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East Ryde is one of 16 suburbs that form the City of Ryde. The city is approximately 12 kilometres from the centre of Sydney and occupies most of the divide between the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers. It is bisected from west to east by one of Sydney's busiest roads, Victoria Road. It is crossed north–south by another main road, Lane Cove Road, and is skirted on the north-west by the M2 Motorway and Epping Road.
The Wallumedegal, or Wallumede, are the traditional owners of this area, which was called Wallumetta prior to the arrival of Europeans. This clan forms part of the Dharug language group.
Field of Mars Common and its resumption
East Ryde is bounded by Cressy Road, Coxs Road, the Lane Cove River, and Strangers and Buffalo creeks. It was originally part of the Field of Mars Common. This was an area set aside by Governor King in 1804 for breeding stock owned by the early settlers whose allotments were inadequate to sustain their sheep and cattle. Because of its size and rugged character however, the common became infamous as a haven for escaped convicts and robbers.
As early as 1856 there were proposals to sell the Field of Mars Common to raise finance for much needed infrastructure, but it was not until 1874 that the Field of Mars Common Resumption Act was passed in the New South Wales parliament. The first land sale of the new subdivision was held in September 1885 and included lots around Kittys Creek and today's East Ryde, though at this time East Ryde did not have a distinctive suburb name – it was part of North Ryde.
The promise of public transport
An early proposal to link the released land to other parts of Sydney involved a tramway to the Field of Mars. In 1884 it was proposed that the tram would run through Balmain and Gladesville, crossing Strangers Creek where a bridge would be built. The tramway would traverse the common on its eastern side, probably along Pittwater Road, and then proceed north. More than 16 years later, on the same day as the opening of the De Burghs Bridge across the Lane Cove River, the Minister for Works proceeded to Gladesville to turn the first sod of the Field of Mars tramway – a tramway that was never built.
In 1925 the finance committee of the New South Wales government approved the construction of a railway line between Eastwood and St Leonards. Housing developments appeared along the proposed route. One of these was on a hill near a proposed station at the eastern corner of today's Macquarie Hospital grounds. Because of its elevated position it was called the Dress Circle Estate. This estate was roughly two-thirds of the modern suburb of East Ryde.
The 1926 subdivision plan clearly shows the influence that the promised railway had on this development. In larger typeface than 'The Dress Circle Estate' are the words 'Eastwood–St Leonards New railway'.
60 choice elevated lots overlooking the beautiful Lane Cove River … close to a proposed station on the new electric railway from Eastwood to St Leonards.
There were two roads indicated – Twin Road and Mary Avenue. There was confidence that the railway would go ahead because it had been passed by the State Parliamentary Works Committee. In 1929 the estate was extended with an addition called The Hill Top Estate. However, in the same year the government cancelled the proposed railway. Development of the estate ceased after only one house had been built.
Redevelopment of the Dress Circle Estate
In the building booms of the late 1950s, Hooker Rex Pty Ltd proposed redeveloping the Dress Circle Estate. Until 1956 there had been a sewerage dump just beyond the north-western end of the estate. The council therefore said that the area could not be built on for 50 years. Hooker Rex overcame this by bringing in bulldozers and removing all of the contaminated soil. In addition they covered the exposed clay with a five-metre layer of clean soil.
Hooker Rex retained the original name of the Dress Circle Estate and named the streets according to a theatrical theme. Some of the greatest Australian stars of stage and screen are commemorated in the street names of East Ryde.
Personalities commemorated include opera singers June Bronhill, Ronald Dowd and Dame Nellie Melba; actors Dianne Cilento, Peter Finch, Cecil Kellaway, John McCallum, Michael Pate and Madge Elliott; comedians Kitty Bluett, Roy (Mo) Rene and Gladys Moncrieff; song writer, entertainer and radio broadcasting pioneer Jack Lumsdaine; author and playwright Steele Rudd; and Peggy Sager, prima ballerina.
On 1 October 1960 the Mayor of Ryde, Alderman ELS Hall, unveiled a drinking fountain and plaque in the reserve outside the shopping centre, commemorating the successful development of 500 home sites and the construction of 250 modern homes on the Dress Circle Estate. Following the increase in the area's population, Ryde East Public School opened in 1961. In 1970 another 20 home sites were created when Finch Avenue was extended into rezoned crown land between Moncrieff Drive and Strangers Creek.
Covenants controlled the type and quality of houses on the estate. The blocks were only one-sixth of an acre (650 square metres) instead of one-quarter of an acre (1,000 square metres). These were big enough for single dwellings, the only type allowed under the covenant, rather than multiple dwellings.
Proposed name change
With so many suburbs and localities in the Ryde local government area bearing the name of Ryde (East Ryde, West Ryde, Top Ryde, Ryde), in 2006 some residents of East Ryde proposed a name change for their suburb. For some, it was to give their suburb its own identity or to help with the delivery of mail. Names such as Dress Circle, Wallumetta, Bel Air, Boronia Heights or Bennelong were proposed. However, opponents of the name change saw it as attempt to disassociate the suburb from other suburbs that bore the name Ryde which, they argued, had lower property values. In mid-2006 The Daily Telegraph noted that the median property price in East Ryde in the previous year had been $670,000, compared to $595,000 in Ryde and North Ryde, and $567,500 in West Ryde. In contrast, the median property price in neighbouring Gladesville was $721,375 and Putney $845,000.
The proposal was vigorously debated at a public meeting and roundly rejected. The final count of households was 144 against change versus 59 for it.
Daily Telegraph, 11 July 2006, p 9
Daily Telegraph, 27 July 2006, p 13
John Hood, 'The Dress Circle Estate, East Ryde', Ryde Recorder: Journal of the Ryde District Historical Society, vol 42 no 1, March 2008
Megan Martin, A Pictorial History of Ryde, Kingsclear Books, Alexandria NSW, 1998
George Redding, A History of North Ryde, 1850–1950, North Ryde Public School Ex-Pupils History Group, Allambie NSW, 1986