10 October 2008


Welcome to this new blog about the Woolloomooloo murals. It has just been set up and is in its infancy stage. When it grows up it will have a collection of photos of the murals. Until then, here is an elementary description of the suburb's character, extracted from a description of walks: "Circular Quay to South Head and Clovelly; Connecting Walk C1: Woolloomooloo, the Domain to Kings Cross"

The area was subdivided from the 1840s and with its low lying land and proximity to the waterfront, it quickly developed a character similar to The Rocks. From the 1860s to the 1940s it kept a reputation for poverty, gang violence (the ‘Pushes’), prostitution and crime which stuck to the suburb despite the thousands of ordinary, hard‐working lives that were passed within its streets and tenements. A poor, mostly rental area on the edge of an expanding city, it became an easy target for urban redevelopment, or just plain urban degradation, from the early twentieth century on. Commercial and industrial intrusions, clearings, and plans for wholesale destruction and redevelopment left many houses boarded up, and most run down. Cheaper rent bought industry – motor garages, shipping companies, bakeries, hotels. Roads and railways were planned to slash through it – which in the 1970s happened when the Eastern Suburbs Railway slashed its way across the suburb. One of the positive legacies of that project is that the viaduct’s pylons have become a mural gallery of the suburb’s history. The Eastern Distributor had a similar impact, though less than it would have had if earlier, less tunnelled options been completed.

The main danger emerged at the end of the 1950s, 60s and 70s when government planning bodies and private developers were hard at work buying up properties and demolishing them or letting them rot, while developing plans for a high rise suburb of up to 40,000 workers and residents. Local residents – rarely owners themselves and never consulted – began to resist, but they were up against a powerful combination. By 1976, 40% of the houses that had been there 10 years before had been demolished, half the rest were empty and the population was down to a fraction of its former levels.

However, by then, the Green Bans and resident action resistance had had a critical (if short‐lived) ally, the Whitlam Government of 1972‐75. Saving the Loo had been an election promise and Urban and Regional Development Minister Tom Uren delivered. In June 1975 a three‐part agreement came into effect with the Commonwealth funding land acquisition and the State and Local Governments planning and managing the low density urban renewal Woolloomooloo Project. The project covered 13 hectares, included 750 or more dwellings and other facilities – about 75% of it public housing – made up of a mixture of restored or recycled older dwellings and compatible new buildings."


The Editor said...

Great stuff Matthias. I'm quoting some of your words and linking to your blog in a story on the murals in The City News this Thursday.

Your photos were particularly valuable as eight murals have been removed, it appears permanently. However the historical set is being preserved.

Here's a link to The City News site

regards, MIchael Gormly

Julie said...

Very nice to discover a record of these wonderful murals and also for your compact telling of the basic history of Woolloomooloo. Thank you.

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