Australian Heritage Commission, 2001
1 - The worker's terrace cottage
131 Murray Street, Pyrmont New South Wales
Darryn Goodwin, on the front verandah of 131 Murray Street, Pyrmont, 1997.
Pyrmont and Ultimo are the inner Sydney suburbs on a peninsula to the west of the city's Central Activities District and Darling Harbour. Closer settlement had proceeded rapidly from the 1860s with the construction of factories and working-class terrace houses for lease. By the turn of the century, larger industrial concerns, led by the wool industry, were demolishing the early residences. This created a distinct block pattern of development, with blocks of housing alternating with blocks of industrial facilities.
The waterfront, power station and railway industries also shaped the local economy and very little new housing was built until the 1970s. Technological and social changes after 1945 led to the abandonment of the inner city as industrial areas and the Ultimo/Pyrmont area saw rapid declines in workplaces and population. Redevelopment accelerated in the 1990s through large-scale government programs as well as private commercial investment.
Number 131 Murray Street is one of a group of working class houses built in 1898 and demonstrates the pattern of settlement as well as the living conditions of the working class residents and their environment, which fostered close social networks. Such workers' dwellings have generally disappeared as property values have risen in Sydney. The group remained intact for 98 years, whereupon Numbers 117 - 129 Murray Street, were demolished for redevelopment.
Hughie Goodwin and friends, mobilising to save their heritage, outside 131 Murray Street, February 1996. Hughie is out the front.
Number 131 is a single storied terrace cottage, the Goodwins' family home for over 60 years and a building under siege. Once part of a single development of 26 houses, sandwiched into a triangular block of land and linked by a laneway and a canopy of mature trees, its northern neighbours on Murray Street were pulled down in 1996. Others in this group, which fronts both Murray and Pyrmont Streets, are up for sale in one of the most prestigious redevelopment markets in Sydney. It's all quite a change for a suburb which Darryn Goodwin says 'was in the doldrums till about ten years ago'.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, Pyrmont and Ultimo were thriving industrial suburbs threaded with streets of terrace housing. The wharfs, wool industry, power station and railways provided local jobs, rebuilt whole streets of houses and created one of the state's most important and dynamic industrial and trading centres. The Murray Street/Pyrmont Street group was built late in this period, owing to the difficult shape of the block. In 1898, the Harris family, who had owned the peninsula from the outset, let a 50-year lease on the vacant land to the Scottish Australian Investment Company. The family kept a keen interest in the development of their estate, and the Company was obliged to erect houses, cottages and shops to front Pyrmont, Murray or Allen Streets within two years. These were to 'be built in a workmanlike and substantial manner under the supervision of an Architect to be approved by the Lessor and having all external walls not less than nine inches (23 cms) in thickness and to construct the same with good materials of stone or brick or both with the best lime cement'.
Street party in Murray Street, February 1996.
The Company was also obliged to spend at least £3,800 on the project. The development was predominantly single storied, built of brick in Federation Queen Anne and Federation Regency style. It had asymmetrical facades and a variety of setbacks. The Pyrmont Street cottages were given gabled roofs with terracotta tiles; the Murray Street houses have parapets and corrugated iron roofs. William Goodwin said that 'All the houses were the same - it was a great leveller'.
No 131 is an attached, four-roomed cottage with an outside laundry shed and toilet. It is fronted in dark face brick with a small verandah. The iron roof is concealed behind a parapet with simple moulded cement decoration. Inside, the 14-foot high ceilings are of lath and plaster, with ornamental ceiling roses and corner fireplaces with two coloured marble surrounds in the front bedroom and the lounge room.
Aerial views of terrace before and after partial demolition of Nos 117 - 129 Murray Street, 1996. No 131 Murray Street is at the front centre with the red verandah roof.
Little has been changed since the first tenants moved in. The development housed families whose menfolk worked on the docks; others were grocers and tailors. From 1900 to 1932 ten families occupied number 131, with the majority of the household heads describing themselves as master mariners. In 1933, in the midst of the Depression, a young widow, Rose Goodwin, her sons William and Hughie, her brother Tom Donaghey and her widowed mother, Mary Ann, moved in from around the corner.
William had left school in 1928 at the age of 13 to work as a storeman for three years, but was then unemployed for several years. Tom, too, was in and out of work, down on the wharves. However, the family could pay the rent of about one pound per week.
My mother was a tailoress, thank God. She was only a young girl when she became a widow and everyone in Pyrmont knew her and said 'why don't you make dresses - you made all of our dresses?'...[Later] the Depression was on badly and... she'd battle on. She'd get one or two dresses a week. She'd only charge five shillings a dress. (Hughie Goodwin, 1996)
Rose worked from home in the lounge room and with a secondhand Singer sewing machine set up under the window in the front bedroom where the light was better. Girls were always in and out of the house, getting fitted. Rose and Mary Ann had the front bedroom while Uncle Tom and the boys shared the second bedroom. There was no hot water on tap, rather a fuel stove in the kitchen, a boiler in the bathroom and a copper out the back. The house was damp and no one can remember any maintenance work ever being done. Still, 'I liked it - it just seemed to fit in with us, our mode of life', recalls William. 'We just walked across - in 10 minutes we were in the heart of the city.'
