A suburb not quite as elegant as it's name, but loveable nonetheless.

One of a dozen so-named townships in England, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, Throsby’s Islington is a suburb of Newcastle, NSW, a little west of its CBD.

 “Isso” is one of his most favoured areas, for reasons that should be “swimmingly” obvious, after a short ‘reflection’ in the park.

Islington commercial centre looking west towards Beaumont Street intersection.

The potted history that follows was lovingly grifted from various sources, in particular the fine Islington Village website, Heritage and Environment NSW, Wikipedia, and NLA Trove’s copious scanned media.

A present-day population of barely 2000 doesn’t diminish Islington’s endearment with Novocastrians or lessen the township’s significance – nor its snigger-worthiness among decades of the region’s young male cohort.

Born of a deep relationship to Port Waratah and an emerging city, strategically placed both on the road to Maitland and Hunter Valley and alongside the railway to Sydney, Hunter Valley, and North Coast, this tiny suburb was always going to be a keystone of development and central to inner-city matters.

Immaculate Heart of Mary church looking north from Islington Park across Throsby Creek to Tighes Hill.

Islington blends seamlessly with nearby Tighes Hill (a naming accident – it is obviously Islington Heights) and Maryville (equally, Lower – but not ‘lesser’ – Islington), the trio formed a single community that was once purview of Wickham Municipal Council.

Ah yes, Wickham, that swampish pastureland – consumed by the early western harbour dwellers – that would, in a sensible universe, be “The Islington Common.”

Styx Creek looking north from Chinchen Street. Islington Public School at right, TAFE in the distance, wheels of industry at left.

Comprising light industrial, mixed residential, and modest commercial areas, Islington’s redemption and claim to fame is one of the city’s most beautiful parks – featuring an historic (once notorious) waterway, Throsby Creek, and a world-renowned stand of Moreton Bay fig trees, now in its second century of growth.

But oh, that creek…

Everything filthy and dirty in the city was dumped in Throsby Creek. A prostitute’s body was dumped not far from there. The locals used to call it Carrington beach. The kids still swam in the filthy old Throsby Creek. It was crazy.”
~ Birgtte Hansen, artist.
Throsby Creek (Ahem!) Regatta circa 1960 - in a waterway of sufficient toxicity that algal blooms gasp in envy. Image: University of Newcastle CULTURAL COLLECTIONS

For at least 50 millennia (some suspect 100) the vicinity was used by the Awabakal people, with many middens along Throsby Creek, fish traps at the western side of what is now Tighes Hill and corroborees seen near Hannell Street in 1830, and near the southern end of Beaumont Street, Hamilton.

Mid-19th century maps show the creek’s circuitous course, with developing billabongs around what is now the foot of the embankment along Maitland Road, and how it looped around a small island, where now lies the TAFE’s northern sports field. The locale was series of hillocks and tidal swamps, with the arable area cleared and fenced for small farmlets of market gardening, grazing, and dairying.

Junction of Throsby and Styx Creeks looking east.

Construction of the railway from Newcastle to Sydney and local coalmines brought workers and their families to Hamilton and Islington, and the barons soon furthered their wealth by real estate development.

Barely a hamlet of houses, farmlets, smelters and tanneries, in proximity to such a vibrant Newcastle, people soon spread to the banks of the Throsby and Styx Creeks, seeing therein the convenience of what would soon become and always be an inner-city suburb of convenience.

When the Honeysuckle rail work completed, the area around Wickham was quickly subdivided, and growth was such that, in 1885, together with Islington and Tighes Hill, the locality was proclaimed the municipality of Wickham, of which Messrs. Hannell and Flemming were elected as two of the first aldermen – the former appointed Mayor.

Growth was hindered by heavy pollution from tanneries, smelters, Hamilton steam loco workshops, and even an incinerator for city “night soil” that rained unspeakable ash upon the area, embellished by an exquisite stench. When these impediments faded, Islington and Hamilton resumed their destinies to become the desirable dormitory suburbs they now are.

Early suburbia

As in all things regarding the invasion of Australia, the Australian Agricultural Company seemed to have had first right of theft, so early entrepreneurs bought their acreages from said company’s millions of acres of NSW holdings.

Western section of Islington Park looking west towards TAFE and along Throsby.

