Postcards from 100 years ago




254 The bay - early days

The current spelling of Woolloomooloo is derived from the name of the first homestead in area, Wolloomooloo House, built by the first landowner John Palmer. There is debate as to how Palmer came up with the name with different Aboriginal words being suggested. Anthropologist J.D. McCarthy wrote in 'NSW Aboriginal Places Names', in 1946, that Woolloomooloo could be derived from either Wallamullah, meaning place of plenty or Wallabahmullah, meaning a young black kangaroo.   

Woolloomooloo was once the most desirable suburb in Sydney.  68 Wooloomooloo

68- The finger wharf, now luxury livingForget Double Bay, Ashfield, Elizabeth Bay, and don’t even think about the north shore, for in the first half of the nineteenth century if you didn’t live in the ‘Loo, you were living in the dump.  

Woolloomooloo was the home of judges, merchant leaders, politicians and the rest of the hoi polloi. By all accounts it was quite a beautiful setting, close to a wonderful bay, in walking distance to the heart of the colony, and a mere stone’s throw to Government House. It was also a safe distance from the rowdy soldiers at Paddington and the even rowdier sailors in the Rocks. Grand houses were built, many with spectacular gardens, and, if one were inclined, it was considered relatively safe to engage in one of the popular sports of the day, pedestrianism. There were market gardens and, on the harbour shore of the Woolloomooloo bay, fresh fish were displayed and sold. In those days the bay offered sandy beaches and, sadly, unlike today, the fish were edible.  

252 Wooloomooloo BayThings changed in the second half of the century as better roads, if you could call them roads, better communication systems, and later gas and water supplies, encouraged people to move further out.  

Woolloomooloo changed again near the end of the nineteenth century as the bulk of Australia’s population packed their ports and took up residence in the cities. Around the time of Federation, in 1901, our population balance changed, with more people living in the cities than bush. The great rural industries, especially sheep and cattle, had seen their heyday and were making room for factories and offices. Thousands of hopefuls flocked to Sydney and its inner suburbs, especially Glebe, Pyrmont, Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo. It was around this time that many of the remaining grand homes came tumbling down to make way for squat terrace houses. Corner stores, cafes and drinking establishments were also built adding to the Loo’s changing character. 

The city centre was fairly stinky in those days with brickworks, tanneries and either dust or mud creating general havoc. No doubt there was also a desire to get away from some of the more unsavoury locals, especially the city larrikins and their donahs. As homeowners moved out small factories moved in to take advantage of the suburb’s close proximity to the city centre and the surrounding seaports. The ports were crucial to the delivery of coal to fire up the mighty steam engines of that era. Labour was also important and alongside the factories came modest worker dwellings. 

In 1852, the traveller Col. G.C. Mundy wrote that the name came from Wala-mala, meaning an Aboriginal burial ground. It has also been suggested that the name means field of blood, due to the alleged Aboriginal tribal fights that took place in the area, or that it is from the pronunciation by Aborigines of windmill, from the one that existed on Darlinghurst ridge until the 1850s. 

After the First Fleet's arrival in Sydney, the area was initially called Garden Cove or Garden Island Cove after the nearby small wooded Garden Island, off the shore. The first land grant was given to John Palmer in 1793 to allow him to run cattle for the fledgling colony. 

In the 1840s the farm land was subdivided into what is now Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and parts of Surry Hills. Originally the area saw affluent residents building grand houses, many with spectacular gardens, attracted by the bay and close proximity to the city and Government House.

The area slowly started to change after expensive houses were built in Elizabeth Bay and further east and a road was needed from Sydney. It was for this reason that William Street was built, dividing the land for the first time. 

Woolloomooloo is home to the Finger Wharf building is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest wooden structure in the world. It is 400 metres (1,310 ft) long and 63 m (210 ft) wide and stands on 3,600 piles. 

The Sydney Harbour Trust built the Finger Wharf, or Woolloomooloo Wharf, between 1911 and 1915 with the charter to bring order to Sydney Harbour's foreshore facilities. The wharf became the largest wooden structure in the world. The areas commerce was dominated by shipping at the wharf and by the regular influx of sailors from the Garden Island base of the Royal Australian Navy. 

The wharf's influence diminished for Woolloomooloo during the 1970s when other more modern wharves were preferred. By the 1980s the wharf lay derelict and empty and in 1987, the state government decided to demolish the Wharf.   A new complex was approved to replace the wharf in Woolloomooloo Bay, but when demolition work was due to begin in January 1991, locals blocked entrance to the site.   Unions imposed a Green ban which stopped demolition crews from undertaking work. 

In the mid 1990s the wharf was renovated into a hotel, restaurant and apartment complex. The actor, Russell Crowe, lives in a $14 million penthouse in the wharf. 

Located near the wharf is Harry's Cafe de Wheels, a popular fast-food stall and now tourist destination. The Andrew "Boy" Charlton Pool, sits on the western side of Woolloomooloo Bay, amongst the Royal Botanical Gardens. 





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