Explore Sydney’s Little Italy – Leichhardt
Many images are conjured up when the inner-west suburb of Leichhardt is mentioned. This suburb is famous for its Italian heritage, well known sporting grounds, Norton Street and the stylish restaurants and cafés dotted throughout the suburb. Offering a relaxed family atmosphere with an abundance of parks, Leichhardt also has a fascinating history. Let us introduce you to this local suburb.
Leichhardt: Postcode 2040
Leichhardt is home to 14,625 people, according to the 2016 Census, with more than 7% claiming Italian ancestry. Popular with young families, the postcode has four primary schools and a Secondary College, with even more day care centres servicing the area.
Two light rail stations and a network of buses service the area, providing an easy commute to the city.
Locals will often head to local Norton Street Plaza or Marketplace for shopping, and a range of Australian and international films are always being featured at Palace Cinema.
Leichhardt was once an area broadly inhabited by the Wangal band of the Dharug (Eora) language group. The ‘Eora people’ was the name given to coastal Aborigines around Sydney. How long the Wangal had lived around Leichhardt is unknown, but we do know that the Dharug were living in the Sydney area for at least 10,000 years before the British arrival in 1788.
The modern-day suburb is named after the Prussian explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who was known for his 4800km expedition in search of an overland route from southern Queensland to Port Essington, a British settlement on the far northern coast of Australia. In 1848, he famously vanished without trace on his attempt to cross the continent from the Darling Downs to the Swan River Colony on the Western Australia coast.
Thanks to waves of post-WW1 migration the suburb become well known as “Sydney’s Little Italy” due to the number of shops and businesses being run by Australians of Italian descent. Food has always been a key draw card of Leichhardt, with one of the first Italian coffee shops opened in the suburb in 1956 and it being the first suburb in Australia to feature Al Fresco dining.
Leichhardt was proclaimed a municipality in 1871, but was incorporated into the Inner West Council in May 2016 as part of the merger of the Ashfield, Leichhardt, and Marrickville councils.
Here’s some local Leichhardt landmarks and festivals to explore:
Cyclops Toy Factory
Did you ever ride a dinky as a child? Well it’s likely that it was built at Leichhardt’s Cyclops Toy factory. Now designer apartments on the corner of Francis and William Street this site used to be a bustling factory making pedal cars, dinkys, dolls prams and other metal toys. In the post-war years the city’s biggest toy store, Walther and Stevenson commissioned local manufacturers to produce toys in response to the lack of supply from Europe. Cyclops Toys established business in 1913 by John Heine Sheet Metal and were originally located at 1 Hay Street Leichhardt. They moved to the new site in the 1930s with the John Heine Metal facilities next door on William Street.
By 1920 the company was in rapid expansion, mass producing the Cyclops pedal car, which it claims to be the “first Australian mass-produced car” – 30 years before the Holden came along. The famous Tricycle was first built in 1928 and the original design was built until 1950.
The Italian Forum
This pedestrian-only piazza is modelled on the traditional piazzas of Italy, with apartments overlooking open-air cafes and restaurants. It’s a great place to enjoy a classic gelato, or the perfect espresso in an alfresco setting, while imagining yourself in Europe. Located at the southern end of Norton Street, The Italian Forum is popular with tourists, or just locals seeking an authentic Italian experience.
Pioneers Memorial Park
This leafy and flower-filled park is located in cosmopolitan Norton Street. Formerly the Balmain Cemetery, this was the site of more than 10,000 burials, mostly before 1908. The cemetery was renamed Pioneers Memorial Park in 1941 as a tribute to the pioneers of the district and as a place of quiet recreation and enjoyment for future generations. The park also contains a memorial to the service people of Leichhardt who lost their lives in World War I. Facilities include a newly renovated playground for children, plus a large off-leash area for dogs. It’s the site of the annual Norton Street Christmas Carols.
The Norton Street Italian Festa
This popular annual event has the slogan of ‘Where You Can Be Italian for a Day’. Held on the last Sunday in October, it attracts more than 140,000 visitors to Norton Street for Italian food and entertainment.
This year is the 31st annual Norton Street Italian Festa, which will be held on October 28. It reflects the Italian saying that ‘There are only two kinds of people – Italians and those that wish they were’. From 10am to 5pm Norton Street will be transformed by colour, sound and the cooking aromas of great Italian food, and by street activities and on-stage entertainment celebrating all things Italian.
It would be remiss of us to talk about Leichhardt without mentioning the iconic “Leichhardt Oval” despite the fact that the Oval technically sits in the neighbouring suburb of Lilyfield. Leichhardt Oval was first used as a rugby league ground in 1934, the same year that it became the home ground of the Balmain Tigers. Long known as the spiritual home to the West’s Tigers Rugby League team, it also hosts a number of teams including Sydney FC and the Socceroos.
Take a moment to have a listen to this passionate video from some of Rugby Leagues local leaders.
Leichhardt Town Hall
Sitting on the corner of Norton and Marion Street opposite Leichhardt Public School sits Leichhardt Town Hall, well recognised by the prominent tower and clock. The Town Hall was built along with several other town halls in Sydney to coincide with the Centennial Year of Sydney in 1888. The neighbouring Leichardt Post Office was also built in the same year