Punchbowl NSW

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Early Developments in Salt Pan Creek

SydneyNew South Wales
Population: 18,429 (2011 Census)
Postcode: 2196
LGA: City of Canterbury, City of Bankstown
State electorate: Lakemba, Bankstown
Federal Division: Watson, Banks
View of Salt Pan Creek Reserve from Riverwood, 2003. Photograph courtesy Marina McNally.
Unless escaped convicts had been there earlier, the peace of the district around the headwaters of Salt Pan Creek was first disturbed by white man some time around 1798, when Governor Hunter made an overland trip to the new district of "Banks Town", accompanied by George Johnston, who was later to receive a grant of land on the Georges River at Georges Hall. Although the main route from this farm into Sydney was by river, an overland track was also cut through the territory of the Botany Bay tribe, on the ridge beside the creek that fed Salt Pan Creek. This track became known as "the road to Georges River" and is still in existence. It now forms part of the northern boundary of the Local Government Area of Canterbury. The road dates from before 1800, and represents the first change to the landscape made by white man in the suburb known as Punchbowl.


Punchbowl Railway Station, panorama, 1922

The road to Georges River crossed Cooks River at the place that was easiest forded - a wide almost circular valley, which later settlers named " the punch bowl". The section of road which led to this crossing, although part of the longer Old Georges River Road, was eventually given the name "Punch Bowl Road". This still applies today. The Punch Bowl was actually at the Cooks River Bridge near the Coronation Parade Road junction at Belfield. The suburb of Punchbowl, three kilometres away, has acquired the name, because the railway station, opened in 1909, was located on Punchbowl Road. Before the coming of the railway, the district was known by other names, of which Salt Pan Creek was the earliest. Salt gatherers are said to have obtained salt at Salt Pan Creek.

The first travellers along the road to Georges River were surrounded by open forest, in which red and white mahogany trees, red forest gum, and grey box trees predominated. Beside the creek, now flowing through Parry Park, was a "tea tree brush" chiefly narrow-leaved paperbarks (Melaleuca) with some river oaks (Casuarina), and the open waters of Salt Pan were terminated by a large mangrove swamp. The road line was marked by a row of red mahogany trees.

Early Farms

Aboriginal axe grinding grooves, Salt Pan Creek, 1995.
The first land granted in this forest was ranged along the lowest branch of Salt Pan Creek. There were four farms measured to the north of this creek, (now the canal along Wiggs Road), 50 acres to Thomas Moxon, 120 acres to Frederick Meredith, 50 acres to William Bond and 60 acres to Richard Calcott. Bond, Moxon and Calcott were emancipists, while Meredith was a free settler. These farms were granted in 1809 by Lieutenant-Governor Paterson, head of the rebel NSW Corps Government. When Governor Macquarie arrived, he had orders to take the land grants back, in order to ascertain whether or not they had been fairly granted. In the meantime, both Bond and Meredith had attempted to settle on their properties, and had an exciting brush with Tedbury and other aborigines of the Botany Bay Tribe, the Gwea Gal. In the ensuing battle, one spear went close enough to graze Frederick Meredith's ear, and the new settlers retreated "with a providential escape for their lives"

After the aborigines had moved on, however, the farmers returned. All grantees in the area were given back their farms by Macquarie, and Bond and Meredith cleared and cultivated part of theirs, building huts in the vicinity of today's Cullen's Road and Rose Street, which mark the boundary between the two properties. Thomas Moxon was a "hurdle maker to the Government", and possibly cleared part of his farm, but, since it was mostly mangrove swamp, he soon left. Richard Calcott was a publican in Pitt's Row, and never lived on his grant. By 1820, all four farms were sold to other owners, and only Meredith remained in the area, renting the land and his "mare named Moggy" back from the new proprietors.

Portrait of Governor Macquarie, who oversaw the provision and management of early land grants. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria.
Other farms promised were those to John Bracken (60 acres to the east of Bonds Road, south of Payten Avenue, extending to Chick Street), to Bryan Nowland (50 acres bounded by Matthews Avenue, Rosemont Street, Hillcrest Street, and Punchbowl Road), and to John Johnson (50 acres bounded by Defoe Street, Hillcrest Street, King Georges Road and Punchbowl Road). John Johnson was the only brantee of these three to live on his grant. He was a potter by trade, and made a living by fashioning clay pipes made from white clay found near the property. He died in 1824, and his farm, "Pipemaker's Hall", was granted to John Anslep, who did not move to the property. Benjamin Maddocks carried on the clay pipe industry for a short time on the land, but eventually it passed out of his hands to become part of the larger estate of Mr Justice John Stephen.

