Dictionary of Sydney

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Artarmon is a residential and industrial suburb on Sydney's lower north shore. Bound by suburbs on all sides, it is punctuated with a few parks and divided by the railway line running north to south. On the western boundary is a high ridge, along which timber-getters first travelled, bringing timber south to the city of Sydney. The route is now the Pacific Highway. The land then slopes down to the east as far as the valley running through the neighbouring suburb of Naremburn. The area is quite hilly, giving many residents expansive views to the city of Sydney, apart from the industrial area to the west, which was flattened for use. The suburb sits on Hawkesbury sandstone, topped by Ashfield shale. The soil mixture of clay and sand produces fertile soil. Most of the original vegetation was cleared initially for farms and orchards, later for industrial and residential use, but a small pocket remains at Artarmon Reserve.

Until the 1820s, the Cammeraygal people lived in and around Artarmon. They made good use of the fertility of the area, and found abundance in bushes and native animals, fishing in creeks, and managing the bushland. But by 1830, there were no Aboriginal people following a traditional lifestyle left in the area.

Early settlement and the naming of Artarmon

In 1794 the first 10 land grants were issued in West Artarmon. However, very few grants were taken up, and most of those were not held for long. The terrain was tough and before stumping and clearing for roads and the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, getting to the northern shore of Sydney required an arduous journey.

In 1810, Provost Marshal William Gore was granted 150 acres (61 hectares) of land in Artarmon by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, and the development of Artarmon began. Gore's farm was on the eastern side of Artarmon between Mowbray Road, Artarmon Recreational Reserve and Sydney Street. Gore named his farm Artarmon after his ancestral home Ardthelmon Castle in Ireland. Initially, Gore prospered and he was able to purchase 12 surrounding farms as well as James Williamson's Polmont Farm on the western side of the Pacific Highway. By 1815, he owned most of the land between St Leonards and Mowbray Road, making him the biggest landowner in the district. Unfortunately, in 1818, Gore defaulted on his mortgage and lost most of his land, apart from a small portion where he built Artarmon House in which he lived until his death in 1845.

Artarmon House was acquired by Richard Harnett, who lived in it for some time before building a house adjacent in 1869. Harnett was Mayor of North Willoughby in 1871 and was later responsible for subdivisions in Chatswood. His home was later owned by George Whiting, who called it Valetta. It had extensive gardens including a pear tree and beds of roses. George Whiting died in 1922, after which his estate was purchased by North Sydney Brick and Tile Company. They demolished the house in 1939, though the stables remain in the grounds of Gore Hill College of Technical and Further Education.

The 1850s saw large areas of Crown land auctioned off. Newcomers established orchards, market gardens and farms. Rough tracks and paths began to make an appearance, thanks to the beginnings of both foot and horse and cart traffic, including the beginning of Mowbray and Willoughby Roads and the Pacific Highway. Reserve Road and Elizabeth Street were among the first roads in Artarmon to be rated, in 1882 and 1887 respectively.

In 1865 the municipality of North Willoughby, which included Artarmon, Lane Cove and Willoughby, was proclaimed. Sixty-seven householders signed the petition to the Governor requesting the creation of the Municipality and claimed there to be 400 inhabitants in the district, of whom only a handful would have resided in Artarmon. Among the first tasks of the new council seems to have been the reservation of large portions of land for future public use.

Gore Hill Cemetery and Cleland Park

In 1868, a 14-acre (5.6-hectare) site was reserved for use as the Gore Hill Cemetery. The first known burial occurred in 1877, and the last burial took place in 1974. Today the cemetery is still open for the deposition of ashes. Many pioneers of Artarmon are buried in the Gore Hill Cemetery, including Edward Robert Lanceley of Lanceley's Brickworks, Evelyn Whiting, the daughter of George Whiting who owned Valetta, and three members of the Gore family.

In 1869 a two-acre (0.8-hectare) portion was reserved as a site for council chambers, though the chambers were never built there and the land later became Cleland Park. A 140-acre (57-hectare) portion was reserved for recreation. This large tract of undeveloped land marked a continuous reverse C from the Pacific Highway next to the cemetery, over the railway line and up to Artarmon Recreation Reserve and was used by neighbouring farmers for timber-getting, pasturing of animals and brickmaking. It was later broken into sites for the Royal North Shore Hospital, Gore Hill Park, Naremburn Park and Artarmon Recreation Reserve.


Development of the western portion of Artarmon (around the cemetery and the site of the Royal North Shore Hospital) continued at this time, in large part thanks to a boom in brickmaking. Bricks were first made in the area in 1828 but the 1880s saw large scale operators such as Gore Hill Brickworks, Butcher Bros, Magney and Weynton, Wilson's (and later the combined group of Lanceley, Oswin and Magney and Weynton that became North Sydney Brick and Tile Company) working in Artarmon. The arrival of the railway in 1890 enabled them to utilise Newcastle coal to fire the kilns and to transport bricks in bulk. Many brickmakers lived in Reserve Road and the surrounding streets or in tents near the brickworks resulting in a working-class settlement with its own post office from 1884–90. Brickmaking played its part as a stable industry in Artarmon well into the 1900s. North Shore Brick and Tile Co was the last firm to leave in 1959. Roads and streets developed in and around the brickworks, including Herbert, Waltham and Frederick streets. This portion of Artarmon later continued as an industrial area.

