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North Ryde, situated wholly within the local government area of the City of Ryde (established in 1871), is surrounded by the suburbs of East Ryde, Macquarie Park, Marsfield and Ryde, and is situated on the southern side of the Lane Cove River. The suburbs of Chatswood West, East Ryde, and Macquarie Park were formerly part of the larger North Ryde area.
The Wallumedegal people and European settlement
At the time of the arrival of Europeans at Sydney Cove in January 1788, the Wallumedegal or Wallumatagal were the traditional owners of the area, which they called Wallumetta.
From February 1792, small land grants were made to ex-convicts in the area called Eastern Farms – being farming land east of Parramatta. The larger district was also called Kissing Point. By 1798, Eastern Farms had become important for suppling fruit, vegetables and poultry to the growing colony of Sydney, but some of the settlers on the farms and across Sydney complained of difficulties in making a living on their small land grants, and wanted more land for grazing stock.
The colonial government's solution was to gazette six large tracts of land as 'commons' in 1804. One of these tracts was called the Field of Mars Common. It was an area of 5,050 acres to the north and east of the Eastern Farms. The common stretched along the southern side of the Lane Cove River from Hunters Hill to Pennant Hills. It was for the use of the local residents in the tradition of the old English common. It also effectively preserved much of the native bushland along the Lane Cove River through most of the nineteenth century.
The largest land grant in the district was to William Kent, and included all the land between Lane Cove, Herring, Bridge and Waterloo roads. Others to receive grants included Thomas Granger, Jane Woods, James Weavers, D Brown and M Connor. The earliest settlers to farm in the district were often related by marriages and include the Weaver, Wicks, Benson, Cox, Hicks and Heard families.
By the 1840s, the common had gained a reputation for harbouring many unsavoury characters, sly grog and other illegal activities. There was also unauthorised timber-cutting and squatting. Many residents of the district felt the common no longer fulfilled its original purpose, while others objected to any change in 'the people's land'. A parliamentary select committee sat in 1861 but its recommendations were never followed. By 1874 the proposal to resume the common won out. The slowly increasing population of the district highlighted the growing need for a direct road link to the city and the need for bridges to be built at Iron Cove and across the Parramatta River. The money from the sale of the common was to be used to finance the building of the Iron Cove and Gladesville bridges. The building of the bridges commenced in 1878, but the actual sale of the common lands did not commence until 1885 and continued until 1900.
The subdivision and sale of the common caused dramatic change as streets were laid out and allotments of one to four acres (.4 to 1.6 hectares) were offered for sale. These were not designed for farming or orchards, and attracted a new type of resident. Sections were also set aside as space for reserves for recreation – the largest being the Field of Mars Wildlife Reserve – and for the Field of Mars cemetery.
Education and services
In 1878, a public school called City View was opened with 45 pupils in one classroom on land donated by Robert Wicks. By the end of the following year, the school had changed its name to North Ryde, thus beginning the formal use of that name for the district. The original school building is still in use today as the New South Wales Schoolhouse Museum of Public Education. Wicks also donated land for a church, and St John's Church of England was built and opened in 1879 as a branch of Ryde's St Anne's church. It did not become a separate parish in its own right until 1967.
By 1885 residents petitioned for a postal service, complaining that they were not within the Ryde post office delivery area. A North Ryde post office was established in September 1885, attached to the Adams's home on Lane Cove Road, near Trevitt Road. In 1908, the post office moved to the western end of Coxs Road, which became the focus of the North Ryde village after the establishment of a School of Arts and literary institute in 1891. From 1904, two small stores had also opened nearby. A School of Arts hall was erected in Coxs Road in 1901, and extended in 1930. It was regularly used as a meeting place for the scattered community and for dances, parties and concerts on a Saturday night. The nearby Methodist church was completed in 1920.
North Ryde retained its rural orchard and poultry farming focus for the duration of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. There were few roads or services for the small population. The produce was carried to market by cart to the Lane Cove and Parramatta rivers. Strawberry growing was also popular along the river flats of the Lane Cove River, and weekend boating to, and picnicking at, the orchards and farms of the area became very popular. Fairyland Pleasure Grounds was one such farm, part of the original Field of Mars common. It had been purchased by the Swan family in 1896 and developed as a pleasure resort. A dance hall was added in 1930. It was also home to boat swings, flying foxes and a razzle-dazzle roundabout. It was a popular venue for Sunday schools, clubs and sports groups. After its demise in the 1960s, its site was added to the Lane Cove National Park.
Entering the twentieth century
Early in the twentieth century, a religious community, the House of David, moved their headquarters to 20 acres (8 hectares) of land situated northeast of the corner of Lane Cove and Waterloo Roads. Initially they installed a sawmill and cleared the land for market gardens and a poultry farm. After the 1930s their timber business was phased out and the area opened to the public as Eden Park picnic grounds. A shop was opened to cater for the needs of picnickers as well as sell produce from the farm. The grounds also included a small native zoo, tennis courts and a music bowl for concerts. By the 1960s, the district's increasing commercial expansion led to the farming and picnicking areas being developed into shops, showrooms and an industrial park.
