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About Rockdale

A Brief History of the City

Pre-1770 The traditional owners of what becomes the City of Rockdale include the Cadigal, the Gweagal and the Bidjigal tribes. Known as 'Water People', these tribes inhabit the Bay area for thousands of years before white settlers arrive. Some local suburb names are later influenced by Aboriginal words.

1770 Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook, aboard the Endeavour, ‘discovers’ Botany Bay, and disembarks to explore nearby Cooks River and Wolli Creek.

1788 The First Fleet arrives. On board the ships are marines, convicts, supplies and livestock. The Europeans reject Botany Bay and set up camp in Sydney Cove. Pemulwuy, a Bidjigal man from the Botany Bay area, leads a resistance group against the newcomers.

1790 In a reprisal killing, Pemulwuy kills John McIntire, the Governor's gamekeeper. Governor Phillip orders marines to find and decapitate Pemulwuy and 10 members of the tribe. When the marines arrive at Scarborough Swamps, the tribe is long gone.

1797 Pemulwuy is shot in a battle at Parramatta and later escapes from hospital.

1802 Still an outlaw, Pemulwuy who believes he can't be killed by a bullet, is shot and decapitated by two settlers. His head is preserved and sent to England.

1804 Hannah Laycock (wife of Quartermaster Thomas Laycock) receives a 500 acre land grant. She calls her property ‘King's Grove Farm’.

1812 Patrick Moore, an early settler is granted a parcel of land which he names ‘Moorefield’.

1822 James Chandler granted land which he names ‘Bexley’.

1828 European settler Alexander Brodie Spark purchases Packer's Farm on the south bank of the Cooks River and builds a sandstone house called 'Tempe' (now the City's oldest standing residence). The same year, David Hannam settles in Arncliffe.

1839 Convict labourers dam Cooks River to provide Sydney with a reliable water supply. When the dam is finished, they realise its water is salty and undrinkable! The road over the top of the dam later becomes a thoroughfare.

1840s The ‘Village of Arncliffe’ is subdivided but because it is relatively inaccessible, remains vacant for many years.

1843 Sir Thomas Mitchell's line of road, now Wollongong and Forest Roads, is built by convicts. Later named the Illawarra Road, it follows the easiest path, along the ridge line.

1845 A Parliamentary inquiry hears that of the 400 members of one clan of Botany Bay Aborigines, only three are still alive.

1850s The first church built on present day Rockdale Park. The oldest existing church now stands in the grounds of the Uniting Church, Bay Street, Rockdale.

1859 Joseph Davis, a Sydney butcher, builds ‘Lydham’ on a sizeable slice of land on Forest Road. The house, now known as Lydham Hall, was purchased by Council in 1970 and opened to the public in 1971.

1864 Gannon's Forest Road (formerly Illawarra Road) officially opens. An earlier track skirting Muddy Creek (now West Botany Street) is also developed.

1870s to the 1890s Botany Bay becomes a resort for the wealthy and fashionable people of Sydney Cove. Council renames the area known as Seven Mile Beach in honour of the wife of Sydney's second Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson.  Speculators divide up the land adjacent to Lady Robinsons Beach as housing allotments.

1870s Seaside subdivisions such as North and South Scarborough are largely unsuccessful.

1871 The Municipal District of West Botany is incorporated

1872 The first Council Chamber is built at Arncliffe.

1878 Mrs Mary Ann Geeves, superintendent of the post office attached to the general store, gives the name ‘Rockdale’ to the area at the intersection of Bay Street and Rocky Point Road. The area becomes the centre of the Council's activities, although the name is not formally accepted until after the railway station is built in 1884.

1883 A photograph taken of Aboriginal men is described as ‘The Last of the Dolls Point Aboriginals’. The caption, which may or may not have been accurate, is typical of the settlers’ long-held belief that indigenous people are dying out.

1883 A Royal Commission into the Noxious and Offensive Trades attacks the deplorable conditions of knackeries and in boiling down works in the area.

1884 The Illawarra Railway line is extended to Hurstville making the Bay even more accessible.

1885-6 Entrepreneur Thomas Saywell builds a substantial hotel overlooking Botany Bay, and later adds a host of attractions, including public baths, a picnic area, cottages and a pavilion. Saywell successfully promotes an Act of Parliament to erect a private steam tramway service, from Rockdale to Brighton, along the public thoroughfare.

