Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.


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Naremburn is a residential suburb located in the southern section of the Willoughby local government area. Approximately five kilometres from Sydney's central business district and three kilometres from Chatswood, Naremburn offers proximity to restaurants, shopping centres, recreational facilities, theatres, cinemas and other forms of entertainment. Within Naremburn there is a strip of shops on Willoughby Road and a community centre on Central Avenue that contains a small library and offers child care and a range of recreational programs for all ages. The residential atmosphere of Naremburn is offset by the greenery of a number of parks including Talus Street Reserve, Naremburn Park and Dawson and Market Streets Reserve. Nearby, in the suburb of Willoughby, there is the scenic Bicentennial Reserve encompassing Flat Rock Creek and nearly 25 acres (10 hectares) of urban bushland and outdoor recreation facilities.

Naremburn is bisected by two freeways – the Warringah Freeway, completed in 1978 and the Gore Hill Freeway, completed in 1992. Prior to these developments there was community concern that the character of the area would be affected. Naremburn is one of the oldest suburbs on Sydney's north shore, distinguished by small Federation-style detached cottages in timber or brick. However, in the last 30 years there has been an increase in medium density housing developments, such as townhouses, which has also raised community concern. In 1984 the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) classified Naremburn as an urban conservation area, providing guidelines for new development to enhance, rather than conflict with, the character of the area.

The Cammeraygal people

Naremburn is within the traditional lands of the Cammeraygal people, who lived in what is now the Willoughby city area until the 1820s. Not a lot is known about the Aboriginal people who frequented Naremburn and its immediate surrounds, however shellfish middens can be found in Flat Rock Creek Reserve. By 1830, it seems that there were no longer any Aboriginal people following a traditional lifestyle in the area.

The mystery of the name Naremburn

The exact origin of the name Naremburn is unknown, although a number of theories have been proposed. One such theory is that the term is a corruption of Merrenburn, the name of the home of Alexander Dodds, who was an early landowner in the area. There has also been speculation that Naremburn is a variation on the Scottish term 'near a burn', alluding to the proximity of Flat Rock Creek. Yet another theory is that Naremburn is an anglicised version of the Aboriginal terms 'narra', referring to forks, forking or forked, and 'burren', which means creek or a similar feature. Prior to development, Flat Rock Creek in Naremburn was joined by another creek creating a 'fork', so the Aboriginal terminology would have aptly described a significant geographical feature. This theory is strengthened considering that Naremburn referred to the entire district from the late 1800s, as opposed to just the town.

Settlement and the development of the township

Small grants were settled in the Naremburn area from 1853. From the mid-1800s to the 1910s, houses were constructed, businesses opened and a town developed. Known as Central Township, it was bound by Central Street, Brook Street (previously Wilson Street), Garland Road and Adolphus Street. The land on which Central Township developed originally comprised two crown grants, of about six acres (2.4 hectares) each, granted to Dugald MacPherson in 1853 and 1854. MacPherson died in 1854 however, and the land remained in his wife's name until her death in 1878. At this time George Penkivil Slade, a solicitor from Sydney, obtained ownership. In October 1879 Slade sold the land to the Surveyor of Sydney, George Bishop, who completed subdivision of the land for development.

In the early days, Naremburn was not a wealthy area and Central Township was locally referred to as Dog Town or Pension Town. Some of the homes in the area were constructed of timber, brick or sandstone. However, many were also made of freely available local materials such as bark or wattle and daub, a 'method of constructing walls in which vertical wooden stakes, or wattles, are woven with horizontal twigs and branches, and then daubed with clay or mud'. There are still a fair number of houses in Naremburn that date back to the 1800s. When they were first built, these homes would have been workers' cottages, and it is ironic that many of them have now been restored to a luxurious standard that was certainly out of reach for the original owners.

Early businesses

From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, businesses in the Naremburn area included a slaughterhouse, horse breakers, a piggery, a small cabinet factory, orchards and a couple of dairies. Two quarries operated in the area, producing sandstone that was used extensively in the construction of buildings throughout Willoughby. Stone from the quarries used to be transported to a wharf on Flat Rock Creek where it entered Long Bay. The stone would then be loaded onto barges for transportation to building sites. As Naremburn grew, there was a greater need for transport, and a private bus service operated throughout the 1920s.

