Local Landmarks

Maroubra: A Potted History

By April 5, 2023 No Comments

From the desolate site of a toxic trade to a sought-after urban surfing village, we look back at Maroubra’s colourful past.

Maroubra’s rich Aboriginal heritage

Maroubra is thought to have been named for ‘marubrah’, an Aboriginal word meaning thunder or lightning, because of the sound the surf makes as it pounds the rocky beach. The area was a popular camping and fishing spot for the Muru-ora-dial Aboriginal people. Their long history at Maroubra is evidenced by rock carvings on the northern headland and a stone workshop uncovered at the beach’s southern end in the early 1900s.

Shipwrecks ahoy

Maroubra was once notorious as a shipwreck site. A fierce storm in May 1898 saw the clipper the Hereward run aground at the northern end of the beach. The wreck remained on the beach for months, attracting curious sightseers on bicycles and horseback. Other significant Maroubra shipwrecks include the Tekapo in 1899 and the Bellbowrie in 1939.

The dawn of Maroubra’s residential real estate

The first non-Aboriginal person to build a house in Maroubra was Humphrey McKeon, who erected a home here in 1861. Because it was isolated, McKeon thought the area would be a good spot for the smelly business of wool washing. In the 1870s, more settlers moved to the northern end of the bay, drawn by the promise of work scouring wool.

But Maroubra’s residential development didn’t begin in earnest until the twentieth century. On Australia Day in 1911, the ‘Surf Bathers Estate Maroubra’ auction took place. The subdivision consisted of 60 beachside blocks of land along the Corso, Torrington Road, Sackville Street, Duncan Road (now Duncan Street) and Hector Parade (now Marine Parade). Would-be buyers were enticed to attend the sale by a brass band and a free picnic, and the promotional poster promised that ‘Maroubra hath its charms’. The idea of living by the beach was growing in popularity, and land values were rising accordingly. In September 1911, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Maroubra land prices had increased twenty-fold in the previous five years, from 5 shillings per foot to £5 and £6 per foot. That’s a rise from $42 per foot to $843 and $1,012 per foot in today’s money.

Maroubra’s development was driven in large part by real estate developer Herbert Dudley, whose slogan was ‘Watch Maroubra Grow!’. He built Dudley’s Emporium on the corner of Anzac Parade and Maroubra Road at Maroubra Junction in 1912, which included a grocery store, a hardware store, a drapery, a chemist, a butchery and a cinema. Dudley built the original Maroubra Junction Public School the following year.

The subdivision and sale of crown land in Maroubra and Maroubra Junction, much of it facilitated by Dudley, continued until 1941. One auction in January 1918 was promoted by a particularly Olympia Speedway opened in 1925, followed by the Maroubra Bay Hotel in 1926 (today’s Bay Hotel and Diner) and the Maroubra Junction Hotel in 1927. The Speedway was Australia’s first major motor racing venue and regularly attracted crowds of up to 70,000 spectators. Sadly, the dangerousness of the sport and the track saw several drivers and spectators killed, and the track closed in 1934. The site eventually became Coral Sea Park, which was completed in 1961.

Water sports at the Bar

Its coastal location means that Maroubra has been indelibly shaped by its beach. Daylight beach swimming was legalised in Sydney in 1902, and by 1906 there were already two lifesaving groups at Maroubra Beach. The North Maroubra Life Line Club went on to become the present-day Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club. The Maroubra Surf Club counted the first-ever Bronze Medallion holder, Sid Fullwood, among its earliest members. The club was also one of the founding members of the Surf Life Saving Association, with Maroubra President Fred Thorpe serving as the Association’s first President. Surf carnivals are also thought to have originated at Maroubra, beginning with the first ‘drag’ picnic in 1907. The present-day Maroubra SLSC clubhouse was built in 1932.

In 2006, Maroubra Beach was declared a national surfing reserve and the Surfing Walk of Fame was established on Marine Parade, honouring Australia’s leading surfers and surf lifesavers.

Maroubra was also home to Des Renford MBE, a renowned marathon swimmer who set an Australian record when he swam the English Channel 19 times from 19 attempts. Today the Des Renford Leisure Centre, which underwent renovation in 2013, is named in his honour.

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