Newtown Land Use etc. 1862-92


The intention of this paper was to examine selected aspects of the development of Newtown Municipality, 1862-92 : subdivision and land use and the provision of services. Certain patterns have clearly emerged : some merely confirm certain assumptions, others question such assumptions and suggest the need for further research. The larger estates were subdivided either in a series of progressively smaller subdivisions, or in an initial subdivision which achieved the same objective. Land companies and societies were often the vendors and prices varied quite considerably. These conclusions are in no way surprising, but the study of subdivision in Newtown does present two unexpected patterns, first, that quite extensive heavy subdivision (to present dimensions) commenced as early as 1845. It continued in the 50’s, lapsed almost entirely in the 60’s and really got under way in the 1870’s. In Newtown, the much talked-of subdivision of the 1880’s merely followed a pattern well established in the previous decade, and which had begun in 1845. The second unexpected factor was that land sales were not as successful as might have been presumed from generalizations widely made about the 1880s. Though the sales had all the trappings of boom-time auctions, the speculative spiral – if it did exist in Newtown – certainly did not involve indiscriminate purchase of any land available, even in the early 1880’s. Page 125. This is not to say, of course that Newtown did not experience a great burst of development in that decade – indeed she did. Land had been subdivided into allotments suitable for residential development and this pattern was followed. Table 3 incidentally illustrates the fact that twice as many houses were built between 1881 and 1885 (976) and between 1885 and 1888 (895) than were built between 1888 and 1891 (439). The total number of houses rose from 1,615 in 1881 to 3,783 in 1891, so there is no question that Newtown really went ahead in that decade. Her population increased from 4,328 in 1871 to 8,327 in 1881 and 17,870 in 1891. This vastly increased population lived in terraced houses or pairs of houses and only sometimes in free standing houses. The greater percentage rented their residences : 66.62% in 1881, 71.13% in 1885, 72.14% in 1888 and 74.25% in 1891. The great majority of houses were in the hands of multiple owners and many landlords lived in adjoining houses. The increase in single home ownership was overshadowed by the increase in multiple ownership. This tendency was increased by sales of multiple houses as a single unit to one individual rather than to individual purchasers. Housing generally served a local borough function, but many other aspects of land use served the populations of areas further afield. This was a major factor in Newtown’s development : most of her services appear to have been utilized to a greater or lesser degree by adjacent populations, as indeed Newtown herself was incidentally served by facilities built to cater for their needs, especially in the area of transport. Page 126. Newtown had far less industry than might be expected for an area so close to the city and the industries which did set up were not of the same noxious category as those of Waterloo, Botany and Alexandria. The rapidly developing area was under the wide control of Newtown Municipal Council, whose job was to provide services. Its two chief problems were lack of finance and lack of co-ordination and co-operation with other bodies working within the area. Provision of services was difficult but the health of the borough, exacerbated by poor drainage, water and sewerage was the area which brought down most opprobrium on the heads of the councillors. A survey of the financial difficulties of Newtown council and its fairly consistent attempts to procure assistance in the areas for which its own funds were hopefully inadequate, suggests that such opprobrium could be perhaps more widely dispersed within the political and social community. Much alleged ‘neglect’ on the part of all bodies was really a consequence of run-away development on an unprece- dented scale – it rendered much work obsolete almost as soon as it was completed. Newtown was but one centre whose eternal cry was for ‘more!’ This paper, then, is merely a beginning. It raises wide and interesting questions about Newtown herself and about the extent to which she followed or deviated from the development patterns of similar and adjoining suburbs. So far, little research in this area has been attempted. Page 127 . Kelly and Jackson raise some interesting points, but Sydney urban studies lag far behind those of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ in the same period. Hopefully then, this paper has achieved its twofold objective, which was to examine two selected aspects of a single suburb, and to lay a solid foundation for further research into the more interesting aspects of that suburb.

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