Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sydney Suburbs, continued: Chippendale


Continuing an alphabetical look at the suburbs that make up the tapestry that is Sydney. Today, the rich and varied history on an inner city suburb, Chippendale. 


Chippendale is a small (0.7 square kiloemtre; 0.27 sqare mile) inner-city suburb of Sydney, New South Wales on the southern edge of the Sydney central business district, in the local government area of the City of Sydney. Chippendale is located between Broadway to the north and Cleveland Street to the south, Sydney Central railway station to the east and the University of Sydney to the west. 

Name origin: 

The suburb is named after William Chippendale, who was granted his 95 acre (38 hectare) farm in 1819. His property extended south, behind a large military garden set up in the earliest years of the colony for the soldiers to grow vegetables in the rich alluvial soils. Back when the grant was made, the area given to Chippendale was bushland on the very edge of town. The grant extended to what is now Redfern Railway Station and comprised 38 hectares (95 acres). 

Points of interest: 

When some convicts from the nearby convict barracks entered upon William Chippendale’s property planning to steal potatoes, Chippendale fired at them with his double barrel shotgun, killing one. 


Chippendale sold the estate to Solomon Levey, emancipist and merchant, in 1821, for 380 pounds. 

Levey (1794–1833) was a convict transported to Australia in 1815 for theft who became a highly successful merchant and financier, at one time issuing his own banknotes in New South Wales. 

Levey died while in London, in 1833. Levey's heirs sold over 25 ha (62 acres) to William Hutchinson. 


By the 1820s the area’s future as an industrial heartland began to emerge. William Chippendale’s neighbour Robert Cooper (who had previously produced gin on Old South Head Road) built a distillery and factory complex on Parramatta Street. He created a dam behind the distillery where people fished for eels. The dam banks (not damn banks, although the expression is a correct one) were lined with gardens and orchards. 


In 1835 John Tooth and Charles Newnham opened their Kent Brewery on Parramatta Street, a little closer to town than the distillery. The original brewery burnt to the ground in 1853 and was re-built using more advanced technology. The site ceased being a brewery in 2006, np doubt pleasing to the local residents who would no longer gave to put up with the pervading smell of the brewing hops. I can still recall it from the days that I walked past the brewery on my way to uni. 

The entry to the Kent Brewery, 1930s 

Tooth’s brewery dray, 1910 

Today the Kent Brewery site is known as One Central Park Sydney, a 5.8 hectare renewal project that includes commercial and residential space, the retention of a number of heritage buildings and a large park acting as a pedestrian gateway to Central Park as well as a public recreation area. 

One Central Park 

One Central Park Sydney showing the vertical gardens. I am not a fan of the look, to me it looks like the post-apocalypse movies such as I Am Legend where nature has taken over the empty cities. 


Not only the Kent Brewery provided olfactory delights for the residents, so did other ol’ factories (ha ha).

The local industries in those days were unregulated. The Colonial Sugar Refinery near the Kent Brewery burnt bones to produce charcoal for filtering. Huge piles of decomposing bones were left to rot before being burnt. The local butchers added bloody offal to the already stinking sewage and dairy run-off, much of it ending up in Cooper’s once pristine dam. 

Butchery, Sydney, 1900 


St Benedict’s Catholic Church was completed in 1852. 

St Benedict’s, 1870s 

St Benedict’s 1950s 

Local readers may recall that the nearby St Barnabas’ Anglican Church had a history of displaying spiritual messages, such as in this 1937 photograph: 

In the 1980’s, the messages displayed by the Reverend Robert Forsyth were answered by Arthur Elliot, the publican of the hotel across the road, who signed his messages “Arthur”. The battle went from 1985 to 1997. 


“This church is for sinners.” 
“This pub is for drinkers.” Arthur. 

“Jesus bowled over death.” 
“Lillee bowled overarm.” Arthur. 

“Jesus died for the whole damned world.” 
“But would he do it again?” Arthur. 

