Children were always a high proportion of the Sydney population – over 40% in 1871. They were especially well represented in industrial suburbs like Pyrmont. In these suburbs living conditions were severely cramped: most families lived in one or two room cottages, sharing a privy with neighbours. Privacy was impossible. A majority of families produced…

Social life revolved around churches and associated schools or Sunday schools. By 1900 there were six: Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational. All struggled as people left and public schools developed. Cooperation was possible: the architect for St Bede’s was Presbyterian. In 1901 and probably in other years, employers made their premises available for…

From Protesting to Lobbying During most of the twentieth century community life centred on the churches, and the Labor Party attended to people’s grievances. By the 1970s, however, Labor could not defend its flock from the Department of Main Roads (DMR): in the 1980s it embraced “urban renewal”. Residents needed new formations to represent them,…

From the 1860s onwards quarries and industries drew hundreds of men and their families to a crowded precinct. Many jobs were unskilled, unhealthy and seasonal: workers’ housing reflected this. In 1876 the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board confirmed the shocking conditions in which people lived, and matters did not improve. Bubonic plague at the…

A great deal of beer was drunk, but people also ate – in smaller quantities. After the gold rushes, and as pastoral exports boomed, Australia had a thriving economy – but living conditions for urban industrial workers did not reflect this. People lived near their work, in polluted precincts with few services. Until the 1870s…

Industry boomed in the late nineteenth century.  As jobs were created, the population mushroomed.  Before long however, industries needed to buy – and demolish  – cottages. As the housing stock shrank, landlords became more demanding. The maritime strike of 1890 brought matters to a head.  When the strike imploded, wharf labourers and seamen were in…

Throughout the nineteenth century, churches, the State and the respectable classes promoted marriage, family life, legitimacy and social stability. That was a struggle in a working class community with a high proportion of sailors and many insecure jobs. It was not a compelling prospect: cottages were cheaply built and badly serviced: wives had to rely…

Seal's Place, 1923

Among the palatial wool stores and a few mansions, most housing in Pyrmont and Ultimo was cheap and unhealthy. This was demonstrated in the 1870s, during the 1900 bubonic plague panic and in Mayor John Harris’s publicised tours, and it remained true until at least the 1980s. Advocates of “slum clearance” (such as John Harris…

Reports in the 1860s and ’70s described housing conditions in Mount and John Streets and Bowman Street: The toilets were “frequently dilapidated … and so badly constructed that a slight shower of rain causes them either to overflow or soak into the surrounding soil, creating a great deal of disease”. A later inspector noted: it…

In the early decades in New South Wales, Master and Servant laws denied workers the right to organise. However, those in skilled or strategic jobs did form associations. Stonemasons were skilled and scarce, and in 1855 the Stonemasons’ Society in Sydney declared that – in six months’ time – they would work only eight hours…

The Kindergarten Union of NSW (KU) was founded in 1895, and began to establish free kindergartens in poor areas soon afterwards. A KU school opened in ‘The Little Brown House’ in Murray Street in 1915. In 1922 Council resumed the premises, and CSR offered the use, rent free, of the old Methodist Hall and adjoining…

People enjoyed a surprising amount, and range, of leisure despite the long hours they spent in workshops, kitchens and laundries. Much of men’s leisure was consumed in pubs, but there was time for other pursuits. Church social activity was almost as important for women but – again – allowed other activities. Rowing and sailing were…

Some parks in Pyrmont were created by deliberate planning in the context of industrial or residential developments. Ballaarat Park, Refinery Square, Cadi Park, Tumbalong Park and Metcalfe Park are green spaces which were created to enhance the quality of the neighbourhood. Many others are scraps of land left over in development sites, such as Ada…

In 1948, when the state government proposed to declare Ultimo and Pyrmont industrial, the Labor-dominated Sydney Council countered with a proposal to declare most of the peninsula residential. Led by Deputy Lord Mayor John Byrne, Labor won a compromise whereby the two suburbs became a patchwork of residential and industrial zones. Pressure for change was…

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most working-class men lived near their work, with their large families, in small cottages. The centre of activity in the cottage was the kitchen, where mother cooked, washed the laundry, sewed and repaired clothes. If she earned money, it was usually done in the kitchen – needlework or…

The Pyrmont and Ultimo War Memorial was designed and sculpted by Gilbert Doble and unveiled in February 1922 after prolonged public subscription. The memorial, dominated by the female figure of Winged Victory in repose, commemorated the 760 men who enlisted in Pyrmont and Ultimo, 150 of whom lost their lives. There were few large donations…

Australian Parliament Coat Of Arms

Pyrmont and Ultimo in the federal Labor Party For half a century after Federation, West Sydney – covering Pyrmont and Ultimo – was such a safe Labor seat that it was taken for granted. When he became Prime Minister, Billy Hughes ditched his opposition to CSR, and his wharfie clients, to wage war for Australia…

Coat of Arms of New South Wales

An early and spectacular representative of Pyrmont was Tipperary-born Daniel O’Connor, butcher, rash speculator and flamboyant orator. After serving in the City Council he sat in the Legislative Assembly until 1891, campaigning against Chinese immigration, and advocating democratic measures. His advocacy for Catholic schools earned him a black eye – and local popularity. When he…

city of sydney crest

In the City of Sydney, Pyrmont was part of Denison Ward, then City, and (from 1959) Philip. Pyrmont’s typical representative until the 1970s was a Catholic trade union official of Irish heritage. From the 1890s until the 1970s Labor provided many of Pyrmont’s representatives and pre-selection contests were often fierce. In a pre-selection ballot in…

A few teachers took pupils in their own homes, but the first schools in Pyrmont were sponsored by the churches. The Congregational and Wesleyan (Methodist) churches built halls for Sunday (or Sabbath) Schools. Others were more ambitious: a Presbyterian school in Mount Street was followed by (Catholic) St Bede’s and (Anglican) St Bartholomew’s. All were…

Scott St backyard, 1980s

Housing in Pyrmont attracted landlords and tenants through the era of heavy industry. The main tensions were between expanding industries, working class tenants, and landlords. The decline of industries brought new players. Developers planned redevelopment, and the Department of Main Roads (DMR) bulldozed houses to make way for freeways. But the authorities were no longer…

As industry flourished in Pyrmont and the population expanded, Irish families were well represented. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, emigration offered salvation, and Irish people in Sydney encouraged their kin to follow them. Several families of O’Tooles migrated in this way: Patrick O’Toole (1808-1879) was born in County Wicklow, and married Teresa Boyle…