1886 Rockdale's first telephone is installed at Rockdale Post Office.

1887 The tramway service to Sans Souci opens and together with Saywell's private tramway affects the pattern of development and again inspires subdivisions of nearby land.

1888 The name of the Municipality changes to Rockdale.

1888 The new Council Chamber is built on the existing Town Hall site.

1888 Moorefield Racecourse opens in the area bounded by President Avenue, Marshall Street and the Princes Highway, Kogarah.

1889 The opening of P J Moore's Moorefield Racecourse prompts local entrepreneur Thomas Saywell to open Brighton Racecourse. Council decides to establish a free library. The Mayor, Alderman W G Judd, buys some of Sir Henry Parkes' collection of books (up for sale at Angus & Robertson's), and appoints the Town Hall caretaker, also the Inspector of Nuisances, the librarian!

1891 Rockdale Municipality has 1138 houses.

1899 The ubiquitous Thomas Saywell converts his steam trams to electricity - and later sells the electricity to Council to power the Rockdale shopping area and the Town Hall!

1900 The Municipality of Bexley is officially named and incorporated.

1901 Rockdale Municipality has 1636 houses.

1909 The Arncliffe-Bexley steam tram begins operation (the line closes in 1926).

1917 Colourful local character Thomas Ley is elected to State Parliament. Ley later represents the St George area in both State and Federal parliament, and at one point is the NSW Minister for Justice. Believed to be responsible for several 'disappearances' and murders of political opponents, he is eventually convicted of murder in England, where he dies in a criminal lunatic asylum.

1921 Rockdale Municipality has 5193 houses.

1928 A second Brighton Baths opens, replacing Sawyell's private baths.

1931 The East Hills railway extends to Kingsgrove.

1931 The Depression leads to the establishment of the Unemployed Camp at North Brighton.

1933 Rockdale Municipality has 9157 houses.

1937 The tramway service to Sans Souci is replaced by a trolley bus service.

1938 Aboriginal activist Pearl Gibbs, who was born in Botany Bay, is instrumental in organising a ‘Day of Mourning and Protest’ and an historic deputation to the Prime Minister.

1940 The present Town Hall opens.

1948 The Rockdale Municipal Opera Company begins.

1948 The Cooks River is diverted to make way for extensions to the airport.

1949 Bexley and Rockdale Councils amalgamate to form the Municipality of Rockdale.

1950 Rockdale Council received the A R Bluett Award for being the most progressive Council in NSW.

1950s-60s Rockdale experiences a surge in the building of flats, home units and villa units. In 1968, the first multi-storey block is built in Trafalgar St, Brighton Le Sands.

1951 The last race meeting is held at Moorefield Racecourse. The area is subdivided for housing, two schools and a TAFE College.

1955 Rockdale Library starts a mobile book service.

1960 The Rockdale Community Mobile Nursing Service is founded.

1963 The Rockdale Meals Service (formerly known as Meals on Wheels) starts.

1965 Captain Cook bridge opens.

1966 Violent storms destroy much of Lady Robinsons Beach.

1967 Aboriginal people gain the right to vote.

1971 Rockdale Council celebrates its 100th birthday.

1972 The right of principals to remove Aboriginal children from schools is removed.

1976 An Olympic swimming pool opens at Bexley.

1980 The Al-Zahra Mosque is built in Arncliffe.

1982 Rockdale establishes a Sister City relationship with Bitola, Macedonia.

1983 The new Administration Centre behind the Town Hall opens.

1984 The Central Library is moved to the Town Hall.

1988 Australia's Bicentenary celebrated with a re-enactment of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay. Aboriginal elder Burnum Burnum, representing the Aboriginal people of Eastern Australia, plants an Aboriginal flag in Dover, United Kingdom.

1988 The Bicentennial Park at Rockdale opens.

1990 Rockdale Town Hall celebrates its 50th birthday.

1991 The 23rd Field Regiment is granted the Freedom of Entry to the Municipality.

1991 Pemulwuy's contributions to his people are commemorated when a community high school is named in his honour.

1992 Rockdale Council's application for City Status is presented to NSW Government.

1992 After much public debate, work begins on the controversial third runway.

1993 A new NSW Local Government Act is introduced and Aldermen become Councillors.

1994 Spring Creek Wetlands opens.

1995 Rockdale is declared a City.

1996 Rockdale celebrates 125 years of local government.

1997 Bexley Community Centre opens.


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