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Sydney - In the 1840s Paddington in Sydney was described as a “wild looking place” with barren sand hills and patches of scrub.
Once an aboriginal walking track, it became a working class suburb for the artisans who were building the Victoria Barracks. By the turn of the century, it was a slum.
In the 1960s it was a popular hangout for hippies. Today it boasts the largest and best preserved collection of late Georgian architecture in Australia and is regarded as a treasure trove of historic houses, art galleries, bars and restaurants in one of the city’s most visited suburbs.
Between 1840 and 1890, 3 800 houses were built of locally quarried stone, some of them as narrow as 4.5m due to the lack of building regulations, but many of them were decorated with iron lace fretwork, friezes, cornices and ornamental plastering.
During World War II, most of the district was threatened with demolition, but it was saved by the influx of immigrants from England who knew and appreciated such houses.
It grew in popularity in the 1960s and ’70s as young professionals began to take over and it was soon regarded as a fashionable suburb of finely restored Victorian homes with wrought iron lace balconies in tree-lined streets and, as an additional bonus, the harbour could be seen from many of the streets.
It’s most famous street is Paddington Street. With its huge plane trees and three- and four-storey houses with steeply pitched gables on both sides of the road, it is now regarded as one of Sydney’s oldest and loveliest streets.
The suburb itself is full of interesting speciality shops and has become the Soho of Sydney with fashionable restaurants, trendy boutiques in narrow lanes and elegant leafy streets.
Its many art galleries at the northern end of Oxford Street sell unusual and eye-catching aboriginal arts and crafts and many of the profits are sent back to their communities.
South of Oxford Street is Centennial Park, full of more trendy bars, cafes and many of Sydney’s cheaper restaurants that cater specially for tourists.
The London Tavern, built at the end of a row of terraced houses and opened in 1875, is the suburb’s oldest pub, which originally opened to cater for the soldiers in the Victoria Barracks.
Paddington Town Hall, built in 1891 by a local architect who won an international competition, still dominates the area with its famous 32m-high clock tower – though it is now a centre for recreation, with a cinema, library and ballroom studio.
Victoria Barracks, with its graceful, sandstone walls stretching seven blocks from Greens Street to just before the Paddington Town Hall, was built by convicts in the years 1841-46 to house 800 men.
It is still a military base and the home of the Royal Military College, but the former jail block now houses a military museum open to visitors on Thursdays.
Paddington even has a minor castle, Juniper Hall, built in the 1860s with a turret, battlements and iron lacework.
Paddington Market, now a favourite Sydney institution, began in 1973 and takes place every Saturday in the grounds of Paddington Uniting Church, another local historic sandstone building built in 1861.
Now an “in” place to visit as well as to shop for bargains, it spills out on to the streets and sells everything from designer clothes to kitchen ware. Its food court includes the largest Asian-European supermarket in Australia.
Stallholders now come from all over the world and many young designers have launched their careers here with their hand-made jewellery, leather goods, clothing and ceramics.
If visitors don’t know where it is, they just follow the crowds and if they don’t want to shop – and it’s almost impossible not to – it’s a wonderful place to sit, look and listen to the buskers.
Its football stadium is the home of the Sydney Rangers and the New South Wales Waratahs. - Sunday Tribune