Alphabet Street

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday October 25, 2007

Erin O'Dwyer and Megan Anderson

From Aboriginal words to the whims of early settlers, Erin O'Dwyer and Megan Anderson reveal the stories behind your suburb's name.



There is blue blood in this suburb, which bears the name of Princess Alexandra, who married Edward, Prince of Wales in 1863. He later became King Edward VII. Originally residential, the area was an industrial hub by the 1930s with tanneries and factories.


A 100-acre land grant to George Johnston in 1793 sealed this suburb's fate. The Scot - who claimed to be the first to set foot in the colony - named it after his birthplace, Annan. Son Robert had become known as the Squire of Annandale by the time the estate passed to him.


Originally Marsh Gate Farm, the present-day name is attributed to Robert Campbell, who arrived in Sydney in 1798 and bought up several farms in the area in 1813. Campbell's father was laird (lord) of Ashfield in Scotland and Campbell's own tombstone read: "Last of the old lairds of Ashfield of Argyllshire."



For his services as NSW's principal surgeon, William Balmain was given a parcel of land on Sydney Harbour in 1800. Balmain, who supplemented his surgeon's income by trading in liquor, sold the 550 acres a year later for five shillings.


This tip of land was granted in 1796 to NSW Corps Private George Whitfield, who established an orange grove. In 1810, the orchard was sold to military paymaster John Birch, who commissioned a grand mansion, Birch Grove House. Once home to Premier Henry Watson Parker, it was demolished in 1967. Present-day Birchgrove Park, with its established figs, is a legacy of the old estate.


Or Blacks' Town as it once was. Aborigines made camps in the area and clustered around a school intended to educate those who had been displaced by white settlement.


Spelt Boondi, Bundi, Bundye and Boondye, the name is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning "noise of the surf". The modern-day spelling was set in 1827. The entire stretch of beach was included in a land grant to road builder Williams Roberts in 1809. It was sold in 1851 for #200 to Sydney Monitor editor Edward Smith Hall.


Originally Nelson Bay, in honour of Admiral Nelson. Lawyer Robert Lowe bought the estate in 1840. Bronte House was built in 1845 and named after the Admiral, who was made Duke of Bronte by the King of Sicily.



So called because landowner Richard Harnett knew his second wife Charlotte

by the pet-name Chattie. He bestowed the name in 1876.


From the Aboriginal koojah, meaning "bad smell" or "rotten seaweed". The name was recorded as early as 1823.


Perhaps from the Aboriginal kurranulla, meaning "place of pink shells". Or perhaps it was the way Aborigines pronounced the name of the area's first white setter, John Connell. The suburb was named in 1827 but the beach remained Kurranulla until 1899.

Curl Curl

The name is taken from an Aboriginal word meaning lagoon but could also describe its shape. It was also used to describe Manly lagoon, an area behind Queenscliff known as Curl Curl Heights and an area south of Harbord, known as Curl Curl Head.


Dee Why

It may be from the Aboriginal diwai - a bird that once frequented the lagoon near the beach. Another explanation is from a map made by surveyor and former convict James Meehan in 1818. It read, "Dy Beach", which is possibly shorthand for dyspropositos, the greek term for "hard to reach".

Double Bay

The twin inlets were once known as Keltie and Blackburn, after the masters of two First Fleet ships. Governor Macquarie mentioned the name Double Bay in his diary in 1821 and noted plans for a botanic garden. It did not eventuate but botanist Michael Guilfoyle grew Asian date palms, coconuts, Arabian tea and coffee and cinnamon trees there.


From the Gaelic word for "flat-topped ridge". Today's suburb takes its name from sea merchant William Wright, who purchased the land in 1853 and named it Drummoyne Park after his Scottish home town.


Five Dock

Five rocky inlets (or docks) jutting into the bay inspired the naming of Five Dock Farm. The current suburb represents just a fraction of the holding, which spanned present-day Abbotsford, Drummoyne and Chiswick.

Frenchs Forest

Once home to the Garigal people, the forested north shore remained undeveloped for many years. In 1853, Simeon Pearce and his brother James bought 200 acres. It was later sold to John Ffrench, who also developed neighbouring Forestville.


