Cabramatta, New South Wales

Cabramatta, New South Wales

Infobox Australian Place | type = suburb
name = Cabramatta
city = Sydney
state = nsw

caption = Friendship Arch, Freedom Plaza
lga = City of Fairfield
postcode = 2166
est =
pop = 19,812 (2006)
area =
propval =
stategov = Cabramatta
fedgov = Blaxland
near-nw = Canley Heights
near-n = Canley Vale
near-ne = Carramar
near-w = Cabramatta West
near-e = Lansvale
near-sw = Liverpool
near-s = Warwick Farm
near-se = Chipping Norton
dist1 = 30
dir1 = south-west
location1= Sydney CBD

Cabramatta is a suburb in south-western Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Cabramatta is located 30 kilometres south-west of the Sydney central business district, in the local government area of the City of Fairfield. Cabramatta is colloquially known as 'Cabra'.


Aboriginal Culture

Cabramatta is derived from two Aboriginal words, 'Cabra' which was "a fresh tasty water grub", and 'Matta', "meaning a point or jutting out piece of land". [ [ Fairfield City Council] ] Aboriginal people from the Cabrogal tribe, a sub-group of the Gandangara tribe, have lived in this area for more than 30,000 years.

European Settlement

In 1795, an early settler named Hatfield called the area ‘Moonshine Run’ because it was so heavily timbered that moonshine could not penetrate. The name Cabramatta, first came into use in the area in the early 19th Century, when the Bull family named a property that they had purchased Cabramatta Park. When a small village formed nearby in 1814, it took its name from that property. A township grew from this village, and a railway was built through Cabramatta in the 1850s. It was used for loading and unloading freight and livestock. However, Cabramatta did not get a railway station until 1870. The railway station wasn't open for public transport until 1872, a school was then established in 1882 and post office in 1886. Cabramatta remained a predominantly agricultural township. ["The Book of Sydney Suburbs", Compiled by Frances Pollen, Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1990, Published in Australia ISBN 0-207-14495-8, page 43]

It developed a close community relationship with neighbouring Canley Vale, and until 1899, they shared a common municipality. In 1948, Cabramatta's local government merged with that of the neighbouring Fairfield, and today remains governed by the Fairfield City Council.

It evolved into a Sydney suburb in the mid 20th century, partly as the result of a major state housing project in the nearby Liverpool area in the 1960s that in turn swallowed Cabramatta. The presence of a migrant hostel alongside Cabramatta High School was decisive in shaping the community in the post-war period. In the first phase, large numbers of post-war immigrants from Europe passed through the hostel and settled in the surrounding area during the 1950s and 1960s. They satisfied labour demand for surrounding manufacturing and construction activities, and eventually gave birth to a rapidly growing population in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The entrepreneurs amongst them were hard at work building all manner and scale of enterprises.

In the 1980s, Cabramatta and the surrounding Fairfield area was characterised by a diversity of Australian-born children having migrant parents. Cabramatta High School was statistically the most diverse and multicultural school in Sydney, and a study showed that only 10% of children had both parents born in Australia. While many other parts of Sydney had their particular ethnic flavour, Cabramatta was something of a melting pot, yet to find a clear identity.

Across the 1980s, many of these migrant parents and their children - now young adults - were to settle and populate new housing developments in surrounding areas such as Smithfield and Bonnyrigg that were, until that time, market gardens or semi-rural areas owned by the previous generation.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the migrant hostel - along with its peer in Villawood - hosted a second wave of migration: this time from south-east Asia as a result of the Vietnam War. During the 1980s, Cabramatta was transformed into a thriving Asian community, displacing many of the previous migrant generation. The students of Cabramatta High School represented all manner of people with Asian or European descent. The bustling city centre of Cabramatta could have been confused with the streets of Saigon and historic "Chinatown", while the Sydney CBD appeared very Western in comparison.

