ICKSON STREET, in Sydney's inner western suburb of Newtown, is one of the few in the area where the effects of redevelopment are not yet visible. While the streetscape of Victorian and Edwardian single story cottages and grander terraces is still largely intact, there are fears among local residents and the heritage community that the unique character of Dickson Street and others like it may be under threat.
Architect Scott MacArthur, who is Coordinator of the Marrickville Heritage Society's Heritage Watch, says that Marrickville Council, which has authority over development in Dickson Street, encourages development and does little to encourage retention of original building stock unless existing properties have identified heritage value. Marrickville Councillor Sylvia Hale disagrees, claiming that the Council does encourage retention, but stated that the Labor dominated council is under pressure from the State Government to increase urban density.
The street has reflected many of the population changes seen in Sydney over the last 100 years. Geoff Howe, author of Heart of the City, a history of the inner west, explained that the original residents of the cottages and terraces of Dickson Street would have been industrial workers and local merchants. After the Second World War there was an influx of Greek and Turkish migrants, attracted by low rents and local demand for unskilled workers. By the 1970s many of the established migrant families had moved out to larger homes further West and, says Scott MacArthur, Newtown was left to "university students, low income workers, welfare recipients [and] practitioners of counter culture lifestyle with absentee landlords."
Today, Newtown is seen as not so much an up and coming as up and gone. In the last ten years, professionals, young families and gay men and lesbians have discovered the attractions of the area's relatively inexpensive housing close to the CBD. They also enjoy being within walking distance of what real estate agents like to call King Street's "cosmopolitan cafe lifestyle".
The future of the streetscapes of Dickson Street would seem to be assured by this. Sylvia Hale believes "a more affluent population brings a better educated, more architecturally aware resident who is often interested in restoration and renovation and [is] prepared to oppose inappropriate development proposals." However this process of gentrification could ironically create pressure for change. "As the area becomes more desirable, pressure for unit development increases", she says. Scott MacArthur agrees: "Increased pressure to gentrify [will] lead to further pressures to redevelop existing buildings and demolish those that do not have statutory protection."
This process was illustrated recently in a statement from Marrickville Greens Councillor Sam Byrne. In spite of their opposition, some Marrickville residents have received "a permanent monstrosity towering over them," in the form of an approved multi-story development, "that contravenes many of the Council's policies and guidelines," he said. Sylvia Hale stresses the need to maintain population density: "While many larger homes are being renovated and returned from boarding house accommodation to single occupancy, it is at the expense of boarders/renters who are being dispossessed. Marrickville is a very culturally and ethnically diverse area, and the move to renovate may be leading to a devaluation of the architectural expression of cultural diversity."
On a more personal level, Dickson Street resident Fiona Wade gave a human perspective to the changes that are occurring in Dickson Street and many others like it in the Inner West. "When we first moved here six years ago there were certainly lots of older people that had been here most of their lives," she says. "A few of them have died, a few of them have sold up and moved to Queensland and various places. I sort of miss that in a way, the older people, because they certainly had the history of the place."
Newtown Bridge c.1908
Accidentally Dickson St
Take a virtual wander down Dickson Street and meet a few of the locals.
Paving the way ... at last
King Street's pedestrian improvements are finally underway more than five years after being announced.
Newtown Festival 2000
Missed the festival fair day this year? No sweat just take a stroll through our slide show of images from the festival.
Local musician John Kennedy's tribute to our main drag. Listen while you surf @28K/256K (requires RealPlayer)
Ready to explore a little more of Newtown online? Our links list is as good a place as any to start.
This project was jointly developed by John Kennedy and Paul Kidd for Online Journalism 2 at UTS, Spring 2000.