From mud banks to jet planes: A short history of O’Riordan Street, Mascot

Corner of O’Riordan and Church Street, Mascot, looking north, c.1960s. City of Botany Bay

Recently a member of the public asked us to uncover the history of O’Riordan Street, a major road in Mascot. What we found was a fascinating story of change and development. Today Botany Road dominates our understanding of the area, however O’Riordan Street may possibly be older as its former name, Old Botany Road suggests.

The road originally began at Gardeners Road and led down to the property of Edward Redmond, who is considered one of the first settlers in the Botany district. He settled here in 1809 and established a farm called Mudbank on land that is now occupied by Sydney Airport. Because this thoroughfare led to his property, the road also went by the name of Mudbank Road.

As Botany Road did not reach the Mascot area until the 1850s, ‘means of access to Sydney in the early days was by way of Mudbank Road – now Old Botany Road – across the swamps and Shea’s Creek, via St Peters and Newtown and the surface was mostly mud,’ states the writer of Mascot 1888-1938.  ‘The bridge across Shea’s Creek was often under water and on these occasions pedestrians had to remove their boots and wade across when visiting St. Peters. The ladies had to be carried across’.

Section of North Botany (Mascot) map from Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney, ca 1885-1890.
Entire map available from City of Sydney Archives

Given the landscape that surrounds us now, it’s hard to imagine the area was once swampy, but the map above from around 1888-1890 will give you a sense of what the writer meant.  On closer inspection you will also see that O’Riordan Street is confusingly labelled as both Mudbank Road and Old Botany Road. 

In the early to mid-20th century this road was well-known to locals because it was home to Gearin O’Riordan, a local factory that boiled down animal offcuts to produce tallow and fertilisers.

Many older locals can recall the odours that were emitted from the factory. Some even say it was forced to close for a few days when the Queen drove past during her Royal Tour in 1954.

It’s hard to imagine what exactly occurred behind its walls, but these newspaper articles about two accidents in the 1930s give us some idea of how dangerous it could be to work with copious quantities of fat. For even more details check out this article from The Sun. 

LEFT: The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 14 1936, Courtesy of TROVE http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17284162  RIGHT:The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 December 1932, Courtesy of TROVE http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16939877   

In 1956, Old Botany Road was renamed O’Riordan Street, in keeping with the road that existed north of Gardeners Road. Its namesake was Michael O’Riordan (d.1918) , who had been the Mayor of Alexandria several times and was the father of the O’Riordans who co-owned  Gearin O’Riordan.

The decision to use the name O’Riordan for the entirety of the road probably occurred because of the expansion of Sydney Airport in the 1950s and 1960s. Back then O’Riordan Street was still a major gateway to the airport as the international terminal was located where the Qantas Domestic terminal is today.

In the 1990s, a former side road called Amelia Street was rezoned and removed to build what is now the Stamford Hotel complex. In the process, five former homes, which you can see in the picture below, were demolished. Looking at the scale of the hotel today, it’s hard to believe anyone called this area home, yet alone imagine Redmond’s original farm which would have stood diagonally across from Stamford Hotel.

O’Riordan Street, looking south, near corner of Amelia Street, 1960s & 2016.
The only consistent feature in these pictures is the bridge for the Botany Goods Line.
Images courtesy of the City of Botany Bay & Google Street View  
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