While we are a Victorian History Library we do hold information on areas outside Victoria, to complement the Victorian history collection. An example is this history of Parramatta. Thanks to our volunteer Renee for the insight into Parramatta’s fascinating history.
For this local history article, we will be focusing on Parramatta in New South Wales. It is a town that was instrumental in the survival of the colonialists when they first arrived. Many livestock and agriculture experiments were conducted in the area to ensure that sustainable living in this new colony was viable. The first wheat was harvested by James Ruse, and the Macarthurs wool dynasty created and nurtured the establishment of what would become one of our greatest exports, wool.
The original inhabitants were the Burramattagal people. Their name comes from their proximity to the now named Parramatta River and the eels that inhabited it. Their name literally translated to ‘the place of eels.’. Other neighbouring Indigenous Australian people were the Wategoral, Wangal, Wallumettigal, Toongagal, Warmuli, Bidjigal and Kameraigal. It is estimated that each group had about 40-60 members. There is very little written about them in first settlers accounts. There has been some mention of Indigenous inhabitants bartering fish for bread or salted meat and living on the fringes of the settlement. There have been some accounts written from 1801 and 1804 which detail aggression from both sides eventually resulting in the death of a tribe leader called Pemulwye. After this event the interactions between Indigenous Australians and colonisers became more subdued, with Indigenous Australians fearing more deaths.
By the 1880’s Parramatta was booming with a gaol, a hospital that would be later torn down due to poor conditions, post offices, churches, town hall and in 1884 the Parramatta Steam Tramway. It ran from George Street, Sydney to Duck River. Thus, the first Sydney commuters were born. Tram and coal train services to other local areas were available earlier. More locally, hansom cabs and wagon coaches were available for transport. The large population is due to the sale of land for private use, so many people came to start a life in Parramatta.
Although it had a busy commercial hub, Parramatta relied on schools and government institutions for its prosperity. Parramatta has a history of having the first established state funded schools in the 19th and 20th century. In other less happy traditions, it has a long record of asylums for men and women. It wasn’t uncommon for many inmates on day release to wander the streets and the Parramatta Female Factory was established in 1821 and was open until 1848. This establishment was described by Governor Burke as a place for ‘outcast women’. This factory served as many things; such as an agency for marriage, employment but also a place of ‘behaviour correction’. The factory itself had over 500 inhabitants but was built for 300.
Parramatta had a love of holding many annual parades to show case the local business in the area and has a local NRL sports team the aptly named Parramatta Eels. The Greater City of Parramatta is vast and has many suburbs in its municipality. These are Camelia, Carlingford, Dundas and Dundas Valley, Eastwood, Epping, Ermington ( the birth place of Olympian Betty Cuthbert), Granville (the place of the worst rail disaster in Australian history), South Granville, Guildford, Harris Park, Merrylands, Northmead, North Parramatta, Oatland, Old Tongagabbie, Pendle Hill, Rosehill, Rydalmere, Telopea, Toongabie, Wentworthville, Westmead and Winston Hills.