KMT’s Historical Australasian Presence: Sydney and Melbourne Offices and the Chinese Diaspora

Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, International Relations, Local history

KMT in Sydney

The above photo shows the well-worn, slightly scruffy and tarnished facade of an old building in the historic industrial inner city district of Sydney. The sign on the shopfront says ‘Chinese Ginsengs and Herbs Co’. Google Maps tells me the address is 4-10 Goulburn Street, although the sign above the entrance indicates the address is “75-77 Ultimo Road Haymarket”. I’m going to go with what the building says rather than what my iPhone indicates…the key point is that this building is within wok-tossing distance of Hay and Dixon Streets, the epicentre of Sydney’s traditional Chinatown.

The awning above the Ginseng shop gives the real clue to the building’s history – in faded blue and red (the colours of the Republic of China better known today as Taiwan or Chinese Taipei), are the words The Chinese Nationalist Party of Australasia. The letters ‘KMT’ and the building’s date, 1921′, at the top of the facade further emphasises its political association with China.

The Haymarket building was purchased in 1921 with funds raised by Chinese-Australian supporters of the KMT or Kuomintang, a Chinese nationalist party headed by Dr Sun-Yat-sen that gained prominence after the overthrow of the last Qing emperor and the transition to republican rule. The Australasian KMT had earlier evolved out of a grass-roots organisation in Sydney called the Young China League, the impetus for the emergence of YCL/Australian KMT came largely from Sino-Australian merchants James Ah Chuey and William Yinson Lee.

KMT Sydney’s regional leadership
Ultimo Road was KMT’s Australasian headquarters, from this building the local Party liaised with the KMT Central party in China and coordinated the activities of other regional KMT branch offices elsewhere in Australia, New Zealand and the wider Pacific Islands. The Sydney Office supervised seven branches – NSW, Victoria, WA, Wellington and Auckland (NZ), Fiji and New Guinea. It also directly administered Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin and had jurisdiction over Tahiti. Melbourne office having to defer to Sydney’s seniority and hegemony provoked KMT membership tensions between Australia’s two largest cities.

KMT and the Chinese diaspora in Australia
KMT’s Sydney branch performed several functions on behalf of the Party. One of these involved an educational role for the local émigré Chinese. The KMT association fostered modern political ideas, promoting pro-republican values and the virtues of parliamentary democracy as an antidote to the gains made by Chinese communists in courting popular support in the Chinese countryside.

Recruiting new KMT members from among the community in Sydney was part of the Australasian association’s growth strategy. To bind Chinese emigrants to the Party and its objectives, the Sydney office organised dances, dinners, social gatherings, held screenings of Chinese movies. Recreational activities were another means of incorporating the Chinese locals – gyms and sporting teams were established to encourage physical exercise.

At crunch periods in the 20th century during conflicts the KMT were embroiled in on mainland China (the National Defence War against Japan, the Nationalists/Communists Civil War), the offices in Sydney and Melbourne had an instrumental role on the ground in Australia. The two associations maintained solidarity with and mobilised support for the struggles of the Chinese Nationalists headed by Chiang Kai-shek…the local Sydney branch coordinated the collection of donations❉ that were remitted back to Nanking (the Nationalists’ Chinese capital) to finance the war effort (equip the KMT Army, buy fighter planes for the Air Force, etc)

KMT Club (pre-war)
KMT Club (c.1980s)
Kuomintang Nationalist Club, Melbourne

Concurrently with the establishment of the KMT headquarters in Sydney, the Chinese Nationalists with money from Chinese benefactors resident in Melbourne commissioned famous Chicagoan architect Walter Burley Griffin to convert a brick warehouse at 109 Little Bourke Road into the city’s KMT association premises. Griffin’s design of a new facade for the building in 1921 was financed by Canton-born, Melbourne social reformer, Cheok Hong Cheong. Cheong had a long association with Griffin as a client and was a shareholder in the Griffins’ Greater Sydney Development Association.

