At the dawn of the twentieth century Sydney’s first apartment buildings were built, introducing a new housing alternative for the wealthy middle-class residents in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney. Apartment living quickly became a sought-after accommodation choice and was soon labelled as the cutting edge of Australian Modernism. The first round of apartment developments in Sydney lasted for approximately three decades before stalling with the beginning of the Great Depression. At the same time, Sydney was characterised as having low-density residential suburbs, high levels of home ownership and high general standards of well-being. Suburbia had a romantic notion, and the inner-city was losing favour with the growing numbers of homeowners, who saw higher density living as fostering slums, crime and immorality. The apartments modernism could not compete with the new shining suburbs or with the Government reforms and their push for suburbia while moving away from apartment living. The suburbs became the ideological heartland of Australian neoliberalism and high-density inner-city areas even those in the most desirable locations and inhabited by the wealthy middle class, became condemned as “slums of the future” and “un-Australian”.
This paper examines the discourses surrounding the ideal Australian home at such a key time in Sydney’s early development. It explores the social, political and economic factors that favoured urban sprawl over high density. The paper concludes by arguing that the social memories developed during this period are still fanning the fires of disaffection and resistance to high- density development in Sydney.