Dictionary of Sydney

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The township of Yarrawarrah in Sutherland Shire is on the western side of both the Princes Highway and the Illawarra railway line heading north to Sydney. It borders the Royal National Park on its eastern side and is located between the suburbs of Loftus to the north and Engadine to the south. It is sited on a ridge which runs down to Loftus Creek, a tributary of the Woronora River, and is part of the Woronora catchment. It sits on predominantly Hawkesbury sandstone overlaid in parts by Ashfield shale of the Wianamatta group.

The earliest inhabitants of Yarrawarrah were the Tharawal people.

Although the suburb is now known as Yarrawarrah, it was originally part of a settlement known locally as North Engadine. The early history of the area is therefore told as the story of North Engadine.

By road and rail

The year 1864 saw the creation of a road surveyed by Parkinson to the Illawarra District which connected Tom Uglys Point on the Georges River to Sutherland and Bottle Forest (now Heathcote East). [1] It would later, in 1920, become part of the Princes Highway.

The National Park was declared in 1879, reserving a large tract of land along the coastal seaboard commencing at Sutherland.

On 9 March 1886 the Illawarra railway line was opened to Waterfall, south of Sutherland, with a station located between the two at Heathcote. [2] These stopping places were originally the camps or work areas for the railway workers.

Crown lands to the south of Sutherland were designated as the village of Heathcote (1887) and later extended by the suburban lands of Heathcote, notified on 26 August 1903.

Although both road and rail went past the land there was no immediate development. This was probably due to the poor quality of the land in question, and no designated place for a train to stop.

Crown Land development

Charles McAlister took up the first portions of crown land in 1887, no doubt offered for sale due to the opening of the railway line. A few families who built cottages either as residences or weekenders were the only other residents by the early 1900s, in what was to become the suburb of Engadine. Land was taken up from the southern end of the unoccupied lands because of the position of the railway town of Heathcote. A progress association was formed about this time to represent the needs of the early pioneering families. In 1916, with the release of Crown land to the north of this settlement specifically for returned soldiers, the population grew slightly. However a larger influx of residents made up of struggling inner-city families affected by the Depression was to change the identity of the area forever. Families looking for crisis accommodation and a new life from 1931 formed the basis for a stronger community and improved their bargaining power to lobby for services. This set the scene and conditions for a new and distinct population which would be established a few years later.

Unemployed camp at North Engadine

In 1934 about 40 families were relocated from such places as the unemployed camp at Cook Park at Botany Bay to land which took the Engadine settlement even further north. [3] A 'tyranny of distance' from existing and already limited local services meant that life in the new camp was extremely difficult. Many residents lived in hessian huts or humpies and there were no made roads. The early settlers of Engadine had already been struggling for many years to achieve improvements to existing services, so the future looked bleak. The new residents appear to have formed their own progress association to specifically meet their needs. [4] In 1936 this infant community asked for a road leading from the settlement to the Princes Highway to be built. At the same time they made representations to the Railways Department for a wooden platform at North Engadine. [5]

The local council was sympathetic to their plight. In addition to supporting requests to the Departments of Works and Local Government for funding for the abovementioned projects, a free circulating library was inaugurated by the Shire President Councillor ES Shaw in 1937 on the suggestion of Father Dunlea of Sutherland. [6] In 1938 the Australian Women's Guild of Empire, an organisation that raised money for working-class women and children hit by the Depression, provided more than 100 dolls to the 52 children of the unemployment camp as Christmas presents. [7]

Identity crisis and a brief industrial boom

A slight rivalry between the two communities occurred in 1938, when the Engadine Progress Association asked the council to alter the name of North Engadine. The Association thought the linking of the two areas by a similar name was detrimental to their settlement. [8]

However by 1939 the local progress association that had existed in North Engadine was disbanded. This may have been because many of the original settlers had moved away or due to the onset of a new war. [9]

In 1939 a clay and shale pit was opened by Austin (Dick) Harrington, of Harrington's Clay and Shale Pits, near the North Engadine settlement. [10] Perhaps the only real impact this had on the area was that it provided the impetus to lobby for better access for the community, as the pit was located at the bottom of the unmade road later named Old Bush Road (1949). In later years, it served as a rifle range for a small bore club, after the pit was closed in 1958. [11]

A new beginning

The County of Cumberland plan was introduced in 1948. This imposed a state planning scheme on the city of Sydney. The Crown lands of the north Engadine area were now classified as part of the Green Belt, an area which was set aside as a buffer zone circling the city. As a result, future development was on hold.

