The first real development of local government in NSW was provided by the Municipalities Act of 1858 which made provision for the “permissive incorporation” of councils or boroughs, as they were then called.
Under this Act, in any specified local or district area of population in metropolitan Sydney or the country areas, 50 or more local resident-householders were entitled to petition the Governor for incorporation as a borough; borough being the old English term. Unless a petition objecting and signed by a larger number of householders was presented, the incorporation of the area was generally approved.
Although a counter petition was presented objecting to the incorporation of Hunters Hill, those in favour of it, being in a majority, won the day.
Randwick was the first area created under the Act, closely followed by Waverley and Woollahra with Hunters Hill in fourth position; its incorporation taking place on 5 January, 1861.
From 1861 to 1867 the area was known as a Borough presided over by a Chairman. In 1867, under the Municipal Act, it became a Municipality, presided over by a Mayor.
The first Council elected by the 51 qualified electors comprised the following: C R Fairland, W Clarke, H Brooks, JS Farnell, G de Milhau and Jules Joubert.
Jules Joubert (a Frenchman) became the first Chairman and Charles H Fairland (an uncle of CA Fairland) was appointed the first Town Clerk at a princely salary of 26 pounds per annum. The Council in its earlier days met in his home.
Rate income for the first year was 235 pounds and the Council’s copies of the first rate notices (1861) may be seen in the Museum.
A study of the Mayoral Honour Board in the Council Chambers makes interesting reading and is possibly without parallel. In the period of 116 years since incorporation (1861–1977) 49 Aldermen served as Mayor and these included several Frenchmen (Jules Joubert 1861, Gabriel de Milhau 1862, Didier N Joubert 1867-69, Charles Jeanneret 1870-71, 1877-78, and 1890, Numa Joubert 1888,) an Italian (Angelo Tornaghi 1879 and 1882-83), a German (Adelbert T. Schleicher 1896-97 and 1914-15) and an Irishman (Frank McNeil 1891)
Over the same period of 116 years there were only eight Town Clerks, the longest serving being William C Wise for 46 years and Roy D. Stuckey OBE for 32 years.
In the 116 years, the honour of serving the longest period as Mayor belongs to Clement W. Weil who was Mayor from 1942 to 1951 and again in 1954 – a total of 11 years. He was closely pressed by William A. Windeyer MBE who served for nine years; 1913 and 1917-24 and E. Marsden Betts, who served for eight years; 1905-12. Alex A. Harding (1955-58) - who died on 6 July 1958 - was the only serving Mayor to die in office.
It is perhaps of interest to note that one of the original six Councillors of 1861, James S Farness, later became Secretary for Lands and subsequently Premier of NSW.
History records that the early Councillors (Aldermen) were imbued with a very fine civic spirit. Between the years 1861 and 1866 they formed and named Alexandra Street (after Princess Alexandra), Ady, Madelines and Ernest Streets (after the family of the first Chairman), built a wharf at the foot of Ferry Street on the Parramatta River, ordered the corners of all streets to be rounded as constructed and built the Council chamber (1866), the front porch of which forms the central frontage of the present Town Hall.
In 1869 the Council adopted a vigorous policy of tree-planting and such policy has been consistently and successfully followed by succeeding Councils, resulting in the uncontested claim that the Municipality boasts more trees per acre, or hectare, both in the streets and on private properties, than any other Local Government area.