Kogarah Plaques Program
Marking places of significance in the Kogarah local government area
The Kogarah local government area, as an important commercial, transport, medical and educational hub in Southern Sydney, has numerous sites of local historical significance. Some are currently marked and others are unidentified. This project will mark significant places and along with existing plaques create an ‘open air archive’, or ‘Museum En Plein Air’ of Kogarah’s identity in line with best-practice recommendations from the Royal Australian Historical Society. This project is designed to showcase some of the historical and cultural connections that can be traced to the area and to demonstrate the diverse histories that surround our everyday environments. This includes marking sites where important events, infrastructure, or people can be linked to the area, and is intended to form a history trail to pique the interest of residents, workers, and visitors to the area.
There are already in existence a number of heritage walks, and the local history librarian, Councillors, staff and local historical societies will have input into identifying places of significance which will be marked in the future. Indigenous culture will be documented and included in this project as an essential and hitherto under-recognised part of the cultural history of the area.
In 2016, Kogarah City Council began to install the plaques which mark the first round of places of significance in the Kogarah local government area. In the first year, the requirements of the project are that the selected sites showcase a range of types of significance (infrastructure, medicine, culture, the arts, industry and so on), and that they be installed in places easily accessible to the public. As the project continues, Council will put in place a nomination process for sites of significance to be considered for commemorative plaques in future years. The nomination process will be shaped by considerations of significance, diversity, and historical integrity.
This page includes information about the commemorative plaques series for 2016, launched on Tuesday 15 March 2016 with the unveiling of the first plaque. These plaques, numbered 1-10, commemorate sites in the Kogarah Town Centre and along the Georges River. Please click the links below to find more information on each one. Where possible, photographs from our local studies collection and other sources have been included via hyperlink to showcase the history of the plaques and what they commemorate.
1. Kenneth Slessor, O.B.E. (1901 – 1971)
Kenneth Slessor was one of Australia’s leading Modernist poets, as well as a war correspondent and journalist. The Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize is named after him. Born Kenneth Adolf Schloesser in Orange in 1901, his family moved to Sydney in 1903. As the Australian Official War Correspondent during WWII, Slessor reported from Australia and also Greece, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and New Guinea. His two most famous works are ‘Five Bells’ and 'Beach Burial'. He was awarded an OBE for his poetry. To find out more about Slessor, click here to go to his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography
2. Kogarah School of Arts (1887, restored 1990)
The Kogarah School of Arts is a Victorian Italianate civic building, opened in 1887 and restored in 1990. A major social centre of Kogarah for many years, it contained a billiards room and a library, and hosted self-education workshops. For some time before the completion of official Council Chambers, it was also the site of the new municipality’s Council meetings. Here is a photograph circa 1910 of the Queens Ave façade and George Gates (right) the caretaker. Another photograph from around the same era shows the view from the corner of Queens St and Bowns Ave.
3. St George Hospital (established 1894)
There has been continuous medical presence in Kogarah since the establishment of the St George Cottage Hospital in 1894. While no original buildings remain, a range of additions to the hospital can be traced by their architectural era. Here is a photograph taken by J C Cruden from the top of the nurses’ quarters of the grounds in 1936, and here is a photograph of the 1951 official entrance (no longer extant).
4. Steam Tram Terminus (1887 – 1937)
For 50 years, steam trams connected the Kogarah Railway Station (this photograph from Kogarah Station looks west towards Belgrave Street) to the beach front at Sans Souci. They provided a link for beachgoers and weekenders to the shores of Botany Bay. The steam trams, here en route to Sandringham around 1930, formed significant social and commercial infrastructure linking each of the suburbs between Kogarah and Sans Souci before the introduction of trolley buses (which ran on overhead wires), which since they did not require rails helped to reduce the impact on cars and pedestrians crossing intersections and were safer. Here you can see a photograph of a derailment on Rocky Point Rd, near Margate St in Ramsgate.
5. Christina Stead (1902 – 1983)
One of Australia’s finest novelists, Christina Stead attended St George Girls’ High School as a teenager. She went on to write For Love Alone, and later completed the semi-autobiographical The Man Who Loved Children. This latter novel was a scathing account of her father’s egomaniacal relationship with his family. She published 16 novels and numerous short story collections during her life.
