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Darlinghurst Travel Guide

Darlinghurst: History, location and things to do

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Just east of Sydney lies Darlinghurst, which is nestled amongst Kings Cross, Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo. Traditionally inhabited by the Gadigal people, the area that is now known as Darlinghurst was first called Wolloomooloo Heights thanks to its prime location overlooking the valley. In the 1820s, Governor Ralph Darling began to construct villas along the ridge line. He issued a total of 17 land grants to some of the area's elite, including public employees, wealthy merchants and elite citizens. Governor Darling christened the area Darlinghurst in honour of his wife, Eliza, and stipulated the conditions under which buildings could be constructed to ensure Darlinghurst retained its distinctive character.

SLNSW 479525 22 Court House Darlinghurst front view SH 571.jpg
"SLNSW 479525 22 Court House Darlinghurst front view SH 571" by Pickering, Charles Percy (New South Wales. Government Printing Office) - (item) (album). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Darlinghurst soon became a symbol of wealth and success. The area began to be settled more heavily in the 1840s when the sandstone ridges began to be quarried for the early settlers. Convicts from the Darlinghurst gaol were put to work removing rock from the sandstone. Although a recession had descended on the area, settlement continued, this time including subdivisions and lower-priced homes. William Street was built, running across Woolloomooloo Valley and up the ridge, which was eventually established as the boundary between Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.

A watermill, windmills and post mills dotted the ridgeline and became a prominent feature of Darlinghurst. Although they no longer remain, they have been commemorated in colonial paintings, and one of the mills was used to construct terraces in the neighbourhood. Subdivisions sprang up throughout the valley, and terraces housed labourers and workers. Over the next several decades, the area became more fully developed. Larger allotments were further subdivided, and back roads were built for improved access. Some of these homes became boarding houses and largely accommodated itinerate workers and struggling residents.

Darlinghurst may have been primarily residential, but it also featured several important institutions, including Darlinghurst Gaol, originally called the Woolloomooloo Stockade. Alongside Darlinghurst Gaol was the courthouse. Today, the gaol houses the National Art School. Sydney College sat alongside the western edge of Darlinghurst, where it overlooked Hyde Park. Sydney College eventually became Sydney Grammar School. The Australian Museum opened in 1857 and was the first public museum in the country.

By the early 1900s, Darlinghurst contained both wealthy and less well-to-do residents. It had a wide appeal and somewhat questionable reputation. A criminal element, including illegal gambling, drugs and the sex industry, had moved in, and turf wars led to the nickname Razorhurst. As migrants moved into Darlinghurst during the 1960s, they brought with them a renewed interest in the community. Darlinghurst became more stable and attracted students, artists and young professionals in search of inexpensive housing. The boho vibe of the neighbourhood attracted a growing gay community, including gay liberation activists, the Gay Solidarity Group, who began to organise demonstrations, which were often thwarted by police in the early days. The GSG also put on the first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which is now amongst Sydney's most popular festivals.

Aerial view of Darlinghurst, New South Wales.jpg
"Aerial view of Darlinghurst, New South Wales" by lindsaybridge - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Darlinghurst has shed its seedy criminal past and today features art galleries, boutiques, cafés and restaurants. The Sydney Sustainable Markets at Taylor Square are a weekend fixture, and evenings come alive with cocktail bars, gay bars and live music. The Sydney Jewish Museum is also located here and traces the history of the Jewish people from Bible days to the thriving Jewish community in Australia. It tells the stories of the millions slaughtered in the Holocaust and provides a place for visitors to honour the lost and pay tribute to the survivors.

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