History of Lilian Fowler Reserve

This reserve was named after Lilian Fowler, the first woman alderman in NSW and the first female mayor in Australia.

Published

Lilian Fowler Reserve is bounded by Norfolk and Angel streets, and Newtown Primary School, Newtown.

This area was part of Nicholas Divine’s Burren Farm. Nicholas Divine arrived in Sydney in 1790 to be the principal superintendent of convicts. He received 2 adjoining grants in the Bulanaming district, 120 acres in 1794 and 90 more acres in 1799. He named his property Burren Farm after his birthplace in Ireland.

Divine retired from his government post in 1808, and lived on his farm in a house on the site of the present Rose of Australia Hotel. He died in 1830 having left his property to Bernard Rochfort, a convict who worked for him. Rochfort subdivided the land into smaller farms and sold it in 1830.

In the 1840s a member of Nicholas Divine’s family arrived from Ireland and tried to claim the whole of the now subdivided estate on the basis that land couldn’t be left to a convict, that the will was forged, and that Divine was of unsound mind!

The legal battle raged on for years, with those who had purchased land from Rochfort in good faith stoutly defending their titles. There was an appeal to the Privy Council in London, which failed, and further action in the NSW Supreme Court before the weary property owners got together to buy off Divine’s relatives after nearly 10 years of litigation.

Angel Street was formed in 1873 and Norfolk Street in 1879. The reserve land was the site of the home and factory of builder John Redwin who built a private road called Redwin Street to access the rear of the property fronting Angel Street.

Redwin died in 1925 and the factory became a brass foundry until it was bought by Newtown Council in 1936 to create this reserve. Newtown Infants School was built on the adjoining site in 1922, and is now Newtown Public School. The reserve was upgraded in 1996.

An historic photo of a woman.
Lilian FowlerImage: NSW Parliamentary Archives (FowlerL-35P-1947)

Lilian Fowler (1886–1954) was a formidable woman whose clarity of convictions, confidence and outstanding organisational skills helped her smash through the glass ceiling of politics. She opened up opportunities for women while helping the most marginalised people in society. She was the first woman alderman in NSW, the first female mayor in Australia and among the first women members of the NSW Parliament. One of her key achievements as an alderman in the Newtown Municipal Council (1928–48) and as mayor (1938–39) was the creation of a number of children's playgrounds in the inner west.