Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Northmead quarries

CC BY-SA 2.0
Cite this

Northmead quarries

Northmead lies to the north of Parramatta and has a long history of agricultural activities, such as orchards and farms, dating back to the third settlement at Toongabbie and the Governor's domain (of which Northmead was a part). However Northmead is also the site of long-standing quarrying which supplied sandstone for the Parramatta region. There are a number of highly visible sandstone houses on Windsor Road. Less well-known are a large number of sandstone structures and relics found in Moxhams Reserve, a green belt around Quarry Branch Creek, a tributary of Toongabbie Creek.

Sandstone heritage

The area in and around Quarry Branch Creek contains a large number of sandstone relics, which appear to be related to the quarrying activities that took place over a long period of time. A number of the relics are overgrown and difficult to find, and consequently are generally unrecognised. The list of relics is extensive and includes a number of heritage roads and bridges, a ford, several dams/weirs, stone walls and of course a number of quarries. In one instance, the function of the relic is not clear or known. In several instances, the relics have not been recognised or documented by recent heritage reports. All however, in one way or another, can be classed as engineering heritage, much of it from the colonial period. Other examples of engineering heritage in the general vicinity include a convict road (in North Rocks), the Darling Mills (in North Parramatta), the Lake Parramatta dam and the Castle Hill tramway/railway.

Quarrying in Northmead

In New South Wales, the period after 1860 was characterised by economic development of industry, which included the building and construction industry. [1] Since the Parramatta region was being settled and the business centre was being developed, there was demand for construction of public buildings and private homes, driving demand for materials like sandstone, brick and timber.

The region around Quarry Branch Creek was developed initially for agriculture and early subdivision maps mention 'orchard and farm blocks' and later 'residential sites'. The Oakes Subdivision map, dated 1881, covered '650 acres Torrens title' and included eight lots around Quarry Branch Creek and a 'Government Reserve' showing a feature which looks like a quarry (the Whitehaven or Moxham quarry near the bowling club). [2] That the creek is called 'Quarry Branch Creek' on the Oakes Subdivision map suggests strongly that the quarrying activities were already well established in 1881, possibly by several quarrymen, including the pioneering Robert Henry Moxham, who arrived in Parramatta in 1836. Moxham, who was a master stonemason, [3] operated a quarry in Toongabbie to supply stone for the building of many houses including his home, the Coach Inn. [4] Moxham had two sons, William and Thomas, both born in Parramatta, and he died in 1880. Many of the familiar sandstone buildings of Parramatta belong to the period of Macquarie and the following two decades, and the stone used is likely to have originated from the Toongabbie quarry.

Sands' Sydney and NSW Directory, which began listing Parramatta businesses and residents in 1887, lists two quarry masters in Parramatta in that year: William D Moxham and Thomas Moxham of Church Street (possibly their business address). It is likely that the Moxham brothers bought all the lots around Quarry Branch Creek from the Oakes Subdivision [5] and operated the Moxham quarry and furthermore established a number of other quarries in the area. The Moxham brothers developed several businesses in the area before turning to quarrying.

In 1880, they opened out their present extensive quarries on the Windsor Road, the stone of which is equal to that of Pyrmont. [6]

Much of their stone was used in housing construction, although they diversified into 'manufacture of stone birdbaths, monuments, tombstones and dripstones'. [7] The stonemasons of the time were Thomas Barker and William Whiting. [8]

It was much later that Thomas Moxham served as Mayor of Parramatta Council (1897–1901) and as member of the Legislative Assembly for Parramatta (1901–16). In 1910, the Moxhams had ceased to be quarry owners in Parramatta, and it is clear from Moxham's listing – 'TR Moxham JP, MLA' – that his parliamentary career was his dominant interest and activity, leaving no room for quarrying. William, the elder brother, may have decided to retire. The Moxham quarrying partnership was dissolved and the Moxham Subdivision was declared 'under instruction from Messrs T and WD Moxham to close partnership accounts'. [9]

Subsequently, the quarries were run by the Hourigans: John Hourigan and Robert Hourigan, both of Church Street, Parramatta. [10] By 1925, John Hourigan was no longer a quarry owner – perhaps retired – leaving Robert to continue on his own. For much of the period of active quarrying, Sands only lists one quarry owner for Parramatta (usually a partnership, of brothers in the case of the Moxhams). The implication is that the Northmead quarries, together with the Pye quarry in North Rocks, supplied the whole Parramatta region [11] and possibly further afield.