Chinchen and Hubbard streets are named after two such baron adventurers. And you know you’ve made it when the local papers name a paddock after you…

Wickham Band of Hope society will hold their annual picnic in Mrs Hickinbotham’s paddock, Islington. Refreshments will be provided for visitors on the ground. These gatherings are always of a most pleasant nature, and, no doubt, this year the picnic will be largely attended. Wednesday, 8th November, 1876.

Sadly, several years later:

Queen’s Birthday passed off in a more than usual quiet manner, as generally on as public holiday one or more picnics would be held in Mr. Chippendall’s or Mrs. Hickinbotham’s paddock; but yesterday such amusements were conspicuous by their absence, and as a great and melancholy contrast, I observed no less than three children’s funerals waiting at the station for the train to Sandgate cemetery.

We at last learn (well, only strongly suspect) just where this famous paddock was, from the apprehension of a local “notorious old convict and burglar” named Samuel Whitehouse, formerly a resident in Pit Row, in whose string of misdemeanours was “… attempted burglary at an iron foundry in Lower Church Street, facing Mrs. Hickinbotham’s paddock.”

 As there is no Church Street in Islington, perhaps in those days the “paddock” was somewhere in Wickham Park, the “lower” end of a Church St. Wickham. Mysteries for the historian.

Click the image below to view an interactive panorama. Use mouse or gestures to pan and zoom.

East view from Islington railway bridge - Maitland Road over the northern line - in 2012. Work just starting on the Wickham rail interchange. Wickham Park oval is centre left and where we suspect Mrs Hickinbotham's paddock was.
Life in the rugged outskirts

As a reminder to us modern suburbanites, the villages comprising a future City of Newcastle were subject to the same forces of nature that regional folk still contend with.

On Friday, 16th January, 1880, bushfires raged “on the Broadmeadow” near the New Lambton Smelting Works, and along the side of the Maitland road between Tighes Hill and Waratah…

…and it was with very great difficulty that the fire was kept from destroying some of the houses near Mr. Reynold’s brickyard, and also Mr. Reynold’s shed, where he dries his bricks. These were only saved by dint of perseverance.

The flames also raged around Captain Jewell’s premises, Islington, burning down a considerable portion of the fences, and had at one time actually got hold of the roof of his cottages at the rear of the tannery; but fortunately the wind changed, and they succeeded in extinguishing the fire on his houses.

The smoke also travelled in such large columns that one party was nearly suffocated in the house, and was so surrounded by it that they were “put in a straight to know in which direction to escape.”

By the 1880s, with the establishment of Mr Bevan’s new grocery store, and increasing activity on the rail line from Sydney, complaints grew about Wickham Municipal Council’s apparent neglect of the streets – using the term in its broadest possible sense – and how they might benefit from at least the scantest attention- if not a penny or two – from council.

A suburban correspondent addressed the citizenry Newcastle in general on the subject via the pages of the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate on 30 July, 1881:

ALTHOUGH your readers don’t hear much from this quarter, we Islingtonians are alive and thriving-emulating as far as we can our transoceanic cousins of Highbury Barn, Cock, and Dick Whittington celebrity.

It is encouraging to see the rapidity with which land, only a twelve month ago covered with bush and scrub, has succumbed to axe and saw, and is now dotted with buildings since recent subdivision sales by the Northumberland Building Society.

Substantial structures, artisans’ residences, an hotel, assembly rooms, etc., have all been erected, and others are being rapidly put up. Within the next twelve or eighteen months the previous barren paddocks between the High Level Bridge and Tighes Hill will assuredly have grown into a respectable township.

The branch connecting route Fleming Street, joining Wickham and the Tighes Hill road, is now nearly completed; workmen being busily occupied completing its formation. This will materially serve to expedite the building connection of Wickham and the recently surveyed allotment owners already alluded to.

In 1884 residents erupted in indignation when the government chose a remote site for a new Islington public school near a tannery. Insult to injury came from a Department of Public Instruction that, anyway, despite their suburb having the prerequisite number of children to justify a school, it doesn’t. Thus, The Department informed them, the education requirements of the locality were sufficiently provided for by the existing schools at Wickham, Hamilton, Tighes Hill and Hanbury.

That was like waving a red rag at one of the bulls visiting Mitten’s Tannery, or whichever tannery would neighbour the proffered institution of public instruction.

