Gentrification at the shops…

 316 King Street, 1977-1980. Image from ArchivePix

As Bridge and Dowling (2001) note, although gentrification has for some time been argued as a process of consumption as well as production, little analysis has been done on the commercial precincts of areas undergoing gentrification. In their study of businesses in Newtown, Glebe, Balmain and Rozelle, all suburbs experiencing gentrification, Bridge and Dowling note how these spaces reflect and reinforce the lifestyle of the new middle class, especially their interest in exotic/ gourmet foods, independent labels, and their health and wellbeing.

The gentrification of the suburb is partly shown through the pubs of Newtown. Interviewee Gerard, noted a wave of renovation that went through the Newtown pubs, replacing the shabby interiors, central bar and pokies with lush beer gardens, multi-level bars and bistros.  

                                               Bloodwood, Newtown. Image via Australian Design Review

The emphasis on authentic ‘exotic’ foods in Newtown described by Bridge and Dowling (2001) is perhaps slightly lessening, with a number of new establishments with gourmet, modern Australian and degustation menus. These establishments are significant in that they represent a higher price bracket and a focus on a kind of branded Dining Experience rather than simply the food itself. 

(click for full size)

An analysis conducted of a small portion of northern King Street confirmed whilst many of Newtown’s restaurants and cafes are independent, their clothing and goods stores are increasingly part of Sydney wide or Australia wide companies, linking them with other gentrifying or ‘trendy’ suburbs such as Balmain, Bondi and Paddington. Thus whilst the emphasis is still on independent retailing, Newtown is now connected to a more branded network of businesses.

Many saw the arrival of Aesop in Newtown as a significant (if not pleasant) marker of gentrification. An Australian company selling skin care products, they appeal to the new middle class’ interest in the body and health through evoking a nostalgic combination of the scientific, botanical and environmental in their carefully designed packaging and stores. They are located around the world, connecting Newtown to exclusive places such as Mayfair, London and the exclusive lifestyle store Merci in Paris.

Media and marketing also play a role in the gentrification of a suburb. Realtors and developers highlight existing lifestyle factors of a suburb and encourage similar developments to occur, whilst local media outlets publish articles on the dining and entertainment ‘attractions’, so attracting local visitors and new residents alike who identify with the lifestyle. The Newtown Urban Walkabout guide emphasises a bohemian Newtown, full of design and artisan goods, gourmet bakeries, coffee, restaurants and live music, thus appealing to the lifestyle values of the new middle class.

Bridge, G. & Dowling, R. 2001, Microgeographies of retailing and gentrification, Australian Geographer, vol. 32, no.1, pp. 93-107.

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Historical Newtown – Maps

Map of the Boroughs of Glebe, Camperdown, Newtown, Macdonald Town and Darlington. Circa 1890.

Map of the Borough of Newtown circa 1885

Map source: Newtown Project, viewed 13 June 2011, <;

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Gentrification begins at home…

      Terrace on Queen Street: “An artistic and funky take on the classic terrace…redesigned to reflect the                                           vibrancy of its cosmopolitan surrounds”. Sold in 2011 for $745, 000

The renovation of historical housing stock by first wave gentrifiers of inner city suburbs is so ubiquitous that it has become entrenched in the definition of the word ‘gentrification’ itself (Smith and Williams 1986). In Australian cities this typically took the form of the Victorian terrace, with inner city areas containing plentiful supply of these workers cottages in good condition (ie with original features intact), being among the first to experience gentrification eg Paddington and Glebe in Sydney. Whilst this process of manual restoration by the home owner/s began in Paddington in the 1970s and spread to the inner west in the 1980s, it only really became evident in Newtown throughout the mid 1990s. (Why this is so is an interesting question. The fact that neighbouring Erskineville was undergoing gentrification before Newtown suggests that it could have something to do with the dominance of King Street and its traffic congestion, still used at that stage by heavy vehicles as a southern entry/ exit point to the city.)

By the late 1990s however, Sydney’s inner suburbs were also experiencing second-wave gentrification, which typically involves larger scale apartment developments and industrial conversions (generally associated with developers and/or government) (Bounds and Morris 2006).  Rofe (2003) elaborates on the different type of gentrifier this attracts. The ‘consumption gentrifiers’, typically in the first wave of gentrification, are those that deliberately purchase and renovate their home as an expression of “actively constructing their own place-based identity” (Rofe 2003, p. 2522) ‘Production gentrifiers’ on the other hand are those that purchase already renovated homes or new apartments and are seen to be investing in a pre-fabricated identity. These two categories, whilst generalising, suggest different attitudes to property, community and length of residency within the community.

    As advertised: ‘this warehouse provides a blank canvas for development or to create your own luxurious custom designed dream                                                                     home’. It sold December 2010 for $1, 270, 000.

