Historic Houses of Strathfield exhibition

Strathfield-Homebush District Historical Society is preparing a new exhibition at the Ironbark Gallery, Strathfield Council Library & Innovation Hub from December 2021.  

Historic Houses of Strathfield explores the rise of the mansion houses in late 19th century and their eventual fate in the 20th and 21st centuries. The stories of the houses and the associated people also reflect the social, economic and political changes which occurred over a century of development in the Strathfield area. 

This exhibition will include photos, maps and illustrations.  A lecture accompanying the exhibition will be held during the exhibition period (dates to be determined). 

When: December 2021 – February 2022 (exact dates to be determined) (during Strathfield Council Library & Innovation Hub opening hours)

Where: Ironbark Gallery – Strathfield Council Library & Innovation Hub, Rochester Street Homebush

Railway Station Estate & Stanley Rickard

SHDHS Newsletter Vol. 3 No.3 May-June 2021 Railway Station Estate Strathfield – website

The Federation style cottages located between 42 and 58 Albert Road Strathfield are the last remaining buildings standing from a large estate of thirty buildings located on Albert Road and Churchill Avenue designed by architect Stanley Rickard and built from 1904 to 1906.

There are example of Federation estates in Sydney such as the Haberfield estate developed by real estate agent Richard Stanton or the Daceyville estate, designed by John Sulman, which featured a developed housing estate conformity in styles, form and setting.  Rickard’s estate in Strathfield featured a range of single storey and semi-detached Federation style cottages that was less ambitious than the Haberfield estate, however, it is rare to find examples of planned estate unified by conformity in style and form by a single designer in the Strathfield area.

42-58 Albert Road Strathfield

Former Strathfield District Historical Society

sdhs-1st-meeting-noticeThe first Strathfield District Historical Society was established in 1978. According to NSW Fair Trading, the Society’s incorporation was cancelled and newspaper reports in 2014, stated that some members of the Society voted to wind it up. Many members were not aware of the decision to wind up nor what occurred to the Society after this decision was taken. In tribute to the early members of the Society who left a genuine legacy of research and activity, this article is dedicated to them.

The present Strathfield-Homebush District Historical Society was formed in 2018 to carry on the work of the previous society.

Moves to establish a historical society date back to the early 1970’s, when resident groups made many approaches to Strathfield Council to establish a society. The early 1970’s saw a growing interest in local history, much motivated by concern that Strathfield was undergoing physical and cultural change, yet little of its’ history had been researched, documented or preserved. This concern was not unique to Strathfield, many other local government areas such as Burwood established historical societies in similar timeframes and for similar reasons.

With increasing demand for historical information, particularly from local schools, Strathfield Council produced a booklet entitled ‘Some Notes on the Strathfield Municipality’ in 1974. Primarily written by former Strathfield Council Town Clerk, James Sandry Matthews and with the involvement of Alderman Helen L’Orange, this publication was the first official account of Strathfield’s history and copies are still available from Strathfield Library. Some care should be exercised using this booklet as it contains some inaccuracies, which were uncovered by later research. A frequently quoted ‘fact’ that Strathfield was named after the home of the ‘first Mayor John Hardie’ is contained in this publication and appears with irritating frequency. The first Mayor was George Hardie, who lived at ‘Torrington’, while John Hardy, the jeweller, lived at ‘Strathfield’. In fact Strathfield was chosen as the name of the new Municipality prior to the election of the first Council and the election of the first Mayor.

 On October 19 1976, Strathfield Council adopted resolution from the Council’s General Purposes Committee with recommendations from Alderman Evan Summerfield to investigate establishing a Historical Society. The Mayor’s Report of 4th April 1977 recommended the formation of a steering committee with the purpose of establishing a Strathfield Historical Society and that the rear section of the Homebush Hall be made available to the Society.

The Western Suburbs Courier reported on 19th July 1978 that a public meeting was called by the Mayor of Strathfield Alderman Clarrie Edwards to gauge the interest in forming a Historical Society. This meeting was addressed by Mr Harry Harper of the Royal Australian Historical Society, who spoke of the objects and ideals of a society and of the appropriate steps to prepare for its formation. As over fifty residents attended this meeting, it appeared sufficient interest existed to form a Historical Society.

