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Located just south of Sydney City on the harbour, settlement in Haymarket would occur with the arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney Harbour in 1788. An abundance of shellfish in the harbour just behind Haymarket saw fisherman amongst the first settlers to construct makeshift houses in the land behind would become known as Cockle Bay Wharf.
Although the high population of The Rocks precinct saw the colony’s first official markets constructed just behind the wharves under the instruction of Governor Bligh in 1806, they would move several times before settling on a site bounded by Castlereagh, Hay, Pitt and Campbell Street in 1866. Known as Belmore Markets, these markets were the focal point of trade in the colony, providing the early residents of Sydney with fresh produce along with livestock and cheap household goods. The markets would provide the name for the suburb with the proliferation of hay which came to the markets with the cattle and other farming produce leading to the name Haymarket in the 1830s. In 1893 the markets would move again to the site of where the Capitol Theatre currently stands and became an even more important part of the Sydney community with theatre and circus production held in the markets on the weekends.
By 1912 the old Belmore Markets site had been bought by Wirth Bros with the view to construct a circus and hippodrome complex, with the main auditorium suitable for a range of performances from opera to silent film screenings. The Capitol Theatre as it stands today was finally unveiled in 1928 following the acquisition of the lease by the Union Theatres group. Featuring an elaborate fusion of Florentine and Grecian style architecture the 2,999 seat theatre was a grandiose addition to the Sydney theatre scene. Despite falling into disrepair following decades of misuse in the 1980s, the theatre was placed on the National Estate by Heritage Commission and subsequently saved from demolition. The restoration of the theatre which included restoring the original twinkling stars of the night sky roof of the auditorium have seen the Capitol Theatre once again considered among Sydney's premier theatre complexes.
With the Belmore Markets moving to their final destination in 1914 where Paddy’s Markets still operates from today, Haymarket's reputation as the city's Chinese centre began to form. With many Chinese migrants working as market gardeners in various locations across Sydney’s suburbs, the Sydney Markets at Haymarket were an integral part of their weekly trade. Eateries and other Chinese owned businesses began to open in Haymarket to cater for the high number of Chinese people who visited the suburb daily and by the mid 1900s, the Dixon street precinct and surrounding areas of Haymarket became known as Chinatown.
Although few of the Chinese store owners still live locally, Haymarket continues to attract a substantial Chinese community today with many cultural and social meetings still held in the suburb's various Chinese clubs. Yet the incorporation of high density housing blocks to the suburb has seen recent migrants from Asia moving to the suburb and increasing the Chinese population of Haymarket. Given the historical and social significance of Haymarket to Sydney’s Chinese community, Chinese New Year celebrations continue to be held in the streets of Haymarket each year.
The suburb became increasingly industrial in the 1900s with markets, warehouses and shipyards all operating out of the suburb along with the construction of the city circle railway lines and stations centring on the nearby Central Railway Station, Haymarket became one of the dirtier corners of Sydney city. With heavy industry moving out of the suburb and a need for further office space in the central business district in the 1970s, the working profile of Haymarket would change. Although Paddy’s Markets and the discount stores located in Market City maintain the link to the suburbs working class heritage, the office and residential towers which continue to redefine the suburbs skyline along with the shopping complexes and bars which have been redeveloped in recent years have all contributed to the gentrification of Haymarket.