Colonial Pyrmont and Ultimo began as two private estates which were then partitioned for private industry and private housing. Neither suburb had a town hall, so there was no formal place for public assembly. People mainly congregated in pubs (often associated with particular occupations) or in churches.
Four attempts were made to create a neutral space where everyone was welcome. In 1879 the McCredie brothers built a hall which quickly became a satellite of St Bartholomew’s, often used by pupils of the Church of England school. Elder’s Hall, on Union Street, did attract a wide range of social activities and was seen to be Pyrmont’s favourite gathering place – until it burned down.
The Public School certainly hosted public meetings – for a prize-giving, or an Imperial commemoration: Catholics stayed away. After the Great War, people campaigned and raised funds for a memorial hall, but there not enough once the War Memorial was built.
Sports venues therefore assumed great importance for socialising. Before St Bartholomew’s Church was built, “Convincing Hill was the chosen resort for persons who had little differences of opinion to settle … with the fists [and the occasional duel].” The Illustrated Sydney News 25 July 1889.
In the more respectable 1890s Referee magazine reported boxing and wrestling in The New Hall, or Hughie Napier’s Pyrmont Hall (Referee, 1 March and 3 May 1899) although this venue soon disappeared. Elder’s Hall gymnasium in Union Square also hosted boxing bouts (Australian Star, 11 November 1903).