In 1820, Governor Macquarie promised 140 acres of land to two brothers, Francis and William Piper, who wished to pursue their occupations of farming and salt-boiling near Salt Pan Creek. They did not remain in the area long, and their farms to the west of Bonds Road remained unoccupied for much of the nineteenth century.

The last group of farms granted were those in the rectangle bounded by Hillcrest Street, King Georges Road, Payten Avenue, Bonds Road and Warren Parade. The western farms went to the Howell brothers, William and Henry, who died young; the eastern properties were promised to William Bruce and James Greenslade, who promptly sold out to William Richard Welch, a "nurseryman, seedsman and gardener", whose leased property at present-day Redfern and Chippendale was too small to allow him to expand his "choice and rare collection". By 1838-9, Welch had established his family on three of the farms in this block, those promised to William Bruce, James Greenslade and William Howell. The consolidated property was named "Forest Grove", and for the next 35 years, the Welch family was to occupy the homestead (opposite the end of present-day Tucker Street) and cultivated the land as a large market garden and orchard. The dams which supplied the farm with fresh water were between present-day Beauchamp Street and Rawson Street.

In 1841, James Gorman, a publican, purchased the last property near "Forest Grove", which had by then begun to take over from Salt Pan Creek as the locality name. The Gorman farm was 96 acres east of Meredith's farm, bordering Georges River Road, where ironbark trees grew. These gave the farm its name,-"Iron Bark Farm". After Gorman's death the farm was leased as a grazing run to Henry Kelly who owned extensive property north of Georges River Road.

The Earl of Belmore, Governor of NSW, ca 1860s. Photograph courtesy National Library of Australia.

The district grew very slowly in population until after Canterbury Road was cut through from Cooks River to join Punch-Bowl Road in 1855. Adam Bond, a sawyer and timber merchant, bought Bracken's grant in 1853 for 150 pounds, and he and his sons joined the Welch family in clearing the timber. Much of the wood went to build handcarts for optimistic miners to carry their belongings on their long walk to the gold diggings. Adam Bond remained on his farm until his death in 1880. He is reputed to have owned a well-trained horse which without a driver could undertake the long trip to Canterbury with a laden wood-cart and return with it empty.

In 1856, William Hellyer, a Sydney solicitor, bought the grant originally owned by Thomas Moxon, as well as other nearby properties around the head of Salt Pan Creek. Included in this was a piece of land which had been fenced off by Frederick Meredith from his leased farm, as being swampy and difficult to cultivate. The fenced-off piece was mistakenly surveyed in 1835 as an unallocated piece of land and was sold to Samuel Pitt as a 22 acre property. When the mistake was discovered, the Government was forced to sort out the problem of one farm being owned by two people. It was still unresolved in 1857, when the Government Surveyor was sent out to measure and align Punch-Bowl Road.

By this time, Hellyer had built a house, stockyard and barn on the 22 acres which he considered was his own property. He also had planted an orchard beside the creek so the surveyor was forced to change the old line of Punch-Bowl Road which would have joined Canterbury Road in a wider curve, meeting it opposite Moxon Road, to the sharper curved line which exists today. Hellyer's house, stockyard and orchard were in the vicinity of the present Sunny Crescent.

A typical farm of the time was that of George Brand on Bond's grant, which was described in 1864 as "a comfortable cottage containing six rooms and a kitchen, with barn, stable &c. There are ten acres of the farm, cleared and divided into grazing paddocks; also there are three acres under crop". It was at this time that numbers of woodcutters moved into the area - Michael and Luke Featherston (Calcott's grant), Thomas Draper (Bond's grant), Frederick Pobje (Anslep's grant), Henry Cullen (Meredith's grant), and Mark Ward (Piper's grant). These people raised their children in slab huts and formed the nucleus of a pioneer settlement.

During the 1860's, the roads used by the sawyers of Salt Pan Creek (Bonds Road and Belmore Road) were opened officially for traffic.

About 1869, the district adopted the name "Belmore" after the Earl of Belmore, Governor of New South Wales at the time, and this remained the name used to describe the area until the opening of the railway to Bankstown in 1909.


