Swanson Street & Erskineville Road: History Of Your Street

April 16th, 2018 - by Brad Gillespie

Weaving its way from Harry Nobel Reserve on the corner of Mitchell Road all the way through to Newtown’s King Street, Swanson Street and Erskineville Road is the bustling major artery of a popular inner-city neighbourhood.

It’s busy with shops, restaurants, schools, parks and pubs, including “Erko’s” most popular watering holes and nightlife.

From its days as a working class neighbourhood with a reputation for street violence to the gentrification seem today, the area has evolved enormously over the years. Read on to learn more about its colourful history:

Swanson Street & Erskineville Road, Erskineville

With a diverse demographic, encompassing migrants from Southeast Europe and members of the local Aboriginal community, Erskineville – affectionately called “Erko” by locals – is a perfect example of a thriving inner-city neighbourhood. Its occupants are young and old, professionals, students, singles and families. Swanson Street and Erskineville Road cuts a swathe right through the area, taking in its many highlights.

What’s in a Name

Erskineville was originally known as Macdonaldtown after an earlier subdivision owned by one Stephen Macdonald. It was later named after Erskine Villa, the home of Reverend George Erskine, which was built in 1830. That property changed hands many times, including serving as a rectory for the Holy Trinity Church for 80 years, before it was demolished in 1961.

Local Industry

In the late nineteenth century, the area’s inhabitants were mainly market gardeners, but tanning and brickmaking became the more dominant industries as time went on. Today, you can still see many of the original tiny Victorian cottages and terraces that were once home to workers in these industries, many having been lovingly restored by new owners.

Changing Times

In the early twentieth century, Erskineville was a firmly working class inner city suburb with a bad reputation for street violence. Following the second world war, many Greek and Macedonian migrants settled here, because it was an affordable place to live and close to the city.

By the 1970s, Erskineville had begun the gentrification that continues today. New residents were attracted by its proximity to the city, Redfern and Newtown and its excellent public transport. New businesses have bloomed in the area, along with pocket parks, renovated terrace houses and new unit developments on old industrial land.

Local Landmarks

Tram lines and Erskineville Station – The Erskineville line opened as an electric double track tramway in 1909. The original Erskineville Station opened in 1884, with a new station opening in 1912. The number of lines through Erskineville were quadrupled the following year and the arrangement of platforms remains to this day.

Harry Nobel Reserve – bounded by Swanson and Copeland Streets and Fox and Elliott Avenues, Erskineville was formerly known variously as Erskineville Park and Macdonaldtown Park in the 1800s. It was the site of a public housing experiment in the 1930s, before the land was returned to council in 1955. In 1960, the reserve was named for Harry Noble, an Alexandria alderman and state MP for Redfern.

Erskineville Public School – 13 Swanson Street, Erskineville is historically significant for being one of the first large, public schools built in a heavily populated area after the Public Instruction Act of 1880. The 1880s building is an excellent example of a Victorian Free classical style school and it serves as a local landmark in the area. Once threatened with closure, the school is now thriving and highly regarded.

The Imperial Hotel – 35 Erskineville Road, Erskineville is an iconic venue, which first opened in 1983. It is beloved by Sydney’s LGBTIQ community for its diversity-embracing community and legendary drag and cabaret shows.

St Mary’s Catholic Church and Primary School – 54 Swanson Street, Erskineville began with a small wooden church in 1862. The church (situated on George Street) was sold to the Railway Commissioners in 1911 for three hundred pounds, allowing for the expansion of the railway corridor and the present church was built. The school was established in 1953.

If you’re interested in learning more about Erskineville’s fascinating history, get in touch with our team at Brad Gillespie – we’re local experts in the neighbourhood.