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History: the Establishment of Como


Como, where Woronora River meets Georges River, is renowned for the historic, National Trust-registered Como Hotel. This majestic building, with its distinctive three-tiered white lacework balconies, pre-dates the suburb, but contributed to the area becoming a major tourist attraction after the Illawarra Railway was built (1885).

Como Hotel

The historic Como Hotel, facing Scylla Bay. Photo: Alec Smart


From the hotel’s initial construction in 1878, when it transitioned from the site of a German migrant hostel to railway workers’ accommodation, the building evolved over time and a few rebuilds into a popular holiday destination and wedding venue. Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, the grand resort complemented the nearby Pleasure Grounds and Scylla Bay, popular with boaters and picnickers.


Sutherland Shire Council have established a Heritage and Environment Trail circuit walk through this district, which visits key sites associated with the region’s development as a leisure resort as well as natural charms. The route includes 24 sites of interest ranging from wildlife observation points to historic properties.

Como Hotel c1890-1900. Photo: William Easdown

Prior to European settlement, the Woronora district was populated by the Gweagal Aboriginals, who fished from nuwi (bark canoes) and gathered seafood like bithinga (oysters) and yaxa (crabs) along the shorelines.

The region was known to them as Illawong, a Dharawal word meaning between two waters, referring to the Georges and Woronora Rivers. Hence why the neighbouring suburbs are named Illawong and Oyster Bay.


The Dharawal-speaking Gweagal clans inhabited the southern shores of Kamay (Botany Bay) and inland along the southern banks of the Tucoerah (Georges River). To the north, the Dharug-speaking Kamaygal also utilised this tidal estuary, and the neighbouring clans would have traded, intermarried and shared resources.

Como, c1894, with Como Hotel to the left, the rail bridge in the distance and Scylla Bay (centre)


Thomas Holt finds Como

Between 1861-62, British importer, property tycoon, gold trader, Newtown politician, Colonial Treasurer and the founder of superannuation, Thomas Holt, purchased 4640 acres of dispersed allotments in Sutherland Parish and Holsworthy followed by another 5500 acres in Sutherland.


Much of it was purchased from bankrupt John Laycock, who inherited his father’s original land grant. These allotments Holt cleared of ‘useless’ timber and poisoned the dingoes with strychnine, before subdividing the land into farming estates. On these he grazed alpacas, sheep and cattle, and also implemented oyster farming in the bays.


By the end of 1862 Holt’s Sutherland Estate comprised 12,000 acres from Cronulla west to the Georges and Woronora Rivers and south to Hacking Rivers.

However, it was a loss-making venture: oysters fouled, sheep contracted footrot, cattle strayed, and the surviving dingoes repeatedly preyed on his stock. The principle gain was from all the timber he felled.


In 1878, Holt offered his Sutherland tenants 21 year leases with the right to purchase the allotments they were farming, and the rest of his estate was sold apart from 700 acres on which he built a mansion, Sutherland House.

In 1880 he relocated to Sutherland House, the property he constructed on the shores of Sylvania, but the following year he emigrated back to England never to return. (Sutherland House was destroyed by arsonists in 1918 and eventually demolished.)


Como Rail Bridge c1905, Como township in the distance. Photo: State Library NSW

The Como Rail Bridge

From 1883-85, the Como Rail Bridge, a single track steel lattice girder bridge (the longest in NSW) was constructed and linked to the expanding Illawarra railway from Sydney to Wollongong and Bomaderry. The bridge opened on Boxing Day, 1885.

During this period, scores of railway workers moved into the area, many of whom stayed at the newly-opened Woronora Hotel, which eventually fell into disrepair, to be succeeded by the Como Hotel nearby on Cremona St.


Como was the first settled township and railway station in Sutherland Shire, thanks to the public transport (trains) and its attractive environs. To cater to the growing population, in May 1883, the NSW Government proposed the construction of Woronora Public School on the hillside south of Scylla Bay, which accepted its first students in April 1884.


Also In May 1883, the Woronora Post Office opened adjacent to the Woronora Hotel. In July 1883 the postal district was renamed ‘Como’ following a proposal by James Murphy, the manager of the Holt-Sutherland Estate Land Company (Thomas Holt died in 1888).

He chose this because the topography of the region reminded him of Como, a lake district in north-western Italy near the Swiss Alps.

Como Railway Bridge and JH Wills Boatshed at the interface of Woronora and Georges Rivers, 1880s


Throughout the 1880s, boat hire businesses established themselves on the Georges and Woronora River foreshores along with picnic grounds, attracting day-trippers from Sydney and new settlements around Cronulla.

To capitalise on the influx of tourists, the Murphy brothers, James, John and Michael, opened Murphy's Pleasure Grounds on the promontory north of Scylla Bay (east of Como Rail Bridge) where they owned a boat house. Controversially, they fenced off the land, which included a raised dome lookout (nicknamed Como Mountain, upon which they constructed a rotunda), and charged visitors an entrance fee.

Eventually the promontory was reclaimed for public use but it is still known as the Como Pleasure Grounds.


In 1914, Como was sub-divided into housing allotments along newly-built urban streets and the suburb was quickly populated. During the 1930s, the silted-up tidal sandflat of Scylla Bay was in-filled and converted to sports fields.

Como subdivision land sales, January 1914





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