If you were living in Sydney in 1917, the trials of World War I would no doubt have been top of mind.
But people still needed a place to live, and one book, ABC Guide Sydney & Suburbs, promised to help Sydneysiders find their little slice of the emerald city.
Sydney life in 1917
Released one year before the end of World War I, the book offers a glimpse into suburban Sydney life. Suburbs are listed alphabetically, often with nearby suburbs grouped together. Each listing includes information on the suburb’s water and sewerage rates, public transport fares and distance from the city, to help readers decide on where they wanted – and could afford – to live.
The book billed itself as an indispensable guide: “Invaluable to the newcomer, home builder, investor, and people desiring to rent furnished or unfurnished homes, flats and residences,” states the subtitle. “Without some comprehensive guide such as this,” it continues inside, “the selection of the most suitable suburb to create a home, as well as the choice of the type of residence desired, is, to say the least of it, a laborious task …’
The suburbs covered extend all the way to the Blue Mountains. Descriptions of the available housing stock for each suburb are interspersed with ads for real estate agents, produce merchants, printers, builders and tilers – there’s even an ad for dental surgery at Five Dock.
The eastern suburbs
Heading out of Sydney and travelling to the East, Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Rushcutters Bay are grouped together and labelled “popular and stylish suburbs”. Darlinghurst is described as “the business centre” of these four suburbs, with the book noting the other three had no shops whatsoever at the time.
Reference is made to the recently named Kings Cross, where newly built apartment blocks along Baywater Rd had so transformed the area that “the visitor who has not been to this area for some time receives quite a surprise when he goes there again”.
Darling Point’s “magnificent and palatial residences”
In describing Darling Point, the book doesn’t hold back. “An aristocratic suburb where the elite of Sydney have magnificent and palatial residences,” it gushes.
“Along the Darling Point Rd to the water’s edge is studded with glorious homes,” the description continues, “two of which are the mansions belonging to two of Sydney’s best-known residents, which are estimated to have cost £40,000 each. They stand out as landmarks on the harbour for miles around, especially at night when they are brilliantly illuminated.”
Just researching the market?
While it isn’t stated which homes these are, it seems very likely one of them was Swifts.
Built at the height of the Victorian era, Swifts has dominated Darling Point Rd for more than 140 years. The largest remaining Gothic Revival home in Australia, Swifts was built by beer baron St Robert Lucas-Tooth.
Canonbury is also a possibility. One of Darling Point’s lost mansions, the home was constructed around 1904 where McKell Park now sits. A prominent site from the harbour, Canonbury had been built by performer Harry Rickards and was demolished in the 1980s.
Making Darling Point your home
In a statement that could have been written today, the book notes that “land is very hard to procure” in Darling Point. But – and here’s where it becomes clear how much times have changed – there was still a little land available, with the least expensive blocks costing “about £30 a foot”. Should your budget not stretch that far, you could always move towards the suburb’s edge where, we are told, “On the outskirts … good building land can be obtained from £3 per foot upwards.”
Looking for a home instead? Expect to pay around £650 for “four rooms and kitchen modern brick cottages”. Larger homes were much more expensive, but still a bargain by today’s standards: “A magnificent residence, in large grounds, with harbour views, was offering recently for £4500 …”
If only we could all travel back in time to 1917. You can read the book for yourself on the State Library of NSW website.
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