During the 1940 and 1950s, a group of Sydney landscape artists known as the Northwood Group regularly visited North Ryde to sketch and paint the rural and village scenery still so close to the city. Among the group were Roland Wakelin, Lloyd Rees, George Lawrence and John Santry. The group was not united in style, but by their enjoyment of landscape painting.
The 100 acre block bounded by Wicks, Epping, Blenheim and Coxs roads was mostly vacant or orchard land until World War II. In 1942, the army began to use the Epping Road end for parking tanks and by 1943 the whole block became a substantial heavy vehicle park and transport workshop. Living quarters and parade grounds were built on the eastern side of Blenheim Road. After the army vacated them at the end of the war, the living quarters were used to accommodate migrants for a number of years.
Another large orchard block bounded by Wicks, Coxs, Badajoz and Twin roads was resumed by the state government in 1952 to build a mental health facility originally named North Ryde Psychiatric Centre. It has had a number of name changes and is now called Gladesville Macquarie Hospital. By 1999, the southern grounds of the hospital were returned to the community as parkland and named North Ryde common, reflecting the original use of the land in the area. A natural amphitheatre feature at the common has led it to be used for the local Australia Day concerts, fireworks shows and carols by candlelight.
Suburbia takes over
During the postwar years the character of the district underwent a major change, from rural to suburban residential. The former army vehicle park was subdivided into lots for war service housing, and the New South Wales Housing Commission resumed a substantial quantity of land within the district, subdividing it for housing. Many streets in these subdivisions were named to reflect the area's connection with war service, as many of the earlier streets in the Field of Mars were named for the great English battles.
The orchards on the northern side of the suburb were retained from subdivision as a green belt under the County of Cumberland planning scheme, but the growing need for more land for residential, commercial and industrial uses across Sydney was becoming urgent. By 1965 the release of land in North Ryde for industrial purposes began to take place, and by 1968 a large tract was set aside for the establishment of Sydney's third university, Macquarie University.
The underlying principle behind the development of the university and the surrounding industrial area was based on the concept associated with Stanford University in San Francisco. Stringent planning controls were used to regulate both the industrial uses and physical setting of each development. Industries had to be compatible and have an affinity with the curricular activities of the newly established university. In 1972, the responsibility for determining the criteria was transferred to Ryde Council, which required that industries be 'light industry, based on a scientific process and include facilities for scientific research and development'. At the north-eastern end, the CSIRO established a large facility housing a number of divisions, and Channel Ten built [media]television and recording studios.
Soon, housing units and town houses were being erected in the residential areas near the university. In 1981, Macquarie Centre, a major regional shopping centre opened on a 9.4 hectare site adjoining the university. In 1999, Macquarie Park was assigned as a separate suburb in the northern part of North Ryde, removing the university, shopping centre and high-tech industries from the suburb of North Ryde.
In 1999, East Ryde was also declared a suburb. East Ryde is a residential area that was subdivided in the 1950s as the Dress Circle Estate on a ridge of land above the Lane Cove River and the Field of Mars Reserve.
North Ryde Public School was the only school in the area until 1958, but postwar housing developments brought many families to the area, creating a rapid increase demand on educational facilities. The Catholic parish of the Holy Spirit, established in 1956, opened its Spiritus Sanctus school (now called Holy Spirit Primary School) in 1958. Additional public primary schools opened in Truscott Street in 1958, Kent Road in 1960, and East Ryde in 1961. Two high schools were also built, but were short-lived due to the decreasing teenage population towards the end of the twentieth century. Ryde High School, in Smalls Road, opened in 1960 and closed in 1986, and North Ryde High School operated from 1962 until 1985. Both were progressively merged at the North Ryde High School site and renamed Peter Board High School. The school closed permanently in 1999.
Early in the twentieth century the increasing population across the north shore led the government to consider establishing a second cemetery site in the district. Despite the protests of the residents of North Ryde, a 145-acre site on Delhi Road was chosen and dedicated in 1902. It opened as the Northern Suburbs Cemetery in 1922. In 1999, with the naming of Macquarie Park as a separate suburb, the Northern Suburbs Cemetery was renamed Macquarie Park Cemetery. A new crematorium was added to the site and opened in 2004. The renaming also helped to distinguish this cemetery from the nearby Northern Suburbs Crematorium. Also located in Delhi Road, it was Australia's first crematorium and initially called Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens Crematorium. It is built in Spanish mission style and began operating in 1933.
