The history of Gunyama Park

Originally part of the wetlands known as Waterloo Swamp, Gunyama Park provided habitat for a range of fauna such as birds, fish and eels. It was a good food source for the Gadigal, the local Aboriginal people.

Gunyama Park takes its name from the Aboriginal Sydney language word meaning “wind from the southwest”.

This name was adopted by the City of Sydney Council in 2012.

From the mid-nineteenth century, the abundant water supply attracted many industries including milling, tanning, fellmongering, wool washing, boiling down, brewing and soap making, including the Rose Valley Wool Wash and Tannery on the site of today’s Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre. The fresh water from the swamp also irrigated breweries and market gardens.

Strong southerlies regularly blew through the district. With the development of noxious trades such as boiling down works, tanneries and fellmongeries, the south-west wind was a distinctive and unavoidable olfactory presence. An associated word with “gunyama” is “gunyamara” meaning “stink” – a historically appropriate and evocative description of Waterloo in the 1850s.

Prominent features around today’s aquatic centre site during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the Rose Valley Wool Wash and Tannery at the southern end of Waterloo Swamp (established in 1875); Zetland Lodge a substantial house and training stable (established 1874); Victoria Park Racecourse on the site of the current Victoria Park (1907).

By the early twentieth century, the suburb of Zetland and the surrounding municipality were transformed from a small fringe suburb to a major industrial and manufacturing district. In the 1940s and 1950s the area became a car manufacturing precinct with the largest being British Motor Corporation (BMC-Leyland). In the 1970s and 1980s, the decentralisation of manufacturing led to the area losing much of its manufacturing industry. The tanneries and the glassworks, the tram depot, the Navy Stores, the brick companies; all have gone.

The last two decades have seen an enormous change, with the decline in industrial sites making way for urban renewal and the construction of high density residential complexes for a growing population.

Further Reading

To view historic images, maps, newspaper reports, history books and biographical entries associated with the aquatic centre and Gunyama Park site, go to the Epsom Park Precinct list compiled by the City’s historians in the National Library’s TROVE