Riverwood NSW

From Canterbury Commons
Jump to: navigation, search

Leaflet.png The foundation of this article derives from early library leaflets from the 1980s. Please see Local History Leaflets (City of Canterbury Library Service).

History of Riverwood

SydneyNew South Wales
Population: 10,225 (2011 Census)
Postcode: 2210
LGA: City of Canterbury,City of Hurstville
State electorate: Lakemba, Oatley
Federal Division: Watson,Banks
Looking east to Herne Bay (now Riverwood) Railway Station, from Webb Street, Riverwood, 1950. Photograph courtesy E & L Nagle.
Riverwood is a suburb located on the border of City of Canterbury (Local Government Area).It is mainly within the Hurstville Municipality. When the railway to East Hills was opened in 1931, the station was named Herne Bay after a small arm of Salt Pan Creek. In 1958 the name was changed to Riverwood.

Early History

From 1788 to 1810 the area was inhabited by Aborigines with an occasional visit from escaped convicts or hunters employed by the Government. White settlement in the area officially began in 1810 with a series of land grants. Early grantees included:

David Batty - 1810
William Holmes - 1810
Andrew Murphy - 1810
Francis Piper - 1823
Richard Calcutt - 1810
Robert Lack - 1810
George Pashley - 1810
James Plunkett - 1810

Market gardeners and timber getters mainly occupied the area between Hurstville and Liverpool. Saw pits were dug and the sound of an axe and the rip of saws were heard across the land. The charcoal burners came, and many land owners in the area began finding deposits of ashes on their properties.


Looking east to Herne Bay (now Riverwood) Railway Station, from Webb Street, Riverwood, 1950. Photograph courtesy E & L Nagle.

Herne Bay Railway Station (now Riverwood) opened on 21 December, 1931. A rail motor passed through the station until 17 December, 1939 because the line (East Hills) was only electrified as far as Kingsgrove. The line remained single until 30 November, 1948. The number of employees and passengers journeying on the line were:

1933 - 3 Staff, 61,103 passengers 1936 - 3 Staff, 83,112 passengers 1983 - 4 Staff, 106,765 passengers

Robert Levingston and Golfcourse

Robert Levingston's house or humpy when it was used as a golf club house. It is not known whether or not the people in this photograph are members of the Levingston family. Photograph courtesy Ms E.M. Jones.

Robert Levingston owned 140 acres in the area bounded by Canterbury Road, Belmore Road, Salt Pan Creek and the East Hills Railway Line. He lived in a slab humpy with his wife and five children. The Levingston family later turned the property into a Golf Course and converted the slab humpy to a members club house. Members of Robert Levingston's family were still living on the property in 1943 when it was taken over for the US Army's 118 General Hospital.

118 General Hospital

During late 1942 the US Army took over a 236 acre site located in the area between Canterbury Road, the East Hills Railway Line, Salt Pan Creek and Bonds Road. The largest military hospital in Australia was built on this site by the Australian Government under Reverse Lend-Lease for the 118th General Hospital.

Known as the 118 General Hospital it was planned as a hospital centre of five hospitals. 490 timber barracks-type buildings, each approximately 12 by 30 metres, were constructed. These buildings were known as huts, and housed a total of 4,250 beds and accommodated 1,250 patients and 3,500 staff. Black and white soldiers were segregated into separate huts.

US Army 118 General Hospital, Riverwood, ca 1944. Photograph courtesy Lois Townsend.

The legend that the hospital was really intended for Hervey Bay in Queensland, is just a legend. The hospital was formed by doctors and nurses from the John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The hospital staff arrived in Sydney during June 1942 and ran a 400 bed hospital from August 1942, with a section at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath.

On the 8th September 1943, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the US President, visited the 118 General Hospital. According to Brian Madden, local historian, the 1943 Canterbury Council Minute Books record that Council had a flag embroidered especially for her visit. It is reputed Mayor Stan Parry was the only civilian to attend a reception for Mrs Roosevelt.

During 1945 the US Army vacated the hospital and the site was taken over by the Royal Navy. A Royal Navy Hospital occupied many of the buildings in January 1945 and the Australian Army used other sections.

Herne Bay Housing Settlement

Herne Bay housing settlement flat, Riverwood, ca 1958. Photograph courtesy Edna Kubilinskas.
After World War II the site passed to the NSW Housing Commission and the huts were used to ease the post-war housing shortage. Two or three families were housed in each hut and this led to social problems and the area of Herne Bay gained an unsavoury reputation. Agitation from business people and residents resulted in a campaign to change the name. A "Change of Name Competition" was held and during 1958 the suburb of Herne Bay became Riverwood.

Herne Bay was the largest of three defence forces camps taken over for post war housing, accommodating up to 3000 families. Families had to share laundry facilities (a copper and wringer, no washing machine), but had their own basic kitchen. Some units did not have their own bathroom, and these families had to use a shared ablution block. The units were not soundproof and had no ceilings, so they were very cold in winter and hot in summer. Herne Bay housing estate had

"nearly 20 shops of various kinds, a police station, a post office, resident doctors, a state and Catholic school, a couple of churches, a community hall, and various community services such as a children's library, a kindergarten and child-minding centre, and its own welfare staff as well as visiting social workers."[1]

Later Developments

During the 1950's the Housing Commission began demolishing the huts and building high and medium density housing complexes. New streets were built in the area and were named after United States presidents, cities and states to commemorate the United States wartime presence in the area.

The schools in Riverwood include Hannan's Road Public,Peakhurst Public,Peakhurst West,Riverwood Public, St Joseph's Catholic, and Narwee High.

Riverwood Branch Library, ca 1986
On September 11, 1971, the J. M. Hale Riverwood Branch Library was opened by the Mayor, Alderman J. M. Beaman. This library was designed and built mainly by Council staff on land given to Canterbury Council by the Housing Commission.


Hernia Bay; Sydney's wartime hospitals at Riverwood / by Brian J. Madden. Canterbury and District Historical Society, 2001.

Brian Madden and Canterbury City Council.


  1. Postwar emergency housing in Sydney - the camps that never were / by Michael Hogan in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, v. 97 part 1, June 2011, p.13.