History of City of Sydney council
Sydney has transformed from a penal colony in 1788 to today’s global city. Along the way it has been governed by London appointees, landed gentry and, since 1842, by a council that has been either elected or imposed by the state government.
In 1842 Sydney was incorporated as a city, a little over half a century after Europeans first arrived in Australia.
The oldest municipality in Australia is Adelaide, created in 1840 just 4 years after the settlement of South Australia.
Since its establishment, the City of Sydney has grown and contracted as state governments redraw boundaries, often to the advantage of the governing party.
The City of Sydney has had powers taken from it and acquired new responsibilities.
Councillors first met in pubs and other buildings around town, now they meet in one of Sydney’s most recognised buildings.
The settlement of Sydney was established in 1788, when Arthur Phillip led the 11 ships of the First Fleet into Port Jackson. The settlement that sprung up around Sydney Cove was a convict colony, ruled by governors appointed by London.
In 1823 the New South Wales Legislative Council was established, although the governor retained the power to appoint officials and override decisions.
By the 1840s convict transportation had virtually ended and the colonists wanted more control over their affairs. An Imperial Act of 1842 created a new Legislative Council where one third was nominated and two thirds elected by property holders. In the same year Sydney was incorporated as a city. This was despite the city being an unruly village of dusty, poorly lit lanes with unhygienic dwellings without water or sanitation, and where cattle were routinely driven through the streets. The governor nominated magistrate Charles Windeyer as interim mayor until elections were held.
At the first municipal election, on 3 November 1842, about 3,000 men were eligible to vote. Candidates had to hold property worth £1000, and there were to be six wards each represented by four councillors. Electors chose local businessmen to run Sydney’s affairs, with John Hosking being the first mayor.
At the time the City of Sydney took up an area of 11.65 square kilometres, taking in present-day Woolloomooloo, Surry Hills, Chippendale and Pyrmont. Six wards were marked by boundary posts, one of which survives at the front of Sydney Square, by Town Hall.
At the first 1842 council election voters had to occupy property with an annual value of £25 for at least 1 year. This low property qualification alarmed conservatives who warned of the dangers of democracy. In 1879 the vote was extended to those who paid rates, whether they were owners or renters. By 1900 even lodgers and women could vote, although they had to be property-holders. In 1941 all resident adults were entitled to vote in council elections. Since then there have been numerous tinkerings with the franchise, as the party in power of the state government looks to slant the vote in the direction that favours its own interests.
At the first Sydney Council meeting, a merchant and contractor, John Hosking, became the first elected mayor of Sydney. However, he had to resign less than a year later when he went bankrupt in the financial depression of the early 1840s.
The first Municipal Council meeting was held in the George Street Market Building (now the site of the Queen Victoria Building) on 9 November 1842. From 1842 to 1843, quarterly meetings took place at the Royal Hotel in George Street and then at the Pultenay Hotel in York Street.
In April 1843 Council suggested that if the graves were removed from the old, disused and overgrown burial ground in George Street, the land could be used for a town hall.
But the NSW Legislative Council opposed the idea of disinterring the dead so the City of Sydney continued searching for a permanent site, meeting at various hotels in the meantime. By 1869 it secured the George Street site and the graves were moved to Sydney’s new Rookwood Necropolis. Sydney Town Hall was occupied in September 1874.
The City boundaries have been fairly elastic. In 1909, the Municipality of Camperdown was amalgamated with the City and in 1949 Alexandria, Darlington, Erskineville, Newtown, Redfern, Waterloo, Paddington and Glebe were included. Most of these suburbs were shed again in 1968, largely making up the new municipality of South Sydney.
In 1982, South Sydney was brought back into the City, only to be carved off again in 1988, when the City Council area contracted to 6.19 square kilometres, smaller than its original size. The entire area covered by South Sydney Council and parts of Leichhardt Council were returned to the City's control by 2004.
Municipalities in NSW are established by an act of the state government, which determines their powers and funding. For much of its existence the City has competed with the state government for control of the city. The Council of 1842 had insufficient funds to provide adequate services so the state government abolished it in October 1853, and administered the city for the next four years through three commissioners. The new New South Wales Legislative Assembly restored the Council in 1856.