By the early 1980s migration to Cabramatta declined, and as a result the migrant hostel and its many hundreds of small empty apartments lay prey to vandalism and the antics of teenagers. Only the language school remained: it continued to teach English as a Second Language into the early 1990s, until the entire hostel site was demolished and redeveloped into residential housing. A walk through the hostel before its demolition would have revealed closed and boarded-up corrugated iron buildings once home to kitchens, washing facilities, administration and so forth - buildings with a lifetime of history to tell.

By the 1990s, Cabramatta seemed to have developed its own identity. Liverpool grew into a bustling commercial and consumer centre of the region, taking much of the shine away from Fairfield which to date has never seemed to have recovered its former glory. In between these two, Cabramatta became uniquely, and infamously, known by its specialist niche reputation in the city as 'the' place for an authentic Asian experience.

Commercial Area

The population demographics are reflected in the many Vietnamese-owned and Chinese-owned businesses in the area. There are also increasing numbers of Thai, Lao, Macedonian, Italian and Cambodian businesses also present. Cabramatta is an Asian food capital of Greater Sydney. It features one of Australia's largest multicultural restaurant and shopping precincts. There are a large number of restaurants with Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese cuisines.


Cabramatta railway station is a junction station on the CityRail network, where the South line and Inner West line merge.



Cabramatta has been a remarkable melting pot for all manner of Asian and European peoples in the latter half of the 20th century. Since the 1980s, Cabramatta has been a centre for the Vietnamese community, but there are also many residents other Asian and European origins. According to the 2006 census, Cabramatta had a population of 19,812. There were more residents born in Vietnam (31%) than in Australia (28%) and the number of people speaking Vietnamese at home (34%) was three times higher than the number speaking English only (11%). Other languages commonly spoken in the area included Cantonese (15%), Khmer (7.5%), Mandarin (4.9%) and Serbian (3.8%).Census 2006 AUS|id= SSC11157 |name= Cabramatta (State Suburb)|accessdate=2008-09-02 |quick=on]

Australians old and new (Economist print edition, May 5th 2005) relates: "A quarter of Australia's population was born abroad, and another quarter is made up of first-generation natives. At a time of globalisation, this is a tremendous strength, and with unemployment at its lowest level for almost 30 years further immigration is unlikely to provoke much discontent. Parts of Sydney are already starting to feel noticeably Asian. The suburb of Cabramatta, in the south-west, has a large Vietnamese population: walk around its main market area, and you will hardly see an English sign. But it is not a ghetto: most people who live there work elsewhere, and as people get richer, they swiftly move to more affluent areas."

Notable Residents

*Khoa Do (born 1979), filmmaker and 2005 Young Australian of the Year
*Michael Dwyer (c1772-1825), Irish rebel and convict who later settled in Cabramatta.
*Jarryd Hayne (born 1988), winger for the Parramatta Eels rugby league team.
*Gertrude Melville (1884-1959), first woman elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council.
*John Newman (1946-1994), local politician shot dead outside his home.
*Jon English (Australian Musician & Theatrical actor)

Local Issues


The suburb has a longstanding image problem, primarily due to its reputation as a point for drug-dealing, especially heroin, particularly around its railway station. However, Cabramatta has been recorded as one of the most 'over-reported' areas. These drug activities began in the 1990s. Many drug addicts were drawn to this area and a train stopping at Cabramatta Station was known as the "smack express" to these addicts. Many of them indulged in their habit in the immediate Cabramatta area, with some dying from overdoses in places such as public toilets. Fact|date=February 2007

The heroin problem, and attempts to contain it, have been the source of much controversy and failed actions involving politicians, senior police, human rights organisations and the media. As of 2002, the problem has been reported as having receded. A related problem has been the presence of youth gangs in the Cabramatta area.

Cabramatta is also remembered for the political murder of a NSW State MP, John Newman, outside his Cabramatta home in September, 1994. This was Australia's first ever political assassination and thus this assassination drew much attention and alarm. A local nightclub owner and political rival, Phuong Ngo, was convicted of the murder in 2001 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Two of Ngo's associates were found not guilty of the murder. In 2003, Ngo failed in an appeal against his sentence.


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