Sydney’s most famous Five Ways is a junction of streets at the heart of Paddington. It is a much referred-to locale of the Real Estate lyricist, spruiking of properties in terms such as “In the heart of the Five Ways village…” “just a leisurely stroll from Five Ways…” or (if one were to apply a truly wonderful volumetric measure of distance) “just a breath away from…”
Several suburbs vie for the title of “the next Paddington” amongst the pages of real estate publications, the moniker applied variously to Newtown, Balmain, Surry Hills, Redfern and Marrickville. Further afield, Harris Park is pegged as ‘the Paddington of Parramatta.’
Erskineville has not escaped entirely from the association, with Shaun Stoker of Ray White Surry Hills aligning the suburb with the trajectory of Paddington house prices in the May 2012 Australian Property Investor magazine stating “Erskineville has the potential to edge closer in price to the dizzying heights of Sydney’s pricey Paddington or Surry Hills.”
However, of these suburbs, only Erskineville shares that most valued ‘pocket’ descriptor, the Five Ways…
The Five Ways still exists, but its existence and role in the community has largely been forgotten. So, where is it, and how did it come into being?
An early mention of the Five Ways, Erskineville appeared in a newspaper advertisement of September 1909, with a local butcher seeking an early-rising smart man for a few days’ work:
The reference to Five Ways Erskineville in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that at the time the location of Five Ways was generally well-known (amongst the butchering fraternity, at least). At the time of the advertisement William McAuley ran a butcher’s shop on the corner of George Street (now Charles Street) and Swanson Street, (now 128 Erskineville Road).
Five Ways Erskineville lies at the junction of Charles Street, George Street, Swanson Street and Erskineville Road. Here is the location of the Five Ways on a modern map:
Map of Erskineville showing the location of Erskineville Five Ways (Google Maps)
The development of the Erskineville Five Ways is represented in maps of the region, depicting Devines Estate, Newtown, Macdonaldtown and Erskineville, across the decades as farm access tracks became laneways, laneways became streets, and estates were subdivided and sold and the suburb grew around it:
The following map shows that by the mid 1870s the roads of Macdonaldtown had formed the intersection that would become known as Five Ways:
The following maps show how, with the construction of the Illawarra Railway Line (with the line opening on 15 October 1884), a limb of the Erskineville Five Ways was intersected by the new railway line:
Extract of Macdonaldtown, Parish of Petersham c. 1886-7
Of the references to Erskineville Five Ways identified, more often than not they involve political candidates using the location for rallies and election campaigning. There were very few locations in the municipality that provided adequate space for gatherings, protests, campaign speeches and meetings. The open space afforded by the intersection adjacent to Erskineville Railway Station was centrally located in the suburb. The Erskineville Drinking Fountain was also located at the intersection, and its presence in Erskineville (from 1898 to 1936) is similar to the span of identified references to Erskineville Five ways (1909 to 1934).
The Erskineville Drinking Fountain
In July 1910 Labor Candidate Mr. Robert Hollis M.L.A. launched his re-election campaign for the NSW state election at Five Ways, Erskineville Road:
Further mentions of the Five Ways appear in the detailed report of the evening’s meeting appearing the following day, and a short mention of the good reception received at the meeting was reported the following Monday. Elsewhere a wag made special mention of Five Ways as an appropriate location from which to launch an election campaign:
The next year Five Ways Erskineville would be the site where James Howard Catts would address one of a series of meetings in support of the 1911 referendum proposing ‘to extend the Commonwealth’s powers over trade, commerce, the control of corporations, labour and employment including wages and conditions; and the settling of disputes; and combinations and monopolies:’
On 25 October 1916 Liberal Member for Orange John Fitzpatrick M.LA. spoke at a public meeting at Erskineville Five Ways in support of the National Campaign for Compulsory Reinforcements During War:
The 1916 conscription dispute split the Labor Party, with the Premier William Holman leaving the Labor Party with his supporters and entering into a coalition with the opposition Liberal Party to form the New South Wales branch of the Nationalist Party of Australia. Following the dissolution of the NSW Legislative Assembly on the 21 February 1917 the Member for Newtown, Robert Hollis M.L.A opened his campaign for the NSW state election as a Nationalist candidate at Erskineville Five Ways on 1 March 1917:
Two days later Frank Bourke, the Australian Labour Party candidate for the 1917 NSW state election was campaigning on a ‘no conscription’ platform at Five Ways Erskineville:
Frank Bourke would go on to win the seat for the Labour Party from Mr. Hollis.
