Jump to content
MARYROSE02

So you want to know about Surry Hills?

Recommended Posts

I posted this article on a thread about the new series of Underbelly but it's such a good description of Surry Hills (well, I think it is) I thought I'd put it here too. Am I allowed to do that?

 

Crime czars haunt the Hills

 

 

[/url]

 

hills-5981133.jpg

Squalor ... urchins in Hart St, Surry Hills, in the early 1900s. Source: The Daily Telegraph

 

TODAY the only trace of Frog Hollow is a pretty little park that stands as a reminder of the toughest suburb in Sydney writes Frank Crook.

 

There was once a place in Sydney called Frog Hollow, where no respectable citizen would ever enter.

It was Sydney's worst slum, of narrow lanes and dank ramshackle houses with little ventilation and defective drains and sewers.

Disease and poverty was rife in Frog Hollow, where criminals flourished. Prostitution was conducted in the open; sly grog shops plied a nightly trade; gangs of toughs lingered in alleyways preying on the unwary.

Kate Leigh, the legendary crime queen, once held court in Frog Hollow before going on to bigger if not necessarily better things in the sly grog, cocaine and prostitution business.

Frog Hollow, demolished in the 1920s, was in the heart of Surry Hills, then the toughest suburb in Sydney.

 

Today the only trace of Frog Hollow that remains is a pretty little park called Frog Hollow Reserve that sits primly on the corner of Albion and Riley streets.

It is marked by trees, lighting and landscaped gardens.

It stands as a reminder of the early, deprived days of Surry Hills, along with old sepia-toned photographs of dingy tenements and barefoot children.

There the poor of Sydney lived and were forgotten as the metropolis grew around them.

The transformation of Surry Hills began in the 1960s, when artists, writers and students moved in to the area, bunkering down in its terraces and decayed mansions.

It brought a touch of bohemia to an area that was still a no-go area for many citizens of Sydney.

The changing face of the area was completed in the 1980s when many of the suburb's terraces were restored and the newly-affluent discovered the convenience of inner-city living.

Tomorrow sees the start of the ninth annual Surry Hills Festival, held in Prince Alfred Park. It has markets, bars, fashion parades, dog shows and entertainment for young and old.

It is a celebration of a suburb and a far cry from the desperate early days of Surry Hills, when gangs such as the 40 Thieves and the Big Seven roamed its narrow streets.

Today the area is studded with bars and restaurants, antique dealers, fashion outlets and art galleries.

Its pubs, including the Dolphin, Clock, White Horse and the Trinity all in Crown St, and the Norfolk in Cleveland St, are elegant and civilised watering holes.

Walk down Crown, Oxford, Fitzroy, Devonshire and Cleveland streets and visitors can take their pick from modern Australian, Italian, Japanese, French, Indian and Thai cuisines.

Few newly-arrived tourists would have an inkling of the area's grubby and violent past.

But Surry Hills was not always the down-at-heel area it became.

In the early days of the colony it was mostly farmland, owned by Major Joseph Foveaux, after whom Foveaux St is named.

It was known as Surry Hills Farm, named after Surrey Hills in England, with an alteration to its spelling.

Terrace houses and workers' cottages were built in the 1850s to cater for those who laboured on the wharves and later the factories, foundries and light industry that sprang up in the area.

In the days before public transport, it was important for workers to live near their workplaces.

With the coming of the railways, the more affluent citizens moved from the inner-city to the newly-established suburbs.

So Surry Hills became a working-class suburb, home to generations of Irish immigrants depicted so vividly by the author Ruth Park in her novels chronicling the life and times of the Darcy family, impoverished exiles from the bush.

Park and her novelist husband D'Arcy Niland, author of The Shiralee, lived in Surry Hills, where she wrote The Harp In The South in 1948 and Poor Man's Orange the following year.

They were not the only notables to make their home there. The great cricketer Victor Trumper learned the game in the streets of Surry Hills.

John Norton, the newspaper tycoon who founded Truth newspaper, was the state member for the area between 1904-6.

Eddie Ward, a Labor man with a reputation as a doughty battler for the workers, was once president of the Surry Hills branch of the Labor Party, before holding the federal seat of East Sydney from 1932 until he died in 1963.

Ward served with and often fought against Labor prime ministers Jim Scullin, John Curtin and Ben Chifley.