Railways and hospitals

The coming of the North Shore railway in 1890 produced population growth and increased land use in the area. However in Artarmon this was delayed because the government did not construct a platform until 1898. Instead, further expansion of Artarmon and its surrounds in the 1880s was facilitated by the extension of the North Sydney tramline to Gore Hill and along what was then Gordon Road (now Pacific Highway) to Lane Cove. People now had a fast and reliable method of travel down to the ferry at Milsons Point, which would carry them across the harbour to the city. When Artarmon station opened in 1898 it had a single platform on the down side of a single line from St Leonards to Hornsby, 624 metres north of its present position. The trains had difficulty starting on the 1-in-52 grade and so in 1900 it was replaced with a new island platform in the current location. In 1916 the original timber building was replaced with the standard brick station building that still stands today. The electrification of the line started in 1927 and took five years to complete. Artarmon station is located approximately in the centre of Gore's original farm.

As the number of people living on the North Shore increased, so too did the need for more public facilities. Sir Henry Parkes laid the foundation stone of the North Shore Cottage Hospital in Willoughby Road, Crows Nest on 18 June 1887. The hospital soon proved to be too small, and on 10 June 1903 the Royal North Shore Hospital opened on eight acres (three hectares) of land at its present site. It had two wards of 20 beds in the original Nightingale Pavilion and an administration block. In 1948 it became a teaching hospital and it has continued to expand, with the main building opened by Sir Roden Cutler in 1977 and a new building under construction in 2007. The North Shore Private Hospital opened alongside it in 1988.

Public utilities

The late 1890s saw the introduction of public utilities to the North Shore. They were to make life more comfortable for the residents and the area more attractive for newcomers. Energy supply initially came in the form of gas, with the first gas street lamp lit in 1896 on the corner of Pacific Highway and Mowbray Road. Gas was utilised in households for stoves, fires, heaters and lighting.

The supply of gas was challenged by electricity from as early as 1914, when a 10-year contract was signed with the Sydney County Council for the supply of electricity throughout the Municipality, and in 1916 electricity took over as the dominant form of energy. A large electricity sub-station sits in Artarmon, bounded by Carlotta, Campbell and Clarendon streets.

Water supply to Artarmon was originally self-service and settlers were required to find and build a well. Later, people installed galvanised tanks to collect water from their roofs. In 1888 two service reservoirs were erected on the corner of Pacific Highway and Mowbray Road to supply water to the North Shore. Water was carried from the Ryde Pumping Station through a rising main, crossing the Lane Cove River via a pipe suspension bridge. Initially criticised and unwanted by residents, the water tanks have since proved their worth. A third much larger tank was erected in 1966.

When rapid urbanisation ruled out the practice of burying sewerage on land, the need for a comprehensive sewerage removal system was acknowledged and sanitary men were introduced, collecting waste overnight with horses and carts. The need for discreet access explains why the older parts of the Willoughby district have lanes running parallel to the streets at the backs of blocks. Some areas were supplied with a sewer as early as 1899, but comprehensive coverage didn't occur until 1920.

Garbage was also disposed of on individual properties in the early years. It was either buried or burnt, but by the 1920s this was becoming problematic and so the Council set up a collection service. Initially the tip site was at Flat Rock Creek on Willoughby Road. Waste that could be burnt went into the incinerator designed by Walter Burley Griffin at 2 Small Street, Willoughby, and the rest was used to fill the Flat Rock Creek gully. Later, Willoughby Council took over the land that had housed Lanceley's brick pit in Artarmon and established a Garbage Transfer Station. This was run from 1974 to 1987 by a private company, Willoughby Waste Disposals, and later by the state-run Metropolitan Waste Disposal Authority, also called Waste Service NSW and now WSN Environmental Solutions.

Retail development

In 1906, 57 Artarmon residents petitioned for a post office. Although Chatswood Post Office, which had opened in 1897, served them, the system was unsatisfactory because the mail did not arrive until late morning. The application was unsuccessful, but a mailbox was established at Artarmon railway station in 1907, with three collection times and local storekeepers were authorised to sell stamps. In 1909, James Hall, a storekeeper, was appointed postmaster. The postwar boom of 1919–20 resulted in a postal revenue rise from £479 to £718, proving to the government that there was indeed a need for a post office in Artarmon. It was completed in 1924.

Thanks to the brisk building trade in the 1900s and the ease of access provided by the North Shore railway, Artarmon became increasingly prosperous, and shops began to appear on Hampden Road near the station. In 1907 there were 152 houses in Artarmon and four business premises. By 1914 there were 11 shops on Hampden Road and more were in the process of being built. The use of various styles of shop-front brickwork presents a decorative facade that can still be seen today.

Schools and churches

By the 1910s, Artarmon was a sizeable enough community to warrant its own churches and school. Artarmon Public School, on the corner of McMillan and Abbott roads, began as an infants' school with 66 pupils. By 1917 the school had been expanded to include primary classes, and 272 students were enrolled. In 1924 four new classrooms were built on McMillan Road and in 1928 a separate boys' department was erected in Abbott Road.

