Our Local Landmark: The University Of Sydney

June 10th, 2021 - by Brad Gillespie

Founded in 1850, the University of Sydney was Australia’s first university.

Today it is regarded as one of the world’s best. It was one of the first in the world to admit students solely on academic merit and to open its doors to women on the same basis as men. Its main campus, spread across the inner Sydney suburbs of Camperdown and Darlington, has been ranked one of the world’s top ten most beautiful university campuses. Sydney Uni is an integral part of inner Sydney’s character and landscape.


The University of Sydney as viewed from Parramatta Road in the early 1870s -- Photo from Wikipedia

The University of Sydney was founded on two main principles – religious tolerance and the admission of students based solely on academic merit. Although they seem perfectly fair and quintessentially Australian notions today, at the time they challenged traditional university models and represented a new way of thinking.

The university began its life in what is now Sydney Grammar School, but in 1855 the government granted it some land at Grose Farm, three kilometres from the city. Today this is the site of the main Camperdown campus. Architect Edmund Blacket designed the famous sandstone Great Hall, completed in 1858, and the Main Building, built in 1859. The Quadrangle and Great Tower buildings followed in 1862. Today these buildings are icons of the university and considered some of the most important examples of Gothic style architecture in Australia.

In 1882 the first women undergraduate students commenced at the university, and by 1919 half of undergraduate enrolments in the arts, science and architecture faculties were women. In 1966, activist Charles Perkins was the first University of Sydney graduate to identify as Aboriginal.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the university acquired land and properties on the other side of City Road in Darlington to accommodate its rapid expansion. Today the Camperdown / Darlington main campus comprises 72 hectares and includes six libraries, art galleries, historical museums, sports and aquatic centre and several parks.

Famous Faces

The Sydney University Regiment forming a guard of honour for the visit of the Duke of York (later George VI) to the university in 1927 -- Photo from Wikipedia

Plenty of well-known faces have graced the Sydney Uni halls over the years. It has educated no fewer than seven Australian Prime Ministers, more than any other university, including the first Prime Minister Edmund Barton, as well as William McMahon, Gough Whitlam, John Howard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Present-day politicians Anthony Albanese, Gladys Berejiklian and Clover Moore are also amongst Sydney Uni’s political alumni.

Lawmaker Michael Kirby, pioneer heart transplant surgeon Victor Chang, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC and journalist and broadcaster Mary Kostakidis all attended the University of Sydney. In the arts field, Sydney Uni counts writers Clive James and Germaine Greer, opera singer Dame Joan Sutherland, film director Peter Weir and John Bell, founder of the Bell Shakespeare Company, amongst its graduates. The Chaser boys started their newspaper while undergraduate students at Sydney Uni living in Darlington in 1999, which led to their television career a couple of years later.

Fun fact – Swedish action film star Dolph Lundgren, perhaps best known as Ivan Drago from the Rocky / Creed film franchise, received a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney in 1982.


Today the University of Sydney’s community includes 73,000 students and 8000 staff based across Australia, from inner city Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef. Its prestigious reputation remains, with the 2021 QS World University Rankings rating it as the top university in New South Wales, the second in Australia and 40th in the world. It offers bachelor, master and doctoral degrees across eight academic faculties and schools, with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences the largest.

The main campus at Camperdown / Darlington has a lot to offer not only students but local residents too, with its landscaped park Cadigal Green, the Sydney University Sports and Aquatic Centre, performing arts and theatre venue the Seymour Centre and the brand new Chau Chak Wing Museum, opened in 2020, just a handful of the university facilities open to the public.

Sydney Uni remains an inner Sydney landmark and its beautiful campus a powerful icon of the university’s founding philosophy of education for all.

If you’re thinking of buying or selling in the inner city or inner west, or want to know more about our local area, get in touch today.