Parramatta is home to some beautiful historical buildings and if walls could talk they would all have fascinating stories to tell. As the oldest inland European settlement in Australia, built on the land of the Dharug people, Parramatta's heritage buildings are an important part of Australian history.
Exploring these historic buildings is a great way to learn about how the city we know today was forged and discover the stories of the people who lived and worked in them.
You can book yourself on a guided tour of some of these buildings, admire them from the outside or read more about their incredible histories online. Many of these buildings are within walking and cycling distance of one another, which makes a great historical day out for history enthusiasts and families alike.
Ensure you check the most up-to-date information on their websites, or give them a call before visiting, as COVID restrictions may be in place.
We couldn't fit them all in this one article but here are some of the historical highlights in Parramatta:
Built in 1793 for John and Elizabeth Macarthur, a young military couple, Elizabeth Farm is one of the oldest homesteads in Australia. Built on Dharug land, this bungalow witnessed some turbulent times through Australia’s colonial history including the toppling of governors and a convict rebellion.
John Macarthur was one of the first pioneers in the wool industry in Australia and his wife, Elizabeth, was herself a formidable figure. The family themselves went through their fair share of turmoil including John’s long struggle with mental illness.
Today you can explore this ‘living’ house museum without any barriers or locked doors and learn more about John Macarthur, an influential and controversial figure in Australia’s colonial history.
Just five minutes’ walk away from Elizabeth Farm, you’ll find the Georgian style bungalow, Hambledon Cottage. Formerly part of the Macarthur Estate, it was built to accommodate the Macarthur family’s growing household and many guests. Hambledon Cottage is known to have hosted some eminent figures of early colony public life. It also served as the home for the family governess, Penelope Lucas.
The story of Penelope Lucas, a governess starting a new life in a harsh colonial environment, is well worth delving into. Hambledon Cottage Museum re-opened on the 17 October 2020 so you can join a guided tour on Saturdays and Sundays. Don't forget to book ahead.
Residents of Parramatta might often walk, cycle, or drive down the road named James Ruse Drive but may not know much about its namesake.
The land that Experiment Farm was built on was originally granted to former convict turned farmer James Ruse in 1789 as an experiment to see whether a new settler could farm the land and provide for his family. James Ruse succeeded in this endeavour and sold the land to Surgeon John Harris (namesake of the Harris Park neighbourhood) who then built the cottage in 1835.
Decked out in beautiful period pieces, this Indian-style bungalow is a must-visit for those with an interest in colonial history. The gardens are also a fantastic sensory experience and you have the chance to try on period costume and play colonial-era games. You can also hire the veranda and gardens at Experiment Farm as a beautiful venue for weddings or other events.
If all that history has worked up an appetite, within walking distance of Elizabeth Farm, Experiment Farm and Hambledon Cottage, is Harris Park, a hub of fantastic restaurants and cafes. For a pick-me-up, try the masala chai tea at Chakazz. Discover places to eat and drink in Harris Park.
Parramatta is home to many historic churches and none more iconic than the heritage-listed St John’s Anglican Cathedral. Close to Parramatta station, it’s been in continuous use as a house of worship since 1803 and was the only church in the colony until 1809. Visit St. John’s cemetery to see the final resting place of many of Parramatta’s former residents, located through a lych-gate in O’Connell Street in Parramatta (opposite Aird Street).
- Address: 195 Church St, Parramatta NSW 2150
- Read more about the history of St John's Cathedral.
- If you need some food to fuel up for the history, check out Xcel Roll for delicious Vietnamese rolls, Milky Lane for burgers or Bourke Street Bakery for coffee and sandwiches.
Parramatta's Heritage and Visitor Information Centre offers a range of tours with knowledgeable guides who share fascinating historical insights. Check out the Heritage Architecture tour which looks at the architectural treasures and shares stories of the city's architects through time.
One of six gatehouses in Parramatta Park, the George Street Gatehouse is the perfect way to enter one of Australia’s most significant historical areas. With more than 100 archaeological Aboriginal sites and 11 UNESCO World Heritage listed Australian convict sites, Parramatta Park is one of the key historical hubs of Parramatta.
