Newtown 1892-1922: A Social Sketch

INTRODUCTION

‘Newtown is one of those places that does not lend itself to any great deeds or achievements in historical matters. At one time being the home of a few settlers, it gradually developed, until today it is one of the most wealthy suburbs around Sydney. ‘ 1 So opens the Jubilee Souvenir of the Municipality of Newtown, written in 1912 to laud the rise and progress of 480 acres of narrow streets and tightly packed houses. It is an area few would today consider worthy of praise but in the years surrounding the turn of the century Newtown was a thriving retail centre proud of its advances.

The Municipality of Newtown was incorporated on 12th December 1862 by proclamation in the Government Gazette. Its first thirty years were taken up with vigorous subdivision and the layout of Newtown as it is today was substantially determined in this period.2 The years which followed, the second thirty years of the municipality, are the subject of this paper. From 1892 to 1922 Newtown continued to be an important suburb of Sydney housing a large population and providing for the needs of many beyond the municipality. Its main feature in these years was its long shopping centre which offered a great variety of goods and services. Much took place within the municipality of both local and national importance which affected the lives of its residents. One of the factors which would have a lasting effect was the provision of public transport which drew people away from the city to live and would soon alter the face of Newtown in favour of its outer-suburban neighbours.


  • 1. William Chubb, Jubilee Souvenir of the Municipality of Newtown, Austral Press, Sydney, 1912, Preface.
  • 2. Marie Ryan, Newtown Municipality 1862-1892: Subdivision, Landuse and Services, an unpublished B. A. (Hons) thesis, Department of History, University of Sydney, 1979, pp. 1, 5.

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This paper is not so much concerned with the rise of slum conditions and changing attitudes to the suburb from those outside the area as with how people who lived there perceived it. The aim is to show what it was like to live in Newtown and to look at the character of the suburb and its memorable occasions. To this end a great deal of emphasis has been placed on photographs both from the period under discussion and of extant buildings which are documents in bricks and mortar. These may tell the historian much about an area’s perception of itself and its changing fortune which could not be so vividly expressed in words,


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