Newtown, New South Wales

From Academic Kids

Missing image
South end of King Street, Newtown with the iconic brickworks chimneys of Sydney Park

Newtown is a suburb in the Inner West of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Approximately 4 km south-west of the central business district, Newtown straddles the border between the Local Government Areas of the City of Sydney and of Marrickville Council.


Geography and setting

To the north of Newtown is the suburb of Camperdown; to the east is Darlington (now largely occupied by Sydney University) and Glebe; to the south-east is Macdonaldtown and Erskineville, to the south-west is Enmore, and to the west is Stanmore.

For many years a blue-collar area with a large migrant population, its proximity to the main Camperdown campus of University of Sydney has gained it a reputation as a bohemian center, with a strong student, gay and lesbian population; the atmostphere of tolerance and diversity has also attracted a number of other cultural subgroups such as Goths, although Newtown has become increasingly gentrified in recent years. It is also home to the Anglican seminaries Moore Theological College (which took over the White Horse Hotel in north Newtown, once a favourite watering hole for university students) and Mary Andrews College.

The main strip of Newtown is along King Street which is sometimes referred to as "Eat Street" in the media due to its large number of cafes, pubs and resturants. King Street and Enmore Road, which branches away from it at Newtown Station, together comprise a 9.1 kilometre round trip that takes in some 600 shopfronts.


Early years

The Aboriginal history of the Newtown area is very ancient. Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that Aborigines have lived in the Sydney Basin for as long as 20,000 years (and possibly much longer). Artefacts found during the construction of the Alexandria Canal in the late 1800s indicated local Aboriginal occupation dating back at least 8000 years.

The Newtown area was well-frequented by the local Eora people, who ranged across the entire are from Sydney Cove to Botany Bay in the south and Ashfield in the west. Tragically, the arrival of white settlers in 1788 and the subsequent introduction of European diseases like smallpox decimated the Eora people and their neighbours, and it is estimated that by the early 1800s more than 90% of the Aboriginal population had died from disease or had been killed by settlers.

Newtown was established as a residential and farming area in the early 19th century. It got its name from a grocery store opened there by John and Eliza Webster in 1832, at a site close to where the Newtown railway station stands today. They placed a sign on top of their store that read "New Town Stores". Passers-by took this to mean that the area was called New Town and the name caught on, with the space gradually disappearing over the years to form the name Newtown.

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

The area was rapidly developed in the late 1800s, with many former farms and other large properties being subdivided and developed as row-houses. With its predominance of Victorian-era houses and shopfront styles, with balconies, ornate architectural decorations and elaborate iron lace, Newtown is similar to other well-known inner city suburbs like Glebe, Paddington and Balmain.

Newtown always had a significant proportion of low-income residents, many of whom worked at the local shops, factories, warehouses, brickyards and at the nearby Eveleigh Railway Workshops during the late 1800s the Newtown area prospered. Several large estates and many imposing Victorian manions were built, as well as many rows of single storey row houses and two-storey terraces. Regrettably, as in many other historic areas of Sydney, some of the largest and most important houses, such as Erskine Villa (which gave its name to the suburb of Erskineville), were demolished and the estates subdivided. One of the most impressive surviving sets of 19th housing in Newtown is the line of imposing terraces along Warren Ball Avenue in north Newtown, where five elegant five-storey mansions run the entire length of the street, facing onto a park.

Early 20th century to 1970s

Although it propsered in late 1800s, during the first half of the 20th century, and especially during The Depression, the area became increasingly run down and wealthy residents moved to newer and more presitigious areas like Strathfield, Burwood and the eastern suburbs. Like many now-prestigious inner-city Sydney suburbs such as Glebe and Paddington, Newtown was for many years regarded as little better than a slum.

In the postwar period, low rents and house prices attracted newly arrived European migrants, and Newtown's population changed radically, becoming home to a sizeable migrant community comprising Greeks, Italians, Lebanese and many other nationalities. Many of these families opened and ran restaurants, cafes, milk bars, grocery stores and other business along King Street. In recent years, many of these postwar businesses have closed and the shops have been sold or redeveloped as property values have increased greatly.

In 1949, Newtown was incorporated into the City of Sydney. A controversial redistribution of local government boundaries by the state Liberal government of Sir Robert Askin in 1968 saw part of Newtown placed under Marrickville council.

Because of its proximity to Sydney University and the city, the comparatively low rents, and the availability of a wide range of cafes, pubs and restaurants, Newtown began to attract university students in the 1960s and 1970s. The area became one of the major centres for student share-households in Sydney and it became a mecca for many young people who had grown up in the relatively staid atmosphere of Sydney's outer suburbs.


From the 1970s, as the postwar migrant population prospered, raised families and aged, many moved to outlying suburbs to build larger houses, and in later years other longtime residents retired or died. This opened up a supply of large, relatively cheap terrace houses and cottages for rental by students. Many students who moved into the area fell in love with its Victorian charm, its easygoing Bohemian atmosphere and the abundance of cheap, high-quality eating places. After these students graduated and moved into the workforce, many decided to buy houses in the area, leading to a gradual process of gentrification.

