By Steve Mavin
“Any particular excitement in the community usually came from itinerant sales people. There were of course the regular bread-man; fruiterer and iceman but from time to time came the call of ‘clothes-props’, ‘fisho’ or ‘rabbitoh’.”
On the 15th of March 2021 we featured Souths legend Ernie Hammerton on Rabbitohs Radio Podcast & while researching the segment I discovered that Ernie played for Lauriston United in the South Sydney Junior Rugby League.
This immediately drew my interest because I had never heard of the club.
Who is Lauriston United? Where did they come from? I had no idea but I was determined to find out & after a little bit of digging, a visit to Mascot Library plus some help from friends, old & new we can now shed some light on this subject to reveal a story of a place near the mouth of the Cooks River & it’s rugby league club that deserves to be remembered.
Lauriston Park was situated on land that was eventually consumed by Sydney Airport but to help you understand how, when & why Lauriston (pronounced like Loralston) began we need to look back at the history of the area.
In 1770 Captain James Cook sailed into & discovered Botany Bay. He described the Cooks River as – ‘I found a very fine stream of fresh water on the north side in the first sandy cove within the island before which a ship might lay land-locked and wood for fuel may be got everywhere.’
Before Cook arrived the Aboriginal people had called the area Booralee & it was their home for thousands of years. They lived within their tribal boundaries in the Botany Bay area fishing, gathering shellfish, some hunting, and subsistence cropping.
Until 1788, the Cooks River and its environment was relatively undisturbed by man.
Over the centuries however huge changes were made.
Although Botany & Mascot are now considered a mix of residential & industrial zones the area was, prior to development a desirable bayside location. It shared the shores of the Cooks River & was nestled beside the bay with the beautiful freshwater Botany wetlands, native flora & fauna including Grass trees, Banksias, bird & sea life.
I grew up in Botany & often wonder how great it would have been to preserve Botany Bay, the birth place of the nation in it’s original pristine state.
Alas this is but a dream that may never be realised, at least in my lifetime or perhaps ever.
The original mouth of the Cooks River flowed much closer to Botany, Mascot & Lauriston Park than where it does today. The river entrance was moved south of its natural course to make way for the airport. This robbed Botany & Mascot of their riverside locality.
The construction of Foreshore Road finally sealed off all of the local area from any water frontage that it had enjoyed for millennia. The original beachside of the Botany suburb where waves occasionally broke for surfers disappeared.
What was once a little slice of paradise became something entirely different.
In 1809, Andrew Byrne, Mary Lewin, Thomas Walker and Edward Redmond were granted land on the Cooks River.
The area was originally divided into four grants, they being Redmond’s 135 acres; Lewin’s 50 acres, Byrne’s 50 acres, and Walker’s 50 acres, which together formed the locality known as Mudbank.
Andrew Byrne collected the shells from Aboriginal middens which were burnt to extract lime and used to make mortar for the building industry.
Simeon Lord was another early settler who dammed a local creek to establish a woollen mill in 1815, creating the Mill Pond.
By the 1820s, Botany Bay mud oysters were taken to Sydney and fishermen had settled at the end of what is now Bay Street. William Puckeridge (born 1802) and his brother John Puckeridge (born 1804) were lime-burners and net fishermen in the Botany area from about 1830 to the 1880s. The family kept their boats on a wharf in the Cooks River near the Engine Pond which became known as Pucks Wharf.
Other early families pre 1900 were the Smiths & O’Riordans.
Construction on Laursiton Park Estate began in 1902 & was built for workers from nearby factories or working in trades & labouring.
The land was surveyed by E H Cowdry in September 1902 & soon after cheap land went on sale through Brotchie Real Estate agents in Coward Street North Botany for £15 per lot.
Early residents were of English & Celtic origin. Cottages with names like ‘Brixton’ & ‘Inverness’ lined the tiny village.
The origin of the name Lauriston is uncertain although it could be named after Lauriston Castle in Scotland. Street names like ‘Melrose’ & ‘Roslin’ often spelt ‘Roslyn’ reflect a Scottish influence.
The village was centred on a few streets. Lords Road, Roslin Street, Channel Road & Government Road which bounded the estate. Melrose Street ran down the middle. The Laursiton Park end of Channel Street was later named Ross Smith Avenue after the famous Aussie aviator. After World War II Roslin & Melrose were named 9th & 10th Street & Government Road became 11th Street (where the DHL factory is today).
Long time resident Linda Buchanan described her backyard as more like a paddock with goats roaming free. ‘My brother in law used to play golf, we had 3 holes & occasionally the goats would eat the golf balls’.
The residents of Lauriston Park settled in & the suburb flourished although amenities were limited & a sewerage pipe pumped waste into the river nearby.
People often made trips to Mascot shops & also went to Ascot Picture Theatre on Botany Road.
The Lauriston United Football Club played an important part in people’s lives with locals turning up each week to cheer the team on in their maroon & sky blue colours.
Origins of the club are unknown but a community hall was built in 1918 after land in Roslin Street was donated by the Alexander family.
An early club supporter & organiser was Jack Hendricks known as Mr Hendricks who owned a shop in Ross Smith Avenue.
Club dances were big events on Saturday nights with women who could afford it wearing long evening gowns. Women would supply the food & men the drinks.
A focal point of the community was the Ascot Racecourse that was situated adjacent to Lauriston Park on the site where the helicopter base sits today. A few large trees are all that have survived as evidence of the tracks existence.