During a public meeting at Hart’s Islington Hotel, one G. W. F. Butler exploded forth, and:

…considered that the proper position for a school would have been in the centre of the township; and abundant evidence could be brought to show that Tighes Hill and Hamilton schools were wretchedly overcrowded – at Wickham extra premises had to be provided – it appeared self-evident that there must be some occult, secret, influence at work to prevent the new school being placed in its proper position in the centre of the township. (Hear, hear!)

In tho first in stance it was clearly pointed out that there were upwards of 125 children (the requisite number), and since then over fifty, or 100, had arrived at ages fitting them to attend schools, Over eleven new houses had also since been erected; and others were in the course of construction. Constant applications were also daily made for houses.

In the face of such facts, was it to be tolerated that the Department should be allowed to quietly stand by and see such an injustice carried into effect?

Every man, married or single, should keep on agitating until the matter was satisfactorily arranged. (Hear, hear!)

When the railway became operational circa 1857, freight and mail bypassed Islington and Hamilton, frustrating local businesses and citizenry by the delay and cost of transport to and from Newcastle, via a boggy or dusty rutted dirt track, depending on the season, and respectively churned or powdered by the horse-drawn carts.

Westward from Hamilton Railway Station in 1906. Remarquer the intense pollution in the distance. Image: UoN's Cultural Collections.

In 1876, due to growth in nearby Tighes Hill, a petition went to the Commissioner of Railways “that a railway platform at Hubbard Street, Islington, be erected” to access the Newcastle and Great Northern Railway into the Hunter Valley. Throsby is yet to reconcile this request or its timeline, as Hamilton Railway Station had opened in 1872. One supposes it was a long hike along Fern Street, even more from Tighes Hill via the Throsby crossing.

Heavy rain on 1st June, 1897, washed the foundation from under the railway bridge over Styx Creek.

At about 11.30 a.m. it was noticed that the foundations of the bridge were giving way, and traffic was immediately suspended. Shortly afterwards there was a collapse of the stone piers supporting the bridge, and the two lines of rails were twisted into various shapes”
Great Northern Railway bridge over Styx Creek washed away in 1897. The little creek had a temper. Image: UoN's Ralph Snowball Collection.

The bridge – 45ft long and 40ft wide – was built on three stone buttresses the full width of the double line. The buttress at the northern end of the bridge entirely collapsed, the huge blocks of stone being washed by the force of the torrent. About 25ft of the centre support also gave way, whilst the buttress of the southern end remained intact. Creek widening had caused the full force of current at the piers, and eventually washed out the approaches built to support the embankments.

The Wonderful Islington Park

At the time when a mere string of small farms and sundry enterprises dotted a broad swampy creek, a bold 1884 plan envisioned a dedicated Recreation Reserve for the restless but constrained Islingtonians.

Tenders were called by Wickham Council in 1878 for the fencing of a recreational reserve at Islington, with a grant for planting and beautifying it. A tender by Mr. W.W. Johnson of £18 (A$3,000 inflation adjusted) was accepted.

One can only guess the imaginings of one J.T. Croft, who planted what has grown into a most striking array of Moreton Bay fig trees. The Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW, is in no doubt of Islington Park’s significance:

Islington Park, located on Throsby Creek, is one of Newcastle’s finest green public spaces, with a magnificent stand of Moreton Bay fig trees.

Islington Park has been recognised as community open space since well into the last century and appears as ‘Recreation Reserve’ on 1884 survey of Newcastle. It also provides an “important townscape focus for the Islington/Tighes Hill/Maryville area.

The park is currently defined by the mature avenue of Moreton Bay Fig Trees – dated back over a century – along Maitland Road and “possibly one of the finest in NSW" (A.N. Rodd, formerly Horticultural Botanist, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 1992).

Ficus macrophylla avenue has aesthetic value as a prominent landscape or townscape feature on a major entry roadway to Newcastle CBD.
Maitland Road (L-R is west to east) lined with mature Moreton Bay fig trees that are more than a century old, and "possibly on of the finest in NSW."
Below, viewed east along Maitland Road, Islington.
Islington Park is associated with a prominent early environmentalist-artish Alfred Sharp (1835-1908) – one of the few remaining parks with surviving evidence of Sharp’s design. “Sharp completed designs for several parks in the Newcastle area, including King Edward and Hamilton parks.

The now historic stand of trees, planted in 1884, have almost miraculously withstood the unwelcome and often vandalistic attention of councils – Wickham Municipal, then Newcastle City – for almost a century. Only in the twilight of its life does the magnificent line of trees get the devoted care and nurture from council that it always deserved.

