Annandale is one of Sydney’s oldest suburbs with a unique history dating back to the very beginnings of the penal colony of Australia.

It began as farmland granted to Captain George Johnston who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. He later joined the NSW Corps and between 1793-99 he was granted land close to Sydney Cove that he named Annandale after his Scottish birthplace.


Johnston’s pivotal role in Australia’s history came in 1808 when, as commanding officer of the NSW Corps, he mutinied and arrested Governor William Bligh. He then served as the colony’s Lieutenant Governor for six months before he was ordered to return to England where, in 1811, he was court-martialled for rebellion. Found guilty, Johnston suffered the relatively mild penalty of being cashiered from the Corps. Three years later, he returned to NSW where he expanded his land purchases and raised cattle and sheep. Annandale Farm remained the heart of his vast estate and he died there in 1823.

Johnston’s son, Robert, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and the so-called Squire of Annandale, succeeded his father. He was ambitious and estranged from his mother, Esther, a convict on the First Fleet. In 1829, in a sensational court case, Robert succeeded in having his mother declared insane and gained control of the estate.


Annandale remained mostly underdeveloped while the rest of Sydney town continued to expand with the subdivision of surrounding areas. By 1876, Robert Johnston began to transfer parcels of north Annandale to his son, George Horatio Johnston, to commence subdivision. Large parcels of land were bought by John Young, a Sydney builder and entrepreneur. His plan was to create a ‘model township’ with Johnston Street – 35 metres wide – envisaged to be the grand boulevard and the centrepiece of the development. At its northern end, Young built a row of eight imposing residences, now known as the Witches Houses, because of their distinctive turrets.

Many fine residences were built, along with a post office, two schools, a police station and a town hall. Gradually, development stalled. Finance was hard to obtain. A re-subdivision of the remaining land encouraged the construction of smaller houses and soon Young’s grand vision faded. By 1895, Annandale was referred to as a ‘working man’s suburb’ with workers’ housing interspersed with manufacturing industry. Hard economic times in the 1920s and ‘30s saw many wealthy families leave, grand residences converted to boarding houses, and a jump in commercial and manufacturing development.


Post World War II migration of southern Europeans brought gradual change to Annandale. Aspirations rose with increased home ownership. Attitudes changed too. By the 1960s, with the demolition of historic houses increasing and the looming threat of a freeway that would split the suburb, there was a groundswell of residential support to maintain the suburb’s heritage buildings and streetscapes.

Since the 1970s, many of Annandale’s manufacturing industries have relocated to other parts of Sydney and a rapid rise in property prices has spurred a transformation of the suburb.

Annandale is a small suburb by Sydney standards – just 140 hectares – but its history is deeply rooted in Australia’s colonial past. From a sprawling farm to a lively, cosmopolitan inner-city suburb, Annandale has changed much in more than 220 years. Today, a quarter of its 8,700 residents were born overseas and 45% of them are 20-39 years of age.

Back to top