The first meeting of the Strathfield District Historical Society was held on 9th August 1978 with eighty-five foundation members. Guests at the first meeting included Mr Gordon Jackett MP [Burwood], the Mayor of Strathfield Alderman Clarrie Edwards and Deputy Mayor Rod Thurgar. The Western Suburbs Courier of 23rd August 1978 reported that Sir William and Lady Sonia McMahon supported the establishment of the Society by becoming Foundation members. At the meeting, the Mayor handed over the keys to new premises, the former Homebush Library Building at 75 Parramatta Rd Homebush. Office bearers were elected at the first meeting, which included: President: Mr M B Moroney; Vice-President: Mr Brian McDonald; Secretary: Mrs Trudi O’Neill; Treasurer: Mrs Doreen Rich; Committee Members: Brian McDonald, Syd Malcolm, Mary Farr, Julie Corbett, Lorraine McDonald and Joan Reaby. One of the first resolutions of the Society was to seek affiliation with the Royal Australian Historical Society.

 The Society’s first newsletter issued in February 1979. The objective of the newsletter has been publication of research, particularly relating to the Strathfield District. Over the last 25 years, a number of Society members have been regular contributors to the newsletter. Early editions featured the work of Syd Malcolm, who particularly excelled in his comprehensive and detailed research of many of Strathfield’s historic properties and estates. Syd also recorded and transcribed many oral histories of long-term residents and through this work, Strathfield gained valuable insight into periods such as late nineteenth century Strathfield, which could not be recorded today as too much time has elapsed. Our knowledge of Strathfield’s educational establishments, a major feature of Strathfield, has been greatly enhanced by the contributions of Arthur Hall. Important contributions, notably on ‘Mount Royal’, were made by Brother A I Keenan of Mount St Mary College. Trudi O’Neill, a former Secretary, wrote many articles such as ‘Early Maps of Australia’, which contributed another area of historical interest.

Many of the research tasks were performed by Reg Kennedy after the death of Syd Malcolm in 1983. Reg’s keen interest in history encompassed many fields. His research ranges from biographical works including Thomas Rose, Simeon Lord, Frederick Meredith and James Wilshire to the long historical series on Parramatta Road. His enthusiasm for heritage conservation shines through his many articles on properties either threatened by demolition or redevelopment such as ‘Glen Luna’ or ‘Fairholm’ or his passionate critiques on the changing style of residential buildings in Strathfield. Reg Kennedy provided considerable historical research to the 1986 Council Heritage Study, a critical factor in determining heritage status, and following this work, his writings are notably more focussed on architectural styles and heritage issues. Following Reg’s death in 1991, Lucy Stone was the primary researcher and contributor to the Society’s newsletter, a difficult task she performed for over a decade as well as fulfilling all the administrative demands of her role as Secretary. Her outstanding contribution to the Society was recognised in December 2002 with the award of Life Membership of the Strathfield District Historical Society. Cathy Jones wrote the newsletters from 2001 to 2011, when she stood down as Secretary.  Following 2011, newsletters were issued occasionally until the Society ceased operating in 2014.  

The work of artist Ted De Sauty was synonymous with the Strathfield District Historical Society as Ted’s illustrations provide the visual focus for the work of the Society. In his paintings, Ted recreated visions of historic properties long demolished including ‘Strathfield House’ and ‘Bickley’. His water-colour painting of ‘Strathfield House’ appears on the cover of ‘Oasis in the West’ and his sketch of Strathfield House is featured on the Society’s letterhead. Ted’s paintings offer a stylish interpretation of Strathfield’s past and for many, define the unique qualities of Strathfield.

Formed under the auspices of Strathfield Council, the Society has worked in collaboration with the Council on many projects and events such as the Strathfield Council Centenary celebrations in 1985, many Australia Day Celebrations, Australia Remembers [50th Anniversary of the end of WWII in 1995], 125th Anniversary of the Council in 2010, National Trust Heritage Festival Events and organising photographic displays. The Society has made considerable research contributions to Council projects such as the Strathfield’s official history ‘Oasis in the West’ [1985], and Heritage Studies. 

 There are many members, who have not been mentioned, whose contributions to the Society were considerable such as previous office holders and committee members including long serving President Doreen Rich, officeholders Peter Bourke, Margaret Thurn, Jan Jenkins, Claire Jones, Nancy Hardie, Michael Nicholls, Bernice Harkness and Charles Pitt, who served as the honorary auditor for many years.

Fighting Mosquitos in Strathfield

Health campaigns was a feature of a 2019 Historical Society newsletter.  This article was written by Cathy Jones.

Strathfield Council has a long history of running campaigns to improve the public health of the community which include immunisation, infectious diseases controls, fly reduction, rat eradication, fire safety and mosquito control. 

As noted in the book Oasis in the West (Jones 1985: 107) described actions to reduce flies: “The Inspector of Nuisances was particularly keen to reduce the fly menace, particularly severe at Strathfield because of the proximity of the sale yards and abattoirs at Homebush”. 

