Aboriginal Art in Woolloomooloo

Woolloomooloo: A day walk through this complex suburb

A Self-Guided Walk in Woolloomooloo

Download the Walking Map

The word Woolloomooloo appears to derive from one of two Aboriginal words, one meaning place of plenty and the other meaning young black kangaroo. No matter the origin, it’s a difficult word to spell and in the past, has just been referred to as the ‘Loo.

Woolloomooloo Street Scenes

My walk starts from Kings Cross Station. Hoardings with historic photographs of local buildings and Woolloomooloo street scenes in the early 1900s screen complex building work in Brougham Street.  These are the streets I’ll be visiting today.

At the top of Hills Stairs, a woman sees me taking photographs and asks if she can go down. When I tell her I won’t photograph her, she says it will be a pleasure, and poses. Then with a “have a nice day” she trots of down the stairs.

McElhone Street in 1900s


Hills Stairs

Posing for the Camera

Aboriginal Artwork

The public housing complex at the foot of the stairs is decorated with a detailed and colourful Aboriginal artwork. The basketball court and thriving community garden are empty on this weekday morning.

Weave Community Centre, in McElhone Street, works with residents to create a strong connected community. While gentrification is happening in Woolloomooloo, the area still has social problems and many residents who live in poverty.

Sandstone Cottage in Dowling Street

Sandstone Cottage

Aboriginal Artwork

Aboriginal Artwork

Rae Place

Pretty metal doorway awnings add interest to Rae Place, a little side street which ends in a high sandstone wall. The street was part of the first restoration work of the Woolloomooloo renewal project in 1977.

It is still relatively early and the doors of the local watering hole, The Old Fitzroy Hotel, are still closed. When I saw an Arthur Miller play here recently (in the theatre attached to the hotel), the place was buzzing. In the harsh light of day, the building looks rather dilapidated. I hear that there is a renovation planned for 2019.

Rae Place

Pretty Doorway Awnings

McElhone Street Window

Interesting Window

Urban Walk

A fluffy little white dog peers out at me from a downstairs window. A group of young people listen attentively to a man in a blue Hope Street Baptist Care shirt.  He takes groups on “Urban Walks” raising awareness about the contrasting living standards and realities of those living in the area.

Old Fitzroy Hotel

Old Fitzroy Hotel

Old Fitzroy Theatre

Old Fitzroy Theatre

Plunkett Street Public School

Metal grids protect the classroom windows of the nearby Plunkett Street Public School. Part of the Woolloomooloo renewal project, the school (together with the Sydney Distance Education High School) is housed in a complex of recycled industrial buildings, terrace houses and new buildings.

The “No alcohol Zone” sign indicates that public drinking may be a problem around here.

Pocket Park in Woolloomooloo

Bright Spot

Plunkett Street School

Plunkett Street School

Harry’s Cafe de Wheels

At the end of Dowling Street, between the Finger Wharf and Garden Island is the well-known Harry’s cafe de Wheels which first opened as a caravan cafe in 1938. While it’s not quite lunch time and I am no real fan of pies, I feel I must at least tick this Sydney “must do” off my list and order a pie with mushy peas without gravy. Perhaps it would have tasted better after a night on the town.

Nevertheless, it is pleasant sitting harbourside watching the goings on at the Finger Wharf. Vans and small trucks unload boxes of supplies for the restaurants and hotel located in the historic heritage building.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels

Harry’s Cafe de Wheels

Finger Wharf Woolloomooloo

Finger Wharf

Woolloomooloo Renewal

Over the road an old red cast iron post box is another example of the Woolloomooloo Renewal project. It has a waratah finial and embossed leaves on top of the box.  Only a few steps away, the Artspace Visual Arts Centre is housed in the historic Gunnery building. Exhibitions rotate throughout the year.



