Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.


CC BY-SA 2.0
Cite this


The township of Sutherland in the Sutherland Shire is located on the Old Princes Highway (formerly Princes Highway) and the Illawarra railway line. It borders the Woronora Cemetery to the west and the Royal National Park to the south. It is located on a prominent ridge-line which runs eastward across the shire.

The earliest inhabitants of Sutherland were the Tharawal people.

The Holt-Sutherland estate

Much of what is now Sutherland Shire was originally land grants purchased over a period of time by Thomas Holt. The South Botany Estate, as it was known, was an estimated 12,000 acres (4856 hectares) and was divided into 11 paddocks. Those sections of the estate that were destined for the Sutherland township subdivision were part of the Woronora Paddock and the Gymea Ground Paddock. The Gymea Ground Paddock was noted for its forest timber, ironbark, stringybark, red and white gum, blackbutt, bloodwood and turpentine. [1]

The coming of the railway and the national park

In 1865 Parkinson surveyed what was the Illawarra Road from Tom Ugly's Point to the South Coast. The western boundary of the Holt-Sutherland Estate had the 'main road to Wollongong passing through it as well as the road to Liverpool which crosses the (Woronora) river.' [2] By 1873 it was decided to build a railway line from Sydney to the Illawarra. In 1879, 18,000 acres (7284 hectares) of dedicated land, to the south of Port Hacking and close to the proposed line, were opened as a national park for public recreation. The potential to increase the numbers of tourists who were easily able to take day-trips from the city after the line opened was an obvious benefit. In addition, it provided employment opportunities within the park and an incentive for permanent settlement in the surrounding area.

After lengthy debate and public meetings, the railway route was officially approved in 1881. As the route passed through a portion of the Holt-Sutherland Estate an opportunity for a subdivision was created.

The first subdivision

In 1881 Thomas Holt subleased most of his estate to a company named the Holt-Sutherland Estate Land Company which was formed primarily to prepare and administer the land for settlement. The first release was at Sylvania and in October 1881 the company's surveyor, Curtis, was asked to submit a design for a proposed township to the south-west of the Sylvania subdivision. In November it was completed and at the request of the company directors the subdivision was named Sutherland.

In February 1882 the company made the land available for sale as the Township of Sutherland. The largest purchaser of the land was John Kennedy Doyle of Tamworth. [3] However he overstretched his finances and was declared bankrupt in 1884. Speculation rather than settlement was the initial interest in this subdivision.

Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company

In 1868, the land close to what would become Sutherland shopping centre was described as mostly 'too rocky or too poor for the plough.' It was not part of the Holt-Sutherland Estate but remained government land, referred to in a report prepared for Thomas Holt. [4] This land was purchased as two portions by Samuel Gray in 1878. Gray had been the member of the Legislative Assembly for Illawarra and had favored the construction of the Illawarra railway line. In 1885 he sold the land to the Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company. The railways decided to site the station in the Intercolonial subdivision rather than in that of the Holt-Sutherland Estate Land Company. [5] The railway line to Sutherland was opened in December 1885. The Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company offered their estate, on the eastern side of the railway line, also known as Sutherland Township, for sale in April 1886. The Holt-Sutherland Estate Land Company subdivision, on the western side of the railway line, was offered for sale in September 1887. A difference between the land offered by the two companies was that the Intercolonial land was freehold and the Holt-Sutherland land was on a 99-year leasehold.

Settlement for Sutherland

Timber-getters had contracts to take timber from the Holt-Sutherland township area before the railway line was completed to Sutherland. Supplies for the railway line could have been milled at the site, in addition to being used for general building purposes. Other settlers to the Sutherland area were the Wigzell and the Stapleton families. Both had secured leases from the Holt-Sutherland Estate Land Company.

Local historian Maryanne Larkin states that there were 16 families living there in makeshift housing. [6] According to the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 December 1885, the area in which the station was being erected was 'at present in a state of nature – a solitary house or two and numerous navvies' tents being the only evidence of habitation.' [7]

Sutherland Brickworks was established by a Mr Cartwright in part of the grounds of the present day Woronora Cemetery. The brickworks provided sandstock bricks for some early residences. [8] By the end of 1887 the Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company declared that their Sutherland Township subdivision was being settled and the shopping/commercial area was growing. [9] The majority of families were 'labouring men' in transient occupations, however the growth was thought to be sufficient to warrant and 'maintain a small public school' which opened that year. [10] William Bramley purchased three blocks in the Intercolonial Investment Land and Building Company subdivision on the eastern side of the railway station and built the first brick general store and a hotel, which he named the Railway Hotel. The Stapleton family, who had been supplying meat to the railway workers along the length of the railway extension, opened a store on the same side at the northern end of the subdivision in 1896.

On the western side of the railway line, in addition to the Royal Hotel run by Katherine Kitt, a congregational church had been erected in a location which was seen to be the centre of the township. Numerous denominations attended this church as it was the only religious building in use. Later, other religious denominations such as the Catholics (1892) and the Church of England (1894) opened purpose-built churches for their congregations. A limited postal service was available at the railway station from 1 July 1886 and at a separate building on railway land from 1891. In 1893 a brick house was rented for the postmaster, Charles Powell.

Before the turn of the twentieth century, the Brinsley family began a long association with the town and district of Sutherland Shire. Working originally from home and later from a purpose-built joinery which is now heritage-listed, this business met many of the building needs of the area.