A short walk from Macquarie Street Gatehouse was Old Government House, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed building on the traditional lands of the Burramatta Dharug people. Built by convicts, it was the country residence of the first ten Governors of Australia including Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife Elizabeth. You can experience the history of the oldest surviving public building in Australia by visiting the various exhibitions at the museum or enjoying a delicious meal on site at Lachlan’s restaurant.
Not far from Old Government House in Parramatta Park you can discover the more modest in appearance, but no less fascinating, Dairy Cottage Precinct. One of the first government farms, it first belonged to George Salter, an ex-convict turned cattleman in 1796 before getting converted to a dairy. Book yourself on an exclusive guided tour to learn all about the history of Parramatta Park from a colonial and indigenous Australian perspective.
- Address: Parramatta Park, Corner Of Macquarie Street &, Pitt St, Parramatta NSW 2150
- Read more about the history of the Dairy Cottage Precinct or book a guided tour to discover the site for yourself.
- Join the World Heritage Wonders tour to explore Parramatta's World Heritage sites and the fascinating mosaic of stories, architecture, and monuments in Parramatta Park.
Built in 1821, the Brislington Medical and Nursing Museum initially housed ex-convict John Hodges who paid for its construction with money he won in a card game. The winning eight of diamonds card has been incorporated into the building’s design with its diamond pattern in the rear wall. Today, this Georgian-style building is a museum where you can learn about the history of medical science and hospital care in Parramatta.
The oldest and most intact gaol in Australia, the historic Parramatta Gaol can be viewed from the outside or you can experience a spooky night out on a ghost hunting tour of the prison interiors at nightfall. The ghostly atmosphere of the prison will send chills down your spine and the tours are a fantastic way of learning about the terrible history of this desolate place.
Take a walk around the grounds of the Parramatta Female Factory and Institutions National Heritage Precinct to soak up the history of the historic buildings, including the Parramatta Female Factory and the Roman Catholic Orphan School.
The Parramatta Female Factory was initially built to house many of the Australia's female convicts as they began their new lives in the penal colony. Many of the women resisted the harsh conditions and draconian rule of the matrons, organising several rebellions during the building's operation.
Both a workhouse and a hospital, a marriage bureau and a penitentiary, this multi-purpose site also provided a place to care for children, those with mental health conditions, as well as the elderly and sick women. Its purpose evolved over time and it was also known by the name of the Parramatta Invalid and Lunatic Asylum.
In the same precinct, the Roman Catholic Orphan School (later the Parramatta Girls Home & Industrial School) is another historical gem that'll peak your interest.
Walk or cycle along the Parramatta River Valley cycleway and you will pass the impressive facade of the Whitlam Institute. Built atop a hill overlooking the Parramatta River, the Whitlam Institute is a hub of history, research, social and cultural events that help to commemorate the life's work of one of Australia's most influential prime ministers, Gough Whitlam.
On the leafy grounds of Western Sydney University, the heritage-listed Whitlam Institute building has had multiple purposes throughout history and is the oldest three-storey building in Australia.
Originally the Female Orphan School, it was built in 1813 to provide care for young orphaned girls before becoming the Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital between 1888-1980s. Restoration work began in the year 2000 to provide a home for the Whitlam Institute.
Plan a day out at Newington Armory, a hub of art, culture, and history. Built on the traditional lands of the Wann clan, known as the Wann-gal, Newington Armory was used for military purposes since the late 1800s.
Take a ride on the historic railway that was once used to move missiles and torpedoes, check out the Armory Gallery art exhibitions, ride a Segway or bike, visit BirdLife Discovery Centre or play Disc Golf. Nearby at Blaxland Riverside Park, the double flying fox, tunnel slides and water feature are great for kids. Refuel with the fresh seasonal food and riverside views at the Armory Wharf Cafe.
Newington Armory is definitely one for the whole family. There's something for everyone to enjoy at this dynamic historic venue.