Heritage Red Post Box

Red Post Box

Finger Wharf

Built by the Sydney Harbour Trust between 1911 and 1915, the Finger Wharf fell into disrepair and by the 1980s was scheduled to be demolished. The demolition was stopped by a Green Ban in 1991. Today, the Finger Wharf is home to the Ovolo Hotel, restaurants and upmarket apartments.

After checking with the funkily dressed concierge, I walk confidently up the gold edged wooden stairs. If I hadn’t been here before, I think I would feel quite intimidated by the luxury that surrounds me. But I know that as a public wharf, the historic building is “open for inspection” with the wharf’s history etched into glass information panels along the length of the building.

Historic Finger Wharf

Inside Historic Finger Wharf

Finger Wharf Green Ban

Protesting Demolition

Sculptures from ARTpark add to the interesting décor. Old wooden framed conveyor belts, big steel wheels and metal walkways above my head have been retained in this heritage building. A man speaking Italian uses his swipe card to enter the Otto Restaurant kitchen. Perhaps he is one of the chefs.

Victorian Terraces

Walking along Forbes Street, through grassed parkland, I pass the four terraces that make up Bottomley’s Terrace which was built in 1886. Wandering around Woolloomooloo, there are many Victorian terraces interspersed with public housing and new residential developments.

The various styles of architecture are fascinating and I spend time admiring the different styles of balconies and terraces.

Best Street Woolloomooloo

Wooden Balcony

Victorian Terraces Woolloomooloo

More interesting architecture

Hope Street Cafe

Outside the Hope Street Café, a man invites me to go in and get myself a cool drink. The Café is run by Baptist Community Care and while I hadn’t planned on stopping, I feel I can hardly say no.

Adrian tells me that he grew up in the area, and is waiting for a home to come up so that he can return. He’s been on the waiting list since 2004. The man behind the counter is also a local. He explains that this end is the public housing end of Woolloomooloo, while “all the millionaires live near the naval base and at the Finger Wharf”.

Victorian Terrace Woolloomooloo

Shadow Reflections

Victorian Terraces Woolloomooloo

Different Terraces

Sleeping Rough

Outside, in a little paved area, a group of women, their possessions scattered around them, chat and look me up and down. They will most likely be sleeping rough tonight.

A man is passed out on his stomach outside the offices of St Vincent de Paul. Office workers step into the street to bypass him. I stop to make sure that he is breathing, not quite sure what I will do if he isn’t.

Wulla Mulla Reserve

Street Art Wulla Mulla Reserve

Railway overpass

Under the Railway Overpass

Walla Mulla Reserve, like other areas around this suburb, is another “No alcohol zone”. Not everyone takes any notice. Two men sit on the concrete wall, one with a bottle in a brown paper bag. We greet each other. His mate takes two bottles of spirits out of his bag, shows his friend and returns them to the bag.

Of the 16 Woolloomooloo murals painted on the pylons of the Eastern Suburbs Railway viaducts only about half remain. Looking closely, I see that the murals raise political and social issues including the Green Bans and redevelopment threats to the area in the 1970s. It is here that Midnight Oil recorded their Power and Passion video.

Matthew Talbot Hostel is nearby and I pass a sausage sizzle where locals are tucking in. The young people behind the BBQ are those who were doing an urban walk of the area earlier.

Victorian Terraces



For Fun

Another person sleeps on a pile of blankets under the overpass. The sounds of people yelling at each other reaches me from a house opposite. At the end of Bourke Street, I realise that there are three pubs all in very close vicinity here. The Tilbury, The Woolloomooloo and the Bells Hotel. There is no shortage of alcohol in this suburb.

On the Finger Wharf, the restaurants are buzzing. Many tables are occupied by groups of workers having their office Christmas parties. There is a celebratory feel to the air.

Large, luxury yachts are moored on my left as I walk to the end of the wharf. The dark shining finish of “Oscar” really takes my fancy. At the end of the wharf, a man and a woman, sitting separately eat their packed lunches. What a contrast to the expensive meals being consumed nearby.

