Monday, August 24, 2009

Marrickville's first Town Hall, Illawarra Road

Well it was more than just a Town Hall, it was the local Primary school, too. It may not look like much now but it was pretty interesting to a small boy like myself attending the last 2 years of his primary education.

The original Marrickville Town Hall was opened in 1879 as a single storey building, designed by John Michael Despointes, an architect and local brick maker. Despointes of course lent his name to Despointes Street, one of those locally fascinating facts that have perplexed a few people. It sounds French... why name a street in Marrickville after some obscure French person? Well now you know. In 1883 a second storey was added, to plans prepared by Blacket & Son Architects.

(Despointes Street, BTW, was a boundary of the "Frogmore Estate". Sales plans for land in the suburb showed that Frogmore was bordered by Marrickville Road, Petersham Road, Cecilia Street, Malakoff Street, Despointes Street, Illawarra Road, Frogmore Street, and Sydenham Road. Can anyone shed light on Frogmore itself? Was it a homestead? Was it related to the Frogmore at Werrington?)

Entering the old school building in the late 1960s via the front gate in the low wire fence you passed the brick milk crate shelter (where we got our small bottle of milk, free, if you could stand the cream at the top and the curdling from the heat - I certainly could, just) and went straight up the steps between resting lions. Fairly ornate wooden doors swung open to reveal a solid wooden staircase to the left - or was it 2, one on each side? Hmmm. The Principal's office was to the right, I think! Straight ahead was a classroom with a backdoor into a teachers library and common room, with a common room and kitchen. Exit to the playground on the left, and also I think to the street on the right. Upstairs was a larger, more ornately clad room that comprised a pupil's library and the assembly hall. The Queen of England was dead ahead, on the western wall. We faced her when we sang God Save the Queen (original, not the Sex Pistols version still to come). A staircase led down from the left hand side, facing west. Or so I think (memory can play tricks)!

Anyway, Marrickville Council built the "new" town hall (now another old one, since Council moved to Petersham at least) in 1922 on Marrickville Road, up against Petersham Rd. There was a wooden library at the back of that building. (Childhood immunisations were done in the main building, and I can remember paying rates with my mother at a small office upstairs.) Council sold the original Illawarra Rd building to the Department of Education, opening as Marrickville Boy’s Junior Technical School in 1923. (There is an older girl's school in Chapel Street that later formed part of the Marrickville Infants School.) The Junior Technical School transferred to Dulwich Hill in 1949. The building was then occupied by the Boy’s Primary Department of Marrickville Public School - but was co-ed by the 1960s. In 1985 it was declared surplus to the needs of the Department of Education and acquired by the Department of Housing, who promptly surrounded it in a wire fence and built town houses on the playground.
Appropriately, given the late-60s/early 70s dominance by Greek immigrants, in 2006 the building was sold on to Atlas Hall Pty Ltd as Trustee for The Greek Atlas League of NSW. Apparently restoration works are progressing. Any updates out there?

There's a pic and more words here via Marrickville Council.

Cycling, Henson Park, Marrickville and the 1938 Empire Games

Well here's a bit of hidden history.

My dad used to catch rabbits at Henson Park, but before that locals took a dicey dip in the fathomless and sometimes deadly depths of the ponds in Daley's Brickworks. Marrickville Council even has some pics.

As a kid growing up in Marrickville myself I did wonder about the very slightly banked tarred oval - some 800m long from memory - it seemed like it to a bookish sub-10 year old asked to run around it at school athletics carnivals, anyway. It was lit by rusty lamps on rusty lamposts and surrounded by an equally rusty old, low wire fence decorated with scattered advertising hoardings. There were coloured lines that seemed indecipherable at the time but must have represented the duckboard, the inner edge line, the sprinters line and so on. Inside the oval was a football field, the home of the Newtown Jets, formerly the Bluebags.

The velodrome itself was the home of Dulwich Hill club until they were offered a much better deal - the 45 degree banked concrete Camperdown track. In return they gave up the big old saucer at Henson Park, with the Rugby League club taking over completely an dinstalling massive lighting towers for night matches. I'm pretty sure that Marrickville Council stumped up some of the cash for that, but it was a poor deal for Newtown RLFC anyway as they were still booted out of the first grade comp.

Still, that's the stuff of Sydney's history.

In brief:
  • Henson Park was established in 1933 on the site of Daley’s brick pit
  • Thomas Daley operated the Standsure Brick Company from 1886 to 1914. The brickworks occupied 3.6 ha. When the brickworks closed the pits filled with rain and ground water, forming waterholes, of which “The Blue Hole” was the biggest
  • Marrickville Council purchased the site in 1923 as it was a serious danger to the braver local kids
  • Henson Park was officially opened in 1933 with a cricket match between a Marrickville Eleven team and a North Sydney District team, including Don Bradman
  • Henson Park was named after William Henson, Mayor of Marrickville in 1902, 1906 to 1908 and his son, Alfred Henson, who was an Alderman of Marrickville Council from 1922 to 1931
  • Henson Park hosted the cycling events and the closing Games ceremony of the 1938 British Empire Games, 40,000 people packing the ground (a record for the ground and likely to be the top attendance at any suburban ground in Sydney)
  • The Henson Park Hill is steep and huge. You can easily see how they packed the numbers in.