Publican Arthur Elliot (left) and Rev. Robert Forsyth (right). 

BTW #1: 

The publican and the minister ended up becoming friends, so much so that Arthur’s daughter married in St Barnabas’, with the reception being held in the hotel. They even published a book together with photographs of The Battle of the Signs. 

BTW #2: 

Speaking of signs and St Barnabas, Arthur Stace, the man who became a Sydney icon by anonymously chalking the word “Eternity” in copperplate hand on footpaths, was a parishioner of St Barnabas’. I have written about him before, click on the following link for his story: 

A reformed alcoholic, his one word message was based on a Biblical text asking where will you spend eternity? 


The Department of Education resumed a large tract of land from the St Benedict’s Parish to build Blackfriars public school next door. Able to house up to 1,500 children, and built over a poorly drained swamp, it led to Chippendale becoming Sydney’s centre of education. It introduced 'Montessori' teaching methods in 1906 and later became a teachers' college. Blackfriars School became part of the University of Technology, Sydney in 1996. 

Blackfriars Public School, Chippendale 1907 

Children in classroom at Blackfriars Public School c1913 (why is the little boy blindfolded?) 


When bubonic plague hit Sydney in 1900, brought by rats leaving ships from overseas, Chippendale was Ground Zero. It ended up killing 103 people. The Lord Mayor Allen Taylor, after venturing into Chippendale, described it as a “deplorable area… the Council must wipe away tenements which are nothing more than hovels. He recommended Council resume certain areas so the place be “made wholesome and cut into decent blocks for valuable building sites for factories.” By 1911, 350 Chippendale houses had been resumed and cleared away. 

Demolition progress as part of the plague eradication measures 

The government resumed virtually the entire headland from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour and demolished hundreds of slum houses and businesses in what are now prime real estate precincts. There was little attempt to define a slum area and there was no recognition of the rights of tenants. Green Bans in the 1970s on the redevelopment of The Rocks helped preserve the remaining historic area of The Rocks, which is now a major tourism precinct. 


The poverty in the area, the squalid housing provided by the companies for their employees and the prevailing crime and neglect made it one of the worst areas in the city. Cramped and narrow streets, dirt floors and overflowing sewage were the norm. Many of the shoddiest houses were owned by the aforementioned distiller Robert Cooper, who traded in human misery. 

Even in modern times, author Michael Mobbs has stated: 
“In 1978 when I bought my property, it was one of Sydney’s most dangerous suburbs,” says Michael Mobbs, whose off-grid house and kerbside community garden in Myrtle Street inspired his book Sustainable House and has made him one of Chippendale’s best-known residents. “The agent said to me: ‘Mr Mobbs, why do you want to live in Chippendale? Only criminals and prostitutes live in Chippendale.’” 

Certainly prostitution and crime were rife in the area, with one notorious incident taking place in 1981 when Warren Lanfranchi, a young heroin dealer was shot dead by Detective Sergeant Roger Rogerson. The meeting had been arranged beforehand, Rogerson claimed that Lafranchi had drawn a weapon first. . A cross, etched into the sandstone gutter still shows the place where Lanfranchi fell. 

Although a highly decorated police officer, during his time in office he was implicated in—but never convicted of—two killings, bribery, assault and drug dealing. In 2016 he and Detective McNamara were found guilty of the murder of 20 year old student Jamie Gao and sentence to life terms. 


The suburb today is a far cry from its past days and history, being one of the most gentrified of Sydney’s areas. The nearby University of Sydney, University of Technology and University of Notre Dame have driven a lifting of social conditions and socio-economic status of residents. There has been a corresponding increase in cafes, restaurants, galleries, studios and offices. 



Cottages built by Robert Cooper in Elim Place, Chippendale 1989 

Boys playing in the street with cable spools, Chippendale 1959 

Chippendale apartments 

Sydney’s first public housing, Strickland House, was built in Chippendale in 1914 and is still home to public housing tenants.

Kensington Street, Chippendale

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