The isolation and vulnerability of the community became even more obvious when in 1952 bushfires raged around the area, particularly near the bushland of North Engadine. Five homes were destroyed in less than an hour along the Princes Highway, with one resident injured. [12]

At the end of the 1950s the area was still underserviced. It was compared with the centre of Engadine back in the 1920s. As a result, a new progress association was formed in 1959 in front of the general store located on Old Bush Road. It was named the Engadine North Development Committee and it was agreed that it should operate in association with the Engadine Progress Association. [13]

To advance the cause of better services as a response to growth in the population, the Association agreed in 1960 to an approach to the Housing Commission to encourage them to acquire land in the area. A suitable site for a school in North Engadine was also added to the agenda. By 1962 the committee had formed a group of trustees to raise funds for a community hall. [14]

It was only a couple of years later (1962) that the State Housing Commission announced it was planning a new suburb on 80 acres (32.3 hectares) of crown land between Loftus and Engadine and adjacent to the north Engadine settlement. There was some concern that access to the proposed area was still limited. A railway platform was not yet planned, and the local council stated that a secondary road should be constructed to link Loftus and Engadine when the development commenced. [15]

Yarrawarrah is born

The impact that this development would have on the existing settlement became clear in the early 1970s. The Engadine North Development Committee asked for Sutherland Shire Council's support in having the area officially designated North Engadine. [16]

A primary school was built on Old Bush Road in 1968, with the proposed name Engadine North. This proposal was refused by the Geographical Names Board. Instead they suggested the name Yarrawarrah. [17] The Board advised the council that the name was an Aboriginal word meaning mountain ash and the name of a ridge which was located in the vicinity between Heathcote and Waterfall.

The Lands Department went on to use the name to identify the plans and subdivision maps of land to the north of North Engadine in the early 1970s. With the collapse of the Green Belt concept and the release of previously unavailable land, development was inevitable. The residents of North Engadine were concerned that their community would simply be absorbed into this new suburb. There was also some concern that the boundary for Engadine proper would be moved to include Old Bush Road and environs.

In 1971 the Geographical Names Board officially designated the area Yarrawarrah. [18]

Transport twists and turns

The route taken by the Princes Highway was changed by 1970 by the redirection of the main road to the eastern side of the railway line north of Engadine. This created the opportunity for a link between Engadine and Loftus on the western side of the railway line, which was completed in 1975.

This was a direct result of the development of the Yarrawarrah Crown Land development on which the link road was located. It had little impact however on the residents' new bid for a railway platform between Engadine and Loftus which was again refused in 1979. [19]

A new hall for a new community

A major project which had been started by the North Engadine residents way back in the 1930s was the building of a community hall. Although the residents had petitioned the Lands Department for a block of land near the Princes Highway, they were never able to raise enough money to build a hall. When the progress association was reformed in 1959, it was their goal to ensure this project was carried out. A temporary hall was finally erected with the assistance of volunteers in 1965. In 1983 Sutherland council allocated funds to build a new hall under the name of Yarrawarrah Community Hall. The North Engadine Scout Hall remained and was adjacent to it. The new hall was opened in 1984. [20]

By the end of the decade, a shopping area to service the suburb was opened, and another addition was made to the community centre in response to a growing demand from the population for convenient shopping and recreation.

The area remains a growing community which retains a bushland setting close to the amenities of the rest of the Sutherland Shire. However it is still dependent on car travel as the primary form of transport to and within the area.


Ron Seville, Engadine, 18252001, Parker Pattinson on behalf of Engadine Lions Club, Hurstville NSW, c2011


[1] 'Historical Roads of NSW: Princes Highway', Journal of the Department of Main Roads, vol XVI no 3, March 1951, p 80

[2] Patrick Kennedy, From Bottle Forest to Heathcote: Sutherland Shire's first settlement, the author, Heathcote, c2001 p 38; Maryanne Larkin, Sutherland Shire: A history to 1939, Sutherland History Press, Jannali NSW, 1998, p117

[3] Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 1934, p 5

[4] Engadine North Development Committee, Minute book, 1 November 1959

[5] Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 1936, p 12

[6] Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 1937, p 6

[7] Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 1938, p 20

[8] Hurstville Propeller, 29 December 1938, p 3

[9] Engadine North Development Committee, Minute book, 1 November 1959

[10] Ron Seville, Engadine, 1825–2001, Parker Pattinson on behalf of Engadine Lions Club, Hurstville NSW, c2001, p 48

[11] Sutherland Shire Council, Minute book, 17 December 1958

[12] Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January 1952 p 1

[13] Sutherland Shire Council, Minute book, 30 November 1959

[14] Engadine North Development Committee, Minute book, 27 March 1960

[15] St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 10 October 1962, p 2

[16] Engadine North Development Committee, Minute book, 25 August 1968

[17] St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 2 October 1968, p 31

[18] Sutherland Shire Council, Minute book, 29 November 1971

[19] Sutherland Shire Council, Minute book, 16 July 1979

[20] Ron Seville, Engadine, 1825–2001, Parker Pattinson on behalf of Engadine Lions Club, Hurstville NSW, c2001, pp 108–9