Council has been dissolved three times since; in 1928-30, 1967-69 and 1987-88 when, amid allegations of incompetence and corruption, Council was dismissed by the state government and the city was administered by unelected commissioners.
The state government also has the power to remove whole districts from Council, as it did with the creation of the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority in 1968 and the Darling Harbour Authority in 1984.
Local authorities have also had powers and responsibilities removed from them and taken over by the state government.
The City of Sydney provides a wide range of community services and facilities to residents, business and tourists but many of its original functions have been taken over by the state government and its authorities.
One of the reasons the City was formed was to set up the local police force, which would be paid by the City and controlled by the colony. After four years of failing to levy this unpopular rate, the City passed control back to the government so that the police force ultimately became a state rather than a local matter.
In the 19th century, markets formed an important part of Sydney's commercial sector, and tolls raised from running the wholesale and retail markets was a large part of revenue. They were also unhygienic and unruly places where unscrupulous trading practices were common. Hence many of the earliest City by-laws were attempts at maintaining law and order.
Initially the markets were located in the centre of town, but rising land prices and changing transport methods eventually forced them further out. In 1945 the state government assumed control of the fish market, and later in 1968 the State Marketing Authority was formed to take over the fruit and vegetable markets. Several of Sydney's old city market buildings survive under other guises.
The George Street markets expanded in 1858, deteriorated by 1891 and were replaced by the Queen Victoria Market Building in 1898. While this was still called a market building it was really arcades of high-class shops, because the City fathers had worked out that this would create more revenue.
By the 1950s there was talk of demolishing the building, but by 1988 it was restored and remains one of the City's most imposing heritage buildings.
A fish market was established at Forbes Street, Woolloomooloo in 1872, and upgraded in 1893, before moving in 1914 to the Sydney Municipal Markets at Haymarket. What is now known as Paddy's market was originally the Sydney Municipal Markets. They were built between 1909 and 1914 and were the source for all wholesale fresh produce in the city, containing vegetable and fruit markets, a fish market, poultry market and cold storage.
The City's attempts at road making, drainage and repair were often less than successful and by the 1870s numerous roads remained unformed, pot-holed or prone to washaways. From the 1880s, major streets were overlaid with woodblocks. This surface was durable but slippery, and bitumen was soon used. In the 1930s the City's laboratory at Wattle Street, Pyrmont pioneered methods of dry-rolling concrete, creating a surface that could be laid cold and used almost immediately. Newer asphalt techniques did not catch on until a massive street upgrading program after World War II.
In 1925 the state government took control of some roads and left some in local control.
In 1841 the streets of Sydney were first lit by gas, provided by the Australian Gaslight Company. The City left it to the private company to provide Sydney's lighting for the next half-century.
In 1904 when the Lady Mayoress switched on the first electric street lights at Pyrmont Power Station, the City took on the provision of electricity to both private customers and suburban councils.
In the 1920s there was an explosion in domestic consumption as people enthusiastically acquired more new-fangled electrical gadgets and the City's huge Electricity Department was unable to keep up with the demand.
This, combined with a corruption scandal at Bunnerong Power Station, led to the creation of Sydney County Council in 1935 to generate and supply electricity. This later became the New South Wales Electricity Commission.
Water and sewerage
Until it became polluted from over-use in the 1820s, the freshwater Tank Stream was the town's water supply. By 1839 convicts working under John Busby had carved out water tunnels from a swamp in the City's east. This was called Busby's Bore. Pipes conveyed water to standpipes at various parts of the town and water carters sold water at one shilling a cask.
The City had connected about 72 private houses to the main water pipes by 1844 but their inability to improve the supply was a major reason for their sacking in 1853.
In later years dams were built at Botany and Bunnerong, reservoirs at Paddington and Woollahra, and the water mains were gradually extended beyond the City's boundaries. Supply was often erratic, water was not always pure, and in dry periods it was rationed. The sewerage system was even worse with raw sewage being discharged directly into Sydney Harbour.
After a series of near catastrophes, fraud allegations and investigations, legislation in 1880 enabled the construction of a new dam on the Upper Nepean and a sewage outfall at Bondi. All this was beyond the City's capacity to administer and in 1888 these responsibilities went to the new Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board.
