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Australian Colonial Intelligence

Our Metropolitan Suburbs: Newtown ~ 1889


Dear Grandpa Pencil looks at early Australian development through journals, official reports and newspaper excerpts of the day. Readers should remember that these accounts are based on personal observations at the time and some have, since, been shown to be flawed.

'Our Metropolitan Suburbs: Newtown' is drawn from an article in The Illustrated Sydney News: June, 1889

Newtown must be considered Sydney's most populous and thriving off-shoot.

It has been in existence for considerably more than half a century; but, like many colonial townships, it has grown in importance within a comparatively short space of time.

So recently as ten years ago it was a mere village, the shops (chiefly general stores, where goods of inferior quality were sold at exorbitant prices) being small and mean, the dwelling-houses insignificant, and the roads narrow and ill formed.

Nearly everybody came to Sydney in those primitive days to do their shopping.

But a better fate was reserved for the suburb - a fate which but few of its residents seem to have foreseen, or indeed, to have had the faintest suspicion of.

Those few were the lucky ones who speculated in town lots, and who, buying choice building sites for a mere song, and holding fast to their bargains, are today, in Colonial parlance, "well in".

Ten years ago things began to "look up" in Newtown, but the "boom" did not fairly set until two or three years later.

Then the place "went up like a rocket" but has not, nor is it in the least likely to, "come down like a stick".

An era of prosperity dawned upon the little community, and despite the pessimistic few, Newtown bears unmistakable evidence of going ahead.

Compared with the Newtown of eight years ago, modern Newtown must be considered a remarkable place indeed, and the progress it has made in that very limited time is marvelous.

It now possesses a population of 20,000; there are 4000 houses within the borough; it boasts numerous places of worship.

It has about a dozen huge brick factories, which supply not only suburban but metropolitan requirements, to say nothing about numerous other places to which the Newtown bricks has spread; it runs several other flourishing local industries.

The resemblance borne by Newtown to an English market-town is very striking. Despite its extreme youth - we are now speaking of modern Newtown - it has an old-world look about it.

It seems like some unnaturally precocious child, to have had no childhood, but to have 'grown up'.

The same thing is observable in other suburbs of Sydney.

But if Newtown resembles an English provincial town at first glance, the resemblance grows fainter on closer acquaintance.

What English town the size of this mushroom suburb of Sydney possesses the push, the energy, and the 'go' that characterise so many of the Newtownites?

King Street, Newtown, is always more or less busy, but on Saturday night it is seen at its best and brightest.

Fancy a double line, more than a mile long, of brilliantly lighted shops; and 'sidewalks' so inconveniently crowded, that it is often a matter of some difficulty to push one's way through the throng of people on business and on pleasure bent.

The scene is worth studying awhile. Here is materfamilias, armed with a huge basket, and with, perhaps, two or three olive branches in tow, out on a shopping expedition, and with thoughts engrossed on Sunday's dinner.

'Father' is possibly at home minding baby, or what is perhaps, more probable, talking politics with a 'mate' in some neighbouring public-house bar parlour, over a pipe and a glass.

Here is a trio of merry, laughing girls, on the lookout, perchance, for one of those 'alarming sacrifices' so dear to the feminine heart, and quite determined to buy in the cheapest market, any way.

And here, the ubiquitous 'Arry, arm-in-arm with Sarah Jane, they are keeping company, and generally contrive to spend Saturday evening in each others society. The old, old story!

Here are shop-windows for you! No occasion for Newtownites to go to Sydney nowadays!

Such a display of silks and satins, and ribbons, and 'dress pieces' and costumes in the drapers' windows; such a tempting show of rosy meat in the butcher's shops;, such plums and figs and teas and coffees, and sugars and lollipops and spices at the grocers'!

Such oranges and apples, and dates and bananas, to say nothing of other good things, at the fruiterers'!

Such chairs and tables, and sofas and lounges, and suites for the bedroom and the parlour and the drawing room at the furniture shops - 'Arry and Sarah Jane are peeping in at one of the dealer's window as we pass, and, with heads close together, are doubtless reckoning up the cost of starting housekeeping and everywhere the same good-tempered, laughing, bustling, jostling crowd.

Such is King Street on a Saturday night.



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