Sydney is made up of many fascinating suburbs and areas, many of which are such a normal part of Sydneysiders lives that they spare little thought for the history of these areas, let alone for the names they go by. Today most are simply residential suburbs, home to countless families. Mortlake is just one such area.
The earliest Europeans to live in what is now known as the Mortlake area were John Miller, John Robertson and Benjamin Butcher, each of whom was given a land grant in 1795, not long after Europeans colonised Australia. The land, which was first recorded as Bottle Point, was then transferred to John Ward and his heir, Alexander MacDonald. In fact, Mortlake has had many names. By 1837 we know people had begun to refer to the area as Mortlake Point but, intriguingly, in the latter part of the 19th century the area was usually referred to as Bachelors or Green Point. The name Mortlake was reapplied, and finally stuck, in the 20th century.
For much of its history Mortlake was a hive of industrial activitiy, particularly dominated by the Australian Gas Light Company who, by 1884, were producing gas in Mortlake and providing work for the growing community. The suburb, with is river frontage, was ideal for the industrial process, with the river transporting the coal, which was needed for the production of gas, to the factory. The coal was heated then the gases which were produced were removed, cooled, cleaned and purified, ready for market. Then, in 1971, the process of producing gas from coal was discontinued and natural gas from the interior of Australia was piped to Mortlake instead. Now, all the factory needed to do was add an odour to the gas (for safety reasons) and distribute it to customers. In 1990 the gasworks finally closed.