Bungalows, Poets and Small Pox
Date posted: June 21, 2016
“The forgotten history of Five Dock and Canada Bay”
It is hard to imagine Five Dock and the surrounding suburbs of the City of Canada Bay as anything but contemporary and cosmopolitan. Beneath the shiny, renovated surfaces, café strips and bountiful new apartment complexes, any signs of Canada Bay’s history have mostly been reduced to easily overlooked memorial plaques in parks and reserves. Trying to avoid painful memories of my third grade local history assignments, I went on a search for the history of an area that so many of us Inner Westies now call home.
It turns out that before colonisation the area of Canada Bay held many of the same attractions as it does today, namely the waterfront and great food.
The Wangal People of the Darug Nation inhabited this area for thousands of years prior to settlement, utilising the mangrove-populated foreshore of the Parramatta River to gather, hunt and even harvest foods. The colonising of Canada Bay was not free of the tragedy that plagued the rest of Sydney’s settlement, with half of the local native population dying in a small pox outbreak.
The area of Canada Bay characteristically kept up with the times and advancing colonisation, becoming a pit stop for settlers on the 24km trek between Sydney and Parramatta. Unlike the majority of place names in Australia, Canada Bay was not named by yet another homesick British general or politician, but after 58 French Canadian political exiles who were detained in the area in 1840.
Meanwhile the suburbs of Five Dock, Rodd Point, Drummoyne and Abbotsford were united in a huge 600-hectare farm – under the catchy title of Five Dock Farm. Samuel Lyons took over the farm in 1838, unfortunately choosing one of areas now most infamously congested roads to take his name. You probably won’t be surprised to learn Lyons Road was built at a time when Canada Bay was considered hopelessly rural. Those now trapped in its perpetually sluggish peak hour traffic crawling towards Victoria Road can be forgiven for thinking it must have been much nicer back then.
Five Dock soon took off, with the founding its very own school in 1861, now Five Dock Primary School, where Peter Dodds McCormick (composer of Advance Australia Fair) served as headmaster for some time.
Five Dock’s piece de resistance however, remained its new tramway that could deliver passengers quickly all the way to the docks of Circular Quay. Local politicans take note!
As Five Dock became increasingly metropolitan and land values increased, infrastructure and farming moved away to make room for an abundance of new homes. Free-standing, in the characteristic ‘20s Californian Bungalow style, Five Dock homes became the epitome of comfortable suburban family living. Few know that amid this transformation from the rugged to domesticated, one of Australia’s greatest poets, Henry Lawson, died just up the road in his Abbotsford home.
Lawson’s own words presaged the next chapter of Five Dock’s story. “There was never a land so great and wide, where the foreign fathers came, that has bred her children so much alike, with their hearts so much the same.”
Five Dock soon found itself becoming a nesting ground for many thousands of immigrants in the post-war period. Today one in four residents of Five Dock claim to be of Italian descent.
(Ed: This article, written by Phoebe Moloney, was from an article cut out of some publication, but there was no note about the name or date of the publication.)