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Looking north: Sydney's Upper North Shore

Follow the development of this region from isolated bush and farmland to a prosperous residential area.

Looking North is part of the People & Places series, which draws on social and personal histories of local areas to present a series of intimate and personal windows into the historical record of urban and rural New South Wales.

 

The Upper North Shore, encompassing the municipality of Ku-ring-gai, located around scenic ridges and valleys, is one of the jewels of Sydney. Looking North traces the development of this region from isolated bush and farmland to a prosperous residential area.

Since the late 19th century, the Ku-ring-gai area has held an impressive reputation for its attractive houses on large blocks of land, with established private gardens. The area is surrounded by bushland reserves without large-scale industrial development and this peaceful, 'natural' environment was very attractive to newcomers. The Upper North Shore has been described as Sydney’s most successful attempt to create a ‘peculiarly Australian suburban Arcady’.

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Settlement

The Parish of Gordon in the County of Cumberland was named by Thomas Mitchell during his time as Surveyor-General (1828-1855). Much of this area is now known as the Ku-ring-gai municipality. This Upper North Shore municipality was named after the Kuringgai (or Guringai) people who originally inhabited the area. It was once heavily forested, but was cleared in the early to mid 19th century by timber-getters and early settlers with the help of convict labour. This paved the way for farmers and orchardists.

As land was cleared and roads and railway made travelling into Sydney faster and easier, packages of land were sold off for residential development. The area developed much of its suburban character in the early part of the 20th century. Subdivision plans in the Library's collection give a fascinating insight into how North Shore property was marketed.

The coming of the North Shore railway changed the area dramatically, opening it up for residential development. Sir Henry Parkes' daughter, Annie Thomasine, turned the first sod for the St Leonards to Pearce's Corner (Hornsby) railway line on August 10th, 1887. The line was opened on January 1st, 1890 and was further extended from St Leonards to Milsons Point in 1893. Annie's ceremonial spade, held in the Library's collections, commemorates the start of the North Shore railway line.

Parish of Gordon, County of Cumberland, ca. 1850s

The Parish of Gordon

The original Parish of Gordon in the County of Cumberland was named by Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General from 1828 to 1855. It roughly covers the area which is now known as the Ku-ring-gai municipality.

Early settlers in the Upper North Shore included Robert Pymble, who received a land grant of 600 acres in 1824, and timber-getter Thomas Hyndes who, from 1842, had a lease of 2000 acres which covered much of present day North Wahroonga. Hyndes and Pymble went into partnership in the timber-getting business and employed hundreds of convicts. Blackbutt, iron bark and blue gum were felled for use in the building of wharves and housing in Sydney. Orchards were eventually established on the cleared land in the 1850s and 60s. The soil was particularly rich, suitable for citrus, stone fruits, apples and grapes.

Hyndes' and Pymble's lands are clearly marked on this map of the Parish of Gordon from the 1850s.

Subdivision plans

The coming of the North Shore railway in 1890 changed the area dramatically, opening it up for residential development. With improved transport, land was subdivided and Sydney’s upwardly mobile and professional classes moved in. Sick of crowded and grimy inner-city living, they made new homes for themselves and their families on the leafy North Shore. Many artists, writers and architects were also attracted to the space and peacefulness of the area.

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Community

Golf became a popular pastime for both men and women in the area. Killara Golf Club, formed in 1898, attracted prominent local residents including architect William Hardy Wilson and the State Library of New South Wales benefactor, Sir William Dixson.

By the 1900s membership had increased and the existing clubhouse was found to be inadequate. A fine new clubhouse - reported to contain 'all the comforts a golfer could wish for' – was built and officially opened by George Edwards on 13 March 1909.

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Sydney Harbour's natural beauty has always enticed residents to settle on its foreshores.

Made possible through a partnership with Geoffrey & Rachel O'Conor