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Local History - Sydney's inner suburbs and beyond

 Overview:

The history of European settlement in Sydney’s inner suburbs stretches back more than two hundred years. During that time, many memorable buildings have been constructed and many interesting people have lived. My aim is to bring some of these buildings and people to life via a growing series of historical accounts. The focus is on the stories that emerge from the research into people, places and events. Most of the accounts are 80 to 100 pages long, but on a separate page are some articles created from the longer works which have been published in the History magazine of the Royal Australian Historical Society.

The History of Collins Street, Surry Hills (2011) (1.8 MB)

Collins Street was created in the 1840s as part of the Riley Estate subdivision, and has seen a steady development of residential and industrial buildings since the 1850s. The street is almost a microcosm of the local area, as it eventually contained a pub, grocery shop, fruit shop, school, library, park, children's welfare centre and a Scout Hall. A variety of industries also sprang up, including a steam laundry, cannery, carriage maker, and a patent medicine manufacturer.

Attainted No More - How Convicts Became Citizens (2012) (1.5 MB)

European settlement of Australia mainly consisted of convicts and the people looking after them. The resulting penal colony was a unique social experiment that tested the British character and required a flexible approach to British law to suit the conditions. As time passed, many former convicts became wealthy and influential men who increasingly demanded an administration that was less military and more civilian. Their main concerns were the abolition of the law of convict attaint (which prevented anyone who arrived with a commuted death sentence from owning property), trial by jury and the right to vote and stand for parliament. These rights, enjoyed by any British citizen, were slowly and painfully achieved in the colony.

The Hopetoun Hotel - a colonial survivor? (2013) (2.1 MB)

A very early hotel, originally opened as the Cockatoo Inn in 1846, the Hopetoun has used five different names from its early days as a Victorian Georgian building to its purchase by the Tooth’s brewery in 1901 when it received a makeover in the Federation Boom style. It is a typical corner pub in its contribution to sports, entertainment, food and accommodation in the area. The pub’s heyday was in the 1980s when it enthusiastically promoted new rock music bands. Unfortunately, noise complaints and Council regulations caused its sudden closure in 2009, and it is still not clear if the pub has a future.

The History of McElhone Place, Surry Hills (2013) (1.8 MB)

McElhone Place is an historic lane with 1840s sandstone cottages on one side and 1870s brick terrace houses on the other side. It was built by the wealthy former convict Terence McElhone and his descendants, and owned by the family until sold to the pickpocket and property tycoon Teresa Taylor in 1927. It narrowly survived the threat of demolition for high-rise flats in the 1960s to enjoy a resurgence in the 1980s with a beautification project by the residents that saw the street win many gardening awards.

The Perkal Brothers - Bespoke Shoemakers of Surry Hills (2014) (1.5 MB)

Adam and Morris Perkal grew up in the Jewish community of a small town in Poland. Their peaceful life was shattered in September 1939 when German air force bombed their town, killing their mother and youngest brother and leaving the town in ruins. The two brothers managed to survive the ensuing Holocaust: Adam by passing himself off as an ethnic German but enduring ghettos and concentration camps, Morris by fleeing to the Soviet Union where he worked as a shoemaker. The brothers reunited in Sydney after the war and rebuilt their lives as bespoke shoemakers. They had many celebrity customers, but were happiest when making shoes to enable disabled people to walk again.

The History of Durham Hall, Surry Hills (2015) (2.1 MB)

George Hill, wealthy butcher, innkeeper and Mayor of Sydney, built the handsome Georgian-style villa he named Durham Hall in 1835. He also built two groups of adjacent cottages in the 1840s. After his death in 1883, Durham Hall was used as a boarding house until the pioneering felt hat maker Charles Anderson converted the rear grounds into a large hat factory and lived in the house until his death in 1924. The German Concordia Club then transformed it into a club for dancing and skittles. During World War II, the American Red Cross used the house as the Booker T. Washington Club for African-American servicemen, where bebop jazz was introduced to Sydney. After restoration to its original glory in 1983, the Royal College of Pathologists has operated from the house and cottages next door.

