In the earlier part of the last century two French brothers, Didier Numa Joubert and Jules Joubert, left their native country, arrived in Sydney in due course and acquired land in the Hunters Hill area. They may well be described as the founders of Hunters Hill as it has been known over the years. Under the circumstances it is understandable that the area subsequently was often referred to as the “French Village”.
Didier Numa Joubert, the elder of the two brothers, came to Hunters Hill in 1837 and purchased from Mary Reiby in 1847 a large area of land at Fig Tree, bounded by what is now known as Mount Street and Church Street and extending to what is now St. Joseph’s College Sportsground on the western side of Augustine Street. He lived in Mary Reiby’s cottage while his home, subsequently named ‘St. Malo’, was being built. As is known, and despite every effort by Hunter’s Hill Council and interested and concerned organisations and citizens, this lovely old colonial style home and the adjacent Mary Reiby’s Cottage were demolished to make way for the North-Western Expressway as we see it today.
It was to ‘St. Malo’ that Ferdinand Du Boise, whose father married one of the daughters of Didier Joubert, brought from ‘Burdekin House’ in Macquarie Street, Sydney, the very fine pillars which for so many years adorned that historic residence.
Jules Joubert arrived in Hunters Hill in the year 1840 and acquired land adjoining that of his brother, Didier, extending from Mount Street on the Lane Cove River side to what is now known as Alexandra Street. He was responsible for building many of the earlier old stone houses in the district.
Jules Joubert brought about 70 workmen, mainly stonemasons and the like, from Italy and France, and commenced building houses for sale. Suitable sandstone was the least of his worries because the bulk of Hunters Hill and Woolwich has a sandstone base with relatively shallow soil cover and there were a number of quarries at different locations including the Woolwich area and on the northern side of what is now Boronia Park.
Many of these sandstone houses, as well as the surrounding stone walls, are still standing in good condition and have been eagerly sought after in more recent years.
There are many descendants of those original workmen and one calls to mind such names as Azzopardi, Ceruti, Cincotta, Batiste, De Fine and Righetti, among others. It is perhaps of interest to note that the stone walls, built by the Italian stonemasons, may be identified by the fact that they are very substantially battered; much wider at the base than the top. This is no doubt largely responsible for their present excellent condition after standing for well over 100 years.
There are many miles of stone walls in the lovely tree-shaded lanes and sidewalks reminiscent of England and parts of Europe. While many stone walls were rubble or loose hand packed, others were held together with mortar or cement and they also have stood the test of time.
Two of the most famous homes built by Jules Joubert were ‘Moocooboola’, situated in Alexandra Street and ‘Passy’, situated in Passy Avenue, the latter being built for and occupied by Monsieur Sentis, the French Consul-General. The whole of the glass used in the construction of ‘Moocooboola’ was brought to Australia from the Paris Exhibition of 1854.
‘Passy, to become one of the most famous landmarks of Hunters Hill, had many claims for distinction, including a magnificent circular stairway leading from the ground to the first floor.
In 1854 LE Bordier, another Frenchman, brought from the same Paris Exhibition of 1854, four wooden houses pre-cut in sections ready for erection on selected sites. Many of later generations were under the impression that the pre-cut weatherboard house was a product of the 20th century but here was proof to the contrary.
These pre-cut houses were erected in the Ferry Street area and only one now remains. It is ‘The Chalet’ situated in Yerton Avenue. ‘Croissy’, standing on the corner of Ferry Street and Croissy Avenue for many years, was demolished to make way for a modern home while ‘The Hut’, situated in Woolwich Road adjacent to Ferry Street, occupied by a member of the well known Fitzgerald Family for many years, disappeared over 25 years ago.
These pre-fabricated houses were erected by three carpenters brought out from Germany by Monsieur Bordier who, under the indenture or agreement, “was required to pay their boat fares to Sydney, to supply board and lodging for them and to pay them six shillings each per week for pocket money!”
The workmen were required to provide their own tools and “would be entitled to gratification if at the end of their engagement Monsieur Bordier has been pleased with their working and good behaviour!” He also agreed to pay each of them an amount of 20 Prussian dollars as an advance upon their wages before their embarkment.
Another lovely old stone home in Alexandra Street opposite the present Town Hall, known as ‘Merimbah’, was built by Count Gabriel de Milhau, another Frenchman. It was afterwards the home of Judge Manning. Is it any wonder that Hunters Hill became known as the “French Village”?
EC Jeanneret, who was five times Mayor of Hunters Hill, was responsible for the building, among others, of two lovely homes in those earlier years – ‘Lyncote’, situated in Stanley Road and ‘Wybalena’ in Jeanneret Avenue, behind the present grass tennis courts in Woolwich Road. ‘Wybalena’ is an Aboriginal word meaning “a camping or resting place”.
Jeanneret Avenue was named after EC Jeanneret. It is interesting to note that the present Glenview Crescent residential development originally formed part of ‘Wybalena’ when Jeanneret lived there and was developed as his orchard. His original silver fruit knife rests in our Museum, being kindly given by his descendants in Tasmania.