St Saviours Church, Punchbowl.
The population had grown, and there were enough people for a small church building, the Belmore Church, consecrated in 1869, (now St Saviour's Church of England) to be built. The church building was used as a school for the children of the gardeners and timber-getters in the vicinity and it was called Belmore Public School. In 1872, it became a half-time school with Essex Hill Public School near Punchbowl Road between Colin and Fairmount Streets. The two half-time schools closed when a new school and teacher's residence for Belmore Public School was built in 1879 on Lot 1, Forest Grove Estate, south of Canterbury Road, near today's Dunlop Street.

The present Church replacing the timber building opened in 1917. The steep hill on which the Public School and St Saviour's Church are situated was known locally as 'Boneyard Hill', because of the cemetery in the grounds of St Saviour's Church. Many of the pioneers of Punchbowl, including the Meredith, Bond and Fenwick families, are buried in the cemetery.

Small church buildings were opened by the Congregationalists in 1914, and the Methodists in 1915. Although church services had been held earlier, church buildings for the Baptists opened in 1928, the Catholics in 1933 and the Presbyterians in 1949.

Post Office

Punchbowl Post Office, 1980s
On the other side of Wiley's Lane (as King George's Road was then known), in the same year (1879), Belmore Post Office, conducted by James Milner, was opened. A three times weekly service was provided by him, riding to and from Canterbury on horseback. He was paid 14 pounds per annum. He later ran a horse-bus service to and from the City along Canterbury Road.

The original Belmore Post Office was moved to other locations, changing its name to Belmore South and then to Lakemba in 1910. Punchbowl Post Office was opened in 1913 in a store near the station. It was not until 1933 that an official building was occupied.

Incorporation of Canterbury Municipality

In 1879, also, the Municipal District of Canterbury was formed. A great deal of resistance to the area's incorporation was put up by the inhabitants of Belmore (Punchbowl), who saw little benefit to themselves in such a move. To solve the conflict, the farms of the most vocal of the resistance were left out of the new municipal boundaries, and, from 1879 to 1906 the area west of a diagonal line from today's Rossmore Avenue to Narwee Station remained independent of municipal government. In 1906, the boundary was extended to Salt Pan Creek.

1880 Farm Subdivisions

Plan of Forest Grove, Dr Tucker's Model Farm, Punchbowl, 1880
By 1880, there was talk in the district of the possibility of bringing public transport to the area, and land speculators began to buy up many of the farms, hoping for later profitable subdivision. Dr George Alfred Tucker, who ran a private mental asylum at "Bayview", Tempe, bought "Forest Grove", and subdivided it in 1880 under the name of "Dr Tucker's Model Farm". The allotments were, on the whole, sold to other speculators, who abandoned Welch's carefully-tended garden to the ravages of neglect. Other land buyers in this category were C C Griffiths, of Griffiths Bros. Teas' fame, who bought William Hellyer's property, and Matthias Hamburger, a merchant, who owned most of William Bond's grant. Victoria Road was initially known as Hamburger Street, and was only changed during World War 1, when anti-German feeling in Sydney ran high.


Train at Punchbowl Railway Station, 1994
There were several railway survey lines made through the Belmore District between 1883 and 1885, all converging at the head of Salt Pan Creek, and proceeding through to Liverpool. Eventually, the most northerly of the lines was chosen, but the government in 1890 decided to build the railway only as far as Burwood Road. There was conflict over the name for the terminal station, and ultimately 'Belmore' was the compromise arrived at because it was the closest one to the real Belmore District, although still three kilometres away. When the extension of the line to Bankstown was opened in 1909, a new name had to be found for the railway station serving the old district which for so long had been called 'Belmore'. 'Punchbowl' was chosen eventually, for the reason mentioned earlier.

Residential Development

Just before the railway line opened, Arthur Rickard subdivided a portion of the old Forest Grove farm into the Emerald Hills Estate. The subdivision was the property of the Universal Land and Investment Company, and covered Rossmore, Arthur, Matthews, Rickard, Dudley, Rosemount and Rawson Streets, and the Broadway, the Boulevarde, and Urunga Parade. The auction was held on Saturday 24 April 1909, and the terms were one pound down and 10/- a month for 'land high up on the heights, actually the highest point on the line...the soil is rich, and flower and vegetable gardens must flourish there exceedingly'.