Finger Wharf Marina


Finger Wharf Woolloomooloo

Outside the Finger Wharf

From here, the city skyline makes an impressive backdrop to the flashy yachts in the foreground. Close by, a set of stairs and an overpass across the M1 makes it easy to return to the city via the Domain car park express walkway. One side of the walkway is closed, but the air is cool and it is a relief to be out of the hot sun.

Domain Car Park

Stairs to Overpass

From here, the city skyline makes an impressive backdrop to the flashy yachts in the foreground. Close by, a set of stairs and an overpass across the M1 makes it easy to return to the city via the Domain car park express walkway. One side of the walkway is closed, but the air is cool and it is a relief to be out of the hot sun.

Woolloomooloo Signs near Cathedral and Crown Streets

Visual aid to pronunciation

Sydney Outback near Cathedral and Crown Streets

Outback in Sydney

Having written the word Woolloomooloo so many times now, I don’t think I’ll ever get it wrong again:

“double U, double O, double L, M, double O, L, double O”.

I also won’t easily forget the varied architecture and housing in the area and the contrasting fortunes of the residents of this interesting suburb.

If you would like to explore this area differently have a look at a post by Sydney blogger, Sydney Expert who discovers the area by taking the 311 bus.

While you’re here, discover the nearby suburbs of Newtown and Redfern with me.
Next stop: Dangar Island

Useful information:

The inner city suburb of Woolloomooloo is 1.5km east of the Sydney CBD

Plan your trip at transportnsw.info

Walking Map

And a map to assist you: You can download it here. (NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):

Woolloomooloo walk map



  1. Hello Joanne from Corrimal
    Thank you for your updates. You make the dullest walks sound so interesting. I am taking a few of your walks to our walking group (Bulli Walkie Talkies) planning day, so will keep in touch and let you know our choices.

    1. Author

      Thanks Maura – I love the name of your walking group and look forward to hearing which walks you decide to do and how you enjoy them. I’m happy to answer any questions before you set out….happy walking in 2018.

    2. My great grandfather owned 177 Bourke Street house, opposite Corfu Street, in the early 1900s. His house was possibly built 1820s. My grandfather and father lived there as well

      1. Author

        Thanks for sharing that information, Helen. I walked right past the house – I’m sure the area was very different and changed much over the years your great grandfather, grandfather and father lived there.

    1. Author

      Hi Melissa. Yes it’s still there. I missed the word ‘Bay’ when I saw (And mentioned) the Woolloomooloo Hotel. You’d probably find a few changes if you returned. Joanne

  2. Hi Joanne…

    Did you take any photos of Bottomley Terrace.? My GGGrandfather owned these houses, as well as Bottomleys Hotel and properties in Forbes St where Plunkett St school was relocated to! My mother grew up in Forbes St! I haven’t been able to get back to “the Loo” to take photos or gather any history into the properties unfortunately.

    Helene Spencer

    1. Author

      Hello Helene – How interesting to hear your connection to Woolloomooloo. I did take a photo of Bottomley Terrace, but as it wasn’t any good, didn’t keep it. If I get there in the next little while, I’ll try take another and email to you. It is lovely to hear about connections that people have to the places I explore.

  3. I hope that the Woolloomooloo renewal project keeps the rich character you captured in your photos and description.
    Happy walking and discovering in 2018, I look forward to more of your posts.

    1. Author

      Thanks Bernadette I really appreciate your comments. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get out there but once I’m there I always get inspired. So many more suburbs to discover. Joanne

    1. Author

      Thank you, Albert. I’ve been back and was pleased tofind the signs you mentioned in your blog. Thanksfor the heads up.

  4. Hi Joanne
    You might want to have another look at how you spelt Woolloomooloo
    As you stated you have written it so many times and you will never forget the way it is spelt!
    Never say never

    1. Author

      Ooops. Thank you. I hunted through the Woolloomooloo post to find the incorrect spelling – all good there, but as you correctly pointed out, I found the error in one of my links to the post. Better check if I’ve done it anywhere else……

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