Erskineville Estate Heritage Conservation Area | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Erskineville Estate Heritage Conservation Area

Item details

Name of item: Erskineville Estate Heritage Conservation Area
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Landscape - Cultural
Category: Other - Landscape - Cultural
Primary address: , Erskineville, NSW 2043
Local govt. area: Sydney


Bounded by Swanson/Copeland Street, Henderson Road, Ashmore Street and Binning Street
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
 ErskinevilleSydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Conservation Area is of local historical significance for being dedicated as Macdonaldtown Park in 1885 and for the later development of the western section of the park for the Erskineville Housing Scheme. The housing scheme was in response to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and 1937 and was an important precursor to work undertaken later by the NSW Housing Commission in the post World War II period. The housing scheme is rare example of public housing erected during the inter - war period and the only major scheme to have been built by the Housing Improvement Board.

The Erskineville Housing Scheme has important associations with two prominent and influential architects William Ronald Richardson and Morton Herman, while its planning and design of the individual buildings demonstrate the influence of advanced European thinking on public housing. The clean simple lines of the Erskineville Public Housing Scheme reflect the austerity of the times and the influence of European functionalism on architecture of the Inter - war period. The buildings and open space that make up the Scheme are generally intact and provide important evidence of inter - war attitudes to social issues and concepts of appropriate responses to "slum" clearance.

The Lady Gowrie Child Centre, which has close visual and historical connections with the Erskineville Scheme, remains as Sydney's example of the six centres built in the Australia's six capitals in the 1930s. Designed by prominent architectural practice of Fowell, McConnell and Mansfield, it provides evidence of the attitudes towards the care of children in the inter-war period.

Erskineville Park has high local aesthetic and social significance as an active and passive open space in the area and is integral to the surrounding streetscape. It also provides a civic focus.
Date significance updated: 30 Oct 12
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Morton Herman and W.R. Richardson(1930s Housing); Fowell McConnel and Mansfield (Child care centre)
Builder/Maker: A W Edwards (1930s Housing Scheme); R M Bowrick P/L (Child Care Centre)
Construction years: 1888-1940
Physical description: The conservation area comprises essentially Erskineville Park and Erskineville Housing Scheme.

Erskineville Park comprises:

(1) Erskineville Oval
This is bounded by Copeland Street, Mitchell Road, Fox Avenue and Ashmore Street, and contains a large oval with grandstand. The grandstand accommodates three levels and features simple window and brickwork details. Surrounding the oval is a sloped sandstone retaining wall, approximately 1-2m high which retains the grassed bank around the oval. There are a number of significant plantings including the Pork Jackson Figs on Ashmore Street, which are likely to have been planted along the original boundary of the park, Eucalyptus trees planted on the boundaries of the oval and a band of Lombardy Poplars which form a strong end to the north-east corner of the Oval, accentuating the broadly banked landform.

(2) Harry Noble Reserve
The is located on the southern side of Fox Avenue and adjoins the Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre and Bowling Club. It includes a large grassed open space. There are a number of Eucalypts on the western edge of the reserve and Peppermint Trees on the eastern edge. In the reserve there are number of features including a children's play ground and a picnic area.

(3) Alexandria- Erskineville Bowling club
This adjoins the Harry Noble Reserve. There are three Norfolk Island Pines in the grounds.

Erskineville Housing Scheme ( Based on Lumby (2002).
The Erskineville Housing Scheme is bounded by Swanson Street, Elliott Avenue and Binning Street. It consists of seven two-storey brick buildings each containing eight flats. The buildings have two separate entrances that give access to four flats each and are arranged in parallel rows of two with wide spaces between the rows, and are oriented towards the east and the west. The drying courts are still in place between the blocks. External walls are constructed of dichromatic textured brickwork. Darker toned bricks form a base, and portions of some courses are recessed for decorative effect. Joints are raked at ground floor level and flush finished at first floor level. Hipped roofs are lined with corrugated steel sheeting. Entries to the blocks are disguised by cantilevered canopies and brick planter boxes on either side of small flights of stairs. The planter boxes are constructed of darker toned bricks, as are piers on either side of the entries.

The Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre comprises the original two storey building of brick construction with a terracotta tiled roof with flat roof pavilions at either end containing narrow tall windows. A long single storey wing with hipped roof extends across one side to the two storey section. The building features timber framed windows, with timber canopies installed on west facing first floor windows. There have been later buildings erected on the site. The Centre visually relates to the flats in the housing scheme. In the grounds of the centre is a significant oak tree.

Erskineville Housing Estate. Flat buildings set in park. Rating A
Swanson/ Copeland Streets (southern side): Housing Scheme, Harry Noble Reserve, Oval, substantial planting of Plane Trees. Rating A
Ashmore Street (northern side) Oval, Housing Scheme, Jacaranda Street Trees Rating A
Fox Avenue; Oval, rear of grandstand, bowling club, Harry Noble Reserve, Poplar Trees and Eucalypts. Rating B
Mitchell Road ( western side) Oval, former tram shed. Rating A
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Generally good condition.
Date condition updated:19 Oct 12
Further information: With the gazettal of LEP 2012 the larger Erskineville Oval Conservation Area under the previous instrument South Sydney LEP 1998, has been split into two separate areas, Erskineville Estate in the south and Kingsclear in the north.

Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Public Housing and Recreation
Former use: Public Housing and Recreation


Historical notes: Aborigional History
The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City )

Historical Overview
The conservation area is on part of grants to Nicholas Divine in 1794 and John Thomas Campbell in 1825. The land remained undeveloped due to protracted lawsuits until in 1885 when on 28th July, 22 acres were proclaimed as Macdonaldtown Park, which later became known as Erskineville Park.

Macdonaldtown Municipality was incorporated in 1872 and the name of the area was changed to Erskineville in 1893. The Erskineville Public School was established in 1881.

By 1926, Erskineville Park had been developed into a sports ground, and had a cricket oval and open parkland. A 1928 photo shows Port Jackson Fig plantings along the permieter and timber tram stop shelter ( now the exisitng bus stop) in Mitchell Road. The park was the home ground for the Newtown rugby league team from 1913 to 1954. A three level grandstand had been built by the early 1940s.

In 1937 the park was resumed for the Erskineville Housing Scheme which comprised 16 blocks of flats and the Lady Gowrie child care centre built on the western section of the park. The sports oval was also reconstructed at this time.

The residual land of just over 2 acres on the western side of Fox Road was returned to Council in 1955. A bowling club was built in 1956 and subsequently leased. The reserve was named after Harry Noble, and Alexandria Council Alderman from 1928 - 1832 and State MP for Redfern from 1947 until his death in 1948. He was an active member of the Australian Labor Party.

In 2006 a major upgrade was carried out to the oval to provide training facilities for the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league club during the redevelopment of the Redfern Oval.

Public Housing ( Based on Lumby 2002)
The first efforts to build public housing in Sydney followed the massive "slum clearance" efforts in the inner suburbs (The Rocks, Millers Point, Surry Hills, Chippendale, Ultimo, Pyrmont and Camperdown) in the first decade of the twentieth century. The new dwellings in The Rocks and Millers Point were initiated by the Sydney Harbour Trust and were designed in the office of the Government Architect. Further renewal efforts followed the 1908-1909 Royal Commission into the Improvement of City and Suburbs, which included in its recommendations the proposal that the state government remodel slum districts and acquire land in suburban areas for workers' housing. In 1912 the state government passed two bills, one enabling the state itself to erect public housing and the other enabling Sydney Municipal Council to do the same. The first fruits of the legislation were the Strickland Flats in Chippendale, constructed by the Sydney Municipal Council and completed in 1914. Another early effort was Daceyville Garden Suburb, initiated in 1912 by the then state labor government. However, by 1920s the only public housing being erected in Sydney was due to the efforts of Sydney City Council (Ways terrace Pyrmont, 1925; Dowling Street Dwellings Woolloomooloo (1925); Alexandra Dwellings Camperdown (1927)). Renewal of interest in public housing occurred after the depression and a dramatic fall in the metropolitan birth rate, interpreted as an effect of poor housing in inner city areas. During 1935 two articles written for the Sydney Morning Herald by a member of the Protestant Churches' Debating Federation, N.H. Dick, effectively defined Sydney's "slum districts": Woolloomooloo, Surry Hills, Paddington, Redfern, Newtown, Glebe, Pyrmont, Balmain, Alexandria, Waterloo and Botany. All were 19th century terrace housing areas impinged on by wharfing or industrial activities. Members of the Labor Party adopted this definition.

In December 1936 the Housing Conditions Investigation Committee presented a report on Sydney inner city slums which suggested the problems could be solved by demolition of the slums and rebuilding to conform to a number of guidelines. Detailed inspections of Woolloomooloo and Erskineville, along with parts of Newtown and Alexandria, were made. Erskineville was singled out for special attention "most of the house are definitely unfit for human occupation and should be demolished." The Committee accordingly put forward a proposal for a model slum clearance scheme at Erskineville that was estimated to cost over 2 million pounds. The Housing Improvement Act was passed at the end of 1936, but was amended the following year by the Housing (Further Provisions) Act, which empowered the Housing Improvement Board to take over Erskineville Park and erect public housing.

Erskineville Housing Scheme ( Based on Lumby 2002)
In 1938 the Housing Improvement Board erected 56 dwellings and ancillary buildings on four acres comprising the western portion of the Park. The much larger eastern portion was set aside for the construction "of such works (including provision of a sports ground) as may be necessary to render that portion suitable for use by the public for purposes of public recreation, convenience, health or enjoyment." Two prominent and influential architects working in collaboration, William Ronald Richardson and Morton Herman, designed the scheme, or at least those dwellings that were erected.The builder of the dwellings was A.W. Edwards, the successful tenderer, and seven blocks containing 56 apartments were erected as the first stage of a much larger scheme which would have contained 218 flats in total. They were let to low income families for £1.90 a week.