Mosquito The Sun 27-2-1929 p11
Mosquito The Sun 27-2-1929 p11

1917 saw an extensive anti-fly campaign co-ordinated by a committee.  Council’s health Inspector experimented successfully with treating manure to make it unattractive to flies and Nock and Kirbys provided a free display of fly control equipment, some of which was stolen – a sign of a severe fly problem.  A competition was held and 119 local children wrote essays about flies.

The Council, following and supporting its crusading Inspector, distributed pamphlets and constructed some large flies for advertising the campaign. Some of the signs were pulled down and the Inspector grimly noted in the minutes that this action suggested people who ‘had not evolved from ‘primaeval man who would have to shoulder guns in wars to improve their ‘miserable carcasses”. 

In the 1920s, another campaign involved eradication of mosquitos.  Mosquitos were a problem in Strathfield and Homebush due to the presence of marshes, low lying land particularly around the Cooks River forming puddles with stagnant water, mangroves around Powells Creek and Parramatta River and the nearby sheep and cattle saleyards.  Council invested significant resources into local campaigns and lobbying for action on a regional and state level. 

In 1927, Council initiated a mosquito reduction campaign involving a dedicated clean up week of receptacles such as rubbish bins, old boxes, bags and bulky rubbish that could harbour mosquito breeding places.  Works were also done around the Cooks River to clean out mosquito breeding areas.  This initiative was reported in September 1927 in the Evening News: 

“STRATHFIELD Council is conducting a ‘garage clean up week’ with the object of thoroughly cleaning up all garbage, and other places which are likely to become mosquito breeding grounds during the coming summer. It was announced to-day that council has had pamphlets distributed to every householder in the municipality, urging people to clean up garbage of all descriptions. A motor lorry has been engaged removing loads of this garbage, and it special officer is making an Inspection of all of the premises and streets throughout the municipality. Notices regarding the campaign have been prominently exhibited throughout the district. Last year council conducted an extensive campaign, in which the co-operation of other suburban councils was sought, and it was specially commended on the efficacy of its work. The mosquitoes were practically eliminated from Strathfield.” 

Strathfield Council Mosquito Reduction Campaign October 1927
Strathfield Council Mosquito Reduction Campaign October 1927

On 13 April 1928, it was reported in the Mussellbrook Courier that Strathfield Council decided to intensify its’ campaign for the elimination of the mosquito. ‘At a meeting, the health inspector recommended that two ratepayers be prosecuted for having allowed mosquito infestation to take place on their properties. He said that the ratepayers had received sufficient warning and had no excuse for allowing such breeding grounds to remain. He produced three samples of water containing mosquito larvae which he had taken from the places concerned. The health inspector’s report was adopted, and the prosecutions agreed to. The matter later came on at the Burwood Police Court, and each defendant was fined £1, with £1/10/6 costs.’ 

In today’s urban environment in areas like the Inner West of Sydney, mosquitos are viewed as pests and nuisances, rather than being life threatening.  However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes are a major threat to global public health.  In its report titled ‘Global strategy for dengue prevention and control 2012-2020’, WHO says that nearly 50-100 million dengue infections, caused by mosquitos, are reported every year. 

The WHO estimates that every year there are more than 725,000 deaths caused due to vectorborne diseases. For more reading on what Bill Gates calls the “world’s most lethal animal”. 


Evening News, page 4, Friday 16 September 1927 

Jones, M, 1985, Oasis in the West, Allen & Unwin 

‘Ignoring the Mosquito’, Muswellbrook Chronicle (NSW : 1898 – 1955), Friday 13 April 1928, page 5 

Striped Terror (1929, February 27). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved January 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230381192

Exhibition Strathfield Answers the Call 1914-1918

Strathfield-Homebush District Historical Society has collaborated with Strathfield Council in preparing a new exhibition.

Strathfield Answers the Call 1914-1918 explores how the people of Strathfield and Homebush participated in the events of WWI on the battlefront and at home.

This exhibition shares the stories from the Strathfield and Homebush district in supporting a war fought far from home.

Learn about the sacrifices of those who fought, the efforts of those at home and the issues that united and divided communities.

When: 23 April – 20 June 2021 (during Strathfield Council Library & Innovation Hub opening hours)

Where: Ironbark Gallery – Strathfield Council Library & Innovation Hub, Rochester Street Homebush

You are invited to discover the many stories of those who answered the call by attending two historical talks at the Ironbark Gallery:

Registrations are essential and can be made by clicking on the above links.