As children, they played with the neighbouring kids in the street rather than in the tiny, brick paved yard. There was not enough room for growing vegetables there either but Rose used to grow a few flowers near the back gate.
The street and the front verandahs were the social hubs of this community. Politics, cricket, music, games. Hughie speaks of a neighbour winning a bet on the horses, buying a gramophone and playing it every night on his verandah. An enduring image for William, and his wife, Mary, is that of Rose on the gas box in the corner of the verandah. 'She would sit there for company, the people passing', recalls Mary.
Fresh paint in the lounge room, 1997.
From the 1940s it was just Rose and Hughie, who worked as a fitter and turner at Morts Dock and later the City Council. He was a unionist, worked in local Labor politics and was an accomplished ballroom dancer. He never married. In 1948 the 50-year lease on the terrace expired. Demand for warehousing had passed and the terrace escaped demolition. Tenants, including Hughie, bought many of the houses. Hughie made few changes. Like Rose (who died in 1963), one of his greatest pleasures was sitting on the verandah, chatting with neighbours and looking across Darling Harbour to the lights of the city (a view now blocked by the Novotel hotel over the road).
In 1995 Darryn Goodwin, William's grandson, moved in to live with Hughie who was 'slowly dying of cancer... I used to sit out the front with him and got to know all of the neighbours within a day!' The house was derelict, quiet and dark, crammed with furniture and obviously the home of someone who had lived there for a long time.
While Hughie was in hospital, Darryn's father, Michael, tackled some urgent maintenance. The house was reroofed and rewired, rotting floorboards were replaced, the bathroom was modernised (the enormous bathtub removed with difficulty) and hot water finally installed. Darryn recalls Hughie's passionate attachment to the house and to Pyrmont. Out of hospital in February 1996 his friends and neighbours organised a welcome home and Save Pyrmont's Heritage party, complete with banner.
They're going to pull the terraces down ... I don't like it and I'm certain that I won't move - under no conditions am I going... If the houses were falling down I wouldn't mind the development around here but they're not. (Hughie Goodwin, 1996)
Hughie died in April. As he wished, Darryn is still there, despite the hallway ceiling falling down and the cacophony of multi storied building work next door. There's a new pergola out the back, security doors, and freshly painted internal walls in blue with purple skirting boards. The Goodwins want to preserve this house and hope to do further work. As Darryn puts it, 'You fall in love with it once you're here.'
Note: The Pyrmont and Murray Streets Residential Group was entered in the Register of the National Estate in 1998
Note: Not to scale
Note: Scale 1:20
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
My thanks go to the Goodwin family, William, Mary, Christopher and Darryn for sharing their memories and thoughts and to Sheree Minehan and Mark Seidl, of Pyrmont Street, for their invaluable research and enthusiastic support. The photographer for the street party and of Hughie and the banner is Karen Hall (a nearby resident). Other photographs: Alex Marsden and the Australian Heritage Commission.
Godden Mackay Heritage Consultants, "Pyrmont - Ultimo Assessment and Upgrade Project", for the Australian Heritage Commission, 1996.
Interview with William and Mary Goodwin, Monterey, October 1997.
Interview with Darryn Goodwin, Pyrmont, October 1997.
Minehan, Sheree, Application for Heritage Listing of Pyrmont Street Workers' Cottages, 1997.
Park, Margaret , Interview of Hughie Goodwin, 18 March 1996 (transcript by S Minehan, 1997), in Pyrmont and Ultimo Oral History Project, by City West Development Corporation and the Harris Community Centre, Ultimo.
Sands Directories, Sydney City Council, 1900 - 1932.
Tropman and Tropman Architects, "Heritage Assessment Report on the Terrace facing 142 - 170 Pyrmont Street and 117 - 137 Murray Street, Pyrmont", 1995.
Alex Marsden has a BA (Hons History) from the University of Adelaide and a Graduate Diploma of Museum Studies from Sydney University. She has worked for over 20 years as a consultant historian on the built environment, museums and movable cultural heritage and as a manager in the government and non government sector. She joined the Australian Heritage Commission in 1992 as Director of the Historic Environment Section and initiated major national heritage projects. Currently Director of the Historic Assessment Section Alex also develops and advises on research and assessment methodologies and funding programs and co-ordinates heritage planning between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.
Publications include numerous heritage surveys, national and international papers and journal articles on heritage policy and management and co-authorship of Chapter 9 'Natural and Cultural Heritage' in the Australia State of the Environment Report (1996).
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