The official opening of Matraville Soldiers' Garden Village 1918, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW MLMSS 473/6

Matraville Garden Village was the creation of the Voluntary Workers Association. Formed during World War I, the VWA’s main activity was providing homes for returned servicemen. In 1917, 16.2 hectares (40 acres) of Crown land was granted at Matraville under the Voluntary Workers (Soldiers’ Holding) Act for the village.

Based on the English model suburb of Port Sunlight, the original plan included 170 bungalows (93 were built) for disabled soldiers and war widows and their families. The village was to be a ‘memorial to our fallen heroes’ and a reward for servicemen’s sacrifices for the nation.

Street names reminded residents and visitors of World War I battles: Ypres, Pozieres, Beauchamp, Flanders and Bullecourt. Politicians and dignitaries ceremoniously opened individual cottages – but in the end the scheme was a disaster.

Local and state government authorities could not agree which agencies were responsible for various services, so for many years the roads remained unmade, the streets unlit, houses became rundown and the village suffered from lack of amenities.

The area set aside for the village was a sandy wasteland with scrubby hillocks. Shifting sand dunes were a constant nuisance. One couple wrote to the NSW Public Trustee complaining that a sand dune near their home had moved onto their verandah and then into their front room!

Soldiers' Garden Village Matraville' 1920, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 473/6

Rents were also raised and many of the tenants fell into arrears. A failed attempt by the New South Wales Public Trustee to evict a widow and her children received damning commentary in the Sydney press.

The VWA’s leadership proved to be corrupt and inept, particularly the organisation’s President, Dr Richard Arthur, and active member John ‘Lemonade’ Ley. The village was taken out of the organisation’s hands and was finally managed, from 1922, by the NSW Public Trustee.

In the 1970s, the village was transferred to the NSW Housing Commission. It was demolished to make way for 440 housing commission flats. Only the Public School (1927) and a cottage at 6 Amiens Crescent remain today.

 

 

Further reading:

Paul Ashton, Matraville, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008.
Paul Ashton, Thomas John Ley, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008.

You can catch up on this morning’s podcast on the 2SER website here. Don’t forget to join us on 2SER Breakfast again next week for more Sydney history: 107.3 at 8:20am. Thanks Paul!

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