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Newtown sesquicentenary

More than 150 years of great expectations

Covering an area of 194 hectares, Newtown was proclaimed a municipality in 1862.

For many years Newtown has served the beating heart of Sydney’s live music scene, kickstarting the careers of some of Australia’s most well-known bands, and the area is also home to the nation’s longest-running rugby league club, the Newtown Jets, established in 1908.

Newtown has many interesting stories, including its link to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens as well as the fascinating history of some of its buildings.

Famous former residents of Newtown include convict Mary Reiby, whose faces graces the $20 note, and poet Henry Lawson.

Newtown: Historic snapshot

Late 18th century

For centuries before European arrival and for years afterwards, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation grew a special grass to attract kangaroos for hunting and used the regions now known as Newtown, Camperdown and Petersham as a walking route to Botany Bay.

Newtown began as a rural outpost scattered with gentlemen’s estates, with land granted for farming.


In 1806, the colony’s fourth governor, William Bligh, took up 210 acres and named it Camperdown.

The name, Newtown, is thought to have originated from John Webster’s “New Town Stores” which opened in the early 1800s.

Camperdown Cemetery became the final resting place for up to 18,000 souls. It was established just one block away from King Street in 1848.

King Street became one of the first major shopping strips outside the city centre and it became increasingly crowded with the arrival of the railway in 1855.

Heiress and King Street resident Eliza Donnithorne was said to be the inspiration behind Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, although this is a celebrated myth. The story goes that everyone except for her groom arrived at her wedding but she insisted the banquet and other preparations stay put for his arrival, which never came. She remained in her wedding dress until her death in 1886.


The Municipality of Newtown, covering 480 acres, was proclaimed in 1862 and by the 1870s was one of the most densely populated municipalities in NSW.

20th century

Lilian Fowler was elected as an Alderman for Newtown Council in 1928 and in 1937 was elected the first woman mayor in Australia. She went on to become the third woman to enter the NSW Legislative Assembly, as member for Newtown in 1944.

During the first half of the 20th century, and especially during The Depression, like many inner-city Sydney suburbs Newtown became increasingly run down as wealthy Sydneysiders preferred to settle in newer and more prestigious areas.

Because of its proximity to Sydney University, and comparatively low rents, Newtown began to attract university students, and the development of cafes, pubs and restaurants began to attract more young people. The suburb gained a reputation as a bohemian centre and began to attract a gay and lesbian population.

21st century

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said that just as it did in the 19th century, King Street “still hums, and today Newtown is one of Sydney’s most vibrant and gritty inner-city suburbs”.

“Newtown residents pride themselves on strong community, progressive ideas, creativity, acceptance and environmental awareness,” the Lord Mayor said

Last updated: Friday, 8 February 2013