Some Thornleigh History

Today Thornleigh is a commuter suburb of Sydney that most Sydneysiders don't even know exists, but it has a really interesting history. Thornleigh is located on the upper North Shore of Sydney, in the Hornsby Shire. The source of the Lane Cove river is located here.  

The area around Thornleigh is one of highest points in the Sydney metro basin and some areas of the suburb enjoy views all the way out to the city. When the area was first subdivided for housing in 1919, advertisements for the lots used the tagline, "Live on the Heights". 

Because of its elevation and rural setting some city dwellers used to visit Thornleigh for respite. There was even a small 'lying-in' hospital for 'pensioned women' in Thornleigh, operated by Jane Starkey. This building was recently (2018) demolished to make way for apartments. 

We did some digging in the archives and managed to find the 1917 advertisements promoting the lots for the subdivision that would become Goodlands Ave (were 'HighLand Urban Farm' is located). The area was promoted as a "beautiful hill and orchard district" and they specifically mentioned that the local attitude is equivalent to that of Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains. They were selling lots for two pounds ! 

Thornleigh was originally part of the land that the Kuringai people settled. The first non indigenous people to explore the area of Thornleigh were a party led by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788. Settlers moved into the area in the 1830s and among them were James Milson, Patrick Duffy, John Thorn and Samuel Horne. Thornleigh is named after Constable John Thorn, who, along with Constable Horne, captured bushrangers Dalton and John MacNamara, leader of the North Rocks gang, on 22 June 1830, and were granted land as a reward in 1838. Horne's land became Hornsby (now Normanhurst), and Thorn's land became Thornleigh.

Because of the good soil and higher than average rainfall the area was originally used for orcharding. When Thornleigh railway station opened in 1886 it was primarily used to transport local produce (mainly citrus fruits) to the city markets.

In fact at the time fruit grown at Thornleigh was also being exported as far as Vancouver and San Francisco.

In 1901, the National Brickworks started operations at Thornleigh. In 1913, the largest malt works in the southern hemisphere was established by WG Chilvers. Chilvers Road was named after William George Chilvers. Other streets with notable names include Norman Avenue, named after the Australian engineer Norman Selfe.

The picture below shows the malt-works with the brickwork stacks in the rear. 

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment was a problem in the area, so a local woman named Lorna Brandt raised money for the construction of a walking track near the Lane Cove River as a way of providing relief work. The track begins at Thornleigh Oval, at the bottom of Handley Avenue, and goes through the bush towards the Lane Cove River. It then goes parallel to the river for a short distance before looping back to arrive at Comenarra Parkway. An extension goes down to the river, through a spot called Conscript Pass. At this spot, there are rock carvings done by the men who worked on the track. One of the carvings is a caricature of Bertram Stevens, Premier of New South Wales from 1932 to 1939. The track is known as Lorna Pass in memory of Lorna Brand, and is now part of the Great North Walk, a long-distance walking trail between Sydney and Newcastle. Thornleigh and surrounds is a major hub for Sydney bushwalkers

Not many locals know that we nearly had a university here. In the 1960's there were plans to build a university at Thornleigh in response ease the enrollment burden on other Sydney universities. Thornleigh was considered because it was "Central to the Northern Line and the North Shore", however what would become Macquarie University was eventually located in the nearby suburb of Macquarie Park.