The Names of Sydney


There are many names around Sydney that leave visitors scratching their heads and asking "why?" Like why does Sydney call the only circular building in its central business district Australia Square? And why is Circular Quay rectangular? Why the now withdrawn red trains on Sydney's railway system were nicknamed Red Rattlers is obvious to anyone who has ridden them, but their correct name - Sputniks - isn't (they were thus named because they were brought into service in 1957, the same year the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite).

Sydney has some very interesting suburb names too. There is one suburb with a name that literally means "Death Valley" - Mortdale; Greystanes isn't anywhere near as dirty as its name suggests, and what about Fiddletown? - no, the people who live there aren't all tax cheats - or violin players for that matter!

Contrary to what its name implies, the people of Galston don't all have gall stones; be assured the people who live in Grose Wold and Hassall Grove are glad their localities' names aren't descriptive; the name Lowlands would have been a nightmare to the real estate agent who first tried to sell land there; the people who named Hillsdale and Valley Heights appear to have been quite indecisive; there aren't too many ladies from the popular beachside suburb who'll admit to being Manly residents; not a single person lives at Tumbledown Dick, even though it has been allocated a postcode. And why would they, with a name like that! If those suburb names are a bit too negative for you, there are a lot of other names that go to the opposite extreme. Life in Merrylands sounds like it would be fun, and Beauty Point, Green Valley, Riverview and Summer Hill all sound like names concocted by real estate developers eager for sales. As for Crows Nest, Curl Curl and Dee Why ...

So who named Sydney?

Like all cities and towns, Sydney as a city remains unfinished, in a constant state of change. There's nothing startling about that, except when you try to define just exactly what and where Sydney is, and then you come up with a lot of unanswered questions. Even the origin of its name is questionable. Sure, we know it honours Thomas Townshend (1733-1800) Viscount Sydney, a British parliamentarian and Secretary of State for the Home Affairs between 1783 and 1789, the man to whom the Governor of NSW was directly answerable during the colony's establishment and formative years. But the colony was originally named New South Wales. So who changed it to Sydney? Now that is a very good question.

Sydney: The Undefined City

It was the first Governor, Arthur Phillip, who bestowed the name 'Sydney Cove' in Januqry 1788 to the small inlet on Port Jackson on which the colony's first settlement in the Colony of New South Wales was established. Gov. Phillip did not propose the colony be named 'Sydney', but 'New Albion', however it appears his suggestion was ignored, as all official records refer to it as the Colony of New South Wales.

If you try and identify the moment from which the town became known as Sydney you'll be unsuccessful. And if you try and find out who made the decision to call it Sydney, you'll reach the same dead end. It appears that Sydney was probably never officially given that name, and that the name probably come into regular use by accident.

Following the establishment of a second settlement at Rose Hill (Parramatta) in 1789, locals began referring to the settlement on Sydney Cove as Sydney, more to differentiate it from Rose Hill than anything, and the name stuck. By the turn of the 19th Century, it was used more and more in official documents. In 1842, it was adopted as the name of the local government authority established at that time to oversee an area which had become the town centre.

Sydney Harbour or Port Jackson?

Talking of names, there is still confusion as to the difference, if any, between Sydney Harbour and Port Jackson. Most locals will tell you they are one and the same but such is not the case. The name Port Jackson was bestowed by Lt. James Cook on 7th May, 1770 as he passed by the Heads on his journey north after his visit to Botany Bay. It honours Sir George Jackson, Secretary for the Admiralty and Judge Advocate of the (British Navy) Fleet, Cook's departmental head. As a youth, Cook worked for Jackson's sister as a stable hand.

Cook didn't explore the harbour so he never knew that it actually consists of three distinct harbours or "ports". He simply called everything beyond the Heads "Port Jackson". The authorities have since taken Cook's lead and adopted the name as a reference to all three harbours. Only that part of Port Jackson between the Parramatta River and Sydney Heads is called Sydney Harbour, and like the name 'Sydney' itself, was probably adopted officially after it had been in common use for many years. The section of Port Jackson to the north of the Heads is called North Harbour, the section to the north west of the heads into which Middle Harbour Creek flows is Middle Harbour. Incidentally, Parramatta River ceases to be Parramatta River and becomes Sydney Harbour at Long Nose Point, Balmain.

So Where Is The City Boundary?

Though the boundaries of the local government electoral district known as the City of Sydney are clearly defined (it spans approximately 11.7 square kilometres and includes the Central Business District), the actual boundaries of Greater Sydney or the Sydney Metropolitan Area as it is often called appear to have never been formalised.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics includes the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury and parts of the Central Coast in the Sydney Statistical Division, which represents Greater Sydney. The State Electoral Map of Metropolitan Sydney, on the other hand, don't include them. As these maps represent the NSW Government's interpretation of where Greater Sydney starts and finishes and Sydney is NSW's seat of Government, it is reasonable to treat them as gospel, unless you take into account that the Australian Bureau of Statistics is a Commonwealth Government body and New South Wales is part of the Commonwealth of Australia ... Yes, it's all very confusing. Using the State Electoral Map of Metropolitan Sydney, the northern boundary is the Hawkesbury River, making Prickly Point in Muogamarra Nature Reserve the northern extremity, or the northern tip of Milson Island if you include islands in your calculations. Strange as it may seem, this location has never appeared as part of Sydney in the Metropolitan Sydney Street Directory but it does appear in the Central Coast Street Directoryas part of the Central Coast!

The southern boundary of Sydney was very much open to conjecture until 2003. Sections of the electorates of Camden, Campbelltown and Heathcote appeared on the electoral map of Metropolitan Sydney and also on the electoral map of the Illawarra District to Sydney's south. If you included these electorates as part of Sydney, then Menangle and Wedderburn, Royal National Park and a narrow coastal strip to its south as far as Coledale were included as part of Metropolitan Sydney. If you included these electorates as part of the Illawarra, then Camden, Warragamba Dam, Badgerys Creek, Bringelly, Campbelltown, Eagle Vale, Leumea, Helensburgh, Bundeena, Waterfall, Engadine, Sutherland, Bonnet Bay and Como were not part of Metropolitan Sydney.


Crossing the border into Sydney

Since 2003, Camden and Campbelltown have been officially part of the Sydney metropolitan area, and Heathcote and Bundeena are in the Illawarra electorate, excluding them from Sydney's metropolitan area. But the establishment of the boundary between the two electorates has placed the residents of Bundeena and Maianbar in a rather precarious position. If they are at home, they are in the Illawarra; if they take a swim in the waters of Port Hacking outside their front doors, or go fishing off a jetty, they are in Sydney as the low water mark of Port Hacking is the great divide.

The eastern and western boundaries of Metropolitan Sydney are much clearer. To the east the boundary is the Pacific Ocean. The most easterly point is Bangalley Head, North Avalon.

To the west, the boundary is the Nepean River, apart from a section of the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the west of Penrith, where the Metropolitan Sydney extends inland as far as and including Blaxland. Blaxland High School on Coughlan Road sits on the most westerly extremity of Metropolitan Sydney, the railway line behind it being the boundary. This make the houses in Blaxland on the east side of the line in the Blue Mountains, whereas those on the west are in the Sydney metropolitan area.

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