The suburb of Annandale in Sydney’s Inner West is filled with beautiful heritage buildings and stories of Australia’s convict and colonial past. An efficient way to see as much as possible is to walk down Johnston Street. I started my walk from Rozelle Bay Light Rail Station, however, the street can be directly accessed from Parramatta Road. Either way, I strongly advise you walk its entire length so you don’t miss out on seeing any of the architecture!
Annandale’s history can be traced back to the 18th century and Major George Johnston (1764-1823). Johnston captained one of the First Fleet ships transporting convicts from England to Australia. He also led the Rum Rebellion, a successful takeover of the Australian Government in 1808. For his service, he was granted the area of land around Annandale naming it after his birthplace in Scotland, Annan. What’s really interesting about this history, is that Johnston married one of the convicts on his ship, Ester Abrahams. She was essentially written out of this story until a memorial to her was unveiled in Johnston Street bicentennial park.
Long story short, their son, Robert, inherited their estate and land and in 1877 sold it to John Young. Young started to make the suburb look oh so pretty. And here is where our tour begins.
Stop 1: The Witches Houses
Very close to Rozelle Bay Light Rail are the witches houses – on the corner of Johnston and Weynton. They are named after one of the feature houses, Kenilworth, which has a roof shaped similar to a witch’s hat. This specific house was rented to Henry Parkes, a key figure in drafting the Australian Constitution. He also has a strong connection to Cockatoo Island and its first superintendent Charles Ormsby. Other houses in the group include the Abbey, Oybin, Greba, Hockingdon, and Highroyd.
The Abbey is, in my opinion, the most architecturally stunning. It has been built in a Gothic Revival style to mimic a Scottish Manor. It has gables, arches, gargoyles, a cloister, and a tower hence the nickname, The Abbey. For a while, the house was subdivided into various flats. In 1959, however, the whole house was purchased and restored to its former glory.
Unfortunately, there were originally another two houses in this set that have since been demolished – Claremont and Rozelle. According to photographs and early descriptions, Claremont looked almost identical to Kenilworth.
Stop 2: Uniting Church
This is a nice spot to stop between the witches houses and the Hunter Baillie Memorial Presbyterian Church. Originally built as a Uniting Church in 1891, the building now serves as the Annandale Creative Arts Centre.
Stop 3: Hunter Baillie Memorial Presbyterian Church
You will see the spire of this church long before seeing the actual church. It is, after all, the tallest chruch spire in New South Wales reaching a height of 56 metres. I did not get the chance to see inside, but, it is supposedly filled with marble.
Stop 4: Norton House, 33 Johnston Street
After trawling through quite a few websites, I finally came across some information on this place. I bothered looking because the house had the National Trust logo next to the gate along with its title, “Norton House”. According to its entry on the Annandale Association Register of Buildings, Norton House is a significant example of a Johnston Street mansion from the late 1800s.
Stop 5: Annandale House Gates
My final stop was at the gates to the entrance of Annandale House. George Johnston had this house built on the land in around 1799. It was demolished some time between 1905 and 1914 to make way for the Annandale Public School. These convict-built gates are all that remain. The gates also once led to the graves of George and Ester Johnston. They have since been moved to Waverley Cemetery.
All of these properties were once inscribed on the Register of the National Estate. Since 2003, however, this list has been discontinued and now acts more as an archive of information on over 13 000 places in Australia. In its place, two new heritage lists were created – the National Heritage List and Commonwealth Heritage List. The difference being that national has oustanding places of value and commonwealth has places controlled by the Commonwealth. These buildings are not listed as National Heritage List sites.
The level of community pride in these sites, however, has left me feeling not too worried. The Hunter Baillie Memorial Presbyterian Church, also, for example, collaborated with the National Trust to gain funds for conservation. I am going to keep positive that these buildings will be preserved and maintained!