On this day 143 years ago (15th June, 1871), Unley seceded (broke away) from Mitcham to become a self determining community. Here are some things I would write on a birthday card:
You don’t look a day over 100! In many ways you are still as motivated, independent and stubborn as you were the day you came into the world. Since your inception it is remarkable to think of how your contribution to the history of South Australia has been as considerable as it has been yet I dare say some of your achievements and status has become a little lost.
In your first thirty years you grew faster than any other city in SA. Your growth was indeed phenomenal. On your 30th birthday the nation celebrated federation and you yourself were on the cusp of hitting the population target of 20,000 and graduating to the status of City. Just a few years latter in 1906 you would achieve recognition as a city.
Adelaide was the first city and you were just pipped by Port Adelaide (many argue you should have been next but their population census was conducted in the same way they play football!). It’s worth noting that your big brother Mitcham didn’t grow up to become a city until in 1920s. Between the 1900 – 1925 you were regarded as the second city in SA and for most of that time you had the population to back it up.
When the First World War broke out you were the only City in SA to raise your own battalion. The 27th Battalion was refered to as “Unley’s Own” because it’s membership was drawn almost exclusively from Unley’s young 21 – 30 year olds and its Commanding Officer, Lt Col Walter Dollman had been your Mayor. They fought very bravely and of the 1,500 men who left Unley to fight over those four years about 300 (almost 20%) never returned. The tears that were shed in the houses down your street were innumerable and the grief that was felt brought many into the depths of despair.
Your football team, the mighty Double Blues are the third most successful SANFL team of all time in the competition. Sturt are doing well this year and they continue to bring pride to the your residents.
In your earliest days when you first came into being you had 6 towns, Unley, Fullarton, Goodwood, Black Forrest, Unley Park and Parkside. In 1890 you had 39 towns and your “towning” peak was 50 in the 1920s! Many of these have been forgotten such as Tallala, Washington Gardens, Paringaville, Purley Estate and Horncastle. These towns all meshed into the one and there are no more towns, just 17 suburbs. We keep the idea of “villages” alive in our culture through our “Mainstreets” and community centers and we recognise those earliest towns through our electoral “ward areas” after which they are named.
There have been a couple of times in your history where you have almost acquired extra land, broken up or amalgamated yourself. There was a lot of talk about you talking over parts of Burnside, Mitcham and West Torrens between the 20’s and 40’s but that never happened. Goodwood almost broke away at one point! They felt heartily unloved at one point. They collected the required 2,000 signatures needed to seceded but at the last minute due to some deft diplomacy some of the names came off and they lost their momentum. There was large scale amalgamations of Councils in the 20s and quite a lot in the 90s. SA had almost 200 councils at one stage but this is down to 68 right now.
The question of your future is a constant football for political commentators, state politicians and indeed ourselves. I myself as your current Mayor often muse about what the correct political system is. I even got front page news for suggesting that Mayors and State MPs should be merged!
You’ve had both many flamboyant and down to earth Mayors, Councillors, and staff (not to mention citizens). Right now you have an Oscar winning Director who rides his bike around living down one of your streets and you also have a migrant who now has SAs biggest pie making company who calls Unley home.
You’ve been the home of much a religious tolerance, site of many schools and hospitals. There are no longer any hospitals (they seem to have ll been taken over by schools) but you have for the first time a University and I recently had talks with another Uni who is looking to partner with a college and move into the area!
From being the second most populous city in SA you are now the 13th. You do not stand alone as you once did but the cities around you have all grown up and reached their borders (yes even your slow older brother Mitcham decided to responsible and grow up).
It is hard for us all to imagine how in your early days you were an agricultural community with vast open land to being a residential and small business community with the smallest amount of open space of any City in the State!
I recently met with a young man who is 100 and he has spent his entire life living within you, indeed at the same address! He’s seen a lot of your change occur and from what I gather has written to Council many many times to make sure it does. He’s representative of many people which is why we are SAs only Council thats recognised by the United Nations World Health Organisation as “Age Friendly”. But that said, people are much more mobile today that they once were. It seems people only live in the one place now (on average) for 6 years!
Your demographics are changing. You are far more multicultural than you once were.
No doubt you know that change is inevitable and you would be aware of multi-story developments. They tried these in the 60s but they didn’t get approval. I think we both know they are likely to be built in the next decade, who knows, it might even bring Unley back up to being the 2nd most populous city in SA once more!
There is so much more I can say, but I will stop it here… So Happy Birthday once again, I hope Sturt beat Norwood in today’s game at Unley Oval 🙂
P.S. Brown Hill Creek is still a problem!