By 1932–33, the ownership of the quarries had changed to Walter Pye of Moxhams Road and Sellen and Sellen of Hammers Road. [12] How the quarrying business operated is not clear.

The quarries and the quarry road

The major quarry is located near Northmead Bowling Club and is surrounded by a high fence for safety reasons. The quarry is substantial and was abandoned due to filling with water. Associated with the quarry is a heritage road. The quarry road and its associated bridge run in a westerly direction from near this quarry, across Quarry Branch Creek to Huxley Drive. The quarry road with cobbled surface is supported by dry-stone walls along much of its length, as are the bridge abutments, which contain good examples of this workmanship. The main remaining feature of the quarry bridge is the abutment, although one of the timber supports of the long-gone timber deck is still to be seen in the overgrowth.

Another major quarry is found in Herbert Reserve, Northmead, and this is used now for recreational and sporting activities. One of the vertical faces of the quarry contains a cracked block of sandstone, which was left by the quarrymen presumably due to accidental damage, and this block bears the unmistakeable evidence of quarrying activities. There are at least three lesser quarries dotted around the vicinity. [13]

Other relics

A short distance from the quarry bridge can be seen a stone wall, which runs along the western side of Quarry Branch Creek almost to Churchill Drive. It is not clear what its function was but we can hazard a guess. The deep gully, which runs between Huxley Drive and Churchill Drive, contains a creek, which runs into Quarry Branch Creek. The Quarry Branch Creek gully is quite deep and rocky in places and along its length there are many rock overhangs and caves, which have strong Aboriginal associations and their own relics. The deep gully running between Huxley Drive and Churchill Drive also contains a terrace and some exotic plants, which are possibly remnants of Swane's Nursery, the occupier of this site after 1937. [14] The creek wall appears to close off this gully, suggesting it could be a dam.

On the eastern side of the creek is a well-worn bush track and this leads to another short heritage road supported by dry-stone walls. [15] There is another dry-stone wall running above the creek on the northern side of Churchill Drive and this may be part of another heritage road or simply a terrace. On the northernmost section of the creek can be found three small dams/weirs, the first near Model Farms Road and the last in Yattenden Park.

Moxhams Road Bridge is a heritage bridge with dry-stone wall abutments and a timber deck, of unknown date of construction. Next to the bridge extending about two metres along the creek is a magnificent flagstone ford paved with regular rectangular slabs of sandstone. This ford has not been noted on any heritage report. Presumably the ford was created before the construction of the bridge.

Some notable local houses were constructed of sandstone from the Northmead quarries. Neil Cottage, on the corner of Churchill Drive and Windsor Rd Northmead, was completed in 1867 and was constructed of sandstone from the Moxham Quarry, as was St Kilda, in Model Farms Road. [16] The Moxham brothers occupied these houses.

The builders

Few of the many relics found around Quarry Branch Creek can be clearly identified with the known quarrymen and stonemasons. The quarrymen and quarry owners supplied the sandstone and the stonemasons constructed them. As shown in the preceding historical research, it is clear that the Moxhams were the active quarry owners in the period 1880–1910, and the Hourigans from 1910–31. Consequently it is likely the Moxhams were responsible for starting the major quarries (and possibly the minor ones as well). Many of the remaining relics are unattributed.

