An extract from The Whitlam Government, 1972-1975, E.G. Whitlam, Penguin Books Australia, 1985

“Few places in Australia are richer in history than the inner-Sydney suburb of Glebe. The area was first surveyed in 1790, two and a half years after Governor Phillip established the penal colony at Sydney town. The name was acquired when approximately 200 hectares of land were granted to the Church of England. The Church subdivided and sold much of the estate in 1824. It kept 19 hectares for its own use, comprising Bishopthorpe as a residence for the Bishop of Australia and St. Phillip estate running down to the harbour.


Derwent Street

Derwent Street

“Sydney’s aristocracy built large homes in the district. Leading architects, Edward Hallen (Hereford House 1929) and John Verge (Toxteth Park 1831, Lyndhurst 1834 and Forest Lodge 1836) were commissioned to design elegant houses. From the 1840s, however, the area progressively adopted a more working class nature. Bishopthorpe was subdivided in 1856 and substantial brick homes were built on land leased for 99 years. Tradesmen and labourers inhabited the St. Phillip estate within range of the slaughterhouses on Blackwattle Bay.

“Glebe was fully built up by World War I and began to decline after it. With Chippendale, Redfern and Waterloo it began to show signs of urban blight. Commercial interests began to leave the area, faced with competition from new businesses along Broadway. Social problems associated with the Great Depression reduced Glebe to one of Sydney’s less savoury districts. Despite this decline, the area retained a close and distinctive community.

“After World War II it became increasingly obvious that, however effective in building mansions in heaven, the Church of England could not cope with its houses in Glebe. Low rent return meant that the Church could not allocate enough money for repair work. As a result, in 1973 the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney urged the Federal or State Governments to buy the Glebe estate for a planned experiment in low-income housing. My Government readily accepted this offer, regarding it as an excellent opportunity for Federal involvement in urban rehabilitation schemes. In May the Bishopthrope and St. Phillip estates, occupied by more than 700 dwellings, were purchased at a cost of $17.5 million. Uren [Tom Uren, MP and Minister for Urban and Regional Development] introduced the enabling legislation, the Glebe Lands (Appropriation) Bill on 11 July 1974.

“A Glebe Project Board, including 10 representatives elected by local residents, was established. The Board determined that the restoration of dwellings would occur in three stages – reroofing followed by repairing exterior appearance and, finally refitting interiors. A great deal of work was carried out and, if it were not for the Fraser Government’s cutting funds and then in 1981 abandoning the project, all houses would now have been renovated. In December 1984 the Hawke Government sold the estate to the NSW Government which was determined to complete the restoration work commenced under my Government.

“The quality of the completed renovations prompted the Royal Australian Planning Institute Journal to comment in November 1979 that ‘The Glebe project has become a classic example of successful rehabilitation. It stands as a refreshing and humane contrast to the insane excesses of the commercial redevelopment of the central business district and as a remarkable symbol of official concern for community values rather than developers’ balance sheets.’ Improved housing facilities in turn fostered the regeneration of commercial activity.

During the late 1970s Glebe Point Road became a thriving mixture of new restaurants and antique shops and traditional corner grocery stores and second-hand merchandise dealers.

“The project was also a tremendous financial success. A financial analysis in 1978 showed that the Glebe estate was capable of earning a real rate of return of about four percent on the funds invested, given market-level rents and optimum rehabilitation. While a renovated home at Glebe in 1978 cost $39,000 a comparable dwelling in new Housing Commission low-rise housing at Waterloo cost $44,500.”