The Local History of Ku-ring-gai

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The local government area of Ku-ring-gai is a predominantly residential area of around 86 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.

The area is surrounded by three major national parks, and 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. The 2021 census records that it is home to 124,076 people. Of these, 299 (0.2%) identified as Indigenous. Successive censuses reveal that, in recent decades, around a third of the population was born overseas: 30% in 1996; 36.5% in 2006; and 31.5% in 2021. The increasing cultural diversity of the area is reflected in the increase in multilingual homes: in 2006 English was the only language spoken in 80% of households; in 2021, just 64% of households only spoke English at home.

Map of Ku-ring-gai

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, 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.

2021 census data from: https://www.abs.gov.au/census/find-census-data/quickstats/2021/LGA14500

Ku-ring-gai resident Billy Hughes, 7th Prime Minister of Australia
Ku-ring-gai resident William (Billy) Morris Hughes, 7th Prime Minister of Australia

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