It was hard to grow crops in Pyrmont, but easy to raise all kinds of animals. Surgeon Harris made Ultimo a deer park. Others operated small dairies – often a cowshed and a couple of cows: five of Sydney’s 8 dairies in the 1890s were in Pyrmont, and one in John Street kept going into the twentieth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, people kept pigs, goats, rabbits and fowls in their yards, to consume rubbish – until they themselves were consumed.
Pyrmont processed much more meat than it produced. The colony’s first public abattoir opened on Glebe Island in 1860 and linked via Pyrmont to the rest of Sydney by Glebe Island Bridge. Animals were also slaughtered on the banks of Blackwattle Bay informally, then in formal abattoirs. These were so common that the street was called Abattoir Road before it was sanitised as Bank Street in 1905.
Everyone involved in the industry put in long hours of strenuous work. They restored their strength at the Butchers Arms (now The Dunkirk) among other Pyrmont pubs. Because they enjoyed access to off-cuts of meat, Pyrmont’s diet was unusually rich in protein. On the other hand, the trade caused a great deal of stress. Drovers and their dogs herded bellowing animals along Pyrmont streets to their final destination, at risk to themselves and the public; and blood from the abattoirs stained the waters of the bay.
From 1882, debate raged about the appropriate location for noxious trades. Butchers put up stout resistance to regulation until the Noxious Trades and Cattle Slaughtering Act was passed in 1894. Abattoirs continued to operate in Pyrmont, but new facilities in Homebush from 1913 gradually drew slaughtering out of the peninsula.