Gale Street, Mortlake

Gale Street is a busy thoroughfare between Tennyson Road and the junction of Mortlake Street and Brays Road. Most travellers pass through Gale Street without realising that it is a distinct entity with a history going back more than a hundred years.

Originally, Gale Street formed part of Burwood Road, a serpentine track from Tennyson Road wharf to Parramatta Road and beyond to Burwood Railway Station. Sections of this route have been renamed so that their original association with the old Burwood Road has been obscured.

Gale Street was named for Arthur Thomas (Todd) Gale, one-time licensee of the Mornington Hotel which stood at the top of Tennyson Road at the Herbert Street intersection – the present-day site of the MSS building, currently used as a physiotherapy clinic.

Gale was a popular figure in the Mortlake community. In August 1896 he was elected unopposed as one of five aldermen representing Concord Municipality’s Mortlake ward. An enthusiastic promoter of the Enfield-Mortlake Tramway, he made numerous representations to the state government for improvements such as the provision of additional shelters for passengers as well as amendments to the proposed route to allow greater accessibility. Gale championed the Mortlake Progress Party which met regularly in the Mornington Hotel. He argued successfully for increased funding for Mortlake’s fire brigade (located on Gale Street next to St Patrick’s Church) and captained Mortlake’s Swimming Team, which competed at swimming meets at the nearby Ashton’s Baths in Bennett Street. On occasions, Gale also acted as referee for swimming competitions between local teams.

The tramway’s route was largely determined by two factors – the cost of constructing and maintaining the line and the potential return from passengers and freight. The result was that the tramway followed a path similar to that of the old Burwood Road, avoiding expensive earthworks, steep gradients and skirting mangrove swamps. The prospect of ready profits arising from the flurry of land subdivisions in the area meant that Gales’ intercessions for the tram to run along the street that would later bear his name, were readily accepted by the Public Works Minister, “provided the cost did not exceed £20,000″.

After travelling along Burwood Road past Stanley Street, the line turned into Crane Street, Major’s Bay Road and Brewer Street reaching Cabarita Junction, where the double-track line was split with a single line along Cabarita Road to its terminus in Cabarita Park and the other line along Frederick, Vanhee and Gale Streets to its terminus in Tennyson Road near the entrance to the Mortlake gasworks. The dog-leg at the top of Frederick Street provided a more gradual ascent but meant there was a sharp turn into Vanhee Street and a much tighter turn from Gale Street into Tennyson Road. The last deviation created an awkward junction with the final portion of Tennyson Road and more or less cut off from the remainder of the street.

Gale’s deviation did make sense at the time since Gale Street was Mortlake’s main thoroughfare. The street was lined with shops and houses. By 1923 the small village of Mortlake had become a suburb with the subdivision of larger holdings into housing estates and the expansion of industries employing hundreds of workers. The grid pattern of modern urban development began to eclipse the earlier unstructured layout of streets based on what had once been a portion of some largely unremembered land grant. Estates were subdivided so as to maximise the number of lots to be sold. In doing so the streets in adjoining subdivisions were sometimes misaligned or a narrow strip (20 feet wide) was left by one developer on the assumption that the adjoining developer would do the same thing and in so doing create a road with better access for buyers.

Postscript: Arthur Thomas Whicker Gale was born in Pyrmont, Sydney in 1859. One of nine children, he grew up in Hunters Hill where his father, Robert Vinning Gale, was a land agent. Arthur and his younger brother, Hubert went into business as shopkeepers, but in 1891, a collapse in world trade and catastrophic drought in Australia, forced “Gale Bros.” to file for bankruptcy.

Gale married Eliza Emma Adele Durham of Hunters Hill in September 1882. Following the death of his wife in 1894, Gale moved to Mortlake where he married Blanch Gardella Hynard.  Arthur Gale died at his home in Neich Street Burwood in December 1940.

Andrew West


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