Rubbish and rats
Garbage disposal is one function the City is still responsible for but it was not always a priority. In the 19th century garbage was dumped indiscriminately until the bubonic plague in 1900 pushed the City into action.
Garbage was incinerated or tipped at Moore Park, then at Pyrmont or punted out to sea. There was public outcry in 1929 when spring tides washed up assorted debris including rats and butcher's offal onto city beaches.
Waste management is now administered according to various state acts, including the NSW Waste Minimisation and Management Act 1995, which established the Inner City Waste Board.
The City's by-laws have always covered public health, but the general level of understanding of what was required to keep a city healthy was limited. The City Health Officer was a part-time employee with an independent medical practice who did little more than offer advice to aldermen.
The Nuisance Inspector oversaw a range of regulations from markets inspections to kite flying and house-to-house inspections.
By the early 20th century there was also involvement in infant health protection and maternal education.
In 1896 the first state public health act was passed. This was not a case of the state taking over. It was more an expansion by all authorities into the new realm of public health concerns.
In 1879, the City gained control over insanitary and unsafe buildings but it had to share this power with a government-appointed City Improvement Board.
When bubonic plague threatened Sydney in 1900, the City was held responsible for failing to eradicate the rats blamed for the public health scare. As a result the state government took over the City's health powers and resumed the wharves and slums of The Rocks and Millers Point, placing them under control of the newly formed Sydney Harbour Trust.
From 1957, the City's skyline changed dramatically when the 1912 restriction on building heights was lifted. But the City's town-planning efforts had little effect on Sydney's rampant development. In 1964 ultimate authority was vested in the State Planning Authority, which was empowered to overturn local development decisions.
The 1960s and 1970s saw profound physical change as landmarks such as Anthony Hordens and the Theatre Royal were demolished. Many felt that the Sydney they knew was disappearing too fast. And there were development pressures beyond the city centre as well.
In 1988 the Central Sydney Planning Committee, including both Council aldermen and ministerial appointees, was set up to approve major development applications. This removed significant decisions from the City. However, the role of the Land and Environment Court in overturning decisions of the City and of the Central Sydney Planning Committee is currently the subject of considerable criticism and comment.
Aldermen and councillors
The City of Sydney has been led by 78 men and women since 1842. The first mayor, Charles Windeyer, was an interim appointment until the first election.
Since then, the position has been held by people from a variety of professional and mercantile backgrounds, including magistrates, union officials, retailers and the occasional publican.
The 2 most recent lord mayors, Lucy Turnbull and Clover Moore, are the only women to have held the post.
Please note, if a person serves more than 1 term in office, they are not counted again in the sequence of mayors. For example, James Merriman’s term in 1873 is counted as 24th but his term from 1877 to 1878 is not counted again.
The City of Sydney’s History team has produced the Sydney Alderman website which has biographies of mayors, lord mayors, councillors and alderman who have served on the City of Sydney Council and the amalgamated municipal council areas of Alexandria, Camperdown, Cook, Darlington, Erskineville, Glebe, Newtown, Northcott, Paddington, Redfern, South Sydney and Waterloo.
