Dictionary of Sydney

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Killara is a suburb of Ku-ring-gai Municipality. Its name is derived from the Aboriginal language and means 'always there'. It is located 14 kilometres from Sydney, between the suburbs of Lindfield and Gordon. It has an area of 487 hectares. With a name that symbolises a feeling of permanence, Killara is often described as 'a lush haven', 'a quiet retreat', and an area of 'solid respectability'.

The timber-getters

Fiddens Wharf Road, earlier known as Wharf Road, was renamed Government Road when it led to a convict timber-cutting camp run by the government in 1805. The location of the camp was plotted in 1831 by a surveyor named Turner. Turner identified the site, recorded the location of sawpits, boatmen's huts and the wharf, and located additional sawpits further to the south-west of Fiddens Wharf Road. He also recorded the location of administrative huts and stables higher up the ridge, and a large well that was located near what is now Lady Game Drive. This well was not filled in until 1914. Convicts dragged the timber to the water's edge via the flat now known as Redbank Oval. JG Edwards described the hardship these men faced:

What wretched lives were spent at that old camp of convicts. Soon as a man wearied in his work, whether from sickness or other cause, he was sent to Sydney where a magistrate, after very little inquiry, ordered 25 or more lashes, after which he returned to camp to toil at the saw. [1]

In 1814 the camp was still operating, with a population of one free overseer/resident, and 48 convicts: two overseers, 11 sawyers, four fellers, seven shingle-splitters, eight carriage-drivers, four stockmen, one boatman, two smiths, one wheelwright, five labourers, and two watchmen. In 1819 the camp was disbanded because the site had been denuded of suitable trees. The lives of these convicts are symbolically represented today in the 'convict steps' following the original convict track down to Fiddens Wharf.

Early land grants

On 5 April 1821, Governor Macquarie issued five crown grants of land that were to shape the present suburb of Killara: 100 acres (40.4 hectares) to John Griffiths, 80 acres (32.3 hectares) to Edwin Booker, 60 acres (24.2 hectares) to Samuel Midgley, 45 acres (18.2 hectares) to Henry Oliver, and 40 acres (16.1 hectares) to Joseph Fidden. The Crown imposed conditions that the new owners must not sell for five years and must cultivate 20 acres (8 hectares) within the five-year period. The land covered by the five grants was first logged for its timber, mostly blackbutt, ironbark, stringybark and blue gum, the last two species considered by Governor Macquarie to be 'the best and fittest for Buildings and Floorings'.

The timber-getters were itinerant. They were there to work the land, not to live in it. They built houses that were haphazard and crude – bush huts made of a few sheets of bark stripped from melaleucas for the walls and roofs. The buildings were small – often measuring not more than three metres by two metres – and basic, with a rustic fireplace and a chimney shaped out of a rolled piece of bark and poked through a hole in the roof. The timber-getting era of the 1820s and the 1830s was busy and profitable. The free settlers and crown land grantees were able to hire freed labour to work not only their land but also government land where they bought timber rights. Timber-laden bullock drays and jinkers were a common sight in those days, pulling their heavy loads along the Pennant Hills Road, then down into the Lane Cove River along tracks formed by convict labour in the 1800s.

Getting to Sydney

Killara's links with Sydney from the early days were made by bullock drays on the Lane Cove Road to the Lane Cove River, the main artery of transport by river punt from Fidden's, Jenkins' or Fuller's wharves to Sydney Cove. The infamous Billy Blue of North Sydney was a waterman who ferried passengers on this route. Public road transport did not arrive until the 1870s, when coaches driven by people such as Tom Watson could carry many more passengers, but the perils and discomfort of the trip (one way and only on weekdays) posed problems. Only the wealthy could afford a private carriage but even a luxurious vehicle could not protect its passengers from the hazards of the dirt tracks.

Jane McGillivray and Springdale

The sixth and largest grant was issued on 28 February 1839 by Governor Sir George Gipps to a schoolmistress, Mrs Jane McGillivray. The Springdale grant is significant because it shaped what is now the heart of Killara, covering the area on either side of the railway station, bordering and including Powell Street, Stanhope Road and Springdale Roads and the Arterial Road and Pacific Highway.

After her marriage broke down, Jane McGillivray moved from Parramatta to Killara in 1856 and sought refuge in her weatherboard cottage. Here she kept an extended family of boarders and day scholars at a small girls' school she had established, near what is now Marian Street. Her death in 1861 set in train a series of complicated events that affected the smooth development of Killara, mainly because her land was bequeathed to the many descendants of her six children, who had very large families scattered far and wide in remote areas of the country.

At one stage, the whole 160 acres (64.7 hectares) was proposed as the site for the Northern Suburbs Cemetery. Trial graves were dug 'in shapes and sizes of adult graves', the whole exercise arousing fear and suspicion among the residents.

