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What's life like in Toronto, Australia?

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 5, 2014

toronto australiaIt's sunny and warm in Toronto right now. The gentle sapphire lake is sparkling in the sun and the eucalyptus trees on Bay Street are making a whispering sound in the soft onshore breeze. No, it's not a dream (though it kind of is,) it's Toronto, New South Wales, a tiny suburban town tucked on the western shore of Australia's massive Lake Macquarie.

"We've got beaches on the Pacific Ocean, we've got the lake, we've got mountains, lots of bush walking, recreational facilities, and cycleways," says Mayor Jodie Harrison over the phone from her office at the city council building. "It's very similar to Toronto, Canada, having been there - not quite as large but it's got the water."

That water, the winding Lake Macquarie, is the largest saltwater lake in the southern hemisphere, larger even than Port Jackson in Sydney 150 kms south down the coast. A narrow inlet allows warm Pacific water to enter the lake on its eastern side and provides a convenient passage for vessels attending Toronto's main tourist attraction, Classic Boat Fest.

Every Easter, in the afterglow of a long summer, owners of steam, sail, motor and oared craft visit the little lakefront community to show off their lovingly maintained historic vessels. There's kayak races, period costume shows, and Devonshire Tea at the historic local railway station.

Out of season, Toronto is a typical small community in a picturesque location. "The town centre itself is getting a bit of a restaurant-cafe feel about it but there some industrial parts of Toronto on the edges," Harrison says. Most people work in residential care, hospitality, or medicine at the town's private hospital. The city's main courthouse is also located in town.

toronto australiaToronto's antipodean cousin was named in honour of champion rower Ned Hanlan (of Hanlan's Point) who visited the area in 1884. His arrival coincided with the subdivision that created the community, which has since grown into a town of about 5,433 people. Toronto joined forces with several neighbouring communities in 1984 to form the broader City of Lake Macquarie.

Before being subdivided, Toronto was the site of an aboriginal mission founded by English reverend Lancelot Edward Threlkeld in 1829. When he wasn't indoctrinating the locals, Threlkeld spent his time translating his constituent's native Awabakal language to English.

The subsequent discovery of coal deposits in the hills around the town brought outsiders and tensions over land ownership. The fraught situation escalated dramatically in 1896 and an uprising led to the deaths of five aboriginals.

toronto new south walesBecause this is 2014 and no conversation about Toronto, no matter what hemisphere it's in, can avoid touching on Rob Ford, I asked about our wayward chief magistrate.

News of the world's most famous Toronto mayor reached Australia but no one, especially Mayor Jodie Harrison, seems to have paid much attention. "Most people in the town centre of Toronto wouldn't recognize the name Rob Ford," she says.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: City of Lake Macquarie; Wikimedia Commons; Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle.



lister / February 5, 2014 at 10:16 am
Given today's snowy weather I think I'd rather be down under...
Missing Morning Brew / February 5, 2014 at 10:46 am
Is this where our Morning Brew has gone! Lucky.

You should do a Morning Brew Australia showing local "Toronto" news.
Emily / February 5, 2014 at 10:48 am
Great article Chris!
W. K. Lis / February 5, 2014 at 10:59 am
What? No streetcars in Toronto... Australia? Maybe they could buy a good used CLRV next year.
Terry Murray / February 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm
A friend from Sydney sent me a tea towel and postcard from Toronto, NSW!
Frank / February 5, 2014 at 02:09 pm
In portugal exist another vilage with toronto name
King Rob Ford / February 5, 2014 at 04:24 pm
Great Chris, Art!
Dudditz / February 5, 2014 at 04:47 pm
What you can't see in those photos: all the spiders. They're there. Waiting.
d / February 5, 2014 at 05:36 pm
I went through Toronto, NSW in about 1983 and it was kinda run down looking ... don't know if it's improved since then. And spiders, you bet it'd have spiders! Nice, poisonous funnel webs and red backs!

Lived in Sydney for 3.5 years and CHOSE to come back to Canada ... beautiful place but I missed and loved Toronto (Ontario) more ... yep, snow and all! Think of not much change of season - ever. None of those crisp, bright sunny fall and winter days. I missed that so much! And think of Santa, arriving by motor boat, wearing a Hawaiian shirt when it's 40 C out ... it's just not Christmas!
Expat / February 5, 2014 at 08:52 pm
It's cold in Australia today. Only 24C
Expat / February 5, 2014 at 08:52 pm
It's cold in Australia today. Only 24C
bob / February 5, 2014 at 10:04 pm
It's snowy and gorgeous in Canada!
the lemur replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / February 6, 2014 at 10:53 am
They don't even have rail service anymore ...
Peter / February 6, 2014 at 11:25 am
This is fun, but I would think one of the primary questions this article should answer is: how did it get the name?
Peter / February 6, 2014 at 11:26 am
Mea culpa, I see you did indeed answer that.
Priscila / February 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm
Yeah, some people prefer Canada just because they have spiders in Australia hahaha come on!
MH / November 19, 2014 at 01:33 am
I still have a t-shirt from Toronto NSW that I bought in 1988.
Davis / November 19, 2014 at 06:16 am
No streetcars -- because they're holding out for subways! subways! subways!
Laura Ess / March 13, 2016 at 03:47 am
Ha ha - I was there today, while waiting for a friend to go on a bush walk near Awaba. It was 30℃ in Toronto today, with a humidity of 72%. It has a great library and string of op and bookshops, and a string of restaurants including a fish and chips shop down on the foreshore. It's located on Lake Macquarie, which is more like an estuary and also the largest salt water lake (sharks have been spotted in it) in the Southern Hemisphere.

I come from Perth, W.A. originally and settled in the Hunter Valley a while ago, in order to study at the local university. The big industry over here was coal and steel, and plenty of places have names that reflect somewhere else. I live in Barnsley, which is 15km west of Newcastle, and 18km north of Toronto. the original Barnsley and Newcastle are located in the north of England in the coal fields. Likewise, there's also a Cardiff, Wallsend and Swansea nearby as well.

About most of what I know about Toronto in Canada comes from Canadian TV shows like Forever Knight. Probably a bit of warped view I guess. ;)
Laura Ess replying to a comment from Davis / March 13, 2016 at 03:58 am
Davis, there used to be trams(streetcars) in the greater Newcastle area. Not sure if they ever had any in Toronto here, but what they did have is a spur line for passengers that ran from Fassifern Station into the centre of Toronto, with a stop at Blackhall's Park. At some point they stopped running trains on this (though the tracks are still there) and replaced it with a bus. The bus (a 273) is called "The Train".

Light rail's a bit odd in Australia. Back in the 40s every state capital city had extensive streetcar/tram systems, but by the 1970s only Melbourne and Adelaide (which runs one tram to/fro the CBD and the beach). Fremantle (in W.A.) and Newcastle have tourist "trams", but they're really buses (with tyres) done up to resemble a tram/streetcar.

Sydney's reintroducing "light rail" but it's doubtful that any will "shoot Through Like a Bondi Tram" like they used to in the 40s.
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