Darlinghurst is named in honour of Elizabeth Darling, the popular wife of Ralph Darling, NSW Governor from 1825-1831. The area was originally known as Eastern Hill and later Henrietta Town, after Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife whose second name was Henrietta. ‘Hurst’ is the old English word for a wooded area.
At the most recent census the area had a population of over 10,000. Its main road, Oxford Street, was originally named South Head Road and dates from 1811. It was the colony’s first toll road and highway, linking the city with the strategically important Macquarie Lighthouse at South Head. The toll gates were near Glenmore Road, Paddington.
Re-named Oxford Street in 1875 it was widened in 1911 to accommodate more traffic.
Stanley Street is one of the area’s two important café and restaurant strips and known as “Little Italy”. It was influenced by post-WWII Italian migrants who had disembarked at nearby Woolloomooloo. The annual June Italian Fiesta draws thousands as the street is closed for food festivities. Victoria Street is the other major café strip, most with al fresco seating. Several popular restaurants, such as Tropicana and Bar Coluzzi, are often packed with locals taking a snack on-the-run.
Today, dense terrace houses, many with their original rear access garbage lanes, are interleaved with a large medical hospital and research facility, the Sydney Museum, a prominent 19th century sandstone court, and former goal complex (now art school) where the famous Australian poet Henry Lawson did time during some of the turbulent years of his life, and a towering 43-storey high-rise apartment block with wave patterns by prominent modernist architect, Harry Seidler. The St John’s Anglican Church and spire, by the famous architect, Edmund Blacket, is a local landmark of heritage significance.
A vibrant nightlife and annual mardi gras street parade add colourful tinctures to the area’s mixed socio-demographic.
Gentrification in the 1950s and 1960s gave way to rejuvenation in the 1980s and 90s: Darlinghurst lost its ragged patina and became home to art galleries, haute couture ateliers and eclectic, even quirky, design shops, all catering to those with renovated homes keen to retain original characteristics but with modern conveniences close to the city CBD. Darlinghurst is also bounded on its western edge by Hyde Park, a 16 hectare London-style oasis and green lung in the middle of the city, famed for its fig tree-lined avenues. The area was set aside in 1810 for the “recreation and amusement of the inhabitants of the town and a field.” Its centrepiece is the 1932 Archibald Fountain, named after is donor in honour of Australia’s contribution to WWI in France. At the park’s southern end is the exuberant Art Déco-style ANZAC War Memorial, a Shrine of Remembrance with its Pool of Reflection.
High-rise residents nearby enjoy panoramic park and city harbour views. Darlinghurst has a diversity of activities with a matrix of inner-urban cultures. Its human-scaled development and intricate streetscapes are reminiscent of some parts of European cities such parts of Prague or the Marais Arrondissement in Paris.