Indigenous history

Aboriginal history of Randwick

The literal translation of the word 'Aboriginal' is 'the first people' who were here from the beginning.

The culture of traditional Aboriginal people is as diverse as the number of clan groups that occupied this land prior to the arrival of Europeans. That diversity existed in language, lifestyle, ceremony, kinship and spirituality.

The history of Aboriginal people was passed down from generation to generation through stories, dance, ceremony, painting, hence there are no written records. Our knowledge of the past is based on archaeological evidence, and the oral tradition of Aboriginal culture.

Prior to European colonisation, Aboriginal people lived a nomadic existence, their spiritual beliefs and practices directly connected to the land. Archaeological evidence through radio-carbon dating has estimated that Aboriginal people have survived on this continent for approximately 60,000 years. However, contemporary Aboriginal society believes that through their dreaming they have always existed on this land and their lifestyle remained unchanged until the arrival of Europeans.

Before the European invasion the local people moved around the area to hunt and fish. The main component of coastal diet was fish, the men using multi-pronged spears, and the women using hooks and lines. Both fished from canoes made of bark. Women also gathered shellfish and plant foods such as fern roots and native figs.

Many other tools, made of stone, shell and plant materials, were used for making canoes, weapons and to collect food. Ornaments were worn in the hair and scarring of chest and arms served both ornamental and ritual purposes. Initiated men wore a waistband of plaited possum fur.

Contact between the two cultures had a devastating life-changing effect on Aboriginal people in a very short period, with the introduction of new diseases, massacres and government policies as the new frontier pushed forward to colonise Australia.   

Remnants of the traditional owners of this area can be found in rock engravings. These may depict the animals that were part of their diet, their dreaming totem or relate to specific ceremonies commonly referred to by anthropologists as increase sites. Rock engravings and paintings were a popular form of artistic expression. Common subjects along the coast were whales, sharks and fish. Early settlers did not record religious beliefs, but lore and religion were of paramount importance in Aboriginal society, expressed through ceremonies, dance, art and song.

Many ancestors of the traditional owners of the Randwick area still reside within La Perouse and surrounding suburbs.   

History of Randwick since 1788

For information on the white settler history in the Randwick area to the 1880s see:


Randwick 150 years of local government

1880s to 1900

In the 1880s, Randwick's population grew more than threefold. The rate of growth slowed in the 1890s with the onset of recession, but the population still increased by a hefty 50 per cent from 6,236 in 1891 to 9,573 in 1901. Nearly 90 per cent of the population lived in Randwick, and the remainder mostly in Coogee, with a few people living in the new suburb of Kensington.

Suburban growth was boosted by the end of the recession and improvements in public transport. In 1900, the tram was extended to the new Kensington racecourse, then to Long Bay in 1901 and La Perouse in 1902. Growth remained confined to Randwick, Coogee and Kensington; however, increasing numbers of visitors were travelling further south to the coastal areas and a number of commercial developments sprang up to met the demand.

1900 to 1920s

The population almost doubled to 18,461 between 1901 and 1911. There were 3,022 dwellings in Randwick, 307 in Coogee and 249 in Kensington. In the decade between 1911 and 1921, growth was even more rapid and despite the First World War, the population grew to 50,841.

The Federation and Edwardian styles of housing continued to be built until the end of the First World War. Terrace houses in the inner city had by that time fallen into disfavour and a new middle class headed for the newer suburbs of Randwick. The bungalow with its large backyard had become the Australian dream and a popular housing type in Randwick.

Randwick continued to experience strong growth in the 1920s, growing from a population of 50,841 in 1921 to 78,957 in 1933; dwellings increased from 10,223 to 18,582. By the 1920s, development at Maroubra was also to become increasingly urban. At the same time, Kensington was spreading further south, filling up what is now Kingsford. By 1930, Maroubra and Kingsford were linking up and development was also occurring in pockets further south, including Malabar, Matraville and La Perouse.

1930 to 1950s

Despite war and the Great Depression, Randwick continued to grow in the 1930s and 1940s. The population went from 78,957 in 1933 to over 100,000 in 1947. There was a marked increase in the growth rate during the post-Second World War boom period. Development occurred in scattered pockets in the now established suburbs. More development took place at Kingsford and Maroubra in particular, and spread further south.

1960s onwards

Randwick City still has many examples of its first flat-building era in the 1920s which continued into the 1930s and early 1940s. Flats then fell into disfavour until the boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with resurgence in the concentration of residential flat buildings, generating a 25 per cent increase in population from 99,080 to 123,665 in 1971. Between 1971 and 1991, Randwick City experienced a steady decline in population, amounting to a 6.8 per cent decrease in total population.

Since 1991, the population has again increased but still not reaching the 1971 population level of 123,665. The population at the 2001 Census was 121,497.

Last Updated: 25 October 2022
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