Australasian Canton Club
The Australasian association role eventually extended to working for returning émigrés from Australasia and Oceania. This happened when the Australasian KMT Canton Club was set up in that southern Chinese city(office)◊…its purpose was to assist the émigrés who subsequently returned to China. This assistance took many forms such as advocacy in legal matters, providing board and lodging for members passing through Canton to and from Australia and NZ and advice on investments. The Canton office also produced the widely distributed official journal of the Australasian KMT.

Both 1920s KMT buildings, Sydney and Melbourne, are still standing, and the clubs continue to have social associations with the local Chinese-Australian communities.

❉ this material support took on added significance and urgency for the KMT cause after imperial Japan invaded Manchuria in 1937
◊ the location was chosen mainly because of the pattern of past migration to Australia and New Zealand – most Chinese migrants had come from Canton (Guangzhou) or from the wider province of Guangdong

Judith Brett & Mei-Fen Kuo, Unlocking the History of the Australasian Kuo-Min Tang 1911-2013, (2013)
John Fitzgerald, Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia (2012)
Kate Bagnall, ‘Picnics and Politics’, Inside Story, 24-Jan-2014,
‘Griffin’s Chinese Nationalist Party Building in Lt Bourke’ (Building & Architecture),

King Canute Battling the Relentless Tide*: The Dilemma of Rampant Beach Erosion – Collaroy and South Narrabeen

Built Environment, Coastal geology & environment, Local history

Bêifāng Hâitān Cháng-chéng 長城
Collaroy-Narrabeen’s Great Wall of Sand!

Collaroy-Narrabeen’s 長城
Sth Narrabeen Surf Club peering over the Wall of Sand!

The photos (L + R) taken five days ago show the cumulative effects of successive series of storms on the one kilometre plus stretch of coast where Collaroy Beach merges seamlessly with South Narrabeen Beach. The foredune in the pictures (the high ridge of sand) was created from countless poundings by severe storms over the last 100 years, but the gouging out of a phenomenally large quantity of sand to create the current steepness of the ridge owes itself to the most recent destructive event, a massive storm action which relentlessly blitzed the narrow beachfront at Collaroy and Narrabeen in June 2016. For three days huge waves and king tides pummelled the beach, the cost in landform terms was the lost of an estimated 50 metres of beach on what was already a precariously thin strip of coast [M Levy, A Benny-Morrison, D Dumas, ‘Sydney storm: erosion swallows 50 metres of Collaroy, Narabeen beaches’, Sydney Morning Herald, 07-Jun-2016,].

Just one sample of the damage to Collaroy Beach & property in 2016
The damage to coastal infrastructure last year was extensive – back fences, balconies, sunrooms, whole backyards and most spectacularly in-ground swimming pools were uprooted – but came as no surprise to locals, coastal geologists or environmentalists. The beach here has had numerous precedents over the years (such as 1913-14, 1920, 1944, 1945, 1967, 1974, 1978, 1986, 1995, 2007), and has been witness to the undermining of foundations, damage to clubhouses, the washing away of houses and the demolition of some homes. The storm havoc in 1967 undermined the foundations of the (then) recently built, high-rise Flight Deck apartment block [J Morcombe, ‘Collaroy beachfront has been an erosion hotspot for a hundred years’, Manly Daily, 07-Jun-2016].

Urban development and sand bank vulnerability
The present predicament of waves swallowing up beachfront properties had its genesis in the early 1900s when people, attracted by the sea and the views, started constructing their houses on Pittwater Road on the edges of the beach. Solutions to the ongoing onslaught from nature of storms was from the start consistently ad hoc. In the 1920 “Great Storm” locals desperately tried to shore up their beachfront cottages with sandbags. Warringah Council’s response to each new threat was largely reactive rather than proactive. The frequency of recurrence clearly called for preventative measures…one of the few early attempts by Council to pre-empt the threat was its purchase and demolition of storm-damaged houses between Arlington Amusement Hall and Jenkins Street, to be replaced by a public reserve.

