It was Sydney's original high street, and remains one of the busiest streets in the city centre. It is about 3 km long, and connects a number of the city's most important buildings and precincts. There are more high rise buildings here than on any other street in Australia. Amongst Australia's 100 largest listed companies, more are located here than on any other street.
George Street, looking south at junction with Druitt Street, Sydney Town Hall is visible at right
George Street (1842) by Henry Curzon Allport
The origins of George Street lie in the layout of the Sydney Cove colony. Captain Arthur Phillip placed the convicts and marines on the rocky western slopes of the bay. A track leading from the convicts' encampment in the area of The Rocks, past the marine barracks and alongside the banks of a stream to a brick pit, located near to the present location of Central station. This track that eventually became George Street is one of the two original thoroughfares, along with the track that became Bridge Street. It is possible that George Street was the first street in Australia.
Until 1810 George Street was generally referred to as High Street in the English custom, although the northern part of the thoroughfare was also sometimes referred to as "Sergeant Major's Row" and, earlier, as "Spring Row" (since water carriers had originally established the route as a link between the Tank Stream, the Military encampment and the hospital). The Street was formally named for King George III of the United Kingdom by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810.
George Street (1883), oil on canvas by Alfred Tischbauer
Protests at Town Hall Square, George Street in 2011
Sydney Town Hall as it appeared in the early 1900s - view north-west with George Street on the right, and St Andrew's Cathedral to the left of the Town Hall.
Being a major street through central Sydney, George Street is often seen in terms of a number of distinct sections or precincts. From south to north, they include:
Railway Square: the southern end of George Street is a confluence of several busy streets. It is so-named because it is adjacent to the Sydney Central station, and the square itself is the site of a large bus terminus. Railway Square is today ringed by hotels and small-scale retail, and is also the site of a campus of the Sydney Institute of TAFE.
Chinatown: Sydney's traditional, main Chinatown is located in Haymarket, near to the southern end of George Street. The Chinatown precinct is situated mostly to the west of the street but also extends to the east of the street. A centre of retail shops and restaurants, features of Chinatown located close to George Street include a tree stump (near the intersection with Hay Street) gilded in gold and dripping water, which was presented to the Chinese community of Sydney with the message that it would bring good fortune to them. Close by is the Capitol Theatre, which often hosts the Sydney runs of international musicals. The Haymarket Library of the City of Sydney, which is the main branch of the City library service for Chinese language materials, is located on George Street.
Cinema District: Situated on the hill overlooking Chinatown, this area used to feature the three largest cinemas in Sydney, however the three cinemas (Hoyts, Greater Union and Village) merged their theatres into one complex, which was ultimately bought out by Greater Union in December 2005. The Cinema District also houses many video arcades, Internet cafes, fast food restaurants and pubs and is very busy after dark.
Town Hall: Along the central section of George Street, this precinct is noted as the location of three important historic buildings: St Andrew's Cathedral, the Sydney Town Hall; and the Queen Victoria Building shopping centre. These are well served by Town Hall station. The surrounding area features large scale retail operations, such as the main Sydney store of the department store Myer. Pitt Street Mall, a large retail precinct, is located close by.
Wynyard: The area along George Street from King Street in the south up to Alfred Street in the north is given over largely to offices of large corporations and financial institutions, interspersed with retail, large hotels and large-scale bars and entertainment facilities. An important cross street in this precinct is Martin Place, the location of the Cenotaph and the Sydney General Post Office. Wynyard railway station is located in the northern part of this precinct.
On 8 December 1899, an electric tramway was opened along George Street to Harris Street. This reduced the traditional dependence on horses and human feet. In 1959 the trams were replaced by diesel buses. Until October 2015, George Street was the busiest street in Sydney in terms of number of buses per hour; most bus services to the inner western and north-western suburbs travelled along part of or most of George Street.
In response to increasing bus congestion in the CBD, on 13 December 2012, the NSW Government announced a commitment to build a light rail from Circular Quay down George Street to Central station, then up Devonshire Street, across to Moore Park and down Anzac Parade. South of Moore Park the line will spit into two branches–one continuing down Anzac Parade to the nine ways at Kensington, and the second heading to Randwick via Alison Road.
In conjunction with the light rail works, the City of Sydney is to pedestrianise sections of George Street between Bathurst and Hunter Streets, with the intention of making George Street "Sydney's premier retail and pedestrian street". The state government announced it would support the plan. Light rail construction commenced in October 2015 resulting in disruption to the city.
The heavily criticised light rail development that commenced construction in 2015, is not scheduled to be completed until 2020.
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