Kathy Barnes used to regard Ultimo as little more than a grimy thoroughfare to pass through on the way back to her home on Sydney’s northern beaches.
“Ultimo was a place I’d drive through on the way back to Newport, and I thought ‘Oh my God, who would want to live here?’,” she said. “I was dreadful about it. I just thought it was the pits.”
Mrs Barnes, 73, said she changed her mind when her daughters moved to the inner-city suburb, and she soon followed after four decades of suburban life.
“My husband and I had just retired,” she said. “We weren’t sailors or golfers so we didn’t see any reason to stay in the suburbs.”
Mrs Barnes is not the only senior to swap life in the suburbs for the inner city where areas once regarded as crime-ridden or industrial have rapidly gentrified.
The average age in Ultimo and Pyrmont is 30-34 thanks to its student population, but the 2016 census found more than 1500 people aged 65 and over living in the two suburbs out of a total population of 21,656.
This is almost double the 828 people aged over 65 living in the two suburbs in 2006 when Ultimo and Pyrmont had 16,639 residents.
The number of older people living in Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Paddington had also substantially increased although the area’s median age is lower than other parts of Sydney.
Mrs Barnes said she rarely had to drive because public services, shopping and entertainment were within walking distance. She also found a caring community in Ultimo that came to her assistance when her husband died of cancer nine months after they moved to the suburb.
“The people in my street were amazing,” she said. “They brought things, they took me to the theatre, they did my laundry and I hardly knew them.
“They looked after me in a way I don’t think people in the suburbs knew how to.”
The City of Sydney will have a dramatic rise in its population of older residents in the next 20 years – outstripping many other areas of Sydney.
The number of people aged 65-84 is expected to increase by 108 per cent by 2036, while there will be a 203 per cent rise in people aged over 85, according to the Greater Sydney Commission.
This will increase demand for local aged care facilities and respite services, including home care options, the commission found.
David Gordon said his move to Pyrmont after 32 years living with wife Joanne in Hunters Hill was prompted by one of his golfing friends.
“With grandchildren living in San Francisco and Montreal we were rattling round a four-bedroom house with all the attendant issues of gardening, maintenance, et cetera,” he said. “Plus we thought the house was better suited to a young family.”
Mr Gordon said he and his wife had more time for activities other than maintaining a house and garden, and did not need a second car.
“We feel very safe here,” he said. “Security services for the community are regularly patrolling and we have a visible police presence in the area.”
He said noise and pollution from the nearby industrial port was a downside to the location, while Mrs Barnes said garbage collection is “nearly giving me a heart attack”.
Nick Parr, a demography expert at Macquarie University, said there were “considerably more men” than women among older age groups moving to inner city suburbs, which already had more male residents.
“An unusual feature of older people in these suburbs, and of those who have moved in over the last five years, is that most are unmarried,” Professor Parr said.
An analysis of demographic data by the Committee for Sydney found striking generational differences across Sydney, with families migrating to the outer suburbs.
Mosman, Double Bay-Bellevue Hill and Frenchs Forest had the greatest number of older residents, according to a spokeswoman for the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
Middle-ring suburbs tend to have greater numbers of older residents, she said. “This pattern is a result of people ageing in place, rather than older people moving to new areas.
“Over time, if people do stay in their family home and retire the number of elderly will naturally increase.”
However, seniors may follow the example of Mrs Barnes and Mr Gordon encouraged by a federal government scheme that permits people aged over 65 to deposit into superannuation up to $300,000 from the proceeds of selling their home.