Eton College Strathfield

A school called ‘Eton College’ was once located in Redmyre Road Strathfield.  It was operated by Dr J. David Sly from 1888 to 1892.  This newsletter discusses the rise and fall of Strathfield’s own Eton College. This is an excerpt written by Cathy Jones:

Dr. Sly's New School Premises — Eton College, Homebush." The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912) 8 December 1888
Dr. Sly’s New School Premises — Eton College, Homebush.” The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912) 8 December 1888

“Helped by his father’s legacy, Dr J. David Sly in 1888 opened Eton College in Redmyre Road Strathfield (often referred to as Homebush). An advertisement for Eton College on 10th November 1888 states:

‘Eton College, Homebush – Headmaster J David Sly. This Collage has been recently erected on the most modern design. It stands in an elevated position. The rooms are spacious and there is an ample supply of water. A COTTAGE HOSPITAL has been added. The PLAYGROUND contains an asphalt tennis court, weather shed, summer house and gymnasium. There will be vacancies for Day and Resident pupils in January next, for which early application is requested’.

Eton College commenced its school activities on Monday 28th January 1889.  As Hall (1985) writes “it was not intended as a purely local school, though it certainly catered for local day pupils and was typical of the many schools set up to cater for the sons of well-to-do folk who could pay for bard and tuition”.

At this stage the school appeared to be well established and was advertised as:

“Eton College, Homebush. Headmaster J. David Sly, MA LLD; second master C.E, Robin BA.  Homebush ls one of the healthy suburbs of Sydney and is eminently suitable as a residence for boarders, for whom special provision has been made.  Pupils are prepared for the University or mercantile pursuits. There is also a Preparatory Class for young boys.  The College was specifically designed by the Headmaster.”

On 5th January 1892, Strathfield Council wrote to Sly stating that his house was now the only house in the Municipality on which the rates remained unpaid and asked him to send the balance or action would be taken (Hall 1985). Payment of the rates was one of the obligations accepted by Sly when he occupied the Collage.

The College advertisement in January 1892 gave no hint of its financial distress:

“Eton College, Homebush. Headmaster J David Sly MA LLD; Assistant, Teachers W.B. Scott; Trinity College Dublin, Miss Hewison, Miss Read, F.A. Price, G.H. D’Arcourt. The buildings stand in an elevated position and ware specially erected for school purposes. There is a Preparatory Department for young boys. Boarders 13 to 16 guineas per quarter; day pupils 2 to 4 guineas per quarter”.

On 22nd June 1892 Dr Sly, being unable to pay his debts, petitioned to be made bankrupt.  He had a wife and six children to support, and no way of paying his debts. He blamed his financial failure on the competition between schools and the high rent he had to pay for the College premises and bad debts. 

Its final demise came on 23rd July 1892, when an auction sale was held of J.D. Sly’s school fittings and equipment. His main creditors were his brothers and sister. He attributed his failure to high rents and, ironically, competition among schools. Economic conditions may have played a part but the depression did not generally affect enrolments in private schools. He was discharged from bankruptcy in October 1892.

On 24 August 1895 Sly was admitted as a solicitor and practiced in Pitt Street Sydney until 1933. He died of heart failure and nephritis at Neutral Bay on 7 December 1934 at the age of 91 year, having outlived his brothers and practiced law for about 38 years (SMH 1934).  He was buried in the Anglican section of the Northern Suburbs cemetery. He was survived by two sons and three daughters Mrs M Walcott, Mrs N Royle, Mrs N Davies of his wife Annie, née Macalister, whom he had married at Pitt Town in 1875 (Mitchell 1976, SMH 1934).

For many years there has been discussion as to where Eton College was located and whether it is still standing.  Hall (1985) suggested that Eton College was located at Redmyre Lodge, 89 Redmyre Road, rather than ‘Allerton’’  91 Redmyre Road. 

The confusion existed because all uncertainty lies in the fact that both houses stand on land originally designated as Lots 26, 25, 24; both were owned by Allan Maclean and rented out by him and all had the same lot numbers in various records.  Redmyre Lodge, which has since been demolished, may have been Eton College.  Based on the published sketch of Eton College, the building is clearly not ‘Allerton’, which is still standing.

The full essay is contained in SHDHS Newsletter Vol.2 No.5 September-October 2020 Eton College

Doreen Rich

Doreen Rich, a long term resident of Strathfield and former President of the Strathfield District Historical Society passed away on July 31, 2019.  She more recently was living near Taree NSW.  Doreen invested significant time and effort into recording and conserving Strathfield’s history and served for many years as the Society’s President.  Condolences are extended to her many friends and family at this sad time.

Mayor of Strathfield, Bill Carney and Doreen Rich in 2004, receiving certificate of service.
Mayor of Strathfield, Bill Carney and Doreen Rich in 2004, receiving certificate of service.