The planning of the individual flats, intended to house a married couple and three children, was efficient but provided quite a high standard of accommodation. Each flat contained a living room large enough to contain lounge and dining furniture, two bedrooms, a bathroom, separate W.C., linen and coat cupboards and a well equipped kitchen that contained a meal recess, fitted cupboard joinery, a sink, gas stove with exhaust flue and concealed pipes. A balcony doubled as a sleep out. Laundries and drying areas were separate from the main buildings.

No slums were cleared for the scheme.

An inaugural plaque, attached to Building 1 of the Scheme, was unveiled on 16 March 1938 by the Hon. B.S. Stevens (NSW Premier). One reason for the partial completion may have been increased building costs since 1936, accompanying a post-Depression building boom.

The Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre was completed in 1940 and was a part of the master plan for the site. It was funded originally by the Commonwealth Department of Health. Lady Gowrie Centres were established in each state of Autralia. The centres were part of a National programme of the Commonwealth Government which was aimed at improving the poor helath and nutition of may inner city childred. They were named after Zara Gowrie, wife of the 10th Governor General of Australia , Baron Gowrie who served from 1936-1945. The Erskinevlle Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre was designed by prominent architects, Fowell McConnel and Mansfield.

In 1940, Council put forward another public housing scheme but was unable to raise finance. Additional units were built in the estate progressively up to the late 1950s. In 1948, Lieutenant General John Northcott opened ‘Kendall’ the second major residential stage comprising 16 blocks, to commemorate the commencement of the State Government Rehousing Program. In 1958, two small blocks of low rental housing for the elderly were opened on Elliot Avenue.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Residential-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Park-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Erskineville Park has local historic significance as a park dedicated in 1885 by the the former Macdonaldtown Municipality and its part in the early history of Macdonaldtown/Erskineville.

The Erskineville Public Housing Scheme, built on the western end of the park, is significant as an early response to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and 1937. This development marked the return of the State Government into housing construction. The Lady Gowrie Child Centre which has close visual and historical connections with the Erskineville Scheme provides evidence of the attitudes towards the care of children in the inter-war period.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Erskineville Housing Scheme is associated with important architectural practitioners Louis Robertson & Son, Morton Herman and W.R. Richardson.

The Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre is associated with prominent architects, Fowell McConnel and Mansfield.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Erskineville Park has high local aesthetic significance as an active and passive open space in the area and is integral to the surrounding streetscape.

The clean simple lines of The Erskineville Public Housing Scheme reflect the austerity of the times and the influence of European functionalism on architecture of the Inter - war period.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Erskineville Park is of social significance for its role in providing active and passive recreation in the area, and also provides a civic focus.
The Erskineville Public Housing Scheme has provided alternative living options.
The Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre has continually served the community since 1940.
SHR Criteria f)
Erskineville Public Housing Scheme has rarity significance as an early model example of large scale public housing in an urban context, that followed the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and 1937.
The Lady Gowrie Child Centre remains as Sydney's example of the six centres built in the Australia's state capitals in the 1930s.

The tram shelter in Mitchell Road is a rare surviving structure associated with the former tramways in the area.
SHR Criteria g)
Erskineville Park is representative of a municipal park dedicated in the 1880s, the western part of which was developed for the Erkineville Public Housing Scheme which is representative of public housing schemes of the 1930s - 1950s.
Integrity/Intactness: The area generally has a high degree of integrity.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

1.Protection of Significance (a) Subdivision- - Do not allow amalgamation of sites nor subdivision of Erskineville Estate (b)Key Period Significant (Contributory) Development: Public Housing Scheme - Retain Public Housing Scheme - Retain Scale - Maintain building alignment - Retain form - Retain finishes and details Child Care Centre - Retain child care centre - Retain form and scale - Retain finishes and details Tram Shelter - Retain tram shelter Erskineville Park - Retain the open space - Retain and conserve the grand stand, and sandstone retaining walls - Retain and conserve former Tram Shelter on Mitchell Road 3.Enhance Significance of Area - Enhance vistas to Erskineville Park - Establish/maintain and enhance street planting to unify streetscape - Establish/maintain and enhance mature planting to Erskineville Estate - Interpret former Macdonaldtown Park - Reinstate street tree plantings - Prepare Conservation Management Plan for the Erskineville Estate - Prepare Plan of Management for Erskineville Park 4.FSR and Height Controls Controls to reflect desired future character of area. 5 Potential Heritage Items: Consider Listing: - Erskinville Housing Scheme - Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre - Erskineville Oval - Former Tram Shelter on Mitchell Road 6. Other Recommendations The Grand Stand, Child Care Centre and flats of the Housing Scheme should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement should be prepared for these buildings prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to such buildings and no alterations to the façades of the building other than to reinstate original features. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012C2214 Dec 12   
Potential Heritage Item     
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
South Sydney Heritage Study1993 Tropman & Tropman Architects  Yes
South Sydney Heritage Review1998 Architectural Projects  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenMatthew Conlon2007Re-seeing Modernist Fragments: Sydney's Erskineville Re-housing Scheme 1938
WrittenRoy Lumby2002Erskineville Housing Scheme and Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre Classification Report for the National Trust
WrittenTropman and Tropman Draft Plan of Management; Erskineville Oval

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2435710

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