Dictionary of Sydney

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Hornsby Shire

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Hornsby Shire

The Shire of Hornsby is the second largest local government area in the Sydney region, at 510 square kilometres in area (50,990 hectares). It is known as the Bushland Shire, with diverse areas reflecting urban, rural, bushland and river settings.

The Hawkesbury River forms the northern boundary of Hornsby Shire for 35 miles (56.3 kilometres). Along the shire's north eastern boundary lies the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The north-western border is along the Old Northern Road through Maroota then via Glenorie and Dural along to Castle Hill then across Pennant Hills to Carlingford Road down to Epping, and back to Normanhurst along the Lane Cove River and its tributaries.

The traditional inhabitants of the land are the Darug people. They have left a rich heritage of art sites which can be appreciated by all people today.

Before Hornsby Shire was formed, the area was loosely described as the Northern area of the County of Cumberland, and was administered by the Department of Public Works. Hornsby Shire was proclaimed in March 1906 under the Local Government (Shires) Act when 134 shires were formed, with Hornsby being the 130th.

The first council

A provisional council of five members was set up, consisting of Frederick William Browne, John Charles Hunt, John Boyle and Oscar Garibaldi Roberts. The first meeting of the provisional council was held on 14 June 1906 in the Hornsby School of Arts building on Peat's Ferry Road, now Pacific Highway.

Mr Oscar Garibaldi Roberts was elected the temporary Shire President. In the same year, the shire was divided into three ridings or wards, with 329 names in A riding which had an area of 175 square miles (45,325 hectares); B riding had 512 people in eight square miles (2072 hectares), and there were 523 people in C riding for an area of 14 square miles (3626 hectares). [1] Only property owners were allowed to vote.

The first shire election for all of the newly formed councils was held on 24 November 1906. In Hornsby Shire two councillors were elected from each riding, with the first council including John Charles Hunt and Albert Henry Best representing A riding, Frederick William Browne and George Peel Morris representing B riding, and William Mark Nixon and Charles Churchill Tucker representing C riding. [2]

The initial meeting of the first elected council took place in the School of Arts building on 8 December 1906, and Councillor John Charles Hunt was elected Shire President. At the second election, in 1910, the number of councillors increased to nine with the election of an additional representative from each ward.

The Council Chambers building was built in 1915 and a second story was added in 1930 with the Administration Centre opening in 1964. The Council Chambers were refurbished and reopened in September 1990.

Changes in the shire

The population of the shire in 1906 was approximately 4700 people across an area of 97 square miles (25,123 hectares). [3] In comparison, the 1851 census recorded a mere 184 individuals in North Colah and 237 persons in South Colah, with a combined total of the two parishes of 98 houses, all timber or slab except for one stone house. [4] These parishes now form part of the Shire of Hornsby.

Since the end of World War II, there has been rapid growth within the shire with the population growing from 30,500 in June 1945 to an estimated 140,000 in June 1998. In the 2001 Census, there were 38,569 separate houses (77.6 per cent of all dwellings), 3,369 semi-detached, row or terrace houses and townhouses, 7,054 flats, units or apartments, and 288 other dwellings with a total population of 146,000.

Significant language groups within the shire include Chinese (10,181), Korean (2,200), Arabic (1,700), Italian (1,400) and Hindi (1,051).

A shared history

Geologically the shire is located on the Hornsby Plateau with its highest point at Cowan. The plateau is dissected by steep gullies and has a number of drowned valleys, such as Berowra and Cowan Creeks. The area is dominated by Hawkesbury Sandstone and Wianamatta shale.

The white histories of the suburbs that now make up Hornsby Shire all follow a similar pattern. The first Europeans to arrive in the districts from 1794 onwards were generally farmers and orchardists, followed by timber-getters from 1816, but of course there are broad overlaps. Once the valuable timber was removed and if the soils in the area were fertile, orchardists and farmers were more readily able to cultivate the land. With the improvements in roads, and the coming of the railway, fruit growers diversified their plantings, as the transportation of soft fruit to market without spoiling was now possible. Along the railway line, land began to increase in value and subdivisions into residential blocks started.

Before the building of the railway, there had been little development within the Hornsby Shire area and few people. In the northern area to the Hawkesbury River the land was too poor for cultivation and most of the small settlements were accessed by water only. The southern end of the shire, the area from Hornsby to Pennant Hills and Epping, was more fertile, supporting orchards and with pasturage for stock on the 5,000 acres (2023.4 hectares) of common land, known as the Field of Mars Common.

The opening of the railway lines in Hornsby Shire – from Strathfield to Hornsby in 1886 and the north shore line from St Leonards to Hornsby in 1890 – increased land values. Early development within the shire followed the railway lines and ridge tops. Paddocks and orchards were sold to real estate agents for subdivision. The size of the blocks varied. Some were small, meant only for cottages or shops, while other sites were up to 2 acres (0.8 hectare). These usually had fine vistas of the surrounding countryside with room for tennis courts and stables.

The high elevation and clean air of these suburbs was advertised, and attracted business men who wanted family homes in a rural setting with easy access to the city. Patients suffering from tuberculosis and respiratory ailments were advised to live at high elevation where the air was clear. Suburbs in the shire met these criteria.

The bushland shire

Today only the western area of the shire retains its rural nature but this is now changing with more land being opened for housing development. Even so, about half the shire is zoned as National Park or Nature Reserve. In the shire, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Marramarra National Park, Muogamarra Nature Reserve and Berowra Valley Regional Park have large areas of bushland, which provides protection to native animals and plants. A further 23 per cent of the land is reserved as open space and 16 per cent is allocated rural, leaving only 10 per cent of the shire as urban.


Claire Schofield, The Shaping of Hornsby Shire, Hornsby Shire Council, Hornsby, 1988


[1] Claire Schofield, The Shaping of Hornsby Shire, Hornsby Shire Council, Hornsby, 1988, p 106

[2] Claire Schofield, The Shaping of Hornsby Shire, Hornsby Shire Council, Hornsby, 1988, p 106

[3] Hornsby Shire Historical Society, Pioneers of Hornsby Shire 1788-1906, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1979, p 261

[4] LB Geelan, Galston – Arcadia Memories of Value 1819–1986, Galston Centenary Committee, Sydney, 1986, p 5