops, disease and restless convicts. The Rocks Walking Tours and the Museum of Sydney provide insights into early colonial times. You can also uncover Sydney's buried past at The Rocks Discovery Museum built around the site of the first colonial settlement.

Many of Sydney’s finest colonial buildings were constructed during the time of Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1810-1821). In the Macquarie Street historic precinct, you can walk past Hyde Park Barracks, Parliament House, the Mint, Sydney Hospital and St James’ Church.

Former Military Guardhouse on Cockatoo Island

Catch the ferry to World Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island, a former convict prison and the largest island in Sydney Harbour. In Parramatta, visit Australia’s oldest public building, Old Government House, and walk along the convict-built Old Great North Road in Wisemans Ferry.

Over the past half century, Sydney's character has been transformed into one of the world's most ethnically diverse cities, with more than 180 nationalities calling Sydney home. Find out more about Sydney's history and heritage at the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street in the city centre, or visit the Powerhouse Museum to discover an incredible collection of more than 500,000 landmark objects spanning popular science, technology, arts and music.

Explore these historical attractions in Sydney

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