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Sydney in the 1980s: A look at the past and a glimpse of the future

December 30, 2015

The Sydney skyline above Darling Harbour has changed a lot since 1985. Photo: Robert Pearce

Big news, memorable music and movies and forgettable fluoro fashion – the 1980s had it all.

In 1985, we listened to Madonna, INXS and Mental as Anything and watched the Live Aid concerts, instalments of Back to the Future, Rambo and Mad Max and the first episodes of Neighbours.

Bob Hawke was prime minister, the wreck of the Titanic was discovered and Boris Becker won Wimbledon at the age of 17.

As another year ticks over, we explore the photo archives to remember Sydney’s commercial precincts in the mid-80s, find out what’s happening now and look at what’s in store for the future.

Pitt Street’s Golden Mile

Pitt Street's 'Golden Mile' between King Street and Market Street where the rents are higfest. SMH NEWS Picture by TONY LEWIS Pitt Street Mall site before Pitt St retail area hhollins traffic dom15 Photo: Tony Lewis

The busy shopping precinct between King and Market streets – now the Pitt Street Mall – was known for having the highest rents in Sydney. Nowadays, they are the highest in Australia and one of the top 10 in the world.

This year, Pitt Street Mall was in the news as well-known new retailers set up shop, including Vodafone, Zara Home, H&M and Microsoft, which opened its first flagship store outside the US in October.

Pitt Street's 'Golden Mile' between King Street and Market Street where the rents are higfest. SMH NEWS Picture by TONY LEWIS Pitt Street Mall site before Pitt St retail area hhollins traffic dom15 Photo: Tony Lewis

Pitt Street's 'Golden Mile' between King Street and Market Street where the rents are higfest. SMH NEWS Picture by TONY LEWIS Pitt Street Mall site before Pitt St retail area hhollins traffic dom15 The Imperial Arcade is now part of Westfield. Photo: Tony Lewis

Haymarket

Traffic around Haymarket and the Sydney Entertainment Centre on 26 April 1985. SMH NEWS Picture by PETER RAE Chinatown Dom15 Holden Torana hhollins 1980s Australia Photo: Peter Rae

Bustling Haymarket, between Central Station and Darling Harbour, is the home of Sydney’s Chinatown, which is Australia’s biggest.

Big changes are afoot for the historical district. This month, the curtain fell on the Sydney Entertainment Centre, which is scheduled for demolition early in 2016. The concert venue, which opened in 1983, will be replaced by the Darling Square development.

Developer Linzhu Australia plans to build a mixed-use residential, hotel and retail building with a “hanging garden” at 430 Pitt Street for $60.7 million.

Oxford Street

Oxford Street, Sydney, pictured on 7 October 1985. SMH NEWS Picture by IAN CUGLEY Inner city cityscape advertising Dom15 hhollins 1980s Australia Photo: Ian Cugley

The tobacco advertising is no more but the billboards are still on display above Taylor Square, at the junction of Oxford, Flinders and Bourke streets.

Oxford Street, which boasted 100 per cent occupancy in its heyday, lost many of its retailers to Westfield Bondi Junction when it opened in 2003. However, the area is going through a resurgence as developers and investors seek out high-profile hotels and convert old buildings in Paddington and nearby suburbs.

Public transport

Entrance to Town Hall Station, Sydney on 16 July 1985. SMH NEWS Picture by IAN CUGLEY Railway station Dom15 hhollins 1980s Australia The Zorros band poster dirty ugly Photo: Ian Cugley

Major public transport infrastructure development is having a big impact on the city.

Nineteen buildings are expected to be demolished to make way for construction of the $10 billion-plus metro line. In October, the last buses rolled along George Street as construction work started for the three-year light rail project.

Phone booths

A bank of public telephones in Sydney on 16 July 1985. SMH NEWS Picture by IAN CUGLEY Public phone public phones Telecom phone booths Dom15 hhollins 1980s Australia Photo: Ian Cugley

Long rows of public phone booths have been well and truly relegated to history. The first mobile phone call was made in Australia in 1987 and before their use became widespread, the only way to make a call while out and about was by dropping a 20c coin or two into a Telecom public phone.

According to Telstra, the first mobile phones in Australia were about the size of a briefcase, cost more than $4000 and had a battery life of little more than 20 minutes.

Martin Place

Pedestrians near Martin Place Sydney on 26 April 1985. SMH NEWS Picture by PETER RAE City buildings Cityscape Dom15 hhollins street scene 1980s Australia The intersection of George Street and Martin Place, facing north. Photo: Peter Rae

In 2015, all commercial property roads seemed to lead to Martin Place, which first became a pedestrian mall in 1979 and is now known as the city’s centre of commerce.

However, technology companies and high-end fashion retailers are now also taking up space in the famous boulevard.

In 2015, Macquarie Group’s $100 million-plus renovation of 50 Martin Place won Australia’s top architecture award. Pembroke Real Estate’s 20 Martin Place office tower also had a $100 million refurbishment, complete with golden glass blocks, and technology companies LinkedIn, Expedia and Dropbox also moved in.

Christmas

Shoppers and pedestrians in Sydney on 24 December 1985. SMH NEWS Picture by PAUL WRIGHT Cityscape Dom15 hhollins street scene 1980s Australia Christmas shopping Christmas Eve 1985 in Pitt Street. Photo: Paul Wright

Online stores have changed our shopping habits but the lead-up to Christmas remains a hectic time in the CBD.

Gift shopping, traditional window displays and now illuminated buildings all draw families to the city during December. However, some retailers broke tradition in 2015.

David Jones’ artistic take on Christmas windows left some people disappointed and Myer started its Boxing Day sales online early – on Christmas Day.

Queen Victoria Building

Sydney's Queen Victoria Building pictured during major refurbishment on 2 May 1985. SMH NEWS Picture by PETER MORRIS Site retail area hhollins dom15 1980s carpark excavation Photo: Peter Morris

One of Sydney’s favourite buildings since it was built in 1898, QVB was in the midst of an $86 million refurbishment in 1985 by Malaysian company Ipoh Gardens Berhad.

The renovation would be completed in 1986, after major excavation to build the carpark and detailed work to maintain the building’s heritage features.

Sydney's Queen Victoria Building pictured during major refurbishment on 7 October 1985. On this day, Labour Day there was no activity. SMH NEWS Picture by IAN CUGLEY Site retail area hhollins traffic dom15 1980s Photo: Ian Cugley

Darling Harbour

Pyrmont Bridge at Darling Harbour looking across to Sydney’s CBD, 17 April 1985. SMH Picture by Robert Pearce 850417 City, cityscape, buildings, office blocks, skyscrapers, wharf, docks, marine, maritime, Pyrmont Bridge, black and white, history, archival, skyline Darling Harbour’s Pyrmont Bridge in 1985, four years after it closed to vehicles. Photo: Robert Pearce

In 1985, Darling Harbour was undergoing major redevelopment to transform it to the popular tourist precinct it is today.

Thirty years later, the area is again being transformed.

A proposed 160-room Crowne Plaza hotel is expected to open in 2019.

Melbourne developer Grocon, which bought the IMAX Theatre site for just over $70 million in October, plans to create a hotel and serviced apartment complex, complete with infinity pool.

At the southern end of Darling Harbour is Lend Lease’s Darling Quarter project, a mixed-use development of three buildings, including retail, commercial and public spaces. The development includes a new building for the Commonwealth Bank.

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