by Cathy Jones
The Homebush North Shopping Centre is located on Parramatta Road Homebush near the corner of Knight Street (formerly Rochester Street). The building and later decline of this commercial centre reflects the changing development and demographic patterns of the Homebush North area.
In its early history, Rochester Street extended to Parramatta Road and crossed the railway tracks, linking the Rochester Street shops at Homebush South with the Parramatta Road shops at Homebush North. After the realignment and elevation of the railway tracks, the two sides of the shopping centre became separated, impeding pedestrian access.
Parramatta Road is one of Sydney’s busiest roads and stretches 23 km from Broadway in Sydney City to Church Street in Parramatta, running through suburbs like Homebush and Strathfield. Over ime, shops were established along Parramatta Road, mainly servicing the day to day needs of the local community. The centre at Homebush, like many shops along Parramatta Road in the Inner West, has been in decline for many years. Increased traffic along Parramatta Road, closure of the theatre (and its later uses – ice skating rink, nightclub theatre restaurant), closure of banks and industries such as Arnott’s Biscuit Factory and EMI factory, as well as competition from nearby shopping malls and large supermarkets have contributed to the decline of the Homebush shopping centre on Parramatta Road and the abandonment of many of the shops as viable businesses.
The development of this centre is tied to the expansion of transport. Important transport routes were established in Homebush such as Parramatta Road and Homebush Rail Station, which linked Sydney to Parramatta by road and rail. The Horse and Jockey Hotel is located on the former site of the Homebush Inn also referred to as the “Halfway House Hotel”, a halfway house for travellers, which opened c.1809 by early land grantee Edward Powell.
Homebush Rail Station was opened in 1855 and was one of Sydney’s first four stations between the City and Parramatta. The decision to site the railway at Homebush was in part due to the Sydney racecourse, which was located at Homebush until 1860. Cattle saleyards opened at Homebush in 1870 near Homebush Station. The saleyards expanded in size eventually moving to the site currently occupied by Sydney Markets. The expansion of the saleyards included the establishment of Flemington Rail Station in 1884 to provide rail access to and from this site.
Most of the early development of Homebush in late 19th century and early 20th century related to the Homebush saleyards. Many large agricultural businesses traded directly from the Homebush saleyards such as Hill Clark & Co and Pitt Badgery & Co. Other businesses, such as hotels, were established on Parramatta Road which were patronised by saleyards and abattoir workers.
The area of Homebush North remained unincorporated until 1906, when legislation required local government to be formed in unincorporated areas in NSW. Former Homebush Council records indicate that when this Council was formed there were only 90 houses, 170 ratepayers and 548 residents in the area. The area of Homebush Council was bounded by Powells Creek at the east and the railway line at south. The Homebush North commercial centre was located in Homebush Council and Homebush South centre (Homebush Village shops) was located in Strathfield Council.
Census results indicate that between 1911-1921, Homebush Council recorded a population increase of 140%. This was in part due to the opening of new businesses providing local employment opportunities such as Arnott’s Biscuit Factory established in George Street Homebush in 1908 and EMI Record factory and recording studio established on Parramatta Road (cnr Columbia Lane) Homebush in the 1920s. Sydney’s Abattoirs were relocated to Homebush Bay from Glebe in 1915 and many abattoir workers settled in the residential areas of Homebush. The presence of large employers in the local area attracted and promoted an expansion of housing development and population growth.
In 1916, a Drill Hall was built in Station Street Homebush by the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs to provide military training for residents of the Homebush and Strathfield districts. The Hall operated through WWI and WWII and continued various defence functions until c.2000, when it closed and was demolished. This site was redeveloped into high rise units.
By the 1920s with an increased residential and worker population, a shopping and commercial district on Parramatta Road developed. Most shops on Parramatta Road were owned and developed by John Henry Cross in the early 1920s. Cross was a prominent local identity. Cross was the licencee of the Horse & Jockey Hotel in 1917 and from 1925 to 1939, when the hotel was demolished by its owners Toohey’s Ltd. The current hotel was built in 1941 and at this time was licenced to Sid Godfrey.
Cross was elected to Homebush Council as Alderman in 1924 and served until 1934. While serving on Homebush Council, he was elected to Manly Council in January 1932 and elected Mayor in December 1932. In 1934, he resigned from Homebush Council though he continued to own most of the shops at Homebush North until his death in 1943. After his death, ownership of the shops transferred to his widow, Helenor. Eventually, ownership of each shop transferred to separate owners.
Records indicate that most of the shops built on both sides of Parramatta Road between Knight Street and Subway Lane (south side) and between Powell Street and Underwood Road (north side) were built by Cross between 1920 and 1921. Most shops were two storey with a shop on the ground floor and a residence built above the shop.
Old post office directories such as Sands and Wise indicate that this commercial centre was made up of a wide variety of shops and services including butchers, banks, confectioners and grocery shops.
Sands Sydney Directory for Homebush records the following uses for the shops from 1930-1932:
- A Marrin, newsagent
- Lindley Power, confectioner
- C S McGregor/R R Evans, chemist
- Dental surgery and dental requisitors
- Miss Gelding/Miss Burns, ladies outfitter/draper
- V Tesiero/C Cottee, fruiterer
- G Smith/E Armstong, ham & beef/smallgoods
- Miss A Loscocco, baby shop
- T Johnson, tailor
The Homebush Theatre on Parramatta Road (later the Hoyts Vogue Cinema) opened in 1925, which brought more business activity into this centre. Business was generated to the shops by local residents but also the large amount of workers in the district particularly those travelling through the shopping centre to the Homebush rail station.
By 1940, the population of Homebush Council was estimated at about 4,000. Decline of the Parramatta Road shops probably commenced with increased car ownership and vehicle use post World War II resulting in increasing traffic congestion. As previously discussed, the decline of this shopping centre is not unique to Homebush. Most strip shops along Parramatta Road have been affected by similar changing circumstances. It is often said that decline is attributable to traffic congestion and lack of parking but this is only one of many contributing factors. The growth from the 1960s of large shopping malls also has had a significant impact on the viability of small strip shopping centres as larger centres could offer a wide variety of shops and services in one location. However, with the availability of online shopping where goods and services can be purchased over the internet and delivered to homes (in ways reminiscent of catalogue businesses of early 20th century retailers like Anthony Horderns), large retailers face significant competition now and in the future. Consumer habits are changing, however with change comes opportunity for businesses to use their geographic proximity to residents to tailor services to meet the needs of local communities in areas not available through online services or large shopping malls.
Homebush Council Committee Reports 1915-1920
Homebush Council Valuation Lists 1919, 1921 (Supplementary), 1924, 1928
Jones, C ‘History of Homebush Council’ published on http://www.strathfieldheritage.org
Sands Sydney and Suburban Directory for Homebush (1908-1932)
Mr J H Cross Dead, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1943.
Wise’s Post Office Directory and Sydney Trades Directory
© Cathy Jones 2011. You are not permitted to reproduce any part of this work without permission.