Thus Newtown’s experience of the gentrification process has been fairly unusual, with the actors and processes of both ‘first wave’ and ‘second wave’ gentrification present more or less concurrently and significantly impacting the community of Newtown. Opposition to the direct and indirect displacement experienced has been expressed in the local press and through graffiti and posters located around the suburb. Residents particularly note the disappearance of the elderly, who can no longer afford the rent, and members of the Greek-Cypriot community who have historically played an important role in shaping Newtown.

Article: Locals lament suburb that once was, by Amy Neilage

Article: Grunge gives way to gentrification in streets of Newtown, by Adele Horin

Bounds, M. & Morris, R. 2006, ‘Second wave gentrification in inner-city Sydney’, Cities, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 99-108.

Rofe, M. 2003, ‘I want to be global: theorising the gentrifying class as an emergent elite global community’, Urban Studies, vol. 40, no. 12, pp. 2511-2526.

Smith, N. & Williams, P. 1986, ‘Alternatives to Orthodoxy: Invitation to a Debate’, in L. Lees, T. Slater & E. Wyly (eds), The Gentrification Reader, Routledge, Oxon, pp. 9-10.

Interview conducted with Newtown/ Enmore residents Gerard and Sarah, April 2011.

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Historical Newtown -The Hub

The Hub was originally the Edward J. Hippodrome until it was taken over by Harry Clay in 1910 and turned into a theatre known as Clay’s Bridge Theatre. In 1939 it was given an Art Deco renovation.

During the 1970’s The Hub was used to screen pornographic films and also staged live sex shows until its closure in the early 1990’s. The Hub has since remained vacant and today remains as a local landmark.

The following DA was submitted for the development of retail and office spaces, in 2008, and subsequently rejected.



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Historical Newtown – ‘I Have a Dream’ Mural

The ‘I have a Dream’ mural was painted over two nights in August 1991,  by artist Andrew Aiken.  The mural was un commissioned although soon after it was painted the local council removed the shrubbery covering the original bottom half of the painting.

The original mural was then altered by the addition of the aboriginal flag and the removal of the surrounding garden. What was once considered a ‘peace park’ remains a vacant space.

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Historical Newtown – Roads, Vehicles and Pedestrians

Newtown Bridge, the junction of Enmore rd and King st, a space once shared by trams and pedestrians. Between 1892 and 1922 railways, tramways, motorcars and buses, horse drawn vehicles and bicycles were all common methods of transportation around Newtown.

The pedestrian once shared the road with trams and other vehicles and was not confined to the footpaths as they are today. King street and Enmore rd today are greatly dominated by cars not leaving much space for people to pause and socialise.

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Historical Newtown – Camperdown Cemetery

Camperdown Cemetery was founded in 1848 and by the 1940’s covered the area now known as Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. The original cemetery, as seen in the photographs below was bounded by Australia st, Lennox st, Church st and Federation rd covering an area of 13 acres.


As a result of a murder in the overgrown Cemetery in 1946, the local council took action in 1948 to condense the original cemetery to 4 acres, by relocating the gravestones, to the area surrounded by sandstone walls that still stands today.

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  • The Watershed is a sustainability resource centre in the heart of Newtown.
  • A joint initiative of City of Sydney and Marrickville Councils, it is part of an ongoing commitment to supporting sustainable environments within the urban community.
  • The Watershed is free and open to the public and offers a variety of services such as a library, free workshops, practical ideas for everyday sustainable living, educational and business programs.


  • Reference Library. Come in to browse or research over 300 titles including books in gardening, eco-renovation, global issues, recycling and more.
  • Cork Recycling Facility. The Watershed is a drop-off point for corks which are donated to NSW Girl Guides as part of a national effort by Guides Australia to divert cork from landfill and raise funds for the development of their programs. The cork is recycled in Australia and is made into place mats, coasters, floor tiles, gaskets, dart boards and hockey balls.


Business Service

  • No Butts in Newtown. Cigarette butts form up to 50% of litter, are highly toxic and take many years to break down. They pose a major threat to marine life as they enter the stormwater system. The Watershed’s butt littering reduction program addresses this issue by providing smokers with free portable ashtrays to ‘bin your butts’.
  • Reusable coffee cups initiative. For local cafes, The Watershed can provide a limited number of free travel mugs to reward customers who bring a reusable mug for their daily coffee.
  • For real estate agents, The Watershed can provide materials to help prevent illegal dumping.  We can supply fliers and fridge magnets for you to include in your welcome and leaving packs to new and departing tenants. The ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood’ fridge magnet provides waste disposal alternatives for new tenants. The ‘Moving’ flier provides handy tips on how tenants can dispose of any unwanted material before they move out. These materials are free for local real estate agents, help keep our streets clean of rubbish, and build your reputation as an environmental leader.
  • Newtown Bagshare. Reduce the use of plastic bags! Donate your extra reusable shopping bags to the Newtown Bagshare by dropping them off at The Watershed. At participating retailers, customers who forget to bring their own shopping bag can use a Bagshare Bag, which can be returned to The Watershed or to the retailer where they borrowed the bag.
  • Mobile Phone Recycling. The Watershed is a collection point for mobile phones as part of a recycling program through Mobile Muster.
  • Merchandise. The Watershed has a range of products for sale to assist you in leading a more sustainable lifestyle. All prices include GST.



