Changes in Surry Hills were both for the better and for the worse. While the perceptions of what the area should be used for varied greatly over time, one constant for the first half of the twentieth century was 'remodelling and improving' the inner-city 'slums', particularly Surry Hills.
During its time, Surry Hills has experienced both tumultuous and genial changes in both the people and the community. The genial being its gentrification while the tumultuous one would be its crime history.
The gentrification of Surry Hills saw a momentous demographic change for the area, bringing with it a variety of tensions. Rents spiralled up forcing many to move out; on the other hand some took advantage of this situation and sold their properties for a reasonable price so that they can move to a less crowded suburb. As the properties were sold, inevitably the newcomers would soon settle in and with them they brought skills that would ultimately benefit the whole of the neighbourhood. The 1970’s can be proof that because they have been vocal about their beliefs as well as gaining support from the militia and further private organizations; they, the residents of Surry Hills – old and new – had done was effectively to rezone the area themselves.
In the last decade or so, Surry Hills underwent a further architectural transformation due to the contemporary buildings being added to Victorian terraces that was once its pride. The traditional rag trade area, which is located at the west of Riley Street, has now become a hub for media, design and professional services. Today, the area has evolved into a colourful and diverse place that is well known for its art galleries, antique dealers, cafes and pubs, fashion and rag trade outlets.
Effectively the community learned to cope with the modern views we are now exposed to in everyday life, a process done with the help of the local government and the sheer determination of the townspeople is something they should be thoroughly commended for.
As it is in every story that has its respectable upcoming it also has its shady past. The crime underworld had become synonymous with Surry Hills during the years 1927-1930. The Razor Gangs led by Kate Leigh dubbed as ‘The Queen of the Underworld” had been the main catalyst in making Surry Hills as a decrepit, slum filled with crime, debauchery and immoral actions. A period of time that we could all do without but have no choice but to accept it instead for what it’s worth. During their reign Surry Hills, as well as its close suburb Darlinghurst, had been bombarded with sly grogs, alcohol, drugs, brothels and Sydney’s illegal sex industry; an occurrence that shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place. The government had persecuted them in a number of ways such as the 1905 NSW Vagrancy Act to prevent brothels from retaining their upstanding power and the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 1927 in NSW to prevent drug dealers from distributing their concoctions to no avail; that is until the Taxation Department decided to collect their dues which led their notorious owners to bankruptcy. Before they went bankrupt some went to jail for…