Elizabeth Bay

Originally Jerrewon (Macleay Point) and Yarranabee (Darling Point), today's Elizabeth Bay was declared an Aboriginal reserve in 1812. Governor Macquarie named the waterfront land Henrietta Town and the cove Elizabeth Bay in honour of his second wife, Elizabeth Henrietta Macquarie.


Enmore House, built in the 1830s, was a wealth of gardens and orchards. Built by Captain Sylvester Brown, the estate was bounded by present-day Enmore Road. It was named after an estate in the West Indies - itself named after the London locale. The Josephson family lived in Enmore House from 1842 until 1883, the year it was demolished. Joshua Frey Josephson had four sons and nine daughters. Five streets are named after daughters Clara, Laura, Marian, Pearl and Sarah.


Epping was also known as Barren Ridge, Carlingford and Field of Mars. The last seems due to several land grants made to marines in 1792. But it was the area's tall trees that earned the name. Pioneer landowner William Midson was reminded of Epping Forest in Essex, England. The station and post office took the name in 1899.



First known as Doody's Bay after the convict artist John Doody. In 1817, convict John Glade bought Doody's waterfront land and called it Glade's Bay. The area progressed after lawyer William Billyard bought part of Glade's property in the early 1840s, then constructed a wharf and a road and began subdivision. Gladesville first appeared on a land title in 1856. For the record: Bedlam Point was so named after a lunatic asylum. Ruins are still visible in some places.


That's "The Glebe" if you're being proper - an area of land given by Governor Phillip to the Church of England in 1789. The term comes from the Latin word glaeba ("clod of earth"). The 400 acres were heavily timbered, difficult to clear and scarcely used. Much of it was sold in 1828, making way for the now historic homes and gardens.



First Dobroyd Estate, then Ramsay's Bush, the suburb became Haberfield after estate agent Richard Stanton bought up 50 acres in 1901. Stanton wanted to create a "garden suburb" as a tonic to Sydney's bubonic plague and he named it after a branch of his family in England.


Or rather, the Home Bush. The area was initially an overnight resting place on the road between Sydney and Parramatta. For drivers on the early 19th century bullock teams, it was the last stop before Sydney.

Hunters Hill

Briefly the haunt of escapee convicts from the Cockatoo Island penal settlement, Hunters Hill was named after NSW Governor John Hunter and settled in 1835.


After stealing some cloth and being shipped to the colony, Simeon Lord became a success story, buying 1950 acres from King Georges Road to Stoney Creek Road in 1812. Known as Lord's Bush - and later Gannon's Forest when it passed to former convict Michael Gannon - it became Hurstville in the 1870s after the town of Hurst in England.



Just 40 years ago, this leafy suburb was still known as East Menai,

named by a Welsh settler after the Menai Straits. The building of the public school in 1960 inspired the name change in 1967. The Aboriginal word means "between two waters", which is fitting for a peninsula between the Georges and Woronora rivers.


Kings Cross

If not for the confounding presence of Queens Square in the city, Kings Cross would still be known as Queens Cross. It was so called in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The name changed in 1905 to put an end to the confusion.


Part of a grant of land made to farmer James Milson in the early 1800s, the Aboriginal kirribilli or kiarabilli means "good fishing spot". It's thought Milson may have misspelled the word when naming one of his many houses, Carabella.



Means "place of the moon" or "beautiful moonrise", according to Aboriginal inhabitants, who perhaps marvelled at the orb rising over the Woronora River. The name arrived with the railway station in 1931.


Lane Cove

Disputes over Lane Cove's origins remain unsettled. Perhaps its wooded shores made the waterway appear like a lane. Or perhaps it was named by Governor Phillip in memory of John Lane - son of the Lord Mayor of London. Another theory points to Lieutenant Michael Lane, one of Captain Cook's cartographers. Whatever the story, the name first appeared in 1788 in the journals of surveyor Lieutenant William Bradley.

La Perouse

Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de La Perouse, to be precise. La Perouse was a French navigator who entered Botany Bay in January 1788 - about the same time as the First Fleet. The French had been attacked in Samoa and their rations were low. The First Fleet were hospitable but had little food to share. A scientist who died aboard was buried at present-day La Perouse. After taking on wood and water, the French headed back to the South Pacific. The fleet vanished and the wreckage was found in 1826, near the Solomon Islands.

