Dictionary of Sydney

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The Rosehill suburb of the city of Parramatta borders the Duck River. Before 1788 the area where the Parramatta and Duck rivers meet (now covered by the suburbs of Rosehill and Camellia) was a significant meeting place for the Cadigal from the east and western Dharug Aboriginal peoples, such as the Wategora, Barramattagal and Bidjigal. Once Governor Phillip established his headquarters at Rose Hill (Parramatta), however, Aboriginal occupation was disrupted by the growing number and extent of land grants to white settlers.

The Macarthurs establish Elizabeth Farm

One of the major beneficiaries of European land grants was John Macarthur, who received a first grant of 100 acres (40 hectares) in 1793. As he gained more grants and bought up land given to others, Macarthur built a large estate and named it Elizabeth Farm, after his wife. It was here that the Macarthurs began experimenting with the production of fine wool. By the 1820s, their estate covered approximately 1,000 acres (400 hectares) bounded by the road to Sydney and by the Parramatta and Duck rivers. Elizabeth Farm House, built as a modest brick cottage in 1793, was re-modelled several times into a graceful example of an Indian bungalow, with wide verandahs, doric columns and a rose garden.

Elizabeth Farm remained intact and in the Macarthur family after the deaths of John (1834) and Elizabeth (1850). It was not until 1880 that the estate was sold to the solicitor Septimus A Stephen, who then subdivided it, using the name 'Rosehill' in his advertisements.

The racecourse

Theatrical entrepreneur John Bennett bought a large slice of Rosehill for a racecourse and recreation ground. The course opened in April 1885 and Bennett even built a private railway track connecting it to the main line at Clyde.

Rosehill was not, however, destined to grow into a garden suburb around a racecourse. In 1885 it was incorporated into the new municipality of Granville, sandwiched between the fast-industrialising areas of Camellia and Clyde. It was only in 1949 that the Granville municipality became part of an extended city of Parramatta. There was some residential subdivision, mainly west of the racecourse, and a primary school opened in Rosehill during the 1880s, with just over 60 children. But Elizabeth Farm House fell on hard times. It was used as a glue factory and then a boarding house before the Swann family rescued and restored it in the 1900s. Elizabeth Farm is now a museum administered by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

Industry and manufacture

Land east of the racecourse was increasingly attractive to manufacturers, because of its river frontage and rail connections. In the 1910s Wunderlich established a plant in Rosehill to produce the red tiles that were a feature of contemporary Federation housing. In the same decade, John Fell set up a shale oil refinery on the Duck River and in the 1920s began to refine crude oil there. Development of the site was made possible by the construction of a railway siding and the Duck River wharf. In 1928, following a catastrophic accident that killed John Fell's son, he sold out to Shell Oil, which expanded operations there during much of the twentieth century. Although Shell's plant is known as the Clyde Oil Refinery, the oldest refinery in Australia is actually located in Rosehill and is its most significant industrial site.

The postwar growth of population in the Parramatta district is, however, causing controversy regarding the location of the refinery. Despite concerns raised by Parramatta City Council and community groups – about pollution of the Duck River and the dangers caused by several fires – the refinery is still operating.


T Kass, C Liston and J McClymont, Parramatta: A Past Revealed, Parramatta City Council, Parramatta, 1996

J McClymont, Pictorial History: Parramatta and district, Kingsclear Books, Alexandria, New South Wales, 2001

'Rosehill' files, Local Studies and Family History Library, Parramatta City Library