Two ladies gathering flowers in the bush got the fright of their lives when they saw a man digging some five or six feet below the surface. They thought a murder had been committed and the victim's body being disposed of surreptitiously, under cover of darkness. [2]

Eventually the project was abandoned after successful lobbying for the north shore railway line led to the subdivision of much of the land for the Killara railway station.

Before the coming of the railway, travel was via the Pacific Highway, formerly named Hunters Hill Road, Pennant Hills Road, Gordon Road and Lane Cove Road. For a long time it had a bad reputation for being almost impassable. On one occasion after heavy rain, in order to relieve starving residents, a man carried a sack of flour on his back from North Sydney, as vehicles on wheels could not negotiate the ruts. Parts of the road were 'corduroy' (as were some other roads in the area), built of logs laid perpendicular to the road direction, and in 1922 the worst stretch was said to be between Marian Street and Fiddens Wharf Road, Killara. On very bad days after heavy rain, the women walked while the men pushed and cajoled their transport uphill.

The railway arrives

[media]One of the leading forces in getting the line to the north shore was James George Edwards, local schoolteacher and civic leader, who was a councillor of the Killara Progress Association, and later an alderman on Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council. He was involved in agitation for the line from the 1870s.

Killara station was opened in 10 July 1899, six years after the first train service from Milsons Point to Hornsby on 1 May 1893. Its creation was not without intrigue and its share of feuds. Residents were unwilling to part with slivers of their land or their money. Generous pledges were made but actual contributions amounted to only £20. The Commissioner for Railways, Mr Oliver, was not particularly impressed that only 29 first class passengers would avail themselves of the service but it was apparently enough to justify building a station.

From rural estate to suburb

To hasten the residential development of Killara, JG Edwards became an estate agent, subdividing parts of the McGillivray land along the railway line in Springdale and Stanhope Roads, selling or leasing lots cheaply at £45 to £50 an acre. This story acquired epic proportions, with Edwards travelling to Perth and Queensland by coach, horseback, train and foot to trace McGillivray descendants and obtain title deeds to enable the subdivision and subsequent sale of prime real estate. The 'eight years of worry and work and much money' led to triumph in the end: titles were won and land was sold at auction. Edwards himself purchased extensively in the area and built his home, Springdale Cottage, in Marian Street. By 1923 there were about 500 houses in Killara's best streets, which are named in honour of Edwards's children.

Edwards dreamt of Killara as the ultimate garden suburb, free of shops and offering a lush retreat from the commercialism of the city where many of its residents worked. The blocks of land were subdivided into large allotments that often exceeded an acre (4046 square metres) in size. Most of the houses were substantial and in proportion to the land; many were mansions designed to suit the lifestyle of the moneyed gentry who lived in them. With the growth in housing, Killara acquired the accoutrements of an up-market community. The Killara Hall, built in 1905, provided a venue for concerts, lectures and dances, while sporting facilities, including Killara Golf Club, provided for healthy recreation. Land that was not suitable for housing was designated parkland. The low sloping land bounded by Locksley, Arnold Street and Werona Avenue, with a creek running through it, was considered unsuitable for subdivision but an ideal site for a park and recreation area and is now the site of bowling greens and tennis courts.

Building a community

The suburban character of Killara slowly evolved as its population increased. With the Federation of the colonies in 1901 came a time of time of great nationalism and optimism and it was tangibly manifested in the architecture of Killara's houses. By the 1900s, in the blue-ribbon pocket of Killara, along Marian Street, Arnold Street, Springdale Road, Stanhope Road and Powell Street, moneyed clients were commissioning architects to design their houses in the Federation style. Among these residents were Robert Nosworthy, Charles Danvers and Herbert Rice who were all members of the Killara Progress Association and the foundation trustees of the Killara Park Reserve, JM Jago who conducted singing classes, and AJ Sievers who was the director of the Killara Hall Company.

Killara became a popular and high-class residential suburb with the demarcation line between classes rapidly evolving – the eastern side patronised by gentlemen, stockbrokers and architects, and the western side running along Fiddens Wharf Road where a blacksmith, a draper, a gardener and a bricklayer lived. In 1906, residents built on streets which had failed to attract buyers when the area was subdivided in the 1880s: Florence Street (now Karranga Avenue), and Killara Avenue; and on Buckingham Road, and Essex, Norfolk and Warwick streets.