With businesses offering the possibility of employment, more people moved into the Naremburn area, encouraging the growth of the retail sector. The earliest shops in Naremburn were on Central Street, Slade Street, Wilson Street and Garland Road. There are still buildings in Central Street and Slade Street which retain the original shopfronts. By 1880 the main shopping area was in Market Street (hence the name). With the arrival of the trams in 1896, the shopping area moved to its present location on Willoughby Road.

The Cammeray bridge

The Cammeray bridge is on the Naremburn/Northbridge/North Sydney boundary. It was built in 1892 by the North Sydney Investment and Transport Company. It rapidly deteriorated and in 1912 the company offered it to the state government on the condition that they remove the toll and repair the bridge. In 1936 the bridge was designated for pedestrian use only for safety reasons. The government planned to demolish the original bridge and rebuild a modern bridge, but after local protest the original stanchions were kept and a new concrete arch was added. The Cammeray bridge was finally reopened in 1939.


St Cuthbert's Church of England was opened in 1883 at 53 Market Street, to be replaced in 1916 with a new building on the corner of Willoughby Road and Merrenburn Avenue. St Leonard's Catholic church, on the corner of Willoughby and Dalleys roads, opened in 1913 but the spire, now a landmark in the area, was not added until 1955. Naremburn Church of Christ occupied a site in Central Street from 1925 to 1985, and the Congregational church occupied a site on the corner of Glenmore and Quiamong streets from 1907 to 1973.


Naremburn Public School operated from 1887 to 1990 on the corner of Dalleys and Willoughby roads. The first head teacher was a Mr William Swann, and at the end of 1887 the school had 180 pupils. Although the school was coeducational, attempts were made in the early days to segregate boys and girls. This task wasn't always easy considering that, as enrolments rapidly increased, the school was often overcrowded. In the 1920s the need for extra classroom space required classes to be held in the church hall across the road. The school was extended in 1927, and enrolments peaked at 1700 in 1930. After this time enrolments steadily decreased due to the aging population of Naremburn, and as public transport improved, many residents opted to send their children to private schools outside the Naremburn area. In 1987 Naremburn Public School had only 120 students. The school finally closed in 1990.

St Leonard's Catholic School, run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, operated from 1894 to 1996. Enrolments increased rapidly in the early days and eventually more classroom space was required. For this purpose the school acquired a new site, on the corner of Willoughby and Donnelly roads. The school maintained both the Market Street and Willoughby Road sites until 1931, when the Market Street site closed. St Leonard's Catholic School closed in 1996, also due to a steep decline in enrolments.

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson is regarded as one of Australia's most notable writers of poetry and prose, and many collections of his works have been published over the years. It is a little known fact that this great Australian poet lived in Naremburn periodically in the early 1900s. At this time, Lawson was in his forties, and an alcoholic who was unable to maintain his financial obligations. He lived the life of a vagrant, never staying in one place for very long. Due to these factors, the majority of Naremburn residents were not particularly welcoming.

Lawson did however manage to gain the sympathy of a few Naremburn residents. One such resident was Mrs Isabel Byers, a widow who may have been in need of company, or who perhaps simply took pity on the bedraggled poet. He stayed at her home on Market Street from June 1906 to January 1907. A number of years later, soon after World War I, Lawson returned to Naremburn. Although it is unknown where he stayed this time, the chances are that it was with another kindly benefactor. Lawson was aware of his drinking problem and took care not to become too offensive in the company of his benefactors. On occasions when he needed to 'dry out' to some degree, he would stay in a cave under a large overhanging rock in Flat Rock Gully. Today this cave is known as Henry Lawson Cave, and is a venue for community events, particularly poetry readings featuring the works of Henry Lawson.


Eric Wilksch, The Naremburn Story, Management Development Publishers, Sydney, 1988