A Methodist church was opened in 1910 in Hanover Street, later Dickson Avenue, serving the community in West Artarmon. It was closed in 1960 when the area became industrialised and population fell, and the site was sold. St Basil's Anglican Church in Broughton Road was built in 1912 and it was extended in 1956. St Andrew's Uniting Church in Tindale Road was first established around the same time, but the church building was not erected until the mid 1920s. Services were initially held in a school hall in Herbert Street, West Artarmon.

Community spirit

In 1914, community spirit developing in Artarmon was embodied in the Artarmon and District Progress Association. Responding to local issues such as roads and street lighting, the Association became a watch-dog for civic development. Its main focus was on improving the suburb and in 1926 it initiated the subway under the railway line between Elizabeth Street and Hampden Road. In 1958 the Artarmon library building and 2nd Artarmon scout hall were completed with substantial involvement from the Association. Traffic and parking issues continue to be addressed through petitions, submissions to government, and keeping residents informed.

The Artarmon Library began as a small children's library run by volunteers in 1944 in a corner shop on Elizabeth Street. In 1958 the present building was erected and the Artarmon Junior Library was established. Later it was to include adult books. In 1964 it was renamed the David Warner Community Library in honour of his service on the Council. In 1975 it was incorporated into the Willoughby Library group and became the Artarmon Community Library. Since 1980 the building has also housed the Noah's Ark Toy Library for children with special needs.

Artarmon East

Although the early subdivisions of east Artarmon were made in 1910, the boom period did not really begin until the 1920s. Before this, Artarmon was littered with paddocks, bracken fern grew along creek beds, and numerous bush fires marked the summer. The early homes consisted of Federation-style and row houses, followed in the 1930s by Californian bungalows and small blocks of flats. Although mainly residential, some commercial and service facilities were built on the eastern side of the line.

Sport and recreation

As people settled into the suburban community they found ways to entertain themselves through sport and recreation. From as early as the 1900s, cricket and rugby were played on what was then the rough patch of Gore Hill Oval. The 1st Artarmon Scouts formed in 1919 and by 1922 they had acquired a scout hall in Cleland Park. In 1972 they merged with the 2nd Artarmon Scouts and carried out meetings in the Hampden Road Scouts Hall, built in 1958. Following quickly in their footsteps the Girl Guides founded the 1st Artarmon Guide Company in 1931 and built their own hall in Cleland Park in 1933.

Cleland Park is also host to tennis courts leased by Artarmon District Tennis Club since 1925. The original club house was a fragile shed, which moved four feet (1.2 metres) off its foundations during a storm in 1931, after which a new solid brick club house was built. Artarmon residents were determined to play bowls and the Artarmon Bowling Club was founded in 1946. However the bowlers had trouble acquiring their own greens and clubhouse and had to travel to other clubs to bowl until the first green was opened in 1955 and the club house was finally built in 1957.

The Artarmon picture theatre opened on Hampden Road as the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1923. With the arrival of sound in 1928, going to the pictures became a popular social activity for locals. In 1937, it was renamed The Sun, after the Prince of Wales it had been named for had inherited the throne as King Edward VIII, become involved with an American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and abdicated the crown to marry her. The theatre closed in 1951, although it is unlikely it would have survived much longer with the introduction of television in 1956.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation opened at Gore Hill in November 1956. Live productions were filmed in studios built in 1958. Once onsite filming became popular however, the Gore Hill studios were used mainly for news and current affairs, children's and education programmes. In 1991 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation moved its Gore Hill Studios to Ultimo and the site was redeveloped as a technical business park. The television tower remains as a visual reminder.

Further education

The end of World War II in 1945 led the government to establish the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Training Scheme to help returned soldiers back into the workforce. Classes were held at Gore Hill as early as 1947 and corrugated iron Nissen huts accommodated students learning the building trade. In 1961, as higher education became a government priority, the main building of the North Sydney College of Technical and Further Education was opened on land that was once owned by William Gore. As the college expanded, more buildings were erected in an ad hoc fashion, creating a modern campus covering 12.5 acres (5 hectares). To contain the sprawl and limit student numbers in the 1980s, the Gore Hill TAFE reduced the areas of training offered to Electronics, Electrical Engineering, Film and Television, Information Processing and Administrative Studies.

In 1969 the NSW Institute of Technology, later University of Technology, Sydney, opened a campus at Gore Hill in a building originally intended to be part of the TAFE. The Gore Hill campus operated until 2006, when it was merged with the main campus in Sydney. The buildings vacated by the University of Technology, Sydney, have now become part of the TAFE as originally planned.

Artarmon today

Today, Artarmon remains divided, with a leafy residential area on its eastern side and an increasingly high rise, commercial and industrial area to the west. Yet with the railway station and retail strip at its centre, the community atmosphere that pervades the suburb is encompassing and inclusive.


Grace Warner, Artarmon, Past, Present and Future, Management Development Publishers, Sydney, 1988

Willoughby City Library, Willoughby City Fact Sheet - Artarmon