Blackwattle Bay was named in 1788 by boat parties sent from Sydney Cove to gather timber for hut building. The name came from the mistaken identification of a yellow-flowered tree which grew on the slopes of the bay. The Black Wattle tree was actually the Callicoma serratifolia not an Acacia, but subsequently the Acacia genus became known as wattles.
The history of the bay is full of contrasting images. Sparkling creeks later became open sewers, and the mangrove shores ended up overflowing with offal and industrial waste. Elegant estates coexisted with timberyards, chemical works, and crowded slums.
Until the late 1820s Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays were isolated and often dangerous, the rocky slopes and surrounding timbered land used as a retreat by criminals and bushrangers. A mangrove swamp at the head of the Blackwattle Bay was filled partly by tides and from a creek running from Surry Hills. In 1825 water was carted by barrel from Blackwattle Swamp as the Tank Stream's supply was inadequate for Sydney. The water was not fit to drink for long. A slaughterhouse operated in Blackwattle Swamp from 1835-1860, polluting the waters of the bay with offal and blood. Allens Boiling Down works was established at Blackwattle Bay in 1844 to produce tallow from sheep and cattle carcasses.
The waterfrontages closer to Glebe point were mainly unoccupied until they were auctioned off in 1828. The larger blocks were sold to the prosperous middle class for villa retreats. Among these were Lot 1 which included the site later occupied by Blackwattle Studios.
Lots 9-20 near the swamp were bought by slaughterhouse proprietors and a distiller and soon became crowded and filthy slums. One woman living on lot 10, known as Pig Mary, fed her pigs from scraps of offal and fat collected from the swamps. In 1859 concern was expressed about the drunkenness and scenes of riot and disorder among the " greatly demoralised " population living near Blackwattle Swamp. A local resident lamented that there was hardly a sober woman in the street.
Reclamation of the swamp began in 1876, when seawalls were built and the swamp filled in by silt deposits from harbour dredges. The creek was eventually channelled underground, and the swamp later filled in to make Wentworth Park. However in 1882 the bay was still a catchment basin for secret overflows from the Glebe Island abattoirs and the Sydney morning herald noted in 1887 that sewage was emptying directly into the bay.
In 1880 Glebe Rowing Club held its 2nd regatta at Blackwattle Bay, with observers crowded onto the decks of the Prince of Wales flagship. The scene at the 1882 regatta was not so charming according to an observer who complained of " a great flood of blood over the rocks ". Even in 1903 the bay was described as being blood-red from the abattoir overflows.
The timber and soap works added to the pollution. In the 1880s timber was the main industry in Blackwattle Bay. Timber shipped in included old forest cedar from the north coast and kauri and rimu from New Zealand. By 1908 there were 15 wharves around Blackwattle Bay, mostly occupied by timber merchants. Around this time more mangrove swamps were reclaimed to make Jubilee Park.
The area maintained its mix of timber and manufacturing industries, elegant villas and slum areas through to the 1920s. Glebe Point had many fashionable houses such as Llangollan, near Leichhardt and Stewart St. There were 24 rooms, the ceilings handpainted with angels. The gardens sloped down to the water with tennis and croquet courts, a swimming pool and boatshed. During the 1930s depression many fine old homes were converted to hostels and boarding rooms, or demolished. LLangollan survived until the 1970s, when it was demolished by Parkes Development, who also bought Blackwattle Studios for redevelopment.