Moxhams Rd is shown on the Oakes Estate Subdivision of 1881, so the ford on the creek likely belongs to this time or earlier (before construction of the bridge), as does the major quarry. It is likely that both relics belong to the Moxham period. The parish map of 1926 [17] does not show the Moxhams Road bridge, so the ford belongs probably to the period before 1926. [18]

The Moxham Subdivision map of 1910 shows a 'valuable mason's quarry', which is the one located in Herbert Reserve, as well as the well-known cottage on the corner of Churchill Drive and Windsor Rd. Thus this quarry is undeniably one developed and used by the Moxhams.

Sandstone industry

The sandstone industry of New South Wales was already well established in the first half of the nineteenth century and Parramatta was acknowledged to be a part of this industry at that time. [19] The technology of quarrying and stone masonry was primitive but effective [20] and was easily transported to Northmead, which was a distant and remote suburb of Sydney in the nineteenth century. The products of sandstone quarrying were widespread in society and covered items for the building industry from houses to public buildings and churches, for road making (including the sandstone gutters much in evidence in parts of Parramatta), for the cemetery, and for bridgemaking. [21] Many of these products are still visible in the Parramatta region.


[1] F Crowley (ed), A New History of Australia, William Heinemann, Melbourne, 1980, p 155

[2] Oakes Estate Toongabbee Subdivision, 1881, Local Studies section, Castle Hill Central Library, Baulkham Hills Shire Library

[3] DA Sargeant, The Toongabbie story: a compact history of the settlement established soon after Australia was founded in 1788 up to 1975, Toongabbie Public School Parents & Citizens' Association, Toongabbie NSW, 1975, p 88

[4] DA Sargeant, The Toongabbie story: a compact history of the settlement established soon after Australia was founded in 1788 up to 1975, Toongabbie Public School Parents & Citizens' Association, Toongabbie NSW, 1975, p 88

[5] See also Pam Trimmer, What became of Parramatta Domain?, the author, Baulkham Hills, NSW, 2005, p 67

[6] Moxham file, Local Studies Family History Library, Parramatta

[7] DA Sargeant, The Toongabbie story: a compact history of the settlement established soon after Australia was founded in 1788 up to 1975, Toongabbie Public School Parents & Citizens' Association, Toongabbie NSW, 1975, p 88

[8] Sands' Sydney and NSW Directory, 1890

[9] Moxham Subdivision Baulkham Hills, 27 August 1910, held in Local Studies Section, Castle Hill Central Library, Baulkham Hills Shire Library

[10] The Hourigans are listed in Sands of 1910, 1915 and 1925 in the Trades Section under Quarry Owners

[11] Pam Trimmer, What became of Parramatta Domain?, the author, Baulkham Hills, NSW, 2005, pp 101–2

[12] Sands' Sydney and NSW Directory, 1932–33

[13] Additional quarries are the Whitehaven quarries in Moxham Reserve and one near Hood St, Northmead (possibly the one run by RH Moxham)

[14] Pam Trimmer, What became of Parramatta Domain?, the author, Baulkham Hills, NSW, 2005, pp 103–4

[15] Recent clearing of weeds and undergrowth together with removal of stonework has lead to the virtual disappearance of this heritage road. Originally there appears to have been an associated small bridge.

[16] Pam Trimmer, What became of Parramatta Domain?, the author, Baulkham Hills, NSW, 2005, pp 64, 67

[17] Parish map for Parish of St John in the country of Cumberland, NSW Department of Lands, 1926

[18] The current bridge on Moxhams Rd, next to the ford, shows dry-stone wall abutments, which have been concreted over in places, and a timber deck – a similar structure to the heritage bridge associated with the quarry road. The workmanship in both bridges is of a good standard, suggesting that construction was by a stonemason.

[19] H Ray, 'The Sydney Sandstone industry, past and present' in Sandstone city, Geological Society of Australia Monograph 5, 2000

[20] Gary Deirmendjan, Sydney Sandstone, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2002

[21] D Baglin and Y Austin, Sandstone Sydney, Rigby, Adelaide, 1976