Kingsford-Smith Airport (the original name, Mascot Airport, refuses to die) is now one of the oldest in the world, having started in 1919 as a small private venture on a leased bullock paddock. Much of the site was owned by the Kensington Racing Club, as a hedge against it losing its government-owned site at Randwick. In 1921, the Federal Government purchased 65 hectares of the site to create a public airfield and in 1923, compulsorily resumed all of the racing club’s land (although it didn’t use it all and the old racetrack is still there in the 1943 photos).
In 1948 work commenced to change the course of the Cooks River.
Local residents had a close relationship with the early Mascot Aerodrome, it caused excitement in the village & people were fascinated by the planes & mingled with avaiators Amy Johnson & Charles Kingsford Smith when they visited.
Slowly but surely the residents & the suburb were moved on until they disappeared without a trace.
In 1989 the Federal Airports Corporation announced that the remaining areas of the estate would be set aside for the domestic terminal.
In 1990 the last 2 residents were forced out. Harold Rootsey had lived there for more that 70 years & said he would have stayed if given the choice. John Goold built his house in 1940 after a ‘great deal of trouble’ & was understandably reluctant to give it up. John was the last to leave & with his departure the village of Lauriston ceased to exist.
Families that lived at Lauriston Park include-
The Babbington Family at 51 Melrose Street.
Ronan Byrne grew up in the caretakers cottage for Ascot Racecourse. It was situated near the level crossing before it was demolished. Ronan said ‘It should have been heritage listed and turned into a museum for these memories’.
Michael Cross dad Les Cross played for Lauriston United.
Les Cross was a local but sadly passed away last year & his son Michael tells me that he & Ernie Hammerton were great mates. Michael said it’s a shame we aren’t able to talk to Les because he could’ve filled us in on a lot more of the details in regards to the Lauriston United Club.
I also spoke to Mick & Tim Mcgrath & they told me that their dad Dennis Mcgrath grew up in Lauriston Park also known as ‘Fly Flats’ & he also played footy for the Lauriston club as well as lower grade footy for Souths. Dennis Mcgrath is the grandfather of Harold Mats players Ryan & Cooper Mcgrath.
Other families mentioned as residents include O’Brien, Williams, Bonners, Purvis, West, Cummings, Babbington & Steel.
In an extensive article written by Lauriston Park Estate resident Allen Windross he describes the entire area in fascinating detail & recalls his family home with a picket fence on Lords Road was named ‘Kelso’.
Allen remembers the McGraths house too but this is another McGrath family not Dennis, Tim & Mick.
“Behind Kelso, facing Roslyn Street was the house named ‘Heroic’ owned by the McGrath family. There were three sons: Edward, Frank and George. The eldest two both played rugby league with the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Edward made it to first grade.
Allen continues saying there was 4 shops but no churches, schools or liquor outlets although there was at least one ‘sly grog’.
Any particular excitement in the community usually came from itinerant sales people. There were of course the regular bread-man; fruiterer and iceman but from time to time came the call of ‘clothes-props’, ‘fisho’ or ‘rabbitoh’.
There was always a local starting price (SP) bookmaker. If you wanted a bet on the upcoming race in Sydney or Melbourne on a Saturday afternoon you waited for the ‘runner’ who came past on a bicycle before race start time. Bets were recorded on paper slips. At the SP house these slips were pinned on the inside of a roller blind in the kitchen. If the gaming police made a raid the blind was raised so the bets disappeared from sight.
There were no regular organised school sports although we sometimes had a rugby league game against another Catholic school. These matches were played at Booralee Park Botany.
Summer school holidays there was often the opportunity to have a swim in the Cooks River adjacent to Puck’s Wharf or even to do some ‘prawning’ in the river at dusk. Then there was the later excitement of Empire (Cracker) Night in May and the bonfires and fireworks. Saturday afternoons were spent at the matinee run by the Ascot Picture Theatre on Botany Road.
At church my father would point out the presence of some of the star players for the Rabbitohs. In a wardrobe at Kelso was a football jumper in the maroon and blue bars of the Lauriston Park team. I assume this was given to my father by one of the McGrath boys
Mic Brad Lee told me his grandfather Tom O’Brien ‘Lauro’ played for Lauriston United (he was nicknamed Lauro because of who he played for) & he actually asked his grandmother Betty O’Brien about her memories of the suburb for this article.
Mic said ‘Chatting to my grandmother made her laugh and smile so it was great. Betty said they used to fish for yellow tail at Pucks Wharf. They lived in aircraft hangers that were vacated by the British after World War II. There was no electricity however they had water and kerosene lamps’.
Mic gave us a pic of a name tag from a Laursiton United blazer pocket that was signed by some legends of rugby league including the Little Master Clive Churchill.
William Annesley better known as Bill (aka Shakers) played second row for Lauriston Park. He appears in the same team photo as Les Cross and Ernie Hammerton.
Today very little if any trace remains of Lauriston, I drove around the site & could find absolutely nothing of the former village. The only place the name appears close by is Lauriston Park a small park with a few swings on the corner of Middlemiss & Coward Streets Mascot.
All you will find in 2021 is a car wash, Maccas, a jet base & a huge DHL building where Lauriston once was.
‘A rich procession of activity took place within the bounds of a few streets’.
With thanks to:
The Forgotten Village
Georgina Keep & Genie Wilson
Botany Historical Trust
Lauriston Park Estate
Civil Aviation Historical Society Inc
Mic Brad Lee
Tom & Betty O’Brien
The Puckeridge Family
Thanks also to everyone who commented, shared & liked the posts we made on Facebook asking for help & to anyone else I may have forgotten to mention. Your assistance putting this story together was much appreciated.
The Official Podcast of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Rabbitohs Radio Podcast is hosted by Steve Mavin, Darren Brown & Grant Chappell.
We can be found on the Rabbitohs Podcast Network.
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