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Rockdale is located on the land beyond the banks of historic Botany Bay and would be the area explored by Captain Cook and his Endeavour crew when they landed in Botany Bay in 1770. Despite land grants in the Rockdale area dating back to the early 1800s, settlement on the traditional land of the Cadigal, Gwegal and Bidjigal tribes was relatively slow mainly due to the inaccessibility of the region from Sydney city and surrounding suburbs. The name Rockdale was given to the suburb by Mrs Mary Ann Geeves, the post office superintendent in 1878, yet the name would not be officially associated with the suburb until Rockdale Railway Station was opened in 1884.
With this extension of the railway line and the construction of good roads through the area there would be impetus for growth in the suburb and by the late 1800s is the site of a flourishing village and with the closing of several 'noxious and offensive' factories in the area, became more attractive for residential development. Local entrepreneur Thomas Saywell was responsible for much of the growth in Rockdale's popularity building seaside hotels, public baths, cottages and a pavilion, and most significantly lobbied the government to build a tramway from seaside Brighton the Rockdale.
The post-war period would herald significant growth in the suburb, with housing development increasing and an influx of refugees from Eastern Europe the precursor for multiculturalism in the suburb. Following high-density housing development in the suburb during the 1990s, the following decade saw the relatively stable population of Rockdale go through a period of considerable growth and also changed the profile of the suburb with younger singles and couples attracted to the coastal location and affordable housing options. With flats and apartments now as common to Rockdale as the Californian bungalows, Rockdale remains a distinctly residential suburb with a specifically multicultural profile supporting large Macedonian, Chinese and Arabic communities.