Investigation 1

What was life like in New South Wales in the late 1800s?

New South Wales in the late 1880s was a place of contrasts. It had one of the largest and oldest cities of the Australian colonies, but many people lived and worked in rural areas far from Sydney. People’s way of life was very different depending on where they lived and their occupations. In rural areas, people worked on the land and often lived far from towns, neighbours and services such as shops, banks or doctors. In the city, services were nearby, but life there could be crowded, dirty and dangerous.

In many ways, we can only imagine what the colony was like so long ago. However, there are photographs from which we can draw much information, along with reports and stories in which writers of the time vividly conveyed details and impressions of people and places.

Your Task

Investigate life in New South Wales in the late 1800s and explore the differences between the city and the bush.


  1. As a class, read the accounts of Sydney in the late 1800s by HM Franklyn and Mark Twain. Discuss or use a dictionary to understand words you do not know.
  2. With a partner, use the accounts by Franklyn and Twain, and the photograph of Castlereagh Street, to identify examples of transport, clothing, technology, buildings and ways of life in the city at the time. On an X-chart, record the things that you might see, hear, feel and smell if you were living in Sydney between 1880 and 1895.
  3. As a class, read the extracts from The Drover’s Wife, which was first published in 1892. With your partner, identify examples of clothing, housing, the environment and ways of life in the bush at the time. On another X-chart, record the things that you might see, hear, feel and smell if you were living in the bush between 1880 and 1895.
  4. Use your X-charts to create a Venn diagram to identify the similarities and differences between the lives of people in Sydney and rural New South Wales in the late 1800s. What are the differences? What are the similarities? How would their opportunities have been different? Do you think the same differences still exist today? Share your diagrams with another group. Combine your responses and report these back to the rest of the class.
  5. Imagine you and your family lived in Sydney or rural New South Wales back in the 1800s. What would your life have been like? Write a journal entry describing why you prefer living in either the city or the country. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of your situation.