The first unofficial post office was opened in 1910 on the corner of Marian Street and Culworth Avenue. It was owned by the Wilkinsons who had three daughters, the youngest of whom, Nellie, delivered letters by bicycle. In 1913, refreshment rooms were opened next to the post office. In 1915, J Currah, decorator, and WJ Reidy, bootmaker, held premises next to the refreshment rooms. In the same year, a branch of the Commonwealth Bank was opened next to the post office, and a year later both post office and bank moved across the road. In 1907, in Gordon Road (Pacific Highway) Miss L Wilson opened a chemist shop, opposite Dr Pockley's residence. In 1914, Humphreys, a grocer, opened a shop, followed by R Relton, a lime and cement merchant, and Mason, a blacksmith. In 1916 a police station was opened as well as the funeral parlour, Wood Coffill and Company. The cab service was provided by Lawrence Gospell who kept his stables at the rear of Francis Foy's house opposite the railway station. For major shopping expeditions Killara residents went by train to Lindfield, Gordon or the city.

Around this time a quieter architectural style emerged, based on American design principles rather than English. Killara has fine representations of Peddle's Californian Bungalow style: Glengarry (1919), built for William Virtue, Deepdene in Springdale Road, and Lynwood Cottage (1917) designed for Henry Smallgood, which is one of the best intact examples. A first impression of Lynwood Cottage is one of formality and simplicity as shown by its simple brick chimneys. A clinker brick path leads to the front entrance and a hall that opens out to the major rooms. The house presents a picture of comfort, orderliness and convenience, well suited to a conservative, middle-class gentleman and his family.


The social origins of Killara's residents are reflected in the churches they built. There has never been a Catholic church in Killara. A Methodist church was built in Springdale Road. According to JG Edwards:

The building is an excellent stone structure but unfortunately, it was built before its time, and finds itself largely without a congregation. [3]

In 1897, a large allotment of land at the corner of Karranga Avenue and Arnold Street was sold by Edwards for a Congregational church to be built, and on 19 July 1902, a wooden church and adjacent school were opened. Unlike the Methodist Church, the Congregational Church thrived so much that a larger, more permanent building was proposed to accommodate the worshippers. A new stone church was designed by Carlyle Greenwell and the foundation stone was laid on 25 April 1923. It is now the Killara Uniting Church.

In 1912, St Martin's Anglican Church in Arnold Street, an imposing stone edifice complete with lychgate, was designed by local architect Oliver Harley. Church services at St Martins and the Congregational church were very well attended while the churches more closely identified with the working classes were not as popular.

At present these churches are still used for their original purpose.

Killara since the 1920s

… this suburb may justly claim to be both attractive and select. There are many substantial residences, the homes of the well-to-do citizen, and altogether the dwellings are of a superior class.

Between the wars, suburban consolidation took place with further development of more modest houses on smaller blocks. Although Killara attracted a wide and varied group of residents during this period, the air of solid respectability was enhanced by the influx of interesting citizens building houses in styles other than Federation and Californian Bungalow. Their houses and the houses built before merged into a built landscape of quiet elegance, in a residential society where conservative and traditional middle- and upper-class values were held sacred.

The electrification of the train line in 1928 improved the service and reduced travelling time to the city. A new reservoir was built in 1930 and telephone and electricity services were connected in the 1930s. [4] The large land holdings were subdivided during the interwar period, but most of the development in Killara happened in the postwar years with flats and units being built along the highway from the mid-1940s.

Today Killara is an established residential area with some attractive parks and reserves and the commercial sector mostly confined to the Pacific Highway.


Jack Allen, 'Killara 1907 (West side)', oral history statement, Ku-ring-gai Historical Society, 17 May 1985

James G Edwards, 'History of Killara, Near Sydney', Extract from the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 12, part 2, 1926, pp 113–136

Zeny Edwards, 'Killara', unpublished manuscript, October 1996

Eileen Marshall, 'My Memories of Killara', The Historian, vol 8, no 1, March 1979, pp 10–13

Eileen Marshall, 'Some Schools in Killara 1837–1967', The Historian, vol 10, no 1, March 1981, pp 2–5

Dorothy Mitchell, 'Killara 1900-[1918, A Place of Permanence', undated manuscript, Ku-ring-gai Historical Society

WC O'Reilly, Ku-ring-gai: Early History and Development, Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council, Gordon NSW, 1972

D Wane, 'Captain RF Pockley and 'Lorne', Killara', The Historian, vol 5, no 1, March 1978, pp 3–5

D Wane, 'James George Edwards (1843–1927), often known as 'The Father of Killara', The Historian, vol 5, no 1, March 1978, pp 2–5


[1] James G Edwards, 'History of Killara, Near Sydney', Extract from the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 12, part 2, 1926, pp 113-136

[2] James G Edwards, 'History of Killara, Near Sydney', Extract from the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 12, part 2, 1926, pp 113-136

[3] James G Edwards, 'History of Killara, Near Sydney', Extract from the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 12, part 2, 1926, pp 113-136

[4] Focus on Ku-ring-gai. The story of Ku-ring-gai's growth and Development, Ku-ring-gai Historical Society, Gordon, 1996, p 54