Homebush Racecourse

The Homebush Racecourse was the subject of the Historical Society newsletter in January/February 2019.  This is an excerpt of the essay by Cathy Jones:

The Racecourse for Sydney was located at Hyde Park from 1810 to 1826, Grose Farm (Sydney University) from 1826 to 1840 and Homebush from 1841 to 1859.  In 1860, the racecourse moved to Randwick, which is its current location (Bethel, 1930).  There is much contention about the actual location of the Homebush Racecourse, but according to historical accounts, maps and research by local historian Dave Patrick (who has provided considerable assistance in the preparation of this article), the course was located between Saleyards Creek and Boundary Creek on undulating ground sloping up to Parramatta Road at Homebush.

Town & Country Journal 1895
Town & Country Journal 1895

The course was located on land owned by William Charles Wentworth (the “Homebush Estate”).  Based on historic maps, the racecourse was located near Parramatta Road Homebush and opposite John Fleming’s grant and located behind the Wentworth Hotel (which is roughly opposite the location of Sydney Markets on Parramatta Road today).  However, the full course including paddocks would have extended into areas which are located in the current area of Sydney Olympic Park.

Prior to 1825, Wentworth established a private racetrack near Parramatta Road.  Like his father, William Charles Wentworth (one of the three Blue Mountains explorers) had an interest in horsebreeding and turf racing that continued after D’Arcy Wentworth’s death in 1827.  In the same year, William Wentworth was elected steward of the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) and its president in 1832.  In 1840, the Australian Race Company was brought into existence and Homebush was selected as the site for the new racecourse (Bethel 1930: 7). The racecourse was expanded with facilities such as a stand, enclosures, stables and training grounds.

The first race meeting was held on March 16 and 18, 1841 attracting a crowd of 8000 people.  An account of the first day of racing at Homebush stated:

“The day was beautiful in the extreme, and at an early hour parties on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles of every-description, thronged the various thoroughfares, leading to the scene of operations. At about 12 o’clock, the vast concourse, computed, at from eight to ten thousand persons, took up their stations in the vicinity of the grand stand, which presented a most lively and interesting scene. Sydney, Parramatta, Liverpool, Windsor, and the surrounding country, all sent their quota to the field – the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the ugly and the beautiful, were here all intent on spending a happy day, and we trust few were disappointed. The arrangements made by the stewards were deserving of the utmost praise, and contributed to that unanimity, good feeling, and order which prevailed, throughout; police on foot and horseback, paraded the course the whole day. So numerous was the turn out of the elite of Australian society, that it would be invidious to particularise only a few. The band of the 28th regiment, and a band from Sydney contributed not a little to keep up the attraction of the proceedings, which from commencement to end, went off to the heart’s content of the most sanguine admirer of the turf.”

Early parish map showing land included in the Homebush Estate (D Wentworth) NSW Department of Lands
Early parish map showing land included in the Homebush Estate (D Wentworth) NSW Department of Lands

A special ferry was established for race days along the Sydney to Parramatta route. The services were advertised as: ‘THE STEAM PACK RAPID….will start from the Commercial Wharf at Ten O’Clock precisely on each day of the Races – land Passengers at the Course and return with them to Sydney each night. FARES – four shillings each.’ The river transport depended on the tides for Homebush Bay, which were fringed with mangroves along the shore and mud flats around the Powell Creek entrance prevented a wharf or jetty being built. At low tide ferry boats had to stop at a distance from the shore and racegoers had to wade through a stretch of mud to get to the racecourse.

The article in The Sun in 1930 questioned why the racecourse moved from Homebush to Randwick and stated:

“What led to the transfer of racing operations to Randwick was the in ability of the turf club to obtain conditions that would enable them to have definite control of the ground. They had no spending power to erect buildings and effect necessary improvements. The land was privately owned, and those concerned evidently were not imbued with ideas favourable to the perpetuation of racing at Homebush. It is said of it that as a natural course it was far superior to the Randwick land, known then as the Sand Track. It also had the advantage of being within easy distance of the new railway line, which was opened in 1855. On May 30 and June 1, 1859, the A.J.C. held its last race meeting at Homebush and started racing at Randwick on May 29, 30, and 31, 1860”.

Although the AJC moved operations to Randwick in 1860, the Homebush course continued holding major races until the 1870’s.  A new course was constructed in the mid 1860’s overlapping the old course. This new course had Boundary Creek directly down it’s centre. The creek was bridged with an earthern viaduct 200 yards long and 20 wide allowing the horses to race around the rim of the creek valley. The arches of the viaduct were later blocked to form a dam during the abattoir era.