The 1890s

During the 1890s depression men were given relief work in the nearby national park. Some Sutherland shopkeepers, such as William Bramley, suffered financial loss and were forced to sell. However it was also a time for community-minded residents to establish community facilities. Daniel Lobb was responsible for building a community centre known as Lobb's Hall which replaced a very early building referred to as a school of arts.

Woronora Cemetery was gazetted on 2 April 1895. Charles Fripp was the first superintendent. A short railway link between Sutherland Station and the cemetery was opened on 28 July 1900. [11] The cemetery provided the town with a source of employment and, later, fostered associated light industry such as stonemasonry.

By 1890 the township had grown sufficiently to require a police presence. Later, in 1899, the residents united to form a progress association to assist with further development of the town. Issues of general concern were transport from Sutherland railway station to outlying farms and properties, and promotion of the area to the wider community. By the time the southern communities were ready for incorporation as a shire in 1906, Sutherland township was the most likely candidate to become the centre for local government.

A transport network

After the railway line was opened, a spur line to the National Park was built in 1900. A proposal to open a steam tramway to the seaside town of Cronulla was on the drawing board for some years before it opened in 1911. Sutherland Tramway League, made up of mostly Sutherland business men and residents, were a rival faction to those groups from the Cronulla and Kogarah area lobbying for a route which would suit their geographical locations. To the benefit of the Sutherland township, the route chosen commenced at Sutherland railway station and ended at Shelly Park in Cronulla. The future of Sutherland as a transport node was assured as most commuters would have to pass through Sutherland to reach destinations within the shire.

Service expansion and welfare

There was some uncertainty about Sutherland's supremacy as the centre of the shire when the location of the first purpose-built council chambers was decided in 1913–14. By this time other suburbs of the shire had grown sufficiently to challenge the autonomy of the township of Sutherland. However the council voted that Sutherland should remain the location for the chambers and the die was cast. Today Sutherland continues to be the administrative centre.

The railway line to Sutherland was electrified in 1926 and nearby suburbs, including Sutherland, received a power supply. As time went on, improvements continued in proportion to the growth in population and stability of the local community. By 1928 the Sutherland school had grown sufficiently in numbers to become the first high school in the shire – it remained the only one until 1959.

In the 1930s, Sutherland, like everywhere else in Sydney, suffered the Depression, with many families in trouble and in need of assistance. It was not uncommon to see unemployed people selling flowers along the road to the cemetery. Despite this, Sutherland was the first township to have a baby health centre. The work of Father Thomas Dunlea, Roman Catholic parish priest at Sutherland, was notable at this time. He took in homeless boys and later rented a small cottage in the centre of town to accommodate the growing number. Due to overcrowding and insufficient space, it later moved to Engadine and became the well-known Boys' Town.

In 1939 a railway line from Sutherland to Cronulla was opened and completed the network of links between the shire suburbs with Sutherland as a hub.

Postwar Sutherland

As Sutherland was so close to the national park, residents used parts of the park closest to the township for recreational purposes. With permission of the Park Trust, an area had been used as a rifle range from 1915, set up primarily by councillors and local businessmen. Over the years other sporting and recreational activities had also been held there. In 1950 due to the housing crisis the rifle range area was used to temporarily house low-income families in a camping ground that operated until 1958. By then housing was more easily obtainable, so the remaining people were moved. The area then became playing fields, known as Waratah Memorial Playing Grounds.

In 1939, it was proposed that a courthouse be built in Sutherland as the closest one was at Kogarah. Land was purchased in 1945 and the courthouse opened in the 1950s.

In the 1960s attention turned again to the civic needs of the shire. This included a new council chambers and civic hall. The new council chamber was opened on 22 October 1965 and a separate civic centre was opened in 1976.

In the early 1970s the courthouse was deemed too small and plans were made to move to a new building as a temporary measure. A new site in Sutherland was acquired in 1978 but 10 years elapsed before a courthouse was opened. This was followed in 1990 by a new police complex next to the courthouse.

The centre of the shire

Since the 1990s the development of Sutherland has largely been determined by its proximity to public transport. The redevelopment of single dwellings to medium density townhouses and high density flats has been prolific. Other infrastructure improvements, including office space, roads and parking have been prominent in planning strategies aimed at maintaining Sutherland's identity as the central transport hub and administrative centre for the Shire.


[1] RC Walker, Sutherland Estate Report, 1868, p 68

[2] RC Walker, Sutherland Estate Report, 1868, p 74

[3] M Larkin, Sutherland Shire: A History to 1939, Sutherland History Press, Jannali, NSW, 1998, p 21

[4] RC Walker, Sutherland Estate Report, 1868, p 75

[5] M Larkin, Sutherland Shire: A History to 1939, Sutherland History Press, Jannali, N.S.W, 1998, p 51

[6] M Larkin, Sutherland Shire: A History to 1939, Sutherland History Press, Jannali, N.S.W, 1998, p 97

[7] Sydney Morning Herald, 28 December 1885

[8] M Boyd, Woronora Cemetery and Crematorium, 1895–1995, Where beauty softens grief, Woronora General Cemetery and Crematorium Trust, Sutherland NSW, 1995, p 1

[9] Sutherland Shire Historical Society Bulletin, April 1976, p 49

[10] P Thomas, Sutherland School Centenary1887–1987, Centenary Committee, Sutherland Public School, Sutherland, NSW, 1987, p 3

[11] M Boyd, Woronora Cemetery and Crematorium, 1895–1995, Where beauty softens grief, Woronora General Cemetery and Crematorium Trust, Sutherland NSW, 1995, p 9