Most roads in North Ryde remained unsealed until the 1950s, reflecting the rural nature of the district. The first main road through the district was the track leading from the village of Ryde north to the Lane Cove River. The subdivisions of the common, and later, the orchards, created the need for better road access. The original timber-trussed De Burghs Bridge was opened in 1901, and was the longest timber-truss span ever built in Australia. It provided vehicle access to Pymble and the north shore. It was replaced with the current six-lane bridge in 1967. The central timber deck of the original bridge remained adjacent to the new one until it was destroyed in the January 1994 bushfires.
Fullers Bridge was built in 1918 to provide access from the Chatswood area to the Northern Suburbs Cemetery, and after the proposed St Leonards railway was formally abandoned, Epping Road (formerly Lucknow Road) and the Lane Cove River Bridge were built and opened in 1940, creating a road link from Epping to Lane Cove through North Ryde. In recent years tollways have been built to provide an alternative access route in and out of the city. North Ryde has access to both the M2 Motorway and the Lane Cove Tunnel, thus linking it to the Gore Hill Freeway.
Despite this, public transport has always been an issue. As early as 1884 residents purchasing lots from the common were promised the Field of Mars tramway service. A route through Balmain and Gladesville, crossing Strangers Creek and travelling north to Pittwater was proposed. Despite the first sod being turned, it was never built. Early in the 1900s, the North Ryde Progress Association lobbied for the extension of the Ryde tramline to North Ryde, and also a line from Ryde to Chatswood via Fullers Bridge. Then in 1925, a parliamentary works committee recommended a railway from St Leonards via North Ryde to the northern line between Eastwood and Epping, with a spur line from Coxs Road to the Northern Suburbs Cemetery. But by 1930 there was still no finance available to build, and plans were abandoned.
In more recent years, the Parramatta Rail Link was planned to allow travel between Chatswood and Parramatta through the district. By mid 2004 the plan was reduced to include only the eastern half and renamed the Epping to Chatswood Rail Line, with three stations in the Macquarie Park area.
The site of De Burghs Bridge was once the 'head of navigation' for small boats coming up the Lane Cove River, and many early orchardists and industries used the river to transport their produce. Early in the 1900s the Upper Lane Cove Ferry Company provided services from Magdala Road Wharf to Fig Tree (Hunters Hill), connecting to regular ferry services to the city. After World War I, a number of private bus operators provided limited services linking North Ryde to tram services at Ryde, Gladesville, and Chatswood. There were also regular services to the cemeteries. In 1948 Hunters Hill Bus Co took over bus operations. In 2008 the State Transit Authority operated the bus services across the district.
Recreation in Ryde
The construction of the North Ryde Golf Links began in 1935 on 32 acres bounded by Lane Cove and Twin roads. In 1937 it was owned and operated by a syndicate and called North Ryde Golf Club. Originally only nine holes, an additional three were added south of Twin Road in 1942 and another six in 1946. In 1948 the company was sold and the new owners, unable to register the same name, changed it to the North Riding Golf Club Limited. When the leased land on the southern side of Twin Road was reclaimed for housing, the club was able to purchase additional adjoining land to the east and consolidate the 18-hole course on its present site. The club house was built in 1962.
Khartoum Theatre, located at the corner of Khartoum and Waterloo Roads, provided regular Saturday night entertainment from its opening in 1938 until 1966. Built of timber and corrugated iron, there was a roof over a portion near the entrance but the remainder was – like the screen – in the open air. The tradition of open-air theatres continued with the Skyline drive-in theatre which was built at the corner of Waterloo and Lane Cove roads in 1956 and operated until 1986. It had a capacity for 639 cars.
The movement to preserve the natural beauty of the Lane Cove River area gained favour during the 1920s, and in 1929 a committee was appointed to acquire land for conservation, and construct the weir above Fullers Bridge and Riverside Drive from Fullers to De Burghs bridges. Much of the construction work was undertaken by unemployment relief workers during the 1930s depression. Lane Cove National Park was officially opened in 1938, providing picnic areas and recreational access to the river. In 1967 it was called Lane Cove River Park and in 1976 it became Lane Cove River State Recreation Area. Today it has reverted to the name Lane Cove National Park and in 2008 was controlled by the National Parks and Wildlife Group of the New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change. Additional riverfront parcels of land, including the Fairyland site have been added to the park. The construction of the weir across the Lane Cove River prevents any navigation of the river west of Fullers Bridge.
Philip Geeves, A place of pioneers: the centenary history of the Municipality of Ryde, Ryde Municipal Council, Ryde, 1970
Megan Martin, A pictorial history of Ryde, Kingsclear Books, Alexandria, 1998
George Redding, A history of North Ryde: 1850–1950, North Ryde Public School Ex-pupils History Group, Allambie, 1986
North Ryde Skyline, Drive-ins Down Under website, http://www.drive-insdownunder.com.au/australian/nsw_northryde.htm, viewed 23 April 2009