Lavender Bay

More dainty than the original name, Hulk Bay, it was so called after the hulk Phoenix, which was moored there in the 1820s and 1830s and housed convicts awaiting transportation to Norfolk Island. The cove takes its name from boatswain George Lavender, who quit the sea to live on 14 acres of waterfront land.


Grand estates with extensive gardens once dominated the pre-rail suburb. It was originally known as Piperston after the original landowners Captain John Piper and his brother Ensign Hugh Piper. Walter Beames bought the holding in 1847 and in 1849 renamed it Leichhardt in honour of his friend, the German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who disappeared the year before.



Governor Phillip was so taken by the masculine nobility of the Aboriginal males when he visited the area in 1788 that he called it Manly Cove.


Believed to be a corruption of the Aboriginal merro-baroh, meaning "like thunder". Clearly, the surf was big even then.


So called because local landowner Thomas Chalder wanted to honour the village of Marrick in Yorkshire where he was born. It was once known as Blackguard's Corner, due to the characters who frequented its illegal cockfight rings and dogfighting pits.

Mount Druitt

Named after Major George Druitt, chief roads engineer. Druitt was granted a large parcel of land in 1821. But it's his private life that makes more interesting reading. Druitt met his wife-to-be, Margaret Lynch, aboard the Matilda in 1817. Lynch was a stowaway who married her soldier boyfriend on board. But on arrival in Sydney, she moved in with Druitt. They had three children before they married in 1825 and went on to have another four. Lynch died in 1842 and Druitt, heartbroken, died four months later.



Legend has it that Aboriginal woman Narrabin walked from present-day Narrabeen to Parramatta to report that a gang of escaped convicts were planning a murder. The victim - a First Fleet drummer named Reynolds - was killed anyway. But the peninsula was named in Narrabin's honour.


No prizes for guessing this one. In the 1840s, four steamships per week called at the operating port. It was, simply, a new port.


Present-day Newtown grew out of two separate settlements. At the end of Missenden Road was O'Connell Town. The other township, near the present railway bridge, was nameless until John and Eliza Webster opened a store. They called it the New Town Store. It was Newtown by 1838.


Old Toongabbie

Governor Phillip named the area north of Wentworthville, adopting the Aboriginal word meaning "a place near the water". The local people were called the Toongagal. Old Toongabbie, where Toongabbie and Quarry creeks meet, was originally a convict farm. Toongabbie proper refers to the more recent development around the railway station.


Quakers Hill

Thomas Harvey was one of several Quakers to receive land grants and settle in the colony. He arrived in 1852 and leased 100 acres for 30 years. Some believe his religion was the inspiration for the name. Others say it was originally Quacker's Hill, after ducks in the local lake.



Randwick's first mayor was Simeon Pearce - born in Randwick, Gloucestershire -

who came to the colony as a 21-year-old surveyor in 1841 and married the daughter

of a rich hotelier. He bought four acres of market gardens and built Blenheim

House, still standing in Blenheim Street.


Canadian-born surgeon William Redfern was transported to the colony in 1802

after taking part in a mutiny. He was pardoned in 1803 and appointed assistant surgeon at Sydney Hospital. He received a grant of 100 acres in 1818.


When commissary Thomas Walker built his home on the peninsula, he named it Rhodes after his grandmother's home - Rhodes Hall - in Leeds.

Rushcutters Bay

Tall, hardy rushes thrived in the swamp between Macleay Point and Darling

Point. Convicts cut the reeds for roof thatching and the area became known

as Rush Cutting Bay.


When shopkeeper GM Pope hung up his shingle in 1846, he called it Ryde

Store after his home town on the Isle of Wight.



Ex-convict and gin distiller Robert Cooper named his holdings after the London borough. His grand Georgian home, Juniper Hall, built in 1824 and situated

on present-day Oxford Street, is now National Trust property.


Once home to the Burramatta people, whose tribal name means "place where the eels lie down". White pioneers began farming here in 1788, after Governor Phillip noted with some horror the sandy soil of Sydney Cove. The site was the furthest navigable point inland on the Parramatta River and the place where the river became freshwater.

Potts Point

Joseph Hyde Potts worked for the Bank of NSW, receiving rations, an annual salary of #25 and a room at the bank where he slept guarding the strong box. Twelve years later he was the bank's accountant and purchased six-and-a-half acres of land from Judge John Wylde in the 1830s.