Flight Deck too close to ground turbulence!
By the early 1960s Council’s planning scheme had polarised the community. The Collaroy-South Narrabeen Progress Association lobbied Council to halt its policy of building flats and resume as many houses as possible along the beachfront, demolishing them to create open space. This prompted an opposition group to spring up, demanding that more flats be constructed on the beach edge. This division was mirrored within Warringah Council itself, Councillors were split, some were in favour of increasing the number of flats, some were opposed to the development. A compromise was reached in 1964 which still permitted construction of flats and houses on the fragile edge of the sand bank [J Morcombe, ‘Milestone for Collaroy’s landmark Flight Deck’, Manly Daily, 12-Feb-2016].

Beach erosion and reinforcement measures
More storms in the eighties and nineties prompted Council to try to come up with better thought-out strategies to cope with the burgeoning threat. Earlier construction of rock walls had been haphazard. In 2002 it opted to construct a 1.1km long sea wall along the most pregnable part of the Collaroy-South Narrabeen beach❖. The plan was shelved after several thousand people staged a beach protest against the proposed sea wall.

Again public opinion has been divided – many different views have been voiced on the issue…from those whose properties would not be protected by the wall or by individual walls covering single properties (eg, water can be pushed on to other neighbouring properties which don’t have a sea wall – sometimes because they were denied approval by Council to build one!). Who bears the cost is another issue – coastal engineer Angus Gordon has raised the thorny prospect of “councils building walls using public money to protect private property” (current Northern Beaches Council policy dictates that individual homeowners must pay for the construction of an approved wall for their properties). Beach-goers too, tend to have a differing perspective to those of beachfront homeowners, many surfers point to the way changes to the nature of the beach can affect the quality of surfing (altering the breaks, etc) [C Chang, ‘Bitter battle over Collaroy beachfront has raged for years’, (News) 07-Jun-2016,

Given the alarming extent of beach erosion shed by Collaroy and South Narrabeen beaches, supplementing the lost sand is vital. Northern Beaches Council tackles what it calls “Sand Replenishment and Beach Nourishment” by sourcing sand from local building sites, and it is also “dredged periodically from the entrance of Narrabeen Lagoon … to replenish Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach” [‘Coastal erosion’, (Northern Beaches Council),] One of the concerns about using building site materials is the issue of ensuring clean fill…rubbish, waste matter or other, undesirable pollutants may inadvertently end up in the bolstering mix on the beach (risk of litter and impurities, aesthetic considerations).

Collaroy-South Narrabeen beach is considered to be Australia’s third most at-risk area¤ when it comes to the deleterious effects of coastal processes. Thus maintenance of sand bank stability remains a crucial civic objective against a backdrop of rising seas and unpredictable and extreme weather patterns. This is also an extremely costly matter for both Council and the state Liberal government. In 2013 Waringah Council forked out almost $3M to acquire a (potentially endangered?) luxury beachfront property to demolish it and use the land for a public park, and the troubled beach will figure significantly in the allocation of the $69M the state government announced for councils to address beach erosion, coastal inundation and cliff instability [Chang, op.cit.]

Collaroy Beach dune reinforcement


Endnote: Longshore drift, an agent of beach erosion
A beach is inherently dynamic, motion and change are constant factors in its composition. Lateral movement of sediment (sand, clay, silt and shingle) along the shoreline is known as Longshore drift (or sometimes called Littoral drift). The geological process occurs thus – the prevailing wind powers the waves, directing them towards the coast. When they hit the surf zone they break at an angle to the shoreline (oblique wave action). Sand and other sediments are propelled along the surf zone in a zig-zagging motion, the swash (onshore-rushing water moves the beach materials along), followed by a corresponding backwash (the water returns offshore – if the wave is constructive, it will do so with reduced energy)[‘Longshore Drift’, (Revision World),]

* The title is of course a symbolic nod to King Canute (Cnut the Great) 11th century Anglo-Saxon ruler of the North Sea Empire, and the apocryphal anecdote of his futile but persistent efforts to turn back the tide on the seashore
sand-bagging’s value is as an immediate response to flooding and is considered ineffective in countering sand erosion
❖ Council had earlier erected groynes (low walls or sturdy timber barrier) on the beach which had become largely ineffective over time
¤ after the Gold Coast and Adelaide’s north-western suburban beaches

