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What were the prevailing physical and social conditions in Pyrmont/Ultimo during the 1950’s?

Pyrmont-Ultimo was once a highly valued area for pre-Colonial Indigenous Australians because of the access to fresh water, fish and other resources. But by the 1950s, the once thriving industrial Pyrmont-Ultimo had fallen into decline.

Near deep waterways, the peninsula was a hotspot for industries, manufacturers and shipping companies.

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The main forms of employment were from these major industries. The area featured industries that were some of the major distributors of flour, milk, wool and sugar in the country, as well as countless

wool-stores.

The wool-stores were popular businesses in these times. Steep slopes that led to the wool-stores were convenient for business, as the bales of wool would go down the slopes, be treated and inspected, and then sold off out of the factories. Wool stores on the peninsula employed thousands of men.

The Ultimo power station was another big industry at the time. The main use of the power station was to supply electricity to the trams that were running throughout Sydney. The Ultimo power station employed hundreds of men and a few women too.

The men of the neighbourhood would walk up and down the shipping yards looking for work, trying to make money for their large families. They would also look for work on the railway yards and the mills. Large industries closed and the area remained neglected for nearly forty years, merely a fossil of a once prominent area of industry.

By 1954, the Pyrmont-Ultimo population was around 5,000. The area was filled with terraces, built for the working class community. Much of the population lived in these terraces, which were the most popular forms of housing in the area in the 1950s. Due to the area’s previously highly dense population, many terraces were built close together, and with some of them reaching up to three stories high. With the construction of the “Pyrmont 13” passenger terminal, many migrants landed in Australia, bringing not only cultural diversity, but also the eventual social destructions of thousands of newly settled people seeking housing and work, adding on to the already high amount of poor looking for a chance to make a living in the area and provide for their families.

The recreation for the people of the Pyrmont-Ultimo region was limited, generally going to one of countless pubs around the area, seeing the local football team play at the park or playing cricket in the streets. After going to work, most men would usually hit the pubs. Artefacts of these times include plaques outside the pubs, some of which read, “Please Remove Work-Boots Before Entering”.

It was believed that owners of the pubs wanted the working class citizens out by as early as possible, with other signs displaying “Work Clothes Prohibited After 7.P.M”. These signs can be interpreted as an indication that the pubs in Pyrmont-Ultimo wanted more money by attracting the businessmen from the near-by Central Business District (CBD).

The Pyrmont-Ultimo environment was generally unhealthy. Countless cases of black lung and cancer were discovered in people from the area, especially in the working-class men who were working and living in these parts. The wool-stores sometimes created many health problems for the workers and other people residing in their homes near them. The Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR), trains and power stations polluted the air and water in and around the Pyrmont-Ultimo area.

Question 2 – Identify and describe the changes that occurred in the Pyrmont/Ultimo area in the period from 1955 to 1975?

Significant change took place in the Pyrmont/Ultimo area from 1955 to 1975. The freeway developments of the 1970s physically divided Pyrmont-Ultimo and threatened to destroy all sense of community.

One of the first protests was against the demolition of the terrace houses in Fig Street, which were to make way for the North Western freeway. They rebuilt some of the terraces, but they also started building units.

A lot the industries moved out west in these times. Pyrmont/Ultimo began to go into Urban Decline and soon into Urban Decay. Changes to industry and development affected housing, employment, as well as the health and leisure of the people.

Employment rates dropped dramatically and people were finding it hard to keep a roof over their heads. Many people went elsewhere for recreational purposes, with the large amount of bars going broke, causing them to close down.

Many people got depressed when they became unemployed, causing crime rates to rise dramatically. Drugs and alcohol became very common, causing communal bad health levels in the community.

Communities gradually started to fall apart, and the area was nothing like what it used to be. The collapse of a once booming society, followed by the collapse of industrial occupation, created a wasteland, causing many people to subsequently move out of the area.

