Ku-ring-gai Historical Society Inc
incorporating the
Ku-ring-gai Family History Centre

Local history

Introduction: Ku-ring-gai

What is Ku-ring-gai?  The name is that of one of the area’s aboriginal tribes, the variously spelt Gurringai.  In 1894, the tribal name was adapted for the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.  In 1906 it was also taken by the first local government authority for the area, the Ku-ring-gai Shire Council.

The municipality of Ku-ring-gai is a predominantly residential area of 8500 hectares (85 square kilometres), stretching from Roseville, 108 metres above sea level and 10 km north of Sydney harbour to Wahroonga, 210 metres above sea level and 20 km from the harbour.  It is surrounded by three major national parks and is home to some 107,000 people.  The average annual rainfall is 1118 mm.  There are many tree-lined streets fronting substantial homes.  Many of the older homes are architect-designed and surrounded by attractive gardens.

Ku-ring-gai has the reputation of being conservative, with a relatively homogeneous and stable population.  Of recent years that character has been modified slightly.  At the 1996 census, 30% of Ku-ring-gai’s population were born overseas.  In 2006 this figure was 36.5%.  In 2006, English was the only language spoken at home in 80% of households, indicating that 20% spoke another language exclusively or in addition to English.  There is much greater cultural and culinary diversity than twenty years ago.  Ku-ring-gai remains essentially a conservative area, where traditional values are respected.  It is a pleasant part of Sydney in which to live.

What has made Ku-ring-gai so distinctive?  Many observers point to its architectural heritage.  Real estate agents highlight its ‘gentlemen’s residences’, its larger than average suburban allotments, its building covenants, its social composition.  Others note its many fine gardens, its retention of native eucalypts, its surrounding bushland reserves.  With its restricted commercial development and its want of any industrial area, it has been described as Sydney’s most successful attempt to create a ‘peculiarly Australian Suburban Arcady’.  (Robert Moore, Helen Proudfoot and others, Municipality of Ku-ring-gai, Heritage Study, 1987)

None of these factors, however, adequately explains what gives Ku-ring-gai its special character.  To do so, we need to look at its history and to observe particularly what happened in the decades of Australian federation, between 1890 and the first World War.

Throughout the 19th century the settlements north of Sydney Harbour remained isolated rural communities, whose inhabitants were largely self-sufficient, earning their livelihood from timber-getting, fruit growing, and market gardening.  In this they were little different from other rural communities within the range of the Sydney markets, such as Dural, Windsor or Picton or the Illawarra region.

Some development took place in Ku-ring-gai towards the end of the 19th century particularly in the northern part because transport from Sydney was improved by the opening of the railway to Newcastle.  Wahroonga and its near areas were viewed favourably by wealthy people anxious to escape Sydney’s pollution.  This was followed in 1890 by the new railway from Hornsby to St Leonards then, in 1893, to Milsons Point.  The population grew but remained relatively sparse until the Harbour Bridge opened in 1932.  Even then, it took WWII to produce a major increase in population by which time the character of Ku-ring-gai had been fashioned.

From Focus on Ku-ring-gai, Ku-ring-gai Historical Society Inc.