Canterbury (Local Government Area)

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Early History

Canterbury, rural scene, 1800s. Note the felled stumps.
The land area along and near the Cooks River was first explored by Captain Cook's Officers, in 1770. It was subsequently settled very early in the European establishment of Sydney, because of its fertility. The area's first land grant was made to the Chaplain of the First Fleet, the Reverend Richard Johnson, in 1793.

He was known as the best farmer in Sydney in those early colonial days, successfully growing corn, wheat, fruit, grapes and livestock. His grant was one of only a few dispensed at that time, and contributed markedly to the opening up of the area to later farming settlers.

Canterbury Vale - the name he gave to the grant he took up, just north of the Cooks River, was of some 500 acres. The first grant south of the river was made to Mrs Hannah Laycock by Governor King - she named her grant Kings Grove Farm in the Governor's honour. In early years timber was a chief resource, aside from vegetable and crop growing, grazing and other primary industry.

The first large process industry was established in 1841 with the building of the Australian Sugar Company's sugar mill near the Cooks River to produce molasses and spirits. Other industries and trades such as boiling down works and tanneries later developed along the river.

Population History

Belmore Railway Station, date unknown, ca 1900.

The Cooks River was a barrier between farms south of the river and their Sydney markets. Development was hampered and population remained sparse for the early part of the nineteenth century. Poor access due to lack of public transport, unmade roads and a lack of bridges restrained any change to the predominately rural community.

After the extension of the railway line from Sydenham to Belmore in 1895, Canterbury's population grew steadily as farms were subdivided into housing blocks. "Spec" builders hoped to capitalise on the access to work that public transport provided. The suburbs of Canterbury, Hurlstone Park, Campsie and parts of Belmore developed after the turn of the new century, when the population doubled from 1901-11, and trebled between 1911-21. When the railway was extended from Belmore to Bankstown in 1909, Lakemba and Punchbowl boomed. Gradually water, electricity and sewerage were laid on.

The 1920's were also boom years as tram lines were laid, making the municipality more accessible Canterbury's population doubled again between 1921 and 1933, and the number of buildings increased from less than one thousand in 1901, to more than 18,000 by 1933.

The suburbs near the East Hills railway line (Narwee, Kingsgrove, Beverly Hills and Riverwood) experienced some development after the line opened in 1931, but much of the housing in those suburbs was not built until the 1950s, after the Depression of the 1930s, and the austerity of World War 11 and its aftermath.

Kwong Chee Wei Lin ( later Irene Kwong Moss ), [portrait], Belmore, ca 1956.
Before 1945 most settlers were of English, Scottish or Irish backgrounds, although there were Chinese market gardeners in the late 1800s, and the first Lebanese-born shopkeeper set up in Campsie in 1916.Many postwar migrants from Europe settled in Canterbury, particularly Greeks and Italians. The civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s saw the start of a large migration of Lebanese, of both Christian and Muslim faiths. Chinese and Korean migrants have come in large numbers since the late 1980s. Canterbury now has small but emerging communities from African and Pacific Island countries. Immigrants have come in waves, but not all have stayed, with a small Jewish community in the 1950s moving to the Eastern suburbs by the 1970s, and Spanish migrants from the 1970s moving elsewhere as they become established. Canterbury is distinctive for its diverse population with its high proportion of overseas born.

Local Government History

Canterbury local government area lies mainly in the valley of Cooks River and its tributary, Wolli Creek, with Salt Pan Creek and its catchment forming part of the western boundary.

After local residents petitioned the State Government, the Municipality of Canterbury was proclaimed on 17th March 1879. Opponents of incorporation had presented counter petitions to the government, and so the boundaries were drawn up to exclude the properties of those most opposed in Punchbowl and Croydon Park. The original western boundary was in a line from Rossmore Avenue Punchbowl to Narwee railway station.

The municipality covered 2896 hectares (11.2 square miles), a large area with a very small population of only about 800 residents. This was a very small base to levy rates to pay for the services that residents needed: roads, bridges, controlling pollution from noxious industries and other garbage collection. Roads were very poor, not having been surveyed or aligned, and footpaths were non-existent. The first projects of the new council were tendering for forming the road in Phillips Street, repairing Holden Street, and forming the footpath outside Belmore Public School.

