Other voices and lost stories

Short history of Glebe on the Blackwattle Bay foreshore. Image by Catherine Stuart, 2021.

The glimpses of Glebe’s history that emerge from Glebe Stories are just some of many possible histories of Glebe.

There are thousands of other Glebe stories that could be told, and thousands more that can no longer be recorded.

Some other oral history interviews involving Glebe are publicly available. Bernard Smith, art historian and founding member of the Glebe society, briefly discusses his activities in Glebe in a 1975 interview. Sue Rosen recorded interviews recorded with Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis and Frank Altoft in the mid 1990s that are available online from the City of Sydney Archives. Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis, President of the Addison Road Community Centre and very well known within the community sector, lived in Glebe for a few years after emigrating from Greece with her family in the 1950s. Frank Altoft briefly mentions gangs in 1930s Glebe in his account of living in Newtown during the 1930s. Barbara Holborow, the well-known Children’s Court magistrate, started her legal practice in Glebe. Homeowners selling their property to the Department of Main Roads due to the proposed expressway were amongst her first clients. An interview with Barbara Holborow recorded for the Australian Biography show in 2000 is also publicly available. Accounts of living in a range of different eras are published by the The Glebe Society on its website.

In What the Colonists Never Knew, Gai-mariagal man Dennis Foley tells a creation story relating to Glebe. He also tells that the land where the oldest past of Sydney University stands, directly across Parramatta Road from Glebe, was a sacred and ceremonial site until European settlement in 1788. Later this same land became Grose Farm, one of the earliest farms in the colony. Also in his book, Dennis recounts stories from his father about growing up in 1930s Glebe and the involvement of Aboriginal residents of Glebe in working class movements of the time.

Barani/Barrabugu, a guide to Sydney’s Aboriginal history developed by the City of Sydney’s History Unit working closely with members of the City’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Panel includes several places in Glebe.

Glebe began transitioning to a working class neighbourhood in the late nineteenth century as harbourside industry became increasingly important. Photos taken in working class Glebe around 1900 during operations to contain an outbreak of bubonic plague, show a multi-racial population. However, I found very little information is documented about the people of working class Glebe or their lives.

The presence of the heritage listed Sze Yup Kwan Ti Temple at Edward Street in Glebe suggests there was once a strong Chinese community in the area. The temple is now promoted as a tourist site. I was not able to contact the Sze Yup Society, the keepers of the temple, but perhaps due to the pandemic.  

Glebe in the nineteenth century was forest granted to the Anglican Church for farming. This land was gradually subdivided for large and elegant residences, particularly around Glebe Point and the higher land to the west; middle class homes; and houses for working people on Church owned land in the south and east.  

The Gadigal and Wangal people are the traditional custodians of the land that is now Glebe. Their custodianship of the land has survived devastation by smallpox shortly after the establishment of the European settlement at Sydney Harbour in 1788, seizure of their land for hunting and farming, and suppression of their active resistance to colonisation.

Extra info

Glebe: Know the History and Heritage of your Community (Glebe Society: Video) – 35 min

Dennis Foley and Peter Read, What the Colonists Never Knew: A history of Aboriginal Sydney, Canberra, National Museum of Australia Press, 2020.

Bernand and Kate Smith, The Architectural Character of Glebe, Sydney, Sydney, University Co-operative Bookshop, 1973.

Max Solling, Grandeur and Grit: A history of Glebe, Ultimo, Halstead Press, 2007.

Acknowledgement of Country

I acknowledge the Gadigal and Wangal people, the Traditional Owners of Glebe and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. I also acknowledge the Dharawal and Gandangara people on whose land I live and work. I pay respect to elders past, present and emerging.