6. Taren Point Punt (1916 – 1965)
The Taren Point Punt was one of three punts which ran across the Georges River, at Rocky Point, Tom Ugly’s Point, and Lugarno. The Taren Point Punt ran from 1916 to 1965, until the completion of the Captain Cook Bridge. It is here shown in 1920 pulling out from the Rocky Point Rd end of the route, and here pulling up at the Taren Point side with the construction of the Taren Point bridge in the background. The last service was on 29 May 1965. The ferry was responsible for moving around 26 vehicles each time, up to 1000 cars per day. The Taren Point Ferry was opened to ease congestion at the Tom Ugly’s Point ferry, but ended up equally congested, demonstrating a clear need for the large infrastructure project which became the Captain Cook Bridge. It left from the stone boat ramp which still remains at the site of what is now Bass and Flinders Cruises.
7. Biddy Giles (c. 1820 – 1875)
Biddy Giles (born Bi-yar-rung) was a Dharawal woman who lived and travelled across the lands either side of the Georges River for her entire life. She was a well-known indigenous woman who seasonally lived in the Kogarah Bay and Sans Souci areas. She acted as a guide to the local area, helping people understand the flora and fauna and edible foods available, as well as sharing her extensive local area and history knowledge. We have included a link to a photograph here, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should note that this is an image of a deceased person.
8. Tow Weiry (c. 1820 – 1850)
Tow Weiry, known also as Tom Weiry, Towwaa and later Tom Ugly, moved to the Georges River area from NSW’s south coast. He lived and was buried on the point that bears one of his cognomens. He died in the late 1840s or early 1850s, and a portrait of him is part of the British Museum collection. Dr Karl Scherzer attempted to exhume his remains in 1858 for his ‘collection’ but they were degraded sufficiently to prevent this. Many stories have been circulated and persist as to the identity of ‘Tom Ugly’, however this is the most recent and robust historical explanation.
9. Bald Face Reserve (1939)
Bald Face Reserve incorporates the site from which sandstone was quarried for the construction of seawalls in the area, leaving a bare cliff face. The custodians of the land are the Gameygal people. Aboriginal rock art and axe grinding grooves can be found on the sandstone at the point, though they are somewhat eroded and the thick brush makes them difficult to find. Close to the water’s edge is a rock overhang where there are visible signs of its occupation by Gameygal people since before settlement; there is a shell midden close by, and the cave is blackened by hundreds of years of cooking fires. At the tip of the reserve’s waterfront, looking towards Kangaroo Point, visitors can see large concrete blocks with iron reinforcements; these are what remains of the on-site cranes (simple block and tackle systems) which assisted workers to hoist quarried stone onto the river barges for transport.
10. Drake’s Oyster Barges (1955 – 1996)
The oyster industry was a significant part of the local riparian produce, since well before white settlement. Large middens of oyster shells left by Indigenous groups were later quarried and burnt for lime (also a significant industry along the rivers of Sydney). The commercial cultivation of oysters in the region began in 1872; unfortunately, in the 1990s QX disease wiped out the Georges River oyster industry, ending centuries of the cultivation and harvesting of these delicacies. Drake’s Oysters was one such long-standing lease. Here is a link to Percy James Drake’s Oyster Culture Lease Renewal (1949), and you can see Bob Drake in 1960 punting along the leasehold.
For more information about these guided tours, please click on this link to see when the next one is scheduled, or download the walking tour guides here.
If you would like to find out more about local history, please get in touch with our local studies librarian.
IMAGE CREDITS (used on pdf)
Kenneth Slessor: National Library of Australia ref.pic-vn3096390
Kogarah School of Arts: Kogarah Local History Collection ref.LHP 52
St George Hospital: 1951 Kogarah Local History Collectionref. LHP 435
Steam Tram at Kogarah c.1930 en route to Sandringham: KogarahLocal History Collection ref. LHP 438
Christina Stead © Simon & Schuster 1938
Taren Point Punt: Sutherland Shire Libraries ref.MF004-MF004356
Biddy Giles: State Library of NSW ref. a730005 PXA 773Box6.42 (detail)
Map by TL Mitchell of the NSW Colony 1834 (detail): NationalLibrary of Australia ref. nla-mapnk6228
Bald Face Reserve concrete crane foundations: Kogarah CityCouncil photography collection
BobDrake © Don McPhedran: Mitchell Library ref: d7_08249 APA 08249