Sydney is a city of suburbs, with well over 700 of them.  Except for those who live right in the city, everyone else in Sydney lives in a suburb and they keep on coming with new suburbs being created in the west of the city, the north, south and even right in the inner areas.

The names of many of these suburbs, particularly the older ones, often give a hint at some of the history of the place or at least of the people who settled there.  This doesn’t always hold true with more recent suburbs that appear to be named more often by a committee of marketers keen to sell.

Now we can’t possibly go through all the suburbs here (you can do that at the Dictionary of Sydney) but a look at a couple of them will give you the idea.

Sydney is an Aboriginal place.  It is recognised as being the largest Indigenous art gallery in a major city in the world with rock engravings, art and spiritual spaces across the entire city.

It is also a named place with many of the suburbs either being Aboriginal words or derivatives of them.  Some are well known like Parramatta (where the eels lie down) or Woolloomooloo (place of kangaroos) or Ku-ring-gai which was the name of the people who lived there, but others like Bondi (sound of waves) or Kogarah (place of reeds) are not so famous.

Of course the English colonists also put their names on places, early ones to stamp their suposed ownership and later ones to remind them of home.  Some places were named after an obvious feature such as The Rocks for the rocky headland or Emu Plains because of the flocks of emus there (all gone by the 1830s!), others remember the grant or land holder like Redfern after WilliamRedfern who had 100 acres there or Darlinghurst after Governor Darling who granted the land or Frenchs Forest after James French who ran a timber mill there in the 1850s.

Many are named after the town or village an early landholder came from and hint at the isolation and homesickness of colonial Australia.  Places like Randwick, Putney, Liverpool, Richmond, Croydon and Penshurst are all English towns.

Battles also feature, giving a reminder that the early colony was home to many veterans of English wars.  Waterloo is the most obvious after the 1815 defeat of Napolean, but there is also Camperdown named by Governor William Bligh after a naval battle in 1797 where he captained a ship or Concord named after a town in Massachusetts USA where Major George Grose fought in the first skirmish of the American War of Independence in 1776.

German place names also abound such as San Souci after a palace built by Frederick the Great or Pyrmont after a spa town in Germany where the Macarthur family who were granted this land used to go to unwind.

And then there are a few that only make sense if you know the history.  Ultimo is one such example.  Named by the Surgeon John Harris in 1803 after a slip of the pen got him off of a court marshall.  His court documents relating to the charge referred to the 19th ultimo rather than the 19th instant, a small mistake but enough to have the charge dismissed.  When Harris was given his land the next year he proudly called his new estate and lavish house Ultimo.  A snub to his fellow officers and a colonial in joke, now almost lost in history.

So next time you are driving home through the suburbs take a little time to remember that while they might seem dull they are little signposts to the past.

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