  • Worm farming. Convert your kitchen scraps to garden gold! Learn everything you need to know to confidently start and maintain your own worm farm at home.
  • No Dig Gardening. Grow your own food in small spaces such as containers, pots and balconies with this easy method. Participants construct and take home a No Dig garden in a container as part of the workshop.
  • Garden pest control & soil health. Learn the basics of natural pest control, companion planting and improving soil health or urban food gardens.
  • Sustainable eating. Love good food? Learn how our choices can make a difference for the environment.
  • Eco choices for renters. Explore low cost, moveable options available to make renting more eco-friendly.
  • Eco choices for home renovators. Find out what to look for when choosing products and materials, explore the principles of passive design and be inspired by creative and practical ideas for renovating.
  • Natural cleaning & home detox. Use natural ingredients to bring a sparkling shine to your home and avoid harmful household chemicals, improve indoor air quality, reduce water pollution and save yourself money at the same time!
  • Installing PV solar panels. Know what to look for and what questions to ask to have PV solar installed on your home and start generating your own electricity using the sun.
  • Natural baby care. Parenthood brings with it a whole new world of decisions that impact your baby and the environment. Explore the choices you can make as you and your baby grow together.
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Newtown Basic Research


In the 2001 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Population and Housing, the population of the Newtown postcode area was 15,027 people, in an area of 1.9 square kilometres. The population was 49% females, 51% males. 33% of the population was born overseas. The eight strongest religious affiliations in the area were in descending order: No religion, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox Christian, Buddhism, Uniting Church, Presbyterian and Reformed, and other Christian. The three most common forms of dwelling were in decreasing order: a semi-detached, row or terrace house, or townhouse; a flat, unit or apartment; a separate house.


Aboriginal history The Newtown area was part of the land of the Cadigal band of the Eora people, who ranged across the entire area from the southern shores of Sydney Harbour to Botany Bay in the south-east and Petersham in the west. It was through the land management methods of the aboriginal people that the extensive grasslands of predominantly kangaroo grass, commented upon by Watkin Tench proved ideal breeding grounds for kangaroos.

King street, Newtown’s main street, reputedly follows an ancient Aboriginal track that branched out from the main western track, now beneath Broadway and Parramatta Road, and which continued all the way to the coastal plains around Botany Bay.

19th century

Newtown was established as a residential and farming area in the early 19th century.The area took its name from a grocery store opened there by John and Margaret Webster in 1832.

Part of the area now falling within the present boundaries of Newtown, north of King Street, was originally part of Camperdown. In 1848 part of this land was acquired by the Sydney Church of England Cemetery Company to create a general cemetery beyond the boundary of the City of Sydney. Camperdown Cemetery, just one block away from King Street, Newtown, was to become significant in the life of the suburb. Between its consecration in 1849 and its closure to further sales in 1868 it saw 15,000 burials of people from all over Sydney. Camperdown Cemetery remains, though much reduced in size, as a rare example of mid-19th-century cemetery landscaping. It retains the Cemetery Lodge and huge fig tree dating from 1848, as well as a number of oak trees of the same date. It survived to become the main green space of Newtown.

On December 12, 1862 the Municipality of Newtown was incorporated and divided into three wards: O’Connell, Kingston and Enmore, covering 480 acres (1.92 square kilometres). In 1893 a plan was discussed to rename the council area ‘South Sydney’ (as two municipalities North of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) had merged to form North Sydney three years earlier), but nothing came of it.


Although there are a few earlier buildings in Newtown, the most rapid development came in the late 19th century, with many former farms and other large properties being subdivided and developed as row-houses, known popularly as “terrace houses”. With their predominance of Victorian-era houses with stuccoed facades, balconies of iron lace and moulded architectural ornaments, many Newtown streets are similar to those of other well-known inner-city suburbs like Glebe, Paddington and Balmain.

From about 1870 onwards, Newtown had a large proportion of its residents living in terrace houses of the cheapest possible construction, much of which was “two-up two-down”, with rear kitchen, some having adjoining walls only one brick thick and a continuous shared roofspace. Hundreds of these terrace houses still remain, generally 4 metres (13 ft) wide. It was not uncommon for speculative builders to build a row of these small houses terminating in a house of 1½ width at the corner of the street, this last being a commercial premises, or “Corner Store”. During the Federation period, single storey row houses became increasing common.

