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]