The current spelling of Woolloomooloo
is derived from the name of the first homestead in area, Wolloomooloo House, built by the first landowner John
Palmer. There is debate as to how Palmer came up with the name with different Aboriginal words being suggested.
Anthropologist J.D. McCarthy wrote in 'NSW Aboriginal Places Names', in 1946, that Woolloomooloo could be
derived from either Wallamullah, meaning place of plenty or Wallabahmullah, meaning a young black
Woolloomooloo was once the most desirable suburb in Sydney.
Forget Double Bay, Ashfield, Elizabeth Bay, and don’t even think about the north shore, for in
the first half of the nineteenth century if you didn’t live in the ‘Loo, you were living in the dump.
Woolloomooloo was the home of judges, merchant leaders, politicians and the rest of the hoi polloi. By
all accounts it was quite a beautiful setting, close to a wonderful bay, in walking distance to the heart of the
colony, and a mere stone’s throw to Government House. It was also a safe distance from the rowdy soldiers at
Paddington and the even rowdier sailors in the Rocks. Grand houses were built, many with spectacular gardens,
and, if one were inclined, it was considered relatively safe to engage in one of the popular sports of the day,
pedestrianism. There were market gardens and, on the harbour shore of the Woolloomooloo bay, fresh fish were
displayed and sold. In those days the bay offered sandy beaches and, sadly, unlike today, the fish were edible.
Things changed in the second half of the century as better roads, if you could
call them roads, better communication systems, and later gas and water supplies, encouraged people to move
Woolloomooloo changed again near the end of the nineteenth century as the bulk of Australia’s
population packed their ports and took up residence in the cities. Around the time of Federation, in 1901, our
population balance changed, with more people living in the cities than bush. The great rural industries,
especially sheep and cattle, had seen their heyday and were making room for factories and offices. Thousands of
hopefuls flocked to Sydney and its inner suburbs, especially Glebe, Pyrmont, Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo. It
was around this time that many of the remaining grand homes came tumbling down to make way for squat terrace
houses. Corner stores, cafes and drinking establishments were also built adding to the Loo’s changing
The city centre was fairly stinky in those days with brickworks, tanneries and either dust or mud
creating general havoc. No doubt there was also a desire to get away from some of the more unsavoury locals,
especially the city larrikins and their donahs. As homeowners moved out small factories moved in to take
advantage of the suburb’s close proximity to the city centre and the surrounding seaports. The ports were
crucial to the delivery of coal to fire up the mighty steam engines of that era. Labour was also important and
alongside the factories came modest worker dwellings.
In 1852, the traveller Col. G.C. Mundy wrote that the name came from Wala-mala, meaning an Aboriginal
burial ground. It has also been suggested that the name means field of blood, due to the alleged Aboriginal
tribal fights that took place in the area, or that it is from the pronunciation by Aborigines of windmill, from
the one that existed on Darlinghurst ridge until the 1850s.
After the First Fleet's arrival in Sydney, the area was initially called Garden Cove or Garden Island
Cove after the nearby small wooded Garden Island, off the shore. The first land grant was given to John Palmer
in 1793 to allow him to run cattle for the fledgling colony.
In the 1840s the farm land was subdivided into what is now Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and parts of
Surry Hills. Originally the area saw affluent residents building grand houses, many with spectacular gardens,
attracted by the bay and close proximity to the city and Government House.
The area slowly started to change after expensive houses were built in Elizabeth Bay and further east
and a road was needed from Sydney. It was for this reason that William Street was built, dividing the land for
the first time.
Woolloomooloo is home to the Finger Wharf building is, according to the Guinness Book of World
Records, the largest wooden structure in the world. It is 400 metres (1,310 ft) long and 63 m (210 ft) wide and
stands on 3,600 piles.
The Sydney Harbour Trust built the Finger Wharf, or Woolloomooloo Wharf, between 1911 and 1915 with
the charter to bring order to Sydney Harbour's foreshore facilities. The wharf became the largest wooden
structure in the world. The areas commerce was dominated by shipping at the wharf and by the regular influx of
sailors from the Garden Island base of the Royal Australian Navy.
The wharf's influence diminished for Woolloomooloo during the 1970s when other more modern wharves
were preferred. By the 1980s the wharf lay derelict and empty and in 1987, the state government decided to
demolish the Wharf. A new complex was approved to replace the
wharf in Woolloomooloo Bay, but when demolition work was due to begin in January 1991, locals blocked entrance
to the site. Unions imposed a Green ban which stopped
demolition crews from undertaking work.
In the mid 1990s the wharf was renovated into a hotel, restaurant and apartment complex. The actor,
Russell Crowe, lives in a $14 million penthouse in the wharf.
Located near the wharf is Harry's Cafe de Wheels, a popular fast-food stall and now tourist
destination. The Andrew "Boy" Charlton Pool, sits on the western side of Woolloomooloo Bay, amongst the Royal