The Marrickville Miracle

February 10th, 2023 - by Brad Gillespie

At the end of last year, the TimeOut Index listed Marrickville as Sydney’s coolest neighbourhood suburb and the 33rd coolest neighbourhood in the world.

In making the list, it joined the likes of London’s Walthamstow, New York City’s Ridgewood and the ultimate winner, Colonia America in Guadalajara, Mexico.

We look at the rise and rise of Sydney’s hottest suburb.

Early Days

Marrickville sits on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and was once a wetland area. The almost impenetrable Gumbramorra swamp covered much of what is now the suburb, stretching from Victoria Road to Unwins Bridge Road. Sydenham Road - once known as swamp road - was then simply a track that traversed through it. The swamp would double in size on high tides or heavy rains.

In 1809, much of Marrickville became part of barrister Robert Wardell’s 800-hectare (2,000-acre) estate. Wardell enclosed his land, filled it with deer from England and guarded it zealously (it was full of precious timber, and he had trouble with people sneaking on to cut down his trees). He also invited people to come and hunt on his estate until, in 1842, he was murdered by escaped convicts. Wardell’s three sisters, who were also his heirs, sold off his estate.

In 1855, Thomas Chalder laid down a plan for Marrickville Village, and the suburb’s population began to grow. In 1878, the first town hall was built on Illawarra Road. It was later superseded by the current Marrickville Road Town Hall in 1922. But the suburb remained semi-rural and was surrounded by dairy farms and market gardens.

An industrial heartland

It wasn’t too long before Marrickville’s character started to become more industrial. In the 1880s, many of the market gardens had started being converted to brick pits to take advantage of the suburb’s clay soil. Grand homes that were less than 40 years old began to be demolished to make way for cheaper working-class residences.

By the 1890s, much of Marrickville’s clay was gone, but by now, brickmaking had been replaced by mills and heavy industry. Along with neighbouring suburbs such as Alexandria, Marrickville became Sydney’s industrial heartland. As, this article about the ‘Temporary History of Marrickville’ in The Sydney Review of Books writes:

“In 1935, Mayor Henry Morton boasted that everything you could want was made in Marrickville: chocolate, guitars, fishing lines, saucepans, shoes, radios, machinery, margarine, bathtubs, and boots.”

A new multiculturalism

Marrickville’s status as an industrial powerhouse lasted until the 1970s and 1980s when governments stopped offering the same levels of economic protection to Australia’s manufacturers. Marrickville’s manufacturers began closing shops or moving further west to larger and cheaper premises.

At the same time this was happening, Marrickville began attracting new arrivals from around the world, but most particularly Greece. In fact, some reports suggest that by the 1970s, Greek was the most spoken language in Marrickville. The streets transformed, with tavernas and Greek bakeries lining the streets. Backyards became bountiful vegetable gardens, and even the homes started to change as elements of Greek architecture melded with the existing Federation styles.

At the time, Marrickville was a reasonably affordable place to live. Domain reports that, in 1977, the median price for a three-bedroom cottage in Marrickville was $37,000. This made it slightly more expensive than Canterbury ($35,000) or Darlinghurst ($35,000). However, it was cheaper than Randwick ($50,000), Ashfield ($40,000), Strathfield ($60,000) and even Newcastle ($38,000) and Wollongong ($42,500).

Creative Marrickville

As Marrickville de-industrialised, its increasingly empty buildings provided space for another new group of migrants - creatives. This included artists, musicians and writers who began working and sometimes living communally in Marrickville’s open warehouse spaces. But it also included creative businesses.

Many of Sydney’s breweries also were born in the warehouses of Marrickville, as were many of its best cafes and coffee roasters.

At the same time as this happened, a new wave of families and couples began calling Marrickville home - taking advantage of the fantastic housing stock and nearby parks and open spaces, as well as the vibrancy the suburb offers.

The result is that house prices in Marrickville have been performing strongly over recent years, with the median value lifting 33.4% between December 2019 and December 2022, according to realestate.com.au.

Want more?

Marrickville is now one of Sydney’s most in-demand suburbs - and it was named one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods for a good reason.

If you’re looking to buy or sell in Marrickville or Sydney’s Inner West, contact my team today.

Photo credit: Wikipedia