In October, 1941, Mr. W. T. Cahill, former President of Sydney Trades and Labour Council, visiting Newcastle from his Illawarra home, observed:

When was a boy, going to school at Tighes Hill, I saw these trees being planted. It is just 61 years ago. In my periodical visits to Newcastle, I have seen them grow. During my life I have travelled in England, America, and the East, and have seen no avenue to beat this in Islington. I would deplore very much any interference with this asset to Newcastle.

When I knew Mayfield first it was mostly bullock paddocks," Mr. Cahill said. "Islington had two houses. Where the Steel Works and other industries are now was a low swamp covered with ti-tree.”

Lads armed with tomahawks startled council in 1933 as they took a fancy to attempted or inadvertent ringbarking of the fig trees, “cutting limbs and hacking toe holds in the trunks to climb up,” said Alderman Sharp. Mayor Grahame exclaimed that “is one of the finest avenues we have, and this practice must be stopped.

Subsequent irony was lost on no-one but the important locals who cajoled council to assault the leafy giants that – as they swelled in stature (the trees, that is) – impeded the gentlemanly pursuit of lawn bowls. Widespread protest erupted when Wickham Council said it would remove seven trees from the line, leaving a gap of 140 feet (40 metres) for “improvements” – ie: to move the bowling club to a nicer spot.

The young tomahawk-wielding lads looked on, no doubt, greatly bemused.

Islington Park and Throsby Creek. Left is south east.

On Wednesday, 31st July 1935, Wickham Council yielded to public opinion and chose compromise, which included “moving the bowling green slightly and seeing how things go.” The meeting generally appeared to dissolve into mass denials, accusations, disclaimers, including Mayor J.H. Kirk claiming he was “only doing what council told him to” and councillors generally claiming they knew nothing of the decision to chop down trees. En masse they appeared to blame the protestors for petitioning, and council almost unanimously implied it was the trees’ fault for being there and causing the fine aldermen all this bother.

The ideal compromise was reached – along the lines of proven strategy – to do nothing for now and announce “a committee” will investigate further.

Whereupon articles and letters routinely appeared in the press explaining how awful fig trees are. Future Twitter bots, it seems, wrote letters to editors in those days.

Trees in Parks

Sir – In reference to the trees in Islington Park, I would ask all those who favour the trees remaining to visit Islington on a stormy day, or during heavy westerly weather. They will find all the gutters and sumps on the Maitland Road choked with leaves.

Then again, these Moreton Bay fig trees fruit all the summer, and are full of fruit fly. The rotten figs fall, and the whole of the Islington Park is a breeding ground for this fruit fly. Yet any person who has fruit trees must provide fly traps or get rid of the trees, If the matter were brought under the notice of the Minister for Agriculture he would order their destruction.

"Fruitgrower." Hamilton.

When it involves tree-lopping, councils are the great recidivists. For twenty years later the furore continued, on a lesser scale, for reasons unchanged.

In July, 1950, two Moreton Bay fig trees were “severely” lopped by council workmen. The bowling club – located where the oval is now, at the eastern end of the park – said “trees blocked sunlight from the greens and showered the grass with leaves.” As trees are designed to do, we nowadays acknowledge. Newcastle Tree Planting and Preservation League said

…lopping of trees had been unnecessarily drastic. It had resulted in making the trees an eyesore for several years to come. It was a case of sacrificing trees for a bowling green.”

In 1968 Joy Cummings was elected as an alderman for East Ward – the first woman to win a seat on Newcastle City Council, prompted by council plans to destroy a row of Moreton Bay fig trees in Islington Park Moreton Bay fig trees for “road widening.” In 1974 she became the first female Lord Mayor in Australia.

A dawn “raid” in 1973 that removed 17 trees from Birdwood Park angered Alderman Cummings. A widened and diverted King Street effectively destroyed the park, once a venue for road shows, such as Sorlies Travelling Revue. Alderman Cummings cried on-site, saying she was “ashamed” of being an alderman after the sudden council action.

In 2003 two Moreton Bay fig trees were found to have hollow trunks exceeding threshold of safety and were removed.

As you might guess, Islington by now was famous for the fig trees alone.

Regent Theatre

The Regent Theatre at the corner of Maitland Road and Beaumont Street was built in 1928 from designs by Mr. E.F. Hewitt. It opened on 2 December 1929.

