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.
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.
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.