Sequence Dates Office holder Not applicable 12 August– 9 November 1842 Charles Windeyer (nominated Mayor) 1 1842– 1843 John Hosking (resigned September 1843) 2 1843– 1844 James Robert Wilshire 3 1845 George Allen 4 1846 Henry McDermott 5 1847 Thomas Broughton 6 1848 Joshua Frey Josephson 7 1849 Edward Flood 8 1850 George Hill 9 1851–1852 William Edward Thurlow 10 1853 Daniel Egan Sequence Dates Office holder Not applicable 1854–1856 Gilbert Elliot, Chief Commissioner Frederick Orme Darval John Rae Sequence Dates Office holder 11 1857 George Thornton 12 1858 John Williams 13 1859 George Smith 14 1860 James Murphy 15 1861 John Sutherland 16 1862 James Oatley 17 1863 Thomas Spence 18 1864 William Speer 19 1865 John Woods 20 1866 John Sutton 21 1867–1869 Charles Moore (resigned May 1869) 22 1869–1870 Walter Renny 23 1871–1872 Michael Chapman 24 1873 James Merriman 25 1874 Stephen Styles Goold 26 1875–1876 Benjamin Palmer _ 1877–1878 James Merriman 27 1879 Charles James Roberts 28 1880 Robert Fowler 29 1881–1883 John Harris 30 1884 John Hardie 31 1885 Thomas Playfair 32 1886 John Young 33 1887 Alban Joseph Riley _ 1888–1889 John Harris 34 1890–1891 Sydney Burdekin (resigned April 1891) 35 1891–1894 Sir William Patrick Manning 36 1895 Samuel Edward Lees 37 1896–1897 Isaac Ellis Ives 38 1898–1900 Sir Matthew Harris 39 1901 Sir James Graham 40 1902 Thomas Hughes Sequence Dates Office holder _ 1902–1903 Thomas Hughes _ 1904 Samuel Edward Lees 41 1905–1906 Allen Arthur Taylor _ 1907–1908 Thomas Hughes _ 1909–1912 Sir Allen Arthur Taylor (resigned April 1912) 42 1912 George Thomas Clarke 43 1913 Sir Arthur Alfred Clement Cocks 44 1914–1915 Richard Watkins Richards 45 1916 - 1917 Richard Denis Meagher 46 1918 James Joynton Smith 47 1919 John English (died March 1919) _ 1919–1920 Sir Richard Watkins Richards (died March 1920) 48 1920 William Patrick Fitzgerald 49 1921 William Henry Lambert 50 1922 William Percy McElhone, MBE 51 1923–1924 David Gilpin 52 1925–1926 Patrick Vincent Stokes 53 1927 John Harold Mostyn Sequence Dates Office holder Not applicable 1 January 1928–3 October 1928 Edward Patrick Fleming, Chief Commissioner (died October 1928) 30 October 1928–30 June 1930 John Garlick, Chief Commissioner 1 January 1928–30 June 1930 Henry Edgar Morton 30 Oct 1928–30 June 1930 Brigadier General Henry Gordon Bennett Sequence Dates Office holder 54 1930 Ernest Samuel Marks 55 1931 Joseph Jackson 56 1932 Samuel Walder 57 1933 Richard Charles Hagon 58 1934–1935 Sir Alfred Livingstone Parker (died October 1935) 59 1935 Arthur McElhone 60 1936–1937 Archibald Howie 61 1938–1939 Sir Norman Lindfield Nock 62 1940–1942 Stanley Sadler Crick 63 1943–1944 Reginald James Bartley 64 1945 William Neville Harding _ 1946–1948 Reginald James Bartley 65 1949–1952 Ernest Charles O'Dea 66 1953–1956 Patrick Darcy Hills 67 1957–1965 Henry Frederick Jensen 68 1966–1967 John Armstrong Sequence Dates Office holder Not applicable 14 November 1967–26 September 1969 The Hon Vernon Haddon Treatt, MM, QC, Chief Commissioner John Alexander Lachlan Shaw, CBE, DSO, Deputy Chief Commissioner William Walter Pettingell, CBE, Commissioner Sequence Dates Office holder 69 1969–1972 Sir Lawrence Emmet McDermott, KBE 70 1972–1973 David Griffin, CBE 71 1973–1975 Nicholas Michael Shehadie, OBE 72 1975–1978 Leo Weiser Port, MBE 73 1978–1980 Nelson John Meers 74 1980–1987 Douglas William Sutherland Sequence Dates Office holder Not applicable 6 April 1987–31 December 1988 Sir Eric Neal, AC, Chief Commissioner Sir Nicholas Michael Shehadie, OBE, Deputy Chief Commissioner Norman Oakes, AO, Commissioner Sequence Dates Office holder 75 1989–1991 Jeremy Bingham 76 1991–2003 Frank Ernest Sartor, AO 77 2003–2004 Lucy Hughes Turnbull Sequence Dates Office holder Not applicable 6 February 2004–27 March 2004 Lucy Hughes Turnbull Anthony Robert Pooley Garry Payne Sequence Dates Office holder 78 2004–current Clover Moore