There were no wards initially, and the first election was held for 6 aldermen on 9th June 1879. The main polling booth was at the St Pauls Church of England school room on Canterbury Road, Canterbury. In 1881 the municipality was divided into 2 wards to assist aldermen to service their residents, and then 3 wards from 1887. Later Canterbury was divided into 4 wards, and from 1993 we have had 3 wards with 3 councillors each. The mayor makes a 10th councillor, and is elected directly by the residents rather than being chosen by the other councillors from their ranks. This was introduced in 1976. Councillors were known as aldermen until 1993.

Mayor John Sproule, 1890-7
John Sproule was elected the first mayor by the other aldermen. He suffered from ill-health and often missed council meetings, and resigned in 1880, having served less than a year in office. The first staff member to be appointed by the new council was a part-time town clerk, who worked just one hour on two evenings a week. Neil Quigg was appointed but in spite of the short hours he was often late for work and was a poor speller to boot! Council dismissed him the following year. The second staff appointed was James Kerr as overseer and inspector of nuisances (health inspector) in 1881.

There have been a number of minor changes in the boundaries of Canterbury over the years, but the most important was in 1906 when the western boundary was extended to Salt Pan Creek, to include parts of Punchbowl and Riverwood. The current area of Canterbury City is now 3340 hectares (13 square miles). The large area of Canterbury has probably saved it from the threat of amalgamation with other local government areas by the state government over the years.

Looking down to the old town hall, Canterbury Road ca. 1935.
The council initially met in the home of the first mayor, and then in the St Paul's Church schoolroom. The Municipality's first Town Hall was opened in 1889 by the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Henry Parkes. The Town Hall was on Canterbury Road, corner Howard Street, Canterbury. This was replaced by a new Administration Centre in 1962 at Campsie - recognising that Campsie had long ago become the main commercial centre for the local government area.

The first woman elected to council was Joanna Thompson, who served 1965-68. The first female mayor was Kayee Griffin.

Our elected councillors now reflect the multicultural nature of Canterbury's population, including councillors who come from Greek, Lebanese, Italian and Korean backgrounds.

Business and Industry History

Site of Pates Pottery, 61 Lakemba Street, Belmore, ca 1980s.
After World War 1 light industry was attracted to the municipality by the supply of labour, available land and good rail and road links, and by the efforts of Council. The old Sugar Works was recycled for use by Huttons in 1908-82 as their meat processing plant.

During the 1950s some important Australian manufacturers located here, including iconic names such as Sunbeam's Victa Lawnmowers in Campsie, Simpson Pope washing machines in Belmore, and King Gee Clothing in Kingsgrove , as well as Coca Cola. We also had Bill Buckle Motors who produced the Goggomobil, of the yellow pages advertisement fame, in Punchbowl, and Pates Potteries of Belmore. All have closed or relocated elsewhere. Collins Stationers, W.C. Penfolds, Simplicity Paper, Marshall Batteries, Holland Blinds, Rainsfords have also been located in Canterbury City at some stage. In spite of the changes in Australian industry in the last 20 years, there are still many small industries dotted around the city.

Religious History

Ali Ben Abi Talib Mosque (Lakemba Mosque), ca 1980s.
The first churches were erected by the Methodists at Canterbury in 1841 and at Moorefields in 1851. The first Anglican Church was St Pauls Canterbury, erected in 1860. These churches were involved in early education before public schools were built. By contrast, the area now boasts more than 20 religions and denominations. This includes worshippers at the Lakemba Mosque, built in 1976, which regularly accommodates around 4000 persons on Fridays.

Education and Schools History

Statistics from the 1850's indicated a high level of illiteracy in the Canterbury area. To match the local needs for education the Wesleyans erected the first local school in 1841, and the first public school was opened in Canterbury in 1878. A further 11 public schools were built between 1905 and 1929, to cope with the area's rapidly rising population. These have been significantly expanded and upgraded to match the special requirements of an increasingly non-English speaking background population.