Question 3 – Why did these changes occur? What were the determining factors for the changes?

These changes occurred because many people were forced to move into other areas when the freeways were getting built and as the industries were beginning to move out west.

The industries primarily moved out of the Pyrmont-Ultimo area and out west because they were encouraged by the government to move out into the western districts, which were much affordable than the current locations.

Employment rates plummeted as the industries moved out west. Some of the workers moved west so they could keep a job and continue to support their family.

Recreation in the area also changed as many people moved away or simply didn’t have time anymore, due to the decreasing wages for the jobs that stayed in the area. The only ‘recreational’ thing people could now do was to drink their troubles away down at their local pub.

People started drinking more regularly because they were becoming depressed, which led to liver damage, other widespread health diseases in the community, and a further increase of poverty in the area. The increase of people drinking made people more hostile and violent.

People were also suffering social problems as they either no longer had jobs, or were earning small amounts of money. The community crumbled because people either had to move for work or stay in the area without jobs and therefore no longer afford to live in the Pyrmont-Ultimo area anymore.

By the 1960s, the wool-stores moved out of the area to move to new industrial facilities in southwestern Sydney. This marked the fall of the formerly industrious area. During the 1970s, the Pyrmont-Ultimo had become derelict, making it an unpopular residential area.

The construction of wool-stores, power stations and factories caused the deconstruction of countless homes and a decrease in population, before the eventual demise of the Pyrmont-Ultimo area (In 1975, the population of Pyrmont-Ultimo was 1800, while in 1955, it was 5000).

Question 4 – How did the Pyrmont/Ultimo area change in the 1980’s? Explain the factors responsible for these changes?

During the 1980s in Pyrmont-Ultimo, new terrace houses were built and abandoned warehouses were transformed into new residential housing facilities. This caused people to start to move back into the area. Casinos replaced wool-stores and power stations as the industries of the future.

Derelict buildings were converted into offices and commercial buildings were constructed in the area. Along with these buildings and new offices came greater job opportunities available to the people. In the mid-1980s, the State Government chose to redevelop Darling Harbour as the heart of the 1988 Australian Bicentennial festivals and celebrations. The Convention and Exhibition Centres, The Sydney Aquarium, a major retail shopping complex, the National Maritime Museum, Chinese Gardens, restoration of the Pyrmont Bridge and the development of larger open spaces were constructed in the Darling Harbour area.

Rather than sitting in a pub, the new recreational activity was to go to the casino, though a large number of people still enjoyed the atmosphere of the pubs and clubs. The social side of Pyrmont-Ultimo was increasingly getting better. The area was becoming a community again. Health was also becoming getting better, with drug use and alcohol-intakerapidly decreasing. Pyrmont-Ultimo was going through Urban Growth and, subsequently, underwent Urban Renewal.

Question 5 – Has the environment and community of Pyrmont/Ultimo benefited from the changes that have occurred since 1950? Justify your answer with reference to primary and secondary data.

The housing environment today compared to the 1950s is greater developed. Today, larger units have been built compared to the small terraces of the 1950s, and a now must-have 10% open-space agreement has been created, meaning that 10% of the property must be open-space.

The industries in the area are also further advanced nowadays; office blocks and gaming buildings are bigger and better than ever before, as well as some older industries to liven up the mix.

Employment rates have greatly increased today than in the 1950s, as many people work in the newly established offices, gaming buildings or recreational buildings near their homes, even though there is great opportunity for people searching for work.

Better recreational facilities have also been installed in the Pyrmont-Ultimo community, with casinos, museums, malls, food courts and other shops to go to today, as opposed to the local pub back in the 1950s. Social problems have greatly decreased since the 1950s, and Pyrmont-Ultimo is once again

considered to be a great community.

Health in Pyrmont/Ultimo is also better, as there is less pollution from factories, power stations and other industries. Although there is still pollution from cars, pollution levels are much less that what they were in the 1950s.