The suburb that broke away from the big smoke

When author and cultural commentator Mark Roeder??? moved in to a run-down Federation house on Bondi Junction’s southern border in the mid 1980s, he was immediately struck by how secluded the area felt.
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The centrepiece of the neighbourhood was Queens Park: a handsome collection of trees and playing fields that seemed to exert a calming influence on the surrounding streets.

The much larger Centennial Park formed a border to the west. Throughout the residential enclave, there were uninterrupted rows of Federation houses.

“Even back then, over 20 years ago, it was one of the few remaining pristine residential areas in Sydney,” he says.

Roeder went about renovating the house and soon began a family with his partner.

“But I had a looming fear,” he says. “To the north were the high-rises of Bondi Junction and every year they seemed to be moving inexorably south.

“It dawned on me that it was only a matter of time before the spread of Bondi Junction would completely obliterate this little pocket of residential Sydney.”

Roeder, whose book on momentum The Big Mo has been widely and positively reviewed, began a campaign to separate the neighbourhood from the rest of Bondi Junction. Doing this, he reckoned, would allow the zoning laws in the locality to be changed to protect its tucked-away feel.

An area containing about 1000 homes was carved out of Bondi Junction and its residents were asked to vote on their future. “The response was extraordinary,” Roeder says. Related: Junction home sells $180,000 above reserveRelated: A beginner’s guide to Sydney Related: Leckie’s Centennial Park home scores $10m+

“Over 90 per cent of residents responded, which is fabulous and very unusual. And an overwhelming majority of respondents – 86 per cent, I believe – voted for the name change.”

But not everyone agreed. “I started to get some anonymous nasty letters in the mail,” Roeder says. “These were Keating times – when the republican push was really on. A monarchical name like Queens Park was seen as a retrograde step. It was a bit heated.”

Despite the discontent, Waverley Council went ahead and declared Queens Park an independent suburb in 1992. A few months later, Roeder was surprised to receive an invitation to a Christmas party at a real-estate office in Bondi Junction. Curious, he went along.

“When I got there, an agent explained to me that any house now classified as being in Queens Park had increased in value by $100,000,” Roeder says. The agent, who had properties for sale in the suburb, was celebrating.

“[The name change] does seem to have had a significant effect on the price of housing,” Roeder conceded. “But that was certainly not my motive – my motive was to protect this wonderful area from over-development, and fortunately it seems to have achieved exactly that.” The zoning laws, he notes, have indeed been changed.

These days, Queens Park is one of the most tightly held parts of the Eastern Suburbs. Almost all buyers are owner-occupiers, says Edward Brown of Belle Property Bondi Junction. “These are all people who are looking to move in and enjoy their homes. These are ‘dwellings’ in the true sense of the word.”

Debbie Donnelley of Phillips Pantzer Donnelley says a specific demographic aspires to own in Queens Park. “Single adults who own terraces in Paddington or in Bondi Junction will get married, have a couple of kids and realise they need more room, so they’ll move to Queens Park or Randwick North where there’s larger blocks and more bedrooms,” she says.

“I’ve worked around Queens Park for almost 30 years and it’s been that same profile that entire time.” A nearby Jewish school, Moriah, is also a drawcard, she adds.

Brown says Queens Park commands a premium. “Look at where it’s based: you’re on the doorsteps of two parks, you’re a 10-minute walk from Bondi Junction interchange and Westfield, and another two kilometres up the road you’ve got Bronte, Tamarama and Bondi beaches to choose from.”

“It’s got a great neighbourhood feel. People know their neighbours. Kids play on the street because it’s a safe area,” he adds.

And property is becoming even more tightly held. “There’s not a lot of turnover,” says Donnelley. “Houses are pretty keenly sought-after when they do come up.”

Browns says: “This year I think there’s probably been less than 40 sales, compared with the preceding years when there might have been 60 or 70.”

Brown doubts the old $100,000-rule still applies, particularly on Queens Park’s northern border with Bondi Junction.

“That used to very much be the rule of thumb, but that southerly portion of Bondi Junction, the Mill Hill precinct, is within the catchment for Woollahra Public School, which has pushed up prices there significantly in recent years.”

However, Queens Park might once again pull ahead in price. “Waverley Public School has a new principal,” Brown adds. “The perception of that school, which was not very favourable in the past, is changing dramatically.”

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