This preponderance of small houses is indicative of the working-class employment of most of the Newtown residents, many of whom worked in the city or at local shops, factories, warehouses, brickyards and at the nearby Eveleigh Railway Workshops. Retail and service trades dominated the suburb increasingly throughout this period, with tradesmen and shopkeepers together accounting for 70-75% of the working population. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, Newtown prospered, so much so that in the Jubilee Souvenir of the Municipality of Newtown, published in 1912, it was described as “… one of the most wealthy suburbs around Sydney.”

A number of imposing Victorian mansions were also built on larger estates, as well as rows of larger and more stylish terrace houses in certain areas such as Brown Street in North Newtown, and Holmwood Street in South Newtown. As in many other historic areas of Sydney, some of the largest and most important houses, such as ‘Erskine Villa’ (formerly on Erskineville Road, and which gave its name to the suburb of Erskineville), were demolished and the estates subdivided. Another loss was the home of Mary Reibey in Station Street, which was acquired by the NSW Department of Housing in 1964, demolished in 1967, and replaced by a public housing apartment block. Only the cottage of Reibey’s dairyman survives, a little further down the street.

One of the most impressive surviving sets of 19th-century housing in Newtown is the imposing terrace of five elegant five-storey mansions running along Warren Ball Avenue in North Newtown, facing onto Hollis Park.

From the late 19th century onwards, the Newtown area became a major commercial and industrial centre. King Street developed into a thriving retail precinct and the Newtown area was soon dotted with factories, workshops, warehouses and commercial and retail premises of all kinds and sizes. Several major industries were established in the greater Newtown area from the late 19th century, including the Eveleigh rail workshops, the IXL jam and preserves factory in North Newtown/Darlington, the St Peters brickworks and the Fowler Potteries in Camperdown.

Early 20th century

Although it prospered in the late 19th century, during the first half of the 20th century, and especially during The Depression, like many inner-city Sydney suburbs such as Glebe and Paddington, the area became increasingly run down as wealthy Sydneysiders preferred to settle in newer and more prestigious areas. In 1949, Newtown was incorporated into the City of Sydney.

Mid-20th century

Newtown was originally a relatively prosperous suburb, the legacy of which is the numerous lavish Victorian mansions still standing in the area. However, many parts of Newtown had gradually become a working-class enclave, and for much of the 20th century, Newtown was a low-income blue-collar suburb, often denigrated as a slum. In the post-war period, the low rents and house prices attracted newly-arrived European migrants, and Newtown’s population changed radically, becoming home to a sizeable migrant community.

In 1968, a controversial redistribution of local government boundaries by the Askin State Liberal government saw part of Newtown become part of Marrickville Council. From the 1970s, as the post-war population prospered, raised families and aged, many moved to outlying suburbs to build larger houses, resulting in a supply of relatively cheap terrace houses and cottages entered the rental market. Because of its proximity to the expanding Sydney University and the Sydney CBD, along with the comparatively low rents, Newtown began to attract university students in the 1960s and ’70s. The area became a centre for student share-households in Sydney and the development of cafes, pubs and restaurants made it a mecca for many young people. Newtown gained a reputation as a bohemian centre and the gay and lesbian population also increased.

Late 20th century and early 21st century

The 1980s was the period that probably saw the greatest diversity in Newtown. At this time, cheap housing was still available. During the 1990s many long-established businesses closed.

Many homes have been restored and remain examples of 19th-century architecture in Sydney. The northern end of Newtown (closer to the University and the city) is considered the more prestigious, with house prices and rents in this part of town often higher than those for similar properties in South Newtown, Enmore or St Peters. Like other similar inner-Sydney suburbs (most notably Paddington and Glebe), gentrification has led to another shift in Newtown’s demographics. From the 1970s onwards, many major industrial and commercial sites in the area were closed or vacated. Many of these former commercial sites have since been redeveloped as housing such as the Alpha House and Beta House apartment complexes on King Street, which were formerly both multi-storey warehouses.

One of the most significant and visible changes to the area has been the redevelopment of the Silo apartment complex, which occupies part of Crago Flour Mills and former grain silos, which had been built on the site of the original Newtown station, at the end of Station Street. Rather than demolishing the silos and building a new structure, the developers reconstructed the building and created a series of circular apartment spaces, augmented by the construction of more traditionally shaped apartments on the lower levels.

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Historical Newtown Maps

Stormwater Channels of Newtown… (1965)


‘Lost Lands of Newtown’ 


Plan of Newtown Cemetery (1800s)Image References: State Library, NSW




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