The Historical Background

When the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788 its cargo included brick moulds and 5000 bricks. One skilled brickmaker was included amongst the convicts. By March of the same year the first bricks had been made in the colony (1). The quality of the earliest bricks was poor, badly fired and porous.

By 1837 a number of small brickyards had been established in Sydney but Brickfield Hill remained the focus of the industry until 1841 (2). In that year the yard was closed and the brickmakers moved to sites in adjacent suburbs such as Glebe, Newtown, Redfern and Camperdown.

During the economic slump of the 1840s the brickmaking industry suffered a setback as speculative building projects were abandoned. However, with the injection of wealth provided by the goldrushes of the 1850s, new life was breathed into the industry in the areas surrounding the fields. Away from the gold centres, though, brickmakers suffered a set back at this time as large percentages of the local populations went to the fields. In Sydney in 1839 there were twenty-six brickmakers, in 1855 there were five (3).

With a return to more normal economic conditions and boosted by the vast urban migration the industry recovered quickly after the gold rushes. By 1864 the number of brickyards had risen to twenty-two and by 1877 there were fifty-six (4). Some brickyards grew up around the new railway suburbs as the line extended west during the later nineteenth century.

The 1870s and 1880s were years of transition and expansion for the brickmaking industry. From the 1870s steam driven moulding machinery was introduced to many yards. This increased the production capacity enormously although for many years hand moulders and mechanised yards operated at the same time.

The main yards during these years were at Marrickville, Newtown, St Peters and Alexandria. Homebush and Ashfield, Parramatta and Prospect all had significant numbers of yards during this period as did Gore Hill and North Willoughby (5).

The depression of the 1890s was shattering for the industry. Country districts were particularly hard hit as were the small family businesses. Many yards were forced to close. In 1890 Sydney had 113 yards, by 1896 it had forty-two and in 1900 the number was thirty-two (6).

With the turn of the century the economy gradually improved and the demand for building materials picked up. The large brick combines that had evolved during the later nineteenth century had, by this time, a virtual monopoly on the industry. In 1912, to redress this situation, the State established its own brickworks at Homebush. However, a large number of private brickyards continued to operate after this time and specialisation has been a keynote of the production during this century.


  1. Gemmell, W. And So We Graft From Six to Six., 1
  2. Ibid., 4
  3. Ibid., 5
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 11
  6. Ibid., 14