Parramatta Square: 200 Years of History

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Situated adjacent to St John’s Cathedral is the area now referred to as Parramatta Square. But don’t be fooled by the modern facade for this area has been a community hub at the centre of Parramatta  for over 200 years. Over its long a chequered history it has been a market place, an Aboriginal and European meeting place, a city centre, and a Civic hub.

Historically the area has been defined as the large block of land bounded by Church Street, The Railway Line (and later Darcy Street), Smith Street and Macquarie Street. It is hard to imagine now, but once this land was part of a natural valley that fed three separate ponds, with tall stands of trees growing in the rich volcanic soil. All of which was managed for tens of thousands of years by the local Burramattagal clan of the Darug Peoples.

George Suttor an early European settler gave a vivid description of the area about 1800:

… near parsonage house in Church street was a grove of mimosa or acacia trees which crossed the road from the parsonage to the opposite house. The season was wet and the frogs were very much in voice and numerous near the church where there was a large pond full of them .. but they would mount the roofs and keep up a grand chorus whilst it continued to pour with rain

Aerial View of Civic Place with Town Hall in foreground

Aerial view of what is now Parramatta Square, abut 1924. The spires of St John’s are visible to the lower right.

After settlement this landscape slowly gave way to houses and businesses. Drains were dug to channel to water away from the site and houses were built along the street frontages forming the square. This led to the development of an open space at the centre which at different times were: open paddocks; stock yards; a storage area for impounded animals and part of a lumber yard.

The area remained Crown Lands for many years afterwards and other parts were divided up as a part of the early land grants. But it was the establishment of railway station on the southern side of this precinct in 1860, that saw the centre of Parramatta move from river-borne traffic in the north to the trains and carriages next to the square. From this time on Parramatta Square was the undisputed business and cultural hub of the city.

Considering the long and complex history of this site Parramatta City Council’s, Research and Collection Services team, have compiled below a comprehensive history of the people, buildings and events which played a such a significant role in European settlement of this area.

Parramatta Square: Heritage Stories

Parramatta in 1856 by T.A.G.

Source: Our family, leaving Sydney in above year, came to reside in Parramatta. I was then eight years of age. There were no public schools at that time, all being under the heads of the various denominations.Within a short time I spent my...

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The Parramatta Soldiers’ Hut

“The Hut” by Nell Gawthorne, held in the City of Parramatta Cultural Collections Artwork Collection (Acc no. 2006.175) During World War Two, community organisations and local councils across Australia were instrumental in providing recreational opportunities in...

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Keeping Good Time: Clocks of Parramatta

The Centennial Memorial Fountain in Centenary Square, Parramatta, 2017 (Source: Anna Namuren) Devices have been used to measure the concept of time for thousands of years - from the tracking of the sun by obelisks and dials, to the use of hourglasses and waterclocks,...

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Parramatta City Council Archival Video

Parramatta Square Flythrough

Parramatta Square is one of the largest urban renewal projects in Australia. It is set to transform Parramatta’s core into a vibrant mixed-use hub, accommodating a substantial new public domain with more than 240,000sqm of mixed-use development and new Council facilities.

Parramatta Square Development

Parramatta Square is a 3 ha mixed use redevelopment precinct located in Parramatta CBD, bounded by Church, Macquarie, Smith and Darcy Streets. Parramatta Square will see Parramatta emerge as a vibrant, connected and liveable city in the heart of Sydney.

Time Lapse Parramatta Square Project

Since February 2015 The Parramatta Heritage Team has been photographing the changing face of this site. We set the camera to take an image every minute for approximately three hours a day, three days a week.

Research Resources and Reports

Reports and Resource Links