Cnr Punchbowl Road & Rossmore Avenue, Punchbowl, ca 1980s
A typical lot in the Broadway cost two pounds ten shillings a foot frontage. By 1915, the Sydney Morning Herald was claiming 'The climatic conditions, especially in the district of Punchbowl... are of the best, and many a working man and his family who were once cooped up in the overcrowded suburbs immediately surrounding the city... have been able to secure their little cottage, with plenty of room to keep a few fowls and a vegetable garden large enough to more than supply the family with vegetables free of cost all the year round. the children... have now plenty of room to run about and to drink in the health-giving qualities derived from the pure air obtainable on the Bankstown Line'. Further subdivision of Dr Tucker's Estate took place between 1912 and 1921, while land further west was settled in the 1920s, creating in Punchbowl a suburb of chiefly 'californian bungalow' style houses.

Early this century, a newly-wed couple might pay a deposit on a block of land in Punchbowl, pitch their tent, then build a weatherboard cottage of a few rooms and a kitchen. Kerosine lamps or candles provided the lighting and cooking was done on a fuel stove. washing was boiled in tins on open fires in the backyard. In the surrounding thick bush, which was interspersed with a few dirt tracks indicating a future road system, there was plenty of firewood. Before reticulated water became available, rain was collected in water tanks, which ran dry in droughts. A variety of salesmen passed the door in their horse-drawn vehicles - milkmen, cheesemen, honeymen, rabbito's - all shouting their wares. When gas arrived, cooking was done on a gas-ring and gas lighting was installed in the houses and in the street, where a lamplighter with a long rod came around at sunset to light the lamps and came again in the morning to extinguish them. Electricity came late.

The location of a one-man Police Station established about 1885 at Belmore is not known, but could have been in the present suburb of Punchbowl. A Police Station in rented brick premises in Dudley Street, Punchbowl opened in 1919.

Opening Wiley Park Station 1938. Photograph courtesy Ethyl Boyle.
Along the Bankstown line in the 1920s, there was great building activity. More new buildings were built in the Canterbury Municipality than in any other local government area in Sydney, with 16% of Sydney's population increase there. Despite the Depression, the thirties also found Canterbury among the leaders. However, the availability of sewerage lagged way behind the building boom.

The Bankstown line was electrified in 1926, and in the twenties and thirties, the line was one of the busiest in Sydney. Wiley Park railway station opened in 1938. (Last century, the Wiley family were well-known residents of the present-day Lakemba area, and in 1906, John V Wiley bequeathed 20 acres to Canterbury Council for a park).

Other developments in the area include:

- A picture theatre was erected in the early 1920s. By the 1950s, the 'Regent' and the 'Astoria'
Punchbowl Astoria Theatre, interior, 1935
were operating.

- The Punchbowl newspaper 'The Punch' was published between 1932 and the 1950s.

- The Punchbowl branch of the Canterbury Municipal Library opened in 1960.

- The new bridge at Punchbowl station opened in 1981.

- Punchbowl RSL Sub-branch was given its charter in 1947, though Ex-servicemen had been meeting since the early 1930s where the Ex-servicemen's Club is now located.

In recent years, Punchbowl's population has changed, with the arrival of European-born migrants, then by a dramatic increase in the Lebanese community in the 1970s, and recently with the arrival of Asian communities in the 1980s.


The name of Belmore Public School was changed to Belmore South in 1907, and changed again to Lakemba in 1910. In 1913, it was moved to the present Lakemba Public School site. In 1984, the buildings on the western side of King Georges Road became Wiley Park Public School, while Lakemba Public School remained on the eastern side.

Meanwhile, during the First World War, children from Punchbowl were walking through long grasses and brushwood, where there was a very real danger of being bitten by snakes, to attend Lakemba Public School. They were crossing creeks and watercourses which flooded after heavy rains. There were no asphalt paths in the district and no made roads except at the railway station. Finally, Punchbowl Infants School opened in 1922, adjacent to where Belmore Public School had begun in 1869, and this became a Public School in 1928.

St Jerome's Catholic School opened in the School-Church in 1933. Punchbowl Boys High School opened in 1955 and Wiley Park Girls High School in 1957.


MADDEN, Brian and MUIR, Lesley. Suburbs of Canterbury Municipality: History No. 2: Punchbowl. [Campsie, NSW]: Canterbury Municipal Council, NSW, 1985.