In the middle of 20th century, Glebe was a very different place from today. Considered by some as little more than a slum, the demolition of traditional Glebe – and the communities who lived there – was seen as part of the inevitable march of progress. 1
But Bernard Smith and Kate Smith and the other founder-members of The Glebe Society thought otherwise. In this they were supported by a change in public mood and the formation of inner-city local resident action groups that recognized the value of the past and resisted its indiscriminate destruction. And in the close bonds of the residents, they recognised the value of established, mutually supportive communities.
In the 1960s and 70s, several factors threatened the character of Glebe.
- An increasing number of the distinctive terrace and historic houses of Glebe were being demolished and replaced with 3-storey home unit blocks, with little concern for heritage values.
- The state government planned a series of expressways right through Glebe.
- Lyndhurst, a fine 1830s Regency villa in Darghan St, was threatened with demolition.
- The Glebe Administration Board of the Anglican Church proposed to sell some 700 dwellings in the Glebe Estate that housed people on low incomes.
- The waterfront of Glebe was industrial land, but the businesses were closing or had already done so. There was virtually no public access to the foreshores of Rozelle and Blackwattle Bays.
At the same time, the social mix of Glebe was changing as inner city living became more attractive.
In its fifty years of existence, the Glebe Society has achieved significant successes through lobbying, conducting local campaigns and projects and collaborating with council and other bodies.
Achievements in which the Society has played a key role, include:
- Abandonment of the NSW Government proposal for expressways which would have cut through the suburb and resulted in the demolition of Lyndhurst (1837)
- Preservation of the Glebe Estate, an area of mid-19th century houses which has since been refurbished as public housing
- Listing of Glebe as a conservation area by the National Trust, and as a Conservation area in the Leichhardt Local Environment Plan.
- Development of a vision by the Glebe Society for an open foreshore from Johnstons Creek to Blackwattle Bay.
- Gradual acquisition by Council of land for major waterfront parks – Bicentennial Park and Blackwattle Bay Park.
- Extension of the foreshore walk and cycleway from Glebe Point Road to Bridge Road near the Blackwattle Bay campus of the Sydney Secondary College, with the final stretch completed in 2014.
- Development of the concept of a light rail link through Glebe utilising a former railway goods line. Opened in 1997, extended in 2000 to Lilyfield and in 2014 to Dulwich Hill.
- Steps towards the revitalisation of Glebe Point Road through the Glebe Point Road Project. Glebe Point Rd Main Street Study published jointly with the Glebe Chamber of Commerce.
- Acquisition and extension of Benledi (1875) at 186 Glebe Point Road for use as the Glebe library.
- Expansion and regeneration of Orphans Creek in Forest Lodge, finally opening in 2009.
- Restoration and interpretation of the Walter Burley Griffin incinerator (1932) on Blackwattle Bay.
- Redevelopment of Foley Park in Glebe’s central historic precinct.
- Restoration of Bellevue(c1883) which had fallen into disrepair, as part of the Glebe Foreshore Upgrade. Now housing a café and restaurant.
- Retention of one third of the Harold Park site, previously the Harold Park Paceway harness racing track, as open space and the renovation and adaptive re-use of the Rozelle Tram Depot (1904-1907), now the Tramsheds (re-opened 2016).
- Glebe Island Bridge placed on the NSW State Heritage Register.
- Demolition and construction of WestConnex tunnels and infrastructure avoided in Glebe and Forest Lodge.
- Four laneways formally named after prominent local community members.
- WWI digger memorial restored and returned to the Tramsheds.
- Tram Mural on the corner of Glebe Point Road and Hereford St commemorates Glebe’s transport heritage.
Celebrating 50 years
In 2019 the Society celebrated its fifty years of achievements with a week-long Community Festival. Explore the Festival website for more detailed information including
- a timeline of key events and achievements in the Society’s history, from 1969 – 2019.
- a series of posters on the Glebe Society in Action.
Fifty Years of the Glebe Society: Celebrating Conservation and Change in Glebe and Forest Lodge, is an in-depth history of the Glebe Society covering its first 50 years. This 72-page booklet – which is as much a history of Glebe and Forest Lodge as a history of the Society – is available for purchase from Gleebooks.