Cyril Angles, who, along with Ken Howard was Sydney's leading race caller, was a Surry Hills boy, while Arthur Stace, who gained fame as the man who wrote the word ``Eternity'' in crayon on the pavements of Sydney, lived in Surry Hills in the 1920s.

He held down a job as cockatoo or lookout for a two-up school and also worked carrying liquor from pubs to local brothels, one of them run by his sister, before he reformed.

In later years, when the area gained some respectability, the artist Brett Whiteley bought an old warehouse and converted it into a studio and exhibition space.

He lived there from 1988 until his death in 1992. People can still visit Whiteley's studio in Raper St and inspect his unfinished paintings, art equipment, photographs, furniture and sketchbooks.

A number of houses, terraces and other buildings in Surry Hills have been registered with the National Estate, including the original premises of Cleveland St Public School, St Michael's Church in Albion St and the former police station in Bourke St.

Leigh's legacy remains today. The premises of her old sly-grog shop still stands in Devonshire St, where thirsty customers, locked out of pubs at 6pm, queued to buy beer at outrageous prices.

The running battles between Leigh and her arch enemy Tilly Devine still form part of the suburb's folklore, along with the razor gangs of the 1920s and criminals such as Frank ``The Little Gunman'' Green and the violent Guido Calletti.

There were also the glamour girls of the street, such as Nellie Cameron, who had Green as her pimp, and Dulcie Markham - blonde and gorgeous, whose gallery of male protectors all came to sudden and violent ends.

Leigh and Devine were both portrayed by Ruth Park as a single character in The Harp In The South and Poor Man's Orange.

Park described the suburb where she once made her home as ``clinging to the proud skirts of Sydney like a ragged, dirty-nosed child''.

The flash of the razor has long departed the streets of Surry Hills and the old lags who once populated the area have been swallowed up by history.

Restaurants such as Long Grain, Billy Kwong, the Bentley and Jazushi usher well-dressed patrons through their doors.

Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine would never recognise the place

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is really interesting, thanks for sharing!!! I happened across something similar on the BBC website, all about Sydney and history around the Surrey Hills area, I found it fascinating and can't wait to go and explore. If anyone is interested the link is here: http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20110823-a-walk-through-sydneys-criminal-shadows

It too talks about Kate Leigh's grog shop and Frog Hollow.

Might pop down on Saturday.... mmm


And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started, and know the place for the first time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This is really interesting, thanks for sharing!!! I happened across something similar on the BBC website, all about Sydney and history around the Surrey Hills area, I found it fascinating and can't wait to go and explore. If anyone is interested the link is here: http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20110823-a-walk-through-sydneys-criminal-shadows

It too talks about Kate Leigh's grog shop and Frog Hollow.

Might pop down on Saturday.... mmm

 

Surry Hills market is on the first Sat of the month (I think!) in Shannon Reserve on the corner of Crown & Foveaux Sts.

 

You can walk up Foveaux St from Central Station (northern end) although it's a VERY steep street there. I'd prefer to walk up Devonshire St from the southern end then turn left into Crown OR walk from Oxford St along Crown. Either way it's a pleasant & intereresting walk.

 

Stop and ask a few passers by if they know where Frog Hollow is? I'd be interested to know if many don't know! I only came across it by accident and because of my obsession with reading signs. (Corner of Riley & Albion I think.)

 

I must read those books by Ruth Park too. When I was awarded my degree at UNSW in 1994 she was awarded an honorary degree in the same ceremony.

 

Thanks for that link - I'll look at it in a moment.

 

PS Just read your link to the BBC article thanks. Very interesting. Norman Bruhn? met his demise on Underbelly last Sunday. I must do the Darlinghurst part of the tour as I don't go that often on the north side of Oxford St. I've been driving thru those streets - Bourke,Crown, Palmer,Liverpool on the way home from the beach but it's no good trying to sightsee from a car!

 

I did go to a new (for me) bar about 50m down Crown St from Oxford on the East Sydney side, could be corner of Liverpool - God it irritates me when I don't know the bloody street names! Anyway it was a very cool place, lots of young bloods and their girls.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

PPS forgot to mention that the BBC article mis-spells Surry as Surrey! BUT I'm sure one of the pubs spells it with an 'e' AND there is a SurrEy Hills in Melbourne!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×