Later that year, on the evening of 13 July 1917 a recruiting meeting was held at Erskineville Five Ways to encourage men to enlist in the war. Recruiting meetings and rallies were held across Sydney in suburban halls and on street corners, particularly at lunchtimes and in the evenings when working men would most easily be able to attend:
On 7 November 1917, Prime Minister Billy Hughes announced a second conscription referendum, to be held on 20 December 1917. The proposal for the 1917 plebiscite was more limited than the 1916 poll, forgoing full conscription of able-bodied men and instead proposing a ballot system, limiting conscription to men between the ages of 18 and 44, and only in months where there was a shortfall in voluntary enlistments. Erskineville Five Ways would again see meetings held on the matter, with the No-Conscription Campaign holding a meeting on the evening of 3 December 2017:
Again, the plebiscite was lost, more decisively the second time than the first.
In 1919 Erskineville Five Ways was the site of one of a series of ‘Grand Labour Rallies’ as part of the Labour Party’s campaign for the NSW Electoral Division of Cook in the federal election held on 13 December 1919:
August 1920 would see a return to news of the Five Ways Butchery, with 250lb of meat (well in excess of 100kg) stolen in an early morning robbery:
In 1922 Erskineville Five Ways was the site of a tragedy when five year old Eric Prior of Swanson Street was seriously injured as he attempted to board a moving tram.
Tram at Erskineville Five Ways (1940)
From Trams of Sydney 1900 to 1961 at 13:50
Electoral campaigning returned to Erskineville Five Ways in the lead up to the 1922 State election. In his exhaustive campaign for the electorate of Botany, Daniel McGrath would make two appearances at Five Ways as a representative of the Democratic Party.:
Ultimately, despite drawing good crowds to his meetings, he was unsuccessful in the election held on 25 March 1922.
Later that year, in aid of the federal election held on 16 December 1922, Mayor of Newtown, Alderman William. H. Pritchard campaigned at Erskineville Five Ways as a candidate for the Nationalist Party in the Cook electorate.
He too would ultimately fail in his endeavours.
Erskineville Five Ways would see more campaigning in the lead up to the 1925 NSW state election, with Peter Gallagher, an independent Labour candidate for the seat of Botany appearing at Five Ways Erskineville on the evening of Friday 8 May 1925:
Five years later, in the lead up to the 1930 NSW state election held on 25 October 1930, a big crowd gathered at Five Ways Erskineville to listen to Labor candidate for Newtown, Frank Bourke, where he ‘was received with marked enthusiasm:’
Frank Bourke would go on to win with 84% of the electorate’s vote.
Subsequently, and in a final mention of Erskineville Five Ways, in 1934 Frank Bourke would appear in support of federal Labor candidate for the Cook electorate, John ‘Jock’ Garden.
In 1995 Sue Rosen sat down with Bill Schwebel to record Bill’s recollections of growing up in Erskineville. Bill was born at 28 John Street Erskineville in 1910, and remained in Erskineville until he was married in 1935. In the course of the conversation Bill turns his mind to the area between Burren and Charles Streets:
The trams used to run around there and up the top of there, between Burren Street and Charles Street, was called Five Ways. Five Ways was the building and it was built like that. I suppose it was about twenty four foot here – just to use a figure – twenty four foot here and it’d go to about six foot up the front. Now, on this corner was a newsagent, Pryor(?), and he had a backyard. Next to Pryor was a boot repair shop, say about as big as that, and then on the point here was a butcher shop and outside the butcher shop was a fountain and when I come to think of it I don’t think it was there for horses, although it could’ve been for horses there because outside was a fountain for drinking but I never saw a drop of water in it so it must have been empty or misused before my time at school and that.
Extract – City of Sydney Aerial Photographic Survey, 1949
Five Ways, Erskineville 2019