Anatomy of a Suburban Wharf: Fiddens Wharf – Timber, Fruit Plants and Day Trippers

Bushwalking, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

If you drive down to the end of Fidden’s Wharf Road on the western side of Killara, park on the edge of the bush land and walk down the old stone steps built by convicts, you will reach a reserve bearing the name Fiddens Wharf – there’s virtually nothing tangible left of the wharf itself (mainly just signs and old photos of it!). Today it’s a tranquil spot on Sydney’s Lane Cove River comprising a secluded sporting field and a riverside walking track popular with bushwalkers…but it also has had a busy commercial history that goes back to the early years of the Port Jackson European settlement.

Convict steps
The first governor Arthur Phillip in 1788 identified the north shore as a rich source of timber for the colony’s construction needs (house and ship building). This area of the Lane Cove River was especially abundant with woody perennial plants of great height. The saw-milling industry thrived around Fiddens Wharf and the river – first the Government Sawing Establishment in the 1820 and 30s and later was the Lane Cove Sawmill Company just up Fiddens Wharf Road*.

Fiddens Wharf was only one of three wharves on that part of the Lane Cove River important to the burgeoning timber industry and to commerce generally in the early colony. The other two close by were Fullers Wharf and Jenkins Wharf. The notorious waterman Billy Blue ferried passengers by punt from Sydney Cove to these wharves [Edwards, Zeny, Rowland, Joan, Killara, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/killara, viewed 15 Sep 2017].

Small vineyards grew up in the early 1800s, such as in nearby Fullers Park, with many orchards scattered along the river bank. Further south on the river sat the Fairyland Tea Gardens (later Pleasure Grounds), known for its picnics, swings, slides, Ferris wheel and a dance hall [‘A Brief History of Lane Cove National Park’, www.friendsoflanecovenationalpark.org.au]

The eponymous wharf at West Killara derives from one Joseph Fidden, an ex-convict emancipated by Governor Macquarie. Fidden in 1813 was granted 40 acres of land stretching all the way from Fiddens Wharf Road west to Pennant Hills Road [‘Local History: Fiddens Wharf Road’, 17-Nov-2014, KGEX – Kuringai Examiner]. The information kiosk on the oval states that Fiddens never actually either owned or leased the wharf named after him…nonetheless up until the 1850s he was “reportedly known to row 3,000 tons of sawn timber with the tide down the river” to Circular Quay, and then “return with the tide, delivering supplies to farms along the way”.

Lane Cove River – view from the wharf site
With the bulk of the river’s tall timber hacked down by the 1850s, quantities of citrus plants were planted in their place with the yields transported from the wharf to the city for sale. The wharf’s commercial role as a goods transport hub diminished by the 1880s after Lane Cove Road was established as the “main highway” and route for delivering goods to the ferry at Blues Point (North Sydney).

The ‘public’ wharf did go by different names over the course of its working life…an 1831 survey reveals it was known as “Hyndes Wharf”, a reference to Thomas Hyndes, a local timber merchant of the day. The survey also listed huts and a garden on the location occupied by Joseph Fiddens and others. In the early 20th century another name for it was the “Killara Jetty” derived from the spot’s increasing use for recreation – at this time the wharf was a landing-place for picnic parties and campers. The Lane Cove Ferry Co brought “holiday excursionists” just prior to the Great War, with this local leisure activity continuing into the interwar period.

The construction of a weir on the river in 1937 meant that rowing boats could no longer reach the wharf from Figtree (Hunters Hill). The weir also permanently raised the river-level at the wharf (the remnants of some of the earlier versions of the wharf can be found submerged in the river). The Bradfield Jamboree in 1938 saw 10,000 scouts swarming all over Fiddens Wharf and its bush. During WWII the RAAF used the wharf and environs as a training camp.

PostScript: Killara, once the domain of saw-millers, was transformed in the 20th century into a garden suburb with large allotments, little commercial development and devoid of industrial sites [‘Killara’, (Ku-ring-gai Historical Society Inc), www.khs.org.au]. Today it is a leafy northern suburb marked by a mix of 1950s brick cottages and new, modern residences, golf courses and its “old money” inhabitants, although its diversified ethnic mix over the past 20 years give it less of the ‘whitebread’ character that it was once known for.

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* the timber-getters employed by these companies were itinerant types who fashioned crude accommodation (hardly more than “lean-to’s”) in the North Shore bush [Edwards and Rowland]

A 1960s Juvenile Reader: Classic British Comic Strips and ‘Just William’

Literary & Linguistics, Media & Communications, Popular Culture

As a counterweight to the surfeit of 1960s American television that comprised a large slice of my diet of home entertainment, my juvenile literary tastes back then were decidedly more Anglophile. Plunging into the graphic art world of the 1960s comic book I digested everything I came across catering for adrenalin-pumping, red-blooded British boys.