HMAT Port Macquarie - Carrying the ANZACs to War (2015) (1.6 MB)

The steamship SS Port Macquarie was built in Tyneside in 1912 and carried migrants to Australia until being requisitioned as a troopship after the outbreak of World War I. She made five voyages in convoy, carrying troops and horses to the Middle East and Europe. After the war, she brought surviving troops back to Australia. She resumed life as a cargo steamer after the war, and on the outbreak of World War II, took part in six convoys carrying iron and steel across the Atlantic. She was torpedoed and sunk in October 1940 while straggling behind the convoy. The Port Macquarie’s story illustrates the dangers faced by Merchant Marine sailors during wartime.

Jaffas in the suburbs - the cinemas of Sydney's eastern fringe (2016) (4.6 MB)

The invention of the Cinematographe in the 1890s saw cinema gradually take over from vaudeville, so that by 1911 it was the most popular form of entertainment in Sydney. Several picture theatres started operating in the eastern fringe of the city, often quickly-erected wooden structures with no roof, eventually replaced by a sturdier brick building if they were successful. Talkies arrived in the late 1920s, and suburban cinemas did well enough until after WWII when the cost of living rose steadily. But a mortal blow was dealt by the advent of television from the late 1950s. The few cinemas that survived were those that converted to smaller arthouse venues to cater for a new audience interested in Continental films.

An end to isolation - the La Perouse Cable Station (2016) (2.5 MB)

Until the 1870s, the only communication between Britain and Australia was by ship, taking weeks or months to bring news to the colony. But earlier in the century, the development of the electric telegraph by inventors such as Samuel Morse and Charles Wheatstone led to a way of communicating much more quickly over long distances. By the 1860s, undersea cables connected most of the continents. Britain was linked to Australia in 1872, where the Overland Telegraph Line allowed international news, messages and Government directives to reach Sydney and Melbourne in minutes. Finally, in 1876, the cable system was extended from La Perouse in southern Sydney to New Zealand.

The History of Cleveland House, Surry Hills (2017) (3.1 MB)

Daniel Cooper arrived in Sydney in 1816 as a convict, but rapidly built up a large business empire after being pardoned. He capped off his success by building Cleveland House, an imposing Georgian villa designed by Francis Greenway. After Cooper returned to England, the house and surrounding buildings were used by a wide variety of occupants, reflecting the changing nature of the inner suburbs since European settlement. It stands today as the oldest surviving mansion in Australia

The History of Moore Park, Sydney (2018) (4.8 MB)

Sydney Common was an area of 1,000 acres set aside by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1811 for the grazing of animals. By 1866, the demand for more sporting facilities prompted Sydney City Council to create Moore Park in the western half of the Common. SInce this time, the park has been home to a great variety of sports and recreational activities, as well as the Royal Easter Show, an incinerator, a dogs' home, and a rifle range. Along with the adjacent Centennial Park and Queen's Park, it remains the green heart of the eastern part of Sydney.

The Golden Fleece Hotel, Surry Hills (2018) (1.8 MB)

In 1840, the builder John Bluck erected Victoria House, a large sandstone villa, on the site of 538 Crown Street, Surry Hills. It became Bluck’s Family Hotel from 1843 until 1880, when a new owner demolished it and replaced with a brick building he called the Golden Fleece Hotel. This operated as a pub until the temperance movement, in the form of the Licences Reduction Board, closed it down in 1923 along with many others in the area. The former hotel and stables are today used for residential and commercial purposes.

The History of Victoria Park, Zetland (2019) (3.0 MB)

The Waterloo Swamp, part of the system of lakes between Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay, was first used by European settlers in the 1820s to operate water mills for grinding wheat. By the 1840s, the growing wool industry saw the mills converted to wool-washing establishments. In 1904, James Joynton Smith transformed the much-reduced swamp into a fine pony racing course that he named Victoria Park. The racecourse flourished until World War II, when government legislation closed down pony racing in NSW. In the 1950s, the area became the Leyland automobile factory until 1975, when the Australian Navy took it over for a vast stores depot. In 1995, Landcom purchased the site and it was developed into apartments.

John W. Ross.

Email: rossjw@ozemail.com.au

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