The following timeline was completed by Sue Castrique, and originally appeard in ‘The Army at Addison Road’, published in the Marrickville Heritage Society’s journal, Heritage, no 14, 2014.
Our centre is on the traditional land of the Cadigal Wangal People of the Eora Nation. A freshwater creek ran through the site from the south west corner, swinging round to Illawarra Road. It was a valuable source of sweet water, feeding into Gumbramorra swamp. The creek and its swampy surrounds were a rich resource of reeds, sedges and ferns for the Cadigal people as well as birds. Addison Road was on the margin between the swamp and nearby turpentine and ironbark forest. These were the kangaroo grounds, where grass was plentiful and kangaroo were hunted.
In 1852 John and Mary Ann Purdy purchased the site and established a market garden supplying Sydney with vegetables. They had four children and their cottage was very near where the current Community Garden is located today. The Purdy’s also used it as a brick pit and as John Purdy grew older, it was leased as a dairy. John Purdy died here in his 100th year in 1891. Mary Ann died two years later, aged 85.
In 1913 Addison Road became an army depot, one of the army’s major centres in Sydney. At different times it was a riding school, transit depot, an enlistment, personnel and demobilisation centre and home to a collection of army and reserve units. It drew recruits from Marrickville and beyond, sending them to all the major world conflicts until 1975.
Addison Road was established in 1914 as a riding school (a Sub Remount Depot) that trained officers and horses.
There was a training paddock in the south eastern corner, (the site of the Addison Road Child Care Centre); tethering rails ran along the boundary and the horses were let out to graze in the large grassy paddock.
During WW1 the army relied on the horse. Horses hauled guns, kitchens, transport wagons and ambulances, they were used by signallers to lay field telephones and were the mounts for the light horse brigades.
In 1925 stables were built at the end of the tree-lined road, behind the Ethnic Child Care offices. It was a three-sided galvanised iron shed with stalls, feed boxes and hay racks for 12 horses.
The procession of horses wheeling out of the depot made their mark on neighbours and children —
Every Sunday morning they’d ride out with their lancers and their horses, ride up along Addison Road around the park and then back down and we’d follow them everywhere and back into the barracks they’d go. And every now and again they’d let us go in and help clean up the stalls and we thought that was great.
In the 1920’s a trick riding team was formed at the depot. They performed at military gymkhanas and thrilled spectators, some 4,000 people coming to watch in 1930. Riders demonstrated tent pegging, wrestling on horseback, and balanced in pyramids on top of the horses at full gallop.
The trick riding team was so good they performed at the Royal Easter Show.
Polo matches were held between 1933 and 1935.
In 1939 the horses were removed from Addison Road. It was a sad day and as the horses left the depot the band played ‘Empty Saddles’.
The first women at Addison Road were from the WANS, the Women’s National Army Service in 1941, who arrived for a course in how to drive lorries. From 1946 women from Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) were demobbed and processed at Marrickville after their barracks in Burwood had closed.
The vast majority of space in the hall was used as a mess and recreation room for male soldiers, who were hungry, loud and finally home. In a small office in the corner of Hut 24a , the AWAS had their office.
It could not have been easy. There were no dedicated facilities. The first latrine for women officers was not built until 1953.
1944 – 48
From 1944 to 1948 Addison Road was a Leave and Transit Depot. All servicemen who returned from overseas or who passed through Sydney had to report at Marrickville first. Here they were medically examined, fed, paid, given leave passes, any clothing they needed, ration coupons and marched out to catch their train home.
In one month in 1944, more than 26,000 soldiers arrived at Addison Road to be processed. For most it was the first time they were able to contact their family after being overseas.
The depot was open until midnight every day of the year. Staff had to deal with lost papers, a black market in leave passes, AWLs, drunks, those who were impatient to get home, and most testing of all—the officers, before marching the troops out to catch their trains home.
Hut 9 (Theatre), the large hall behind the office was an X-Ray centre. Here men went for chest x rays, part of a complete medical check before being discharged.
In 1965 Addison Road was the Sydney metropolitan centre for the registration of national service conscripts. When it became clear that conscripts would be sent overseas to Vietnam it also became a focus for protest. Within weeks a group of Sydney mothers formed the ‘Save Our Sons’ movement and at the first intake in June 1965 they stood at the gates in silent vigil.
Save Our Sons protested at the Addison Road gates at every intake until conscription ended in 1972.
During these years there were both pro and anti-conscription demonstrations at the gates, while across the street ASIO photographed the demonstrators.
The first intake of 20 year old conscripts to Vietnam was on 30 June 1965. On that day 720 draftees arrived at Addison Road with girlfriends, family, suitcases and guitars. After final goodbyes in the drill hall were put on the bus for training at Singleton or Wagga.
In 1976 Addison Road became a community centre, one of the first multicultural initiatives in Australia. There had been intense pressure since the 1950’s to convert the depot into housing. Migrants and industry were moving into Marrickville and a textile industrialist, most probably Vicars woollen mill, wanted their workers housed nearby.
In 1975 the Commonwealth relinquished the depot, and the army left. It looked like it would finally be given up to housing. The local member Fred Daley, who had lobbied hard for the depot to be turned into housing all of his political career joked that it should be called ‘Daleyville’.
But migrants were becoming vocal and organised. There was a new word—multiculturalism.
A number of ethnic communities put in a joint proposal to run the centre and when they won the lease, there was jubilation. The Addison Road Community Centre opened its doors in May 1976. The huts were painted with murals and transformed into meeting places, child care centres and theatres for the pursuit of migrant rights and the expression and renewal of culture.
Addison Road is now Australia’s largest and longest-surviving community centre.