As with several other inner Sydney suburbs—most notably Paddington and Glebe—this trend has led to another significant shift in Newtown's demographics, and a remarkable renewal of its former prestige. Inevitably, this has led to a dramatic increase in property values (which have more than trebled in value in the last ten years) and growing pressure to "redevelop" many historic properties and buildings. Many residents are becoming increasingly concerned about the pressure and pace of development in the area and the huge influx of new residents as developers rush to convert former factories, warehouses and other industrial and commercial buildings into multi-apartment developments.

There is also growing concern about a related trend which has seen unscrupulous developers acquire the few remaining free-standing houses in the district, some of which are among the oldest in the area. In the case of several of these properties, developers have acquired them and have then found that they are unable to demolish and redevelop them due to the council's heritage by-laws. This has led to several of these historic houses being deliberately left open and derelict, with the predictable result that a number of them have been destroyed by arson.

Like many Sydney suburbs, 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 significantly higher than those for similar properties in South Newtown, Enmore or St Peters.

1980s and later

During the 1980s the many pubs in the area housed a thriving live music scene, notably the Sandringham Hotel in King St. One of the best-known Australian bands to emerge from this scene was The Whitlams, who had a residency at "The Sando" for several years. Musician John Kennedy wrote a tribute to the area in the mid-1980s and his single "On King St I'm A King" namechecked several Newtown landmarks and familiar local figures of the time, including "The Wire Man" (a local eccentric who collected wire and wire coathangers), Maurice's Lebanese restaurant, and the Coles New World store - which occupied the site of the current Dendy Cinema.

During the 1990s many long-established businesses closed, including Brennan's Department Store, a charming old-fashioned general store, and one of the last relics of the heyday of Victorian Newtown. The rise in property prices and rents has also led to an increasing rate of turnover in local businesses due to spiralling annual rent increases. In the case of one popular local Italian restaurant, the business operated very successfully for several years until the landlord abruptly raised the rent by 110 percent, making the business unviable overnight.

Population statistics

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 3 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.


Newtown railway station is located on the Inner West line of the CityRail network. Travelling towards the city, the railway stops in order are: Macdonaldtown, Redfern, Central, Town Hall, Wynyard. Travelling west towards Strathfield, the stops are Stanmore, Petersham, Lewisham, Summer Hill, Ashfield, Croydon, Burwood, and Strathfield.

Newtown Station opened in 1855, as one the original four intermediate stations on the Sydney to Parramatta rail line (the others being Ashfield, Burwood, and Homebush), and it was soon serviced by ten steam trains per day. In 1878 the station was moved from its original location at the end of Station Street to its current location by the fork of King Street and Enmore Road.

Regular bus services also run along King Street, going inwards to the city and outwards to Tempe, Kingsgrove, Dulwich Hill and Canterbury.


For Federal elections, Newtown lies partly in the electorate of Grayndler, currently represented by Anthony Albanese of the ALP, and partly in the electorate of Sydney, currently represented by Tanya Plibersek, also of the ALP. Both of these electorates saw strong Green votes in the 2001 election, and it was expected that the Green candidates, rather than the Liberal Party, would provide the main opposition to the ALP in the 2004 election, although the Liberals ultimately did narrowly retain their lead over the Greens in these electorates.

For State elections, Newtown is predominantly in the State Electoral District of Marrickville, currently represented by Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge.

Local events and culture

Live music

Newtown is a hub for live music, particularly indie rock, with the suburb both home to many musicians and several live venues. In the late nineties it boasted a handful of venues: Goldmans / Newtown RSL, The Globe, Feedback and The Sandringham - all of which closed over the years due to noise complaints and other factors. However since the new millennium, the suburb has enjoyed a renaissance with the return of live music to The Sandringham (dubbed by regulars as "The Sando"), the re-opening of the Newtown RSL under the name of @Newtown, and the addition of the purpose built intimate venue The Vanguard.

The film Garage Days directed by Alex Proyas was based on a fictional indie rock band located in Newtown. Likewise the ABC television drama, Love Is A Four Letter Word, starring musician-cum actor Peter Fenton and live bands each episode, was filmed at the Courthouse in Newtown.

Newtown Festival

The Newtown Festival is a community festival of music, events, workshops, and stalls which has been held annually since 1981. Held in Camperdown Memorial Park adjacent to St. Stephens Church, it features free live music, market stalls, food and drink from many local restaurants and cafés, and other entertainment, and always draws a large crowd. The purpose of the Festival is to raise funds for the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, an association which provides services to the aged, people with disabilities, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people on low incomes.

Newtown Jets

The Newtown Jets were Australia's first rugby league club, founded as the Newtown RLFC on January 8, 1908 (the "Jets" nickname was picked up in 1973). They competed in the NSWRL's premiership from 1908 until 1983, winning on 3 occasions, before being suspended from the competition due to financial difficulties. They currently compete in the NSWRL First Division competition, a tier below the NRL's national premiership, and enjoy strong support in the local area and good crowds at their home ground of Henson Park.

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