Hunters Hill has the distinction of being the oldest surviving garden suburb in Australia. There were earlier ones, notably Kings Cross (Woolloomooloo Hill as it was called in the 1820s), but it did not survive in garden-suburb form, likewise with Hobart’s suburb of New Town, Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point, Melbourne’s South Yarra, Adelaide’s North Adelaide. Hunters Hill, pioneered from 1847 as a suburb of detached houses in gardens, remains the oldest surviving example. It is also much older than the model garden suburbs of the turn of the 20th century such as Haberfield and Daceyville.
It does not proclaim its historic character like Paddington or Glebe or Melbourne’s Carlton, terrace-house suburbs that have the 19th century written all over them. By comparison, Hunters Hill has a deceptively modern appearance simply because the garden-suburb form became the prototype for the modern suburb.
But if you walk around, the signs of its history are everywhere. Visitors immediately notice. They notice the trees – they are mature, they are large. Thank Mayor Charles Jeanneret for that, who introduced the tree policy in 1870. Visitors also comment on the stone walls, the stone buildings, and the houses in established gardens. And the generous green spaces (parks and native bushland).
So, how is it possible that Hunters Hill has survived for 170 years? Well, geography is a saving factor. It is a cul-de-sac in the Harbour with no through road. Still, in the 1960s strata title was introduced into NSW, and Hunters Hill was poised to have high-rise apartments throughout the Municipality. In the course of my research, I came across A.V. Jennings’ 1969 plans for tower blocks at Clarke’s Point. At that time, too, historic buildings were in danger of demolition and were being demolished, such as Didier Joubert’s St Malo in 1961.
How did Hunters Hill survive in the face of this? People power! It was only through a grass-roots movement that began in the 1960s that the threat of high-rise apartments and the demolition of historic buildings was averted. The Garibaldi, for example, does not stand on the corner of Alexandra and Ferry Streets by chance. In 1971 there were proposals to demolish it and put up a service station. The people of Hunters Hill rose up in arms and eventually The Garibaldi had a permanent conservation order placed on it. The same story with Kelly’s Bush – in 1971 the world’s first Green Ban.
So Hunters Hill is, as it is today, not by chance. Thank the trailblazers of the 1960s and 1970s. They were intrepid, they had true grit, and they shaped history.
For more details:
Beverley Sherry, Hunter’s Hill: Australia’s Oldest Garden Suburb
Beverley Sherry, “Hunters Hill” in the Dictionary of Sydney