History of James Watkinson Reserve

Named after Jim Watkinson Senior, a pillar of the local community and the driving force behind Pyrmont as a dominant water polo and swimming club in NSW.


James Watkinson Reserve is in Mill Street, Pyrmont, in front of Ways Terrace.

This area of Pyrmont began to be developed after the opening of the first Pyrmont Bridge in 1858. In 1860 the street called Ways Terrace was formed and houses built on the west side. Houses on the eastern side were built by 1867 and owned by Andrew Wadswoth who lived in Mill Street nearby. He was a contractor who built the Paddington Reservoir in 1864-1865 and the Woolloomooloo Fish Market in 1871, and served as a City Council alderman 1880-1883.

In 1923 Council resumed the houses on the western side of Ways Terrace to build the model block of flats which took the name of the street. The building was designed by Leslie Wilkinson, professor of architecture at Sydney University, and completed in 1925.

An historic photo of a road and buildings.
Ways Terrace, 1929Image: City of Sydney Archives (unique ID: A-00007836)

Jim Watkinson senior, known as ‘Woko’ or ‘Watko’ was a pillar of the Pyrmont community who lived in Bowman Street for the whole of his married life. He taught hundreds of children to swim and was a driving force in the emergence of Pyrmont as a dominant water polo and swimming club in NSW. He was perhaps the best known identity in Pyrmont and certainly one of the most respected and well-liked. He successfully fought against the demolition of the Pyrmont Baths in 1929 but they were eventually removed in 1946 causing lasting community bitterness. In 1954 the council named this reserve in his honour.

The park was not formally gazetted, and in 1989 a proposal came to take part of the reserve for development of Jones Bay Apartments by CRI. The announcement of the City West Development Corporation in 1992 saw a reprieve for Watkinson Reserve although the outcome was not much better than CRI had been offering. The reserve now overlooks the Jones Bay Apartments which nearly caused its removal.

Further reading

Michael R Matthews, 'Pyrmont and Ultimo: a history', Pyrmont Ultimo History Project, Sydney, 1982.

Shirley Fitzgerald and Hilary Golder, 'Pyrmont and Ultimo Under Siege', Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1994.