A well-travelled, spa-savvy picnic goer can take credit for this name. On a picnic at Captain John Macarthur's estate in 1806, she happened upon a bubbling rock spring. It was just like the spring near Hanover in Germany, she said. The spot was called Pyrmont, after the German spa.


Sans Souci

Early politician Thomas Holt named his home Sanssouci after the summer palace of Frederick the Great at Potsdam in Germany - a tribute to his German-born wife.


So called thanks to the wealthy saddler John Jones, who in 1835 built a mansion here and named it after his birthplace in north London.


Once it was Liberty Plains - owing to the first free settlers who received land grants here in the 1790s. Then it was Redmire, due to the heavy red soil or perhaps after Redmire Estate in Yorkshire. It became Strathfield after landowner John Hardie built his home there in 1885, naming it after the English estate owned by the Duke of Wellington.

Summer Hill

Perhaps from Sunning Hill - the name of soldier Nicholas Bayly's property north of Parramatta Road. Or after one of several Summer Hills in England. Its earlier name was Kangaroo Ground, referring to the mobs of roos between Iron Cove and Cook's River.

Surry Hills

Once farm land, it was owned by Major Joseph Foveaux from 1811. He named Surrey Hills Farm after Surrey in England.


The name probably derives from the word sylvan, meaning "full of trees". A Sylvan Street off the Princes Highway supports this theory. Incidentally, Tom Uglys Bridge comes from the Aboriginal pronunciation of early settler Thomas Huxley.



Early European settlers called it Dixon Bay but the Aboriginal name gamma gamma, meaning "storm", is the likely inspiration. In 1887, it was home to Sydney's first coastal amusement park, called The Bondi Aquarium. Its most popular attraction was

a roller-coaster set high above the beach.

The Rocks

The fate of the Gadigal people was changed forever when sailors aboard the First Fleet stepped onto the rocky foreshore on January 26, 1788. Original buildings are made of local sandstone, from which the area derives its name. From earliest days, it was a slum that attracted sailors and prostitutes and it remained the mean streets of Sydney until redevelopment in the 1970s.


Aborigines often travelled from Lane Cove to Cowan Creek along tracks through present-day St Ives and Pymble. They would stop at a place called Turramurra or Turraburra, meaning "hill" or "high land". White settlers referred to it as Eastern Road and when the railway station was built in 1890, it was given that name. One year later it was changed to Turramurra.



A loophole in the law is the reason for this name. Colonial surgeon and local gossip Dr John Harris (who gives his name to Harris Street) was charged with ungentlemanly conduct in 1803. His court-martial was averted when he noticed the court documents contained a clerical error - the offence was described as "ultimo" (last month) instead of "instant" (this month). The trial was void and Harris honoured the serendipity by naming his new estate Ultimo.



Sir Henry Brown Hayes built Vaucluse House, which gave the suburb its name. Brown Hayes was a wily Irishman transported to the colony in 1802 for kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy Irish banker. He was allowed a land grant by officials, who considered him a nuisance and wanted him out of the way. Vaucluse - old French meaning "enclosed valley" - was the name of a French village where Brown Hayes sought refuge while on the run from the law.



Owes its name to Sir James Willoughby Gordon - a quartermaster-general in England when the First Fleet set sail.

Gordon is also said to carry his name.


From the Aboriginal woolara, meaning "camp" or "meeting ground". Early politician Daniel Cooper adopted the name for his mansion Woollahra House in 1856.


Either from the Aboriginal wallamullah, meaning "place of plenty" or wallabahmullah, meaning "young black kangaroo". There were various spellings until the 1830s.


Yowie Bay

The name Ewey was first bestowed on this once popular holiday locale by surveyor Robert Dixon in 1827. Some suggest it was a corruption of the word ewes, as in sheep, but most likely it's a version of the Aboriginal word yowie, meaning "echo".



Zetland took its name courtesy of Sir Hercules Robinson, governor of New South Wales between 1872 and 1879. Robinson leased a portion of neighbouring Waterloo and called it Zetland in honour of his British relative, the Marquis of Zetland. (s)

The authors acknowledge the assistance of the Dictionary of Sydney project (, a collaborative online resource. The Book Of Sydney Suburbs by Frances Pollon and Sydney Suburbs: How And Why They Were Named by Ken Anderson were also widely consulted.

© 2007 Sydney Morning Herald

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