‘Old, insanitary and ruinous’: Historic photos reveal demolished Sydney

The changing face of the city captured from 1900 to 1931.

In the early 20th century Sydney underwent rapid urbanisation, embracing modern buildings, new infrastructure and sanitation projects.

Houses, pubs, stables, shops – and sometimes entire neighbourhoods – were demolished to make way for the improvements.

A group of children pose in front of a ramshackle timber outbuilding on the corner of Sutton and Bourke lanes, at the rear of 170–172 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst in 1917. In the 1990s, buildings and streets here were obliterated to make way for the Eastern Distributor. City of Sydney Archives A-01000427.

From 1900 to 1931, the City Building Surveyor’s department at the City of Sydney began hiring professional photographers to document “old, insanitary and ruinous” buildings when they were condemned.

The photographs inadvertently capture largely working-class neighbourhoods and people being displaced by commercial and government redevelopment.

December 1922, Sydney Municipal Council's Inspector of Nuisances William Vogwell, far right, with a group of boys at Fowler's Tip in Camperdown. This photograph is from a series of photographs documenting bubonic plague prevention measures in the Camperdown area. City of Sydney Archives A-01001179.

See more historic Sydney photographs

The façade of Thomas Skelly’s produce store on the corner of Missenden and Parramatta roads in 1912. This view shows men and woman on the pavement in front of the store, a lamp post and horse drawn cart. City of Sydney Archives A-01000368.

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