Desperate Dan, ‘The Dandy’
Among these beacons of popular culture were The Beano (which starred Dennis the Menace and Gnasher), The Dandy❈ (featuring Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan), Knockout (Billy Bunter), The Hotspur, The Rover (these two papers were prime examples of the “Boys’ Own Adventure” style of stories) and Eagle with its centrepiece inter-galactic hero ‘Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future’, not to forget Tiger which catered for British schoolboy football mania with the stellar-booted striker ‘Roy of the Rovers’. The individual comics were grouse fun but what I most enjoyed was the comic book annuals of The Beano, etc., where I could indulge myself in reading a whole end-of-year book comprising a cross-section of the comic’s different strips⚀.

At primary school in the sixties the punitive powers-that-be weren’t all that rapt in comic books as reading material…my confiscated copy of ‘Dennis the Menace Bumper Comic’ (before I had a chance to read hardly any of it!) bore witness to that. From what was on offer in the school library, the one children’s book I did take a shine to was Just William, I should say series of books because there 38 (some sources say 39) ‘William’ books in all! All of the books were collections of short stories, with the exception of one in novel form.

Richmal Crompton
Just William was the creation of female English author Richmal Crompton (Lamburn). As a child feverishly devouring all the William books I shared with the overwhelming bulk of readers the uncritical assumption that Richmal was a man. How wrong were we all!!! Miss Lamburn was a school mistress (ironically – in an all-girls school!) who contracted polio and spent the rest of her life writing the William series of books as well as 41 adult novels❦.

The character of William (surname: Brown) was apparently based on Richmal’s young nephew Tommy…in the books William is scruffy and untidy in appearance, and given to directness, rebellion and straight talking – which sometimes lands him in strife. He is the leader of his own small gang of school friends who go by the name of “The Outlaws” (comprising his best friend Ginger as well as two other boys, Henry and Douglas). William is 11, an age he stays at, despite the series of books stretching over a period of nearly 50 years! [‘Just William’, Wikipedia entry]

‘William the Dictator’
Most of the books follow the ordinary run of events of William and the Outlaws entangling themselves in minor mischiefs, usually involving nothing worse than the ill-conceived idea of painting a terrier blue! But occasionally William strayed into more edgy and outright polemical territory. In the short story ‘William and the Nasties’¤ William’s band emulate Hitler and his fellow National Socialists in order to terrorise a local Jewish sweet-shop owner (featuring in the 1935 collection William the Detective [‘Five Fascinating Facts about Just William’, www.interestingliterature.com].

Just William’s topicality
A good number of the Just William books regularly reflected current events of their day. William the Conqueror (published in 1926) was resonant of European colonial power imperialism leading up to WWI. William The Dictator (1938) reflected the world’s concern with fascism and National Socialism. Similarly, William and the Evacuees (appearing in 1940) was set against the backdrop of WWII. In the post-war period, the superpowers’ preoccupation with the space race inspired new books like William and the Moon Rocket (1954) and William and the Space Animal (1956) [‘Just William’, Wikipedia entry].

Just William book spin-offs
With such popularity that the Just William books attained (12 million sales in the UK alone), they inevitably flowed through to adaptation to other forms – cinema (three films in the 1940s), two television series (one in the mid-1950s and the other in the early 1960s), radio and even theatre. As well, the schoolboy hero spawned a host of Just William merchandise…from jigsaws and board games to cigarette cards, magic painting books and figurines of William [‘Richmal Crompton’s Just William Society’, www.justwilliam.co.uk]

Celebrity fandom: Lennon as William
Some time after the Beatles visited Australasia in 1964 at the height of “Mop-top mania”, I remember hearing that John Lennon had been a fan of the fictional William in his boyhood. Lennon’s devotion to the books prompted him to form his own, real-life version of the Outlaws, moulding his friends Ivy, Nigel and Pete into a Liverpudlian boy foursome. With John of course as leader, the boys engaged in “small acts of defiance and daring” on their local turf [J Edmondson, John Lennon: A Biography (2010)]. The revelation that I had been propelled into the stratospheric company of such a youth icon as Beatle John, only served to magnify my primary school days zeal for all things William Brown!

PostScript: Continental comic book legends
My childhood taste in comics were not exclusively confined to the gold standard of British comics. Like millions of other children I was also captivated by those ancient Gallic tormentors of Roman legionnaires, Asterix and Obelix (Astérix le Gaulois by Goscinny and Uderzo). In equal measure I was in the thrall of Tintin, Hergé’s creation of a globe-roaming Belgian boy-reporter. Each comic album of The Adventures of Tintin was a lesson in political geography embroiling Tintin in high-stakes adventures in a new and exotic land. But as rewarding as the respective adventures of Asterix and Tintin were, in my book nothing quite scaled the same exalted heights of anticipation as did the prospect of dipping into the treasure trove of Just William’s world.

╼╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼╼╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼ ╾╼╾
❈ The originals The Beano and The Dandy were of course far superior to the highly derivative and latter imitations like The Topper and Beezerand Cor!!
⚀ not to be overshadowed, schoolgirls had their own comics and annuals such as Bunty and School Friend Annual
❦ the most accomplished of which was Leadon Hill. The tone of the adult novels was more pessimistic than the Just William series, dealing with themes of divorce and infidelity [Danuta Keen, ‘Not Just William: Richmal Crompton’s adult fiction republished’, The Guardian, 21-Apr-2017]
¤ the name ‘Nasties’ is the result of William’s mishearing of the word ‘Nazis’