Are you curious about the history of your neighbourhood? The team at Canada Bay Club is always on the lookout for interesting stories that make up the fabric of our local community. So in the spirit if sharing, our team has pulled together a brief history of Abbotsford, this waterside suburb on the Parramatta River, in the first of our blog series about the City of Canada Bay’s suburbs. You never know what you might discover!
Abbotsford is home to about 5500 people. Only 10km from Sydney’s CBD, Abbotsford sits on the peninsula between Abbotsford Bay and Hen and Chicken Bay on the Parramatta River. According to the 2016 Census, its nearly 5500 residents comprised 64% people who were born in Australia, followed by Italy (5.5%), England (3.4%), China (3.1%) and a blend of migrants from all over the world. What makes this suburb so appealing? Its waterside location. Its proximity to Sydney’s CBD, using the City West Link and public transport including a scenic ferry ride from its local wharf. Abbotsford’s waterside location makes it home to many recreational clubs and services, including Abbotsford 12ft Sailing Club (which used to be the Abbotsford Swimming Baths), and the suburb houses rowing sheds for Sydney Boys High, Newington College and MLC School. Its history is rich with tales of writers, chocolate and the wonders of our ancient indigenous community. Enjoy these fast facts about our small yet history-laden suburb.
1. Before colonisation, the Abbotsford locality was known by its Aboriginal name Bigi Bigi. The City of Canada Bay in its entirety is part of the traditional lands of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 tribes of the Eora nation. The Wangal people inhabited what is now known as the City of Canada Bay for thousands of years prior to European settlement. The local area of Hen and Chicken Bay was a meeting place for Aboriginal people from Port Jackson and the wider Sydney region and represents a significant cultural and historical site within our city. The Parramatta River, as it is now known, was a hub of traditional food gathering, however the Wangal people also hunted animals, harvested plants and gathered raw materials in the local area.
2. English settlement of the area dates from the 1830s, when it was inhabited by colonists mainly for farming purposes. Abbotsford was originally part of Five Dock Farm until it was subdivided in 1837.
3. One of the suburb’s claims to fame is the glorious Abbotsford House, one of the few surviving 19th century Victorian mansions in the City of Canada Bay. Its construction was commissioned by Sir Arthur Renwick, a physician, philanthropist and politician, who decided to make this waterside suburb his home, with work commencing on the grand manor in 1878.
4. Sir Arthur Renwick called this manor Abbotsford House in honour of Abbotsford in Scotland, the home of historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott. Ever driven down Montrose, Rokeby and Marmion Roads in Abbotsford? These streets are named after works by Sir Walter Scott. Sadly, in 1904, Sir Renwick suffered financial stress. Peter McIntosh purchased the property and sold it the year after to Albert Edward Grace, one of the founders of Grace Bros.
5. In 1917, Grace sold the property to Nestlé, then known as the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company, to build the ‘largest chocolate factory in the Southern Hemisphere’. Abbotsford House was retained for use as offices, while the factory was constructed on three sides around the house in 1918. And so The Chocolate Factory of the Inner West began crafting sweeties over the next 70 years. Nestlé became a major local employer – several generations of the same family worked for the company through the 1900s. In 1927 the grounds of the Nestlé site were used in the filming of For the Term of His Natural Life. And during World War II, the factory packed supply rations for soldiers on the Kokoda Track.
6. The Nestlé factory shut in 1991 and the estate was redeveloped as Abbotsford Cove housing complex, but Abbotsford House remains a privately owned home after work was completed to restore its architectural features to their original glory.
7. During the interwar and post-war periods, the Nestlé factory triggered significant development growth in Abbotsford and its population increased, with new housing, including medium and high-density homes, popping up all over the place.
8. Been to Quarantine Reserve recently? This park on the Abbotsford Peninsula boasts a rich history. In 1916, the Commonwealth Government bought this 2-hectare site to build a quarantine station, which provided accommodation for imported animals. Racehorses and exotic animals were quarantined there and the story goes that there’s a giraffe buried on the grounds. During World War II, the station was used as a military supply store. After the war ended the quarantine station resumed its original function, to the apprehension of local residents who objected to its reopening due to its offensive odours, noise and pollution from the incinerator. But it took years for their concerns to be heard and the station was moved to Wallgrove in 1980. In 1981 the site was transferred from Commonwealth ownership to the State Government. The local council landscaped the area for public parkland and it is now known as Quarantine Reserve. Today you can see the cattle stables, green-roofed pigpens, dog kennels and cattery! Locals say ghosts of animals who lost their lives to quarantine restrictions haunt the site.
9. One of Abbotsford’s most famous residents has to be Australian writer and bush poet Henry Lawson, who lived with Isabel Byers, also a well-regarded poet, in the later years of his life. She nursed Lawson through his mental and alcoholic problems. Henry Lawson died in Byers’ home at 437 Great North Road, Abbotsford (recently demolished), in 1922 of a cerebral haemorrhage. Henry Lawson Park in Abbotsford was named in his honour in 1938. Henry would have celebrated his 150th birthday in 2017.
10. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the growth of tram services to meet the growing need for Sydney’s urban transportation. By the 1920s Sydney had one of the world’s most extensive tramway networks, carrying more than one million passengers each weekday. The Abbotsford tram line branched off the Leichhardt line at Marion Street, Leichhardt, following Marion Street, Ramsey Street into Haberfield, then turned right onto Great North Road, travelling through Five Dock and Abbotsford before terminating near The Terrace and connecting with ferry services at Abbotsford Wharf. The line was closed between Five Dock and Abbotsford in 1954, Haberfield and Five Dock in 1956, and closed to Haberfield in 1958.