One of a string of “Regent” theatres in the inner suburbs operated by Mr. W. Herbert, known as “Herbert’s Theatres,” it replaced an outdoor venue that had operated since 1911. Islington’s Regent structure survives today, in it’s

The fabulous Islington Regent Theatre in 2019 is still alive and well - but selling stuff, not showing stuff.

Like similar venues – suburban or city – this “picture palace” was unable to survive and closed on 27 June 1964.

Technical College aka TAFE

What, Throsby hears the chorus, it’s not “Islington TAFE” – oh, but once it was.
Though known as “Tighes Hill TAFE” and within the zone of that suburb, it always felt like part of Islington, and indeed was original deemed for land termed “Islington West” where once mining and brickworks were found.

For Tighes Hill to have ever claimed territory south of the creek seems, to Throsby, nothing more or less than the petulance of hillock pillocks.

Newcastle Technical College concept art in 1938 by an art teacher, R.G. Russom.

On 11th March, 1936, Minister for Education, Mr. D.H. Drummond, stated 20 acres (9 hectares) at Islington West was the new site for Newcastle Technical College. The land was gifted by money for its purchase by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP).

The original technical college at Wood Street was rejected as the site for further building due to limited acreage and crowding. Likely due to rapid growth of industry and population, the Wood Street campus survives to this day.

At the time, it was suggested that a future Newcastle university might receive 100 acres of land on high ground near what is now Warrabrook – but was (in living memory) Newcastle Abattoir and its holding stock yards, the grassless fields full of forlorn flocks of ovines and bovines.

Now those two “campuses” would have made quite the ironic pairing.

Brief history of Newcastle Technical College is here. And also here.

TAFE Northern sports field looking south eastish to Islington Park. Throsby Creek originally flowed around this oval, which was an island.

The “Islington” campus provided a formidable array of instruction, from shipbuilding to wool classing to colour television. In 1959 it became a shared site when The University Building was opened, and the long-forbidden pleasures of intellectual snobbery became a commodity for regional youth.

At last Newcastle was on a course to greater sophistication, although the pretenders would struggle to, but never quite, overcome their proletariat tendencies or provincial lowliness, nor escape the gentle scorn of their working class parents!

As one might gather, the new “university” was irrelevant to the offspring of local barons, oligarchs, and kleptocrats, luxuriating in the elevated serenity around the smoky hole – especially the leafy climes of New Lambton Heights. Their offspring, young future captains of industry, were, if not already a the helm of Daddy’s empire, living it merry at Oxford or Harvard.

In 1965 Newcastle University Shortland campus was opened and by 1971 university activities ceased at Islington. In 1974 the technical education system became the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) we all know. And, perhaps, latterly mourn, in the free-for-all deconstruction quaintly termed “contestable funding.”

And so it went, down the years…

Islingtonians, Throsby salutes you.

Commercial Centre

Throsby is quickly bored by pictures of shops and commerce, and prefers to capture only the artworks, or attempts at it, on ugly facades and wasted walls around the backstreets. Nothing quite represents the urban mood or the state of citizenry than the tone of street art.

So here’s an album of happy snaps to fill some space.

Wickham Park Hotel in 2007. Happy to report that this pub is well within the Islington boundary.
Next to the immortal Islington Spare Parts (ISP) in 2009.
Again, from the same spot 5 years later. No, that car hasn't been there all that time. It's Throsby's former trusty town-wise Teg transporter.
Above and below, The PINO in 2013.
Now it's Guiseppe's in 2016, perhaps in homage to the beloved original Italian eatery.
Daniel Street corner, opposite Guiseppe's. It was an eyesore but taken care of nicely in 2019.
Perhaps they sell cushions.
Every Maitland Road regular had their attention grabbed daily by this.
Below, somewhere in Islington (or Newcastle) is a lane called "Peabodys Lane" where this was found in2019 - anyone?
Above and below, Daniel Street in 2014.
Above: Daniel and Anderton streets intersection at far left, and at right, the lane off Anderton.
Above: The lane off the lane off Anderton Street (building's rear).
Below, works along the lane off Anderton.
From above (the rear of the building; the "lane off the lane," below is the final image before the camera memory filled.
Above, Daniel and Fern streets in 2014. Hamilton Station Hotel on Beaumont Street distant right.
Below, 83 Maitland Road. Fitting out for Peaberry's in 2014.
And never dance in tight pants. Because...

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