King Canute Battling the Relentless Tide*: The Dilemma of Rampant Beach Erosion – Gold Coast and Adelaide

Archaeology, Built Environment, Environmental, Local history

All around this water-encircled continent, wherever there are pebbly or sandy shores, rocks and boulders by the sea, beach erosion is a fact of environmental life. Australian coastal geologists and environmentalists have singled out three areas for particular concern in the light of climate change and rising seas – the Gold Coast of Southern Queensland, Adelaide’s western seaside suburbs (in particular the stretch of coastline from Outer Harbour down to Marino), and Sydney’s Northern Beaches centred on the narrow sandy strip from Collaroy to Narrabeen.

Beach erosion from storm action is the expected end-product of a process when we get waves of higher height (measured from trough to crest) and of shorter periods (ie, the time interval in seconds between succeeding waves passing a specific point) repeatedly crashing onto shore. Storms of greater energy and intensity result in more sand being moved offshore and a storm bar builds up on the nearshore zone. For significant amounts of sand to return to the visible beach, ie, less erosion occurring (the process of accretion), Ocean and sea conditions need to be calmer. Unfortunately for the environment, and for coastal-clinging human habitation, all the trends are in the opposition direction! Concerned coastal watchers are increasingly preoccupied with the sense of a stark future, apprehensively eyeing the very real prospect of untrammelled beach attrition [‘Beach erosion: Coastal processes on the Gold Coast’, (Gold Coast City Council – Discovering Our Past),]

GC damage inflict by Cyclone Dinah 1967
Gold Coast: Human encroachment on a coastal cyclone zone
The Gold Coast at latitude 28° S is in a tropical cyclone prone zone, its history of cyclone events goes back to the 1920s, including crunch years such as 1967 when eleven cyclones hit the Coast in rapid succession. Like Sydney’s Northern Beaches (see separate blog post) the Gold Coast/Surfers Paradise area is especially susceptible to property damage due to the same development pattern of building too close to the beach (multi-millionaires’ coastal mansion syndrome?). A 2009 study by the Queensland Department of Climate Change (DCC) estimated that there are 2,300 residential buildings located within 50 metres of sandy coast and 4,750 within 110 metres” [Tony Moore, ‘Gold Coast beach erosion plan: Is the plan on the right track?’ Brisbane Times, 05-Jul-2015,].

Gold Coast erosion: Monumental cliffs of sand
Queensland’s volatile summer storm seasons will undoubtedly continue to be exacerbated by climate change and rising sea levels. In recent years an intensification of the cyclonic onslaught on the South Queensland coast has seen the buildup of towering sand ridges on beaches like Narrowneck and Broadbeach, as a result of massive quantities of sand being gouged from the beach❖.

Gold Coast strategies to counter erosion
In direct response to the devastating 1967 cyclones the City of Gold Coast commissioned the Dutch Delft Report and established a Shoreline Management Plan to follow up its recommendations. New seawalls were constructed to bolster the beaches and an artificial reef created at Narrowneck Beach (the Delft Report called for Gold Coast beaches to be widened to withstand severe weather conditions and restorative work was intended to re-profile the vulnerable beaches). The Shoreline Management Plan strategy incorporates a scheme to shift sand from south of the Tweed River (from NSW) through a system of bypass pumping to replenish the beaches on the Gold Coast [‘Gold Coast Shoreline Management Plan’, Wikipedia, Transporting sand has proved a costly exercise for the Gold Coast Council ($20,000 a day during severe storm activity periods to shift 20,000 cubic matures of replacement sand) [‘Battling erosion on the Gold Coast’, (Splash ABC Queensland),]

Adelaide hot spots
Adelaide’s north-western beaches’ susceptibility to the climatic forces of erosion mirrors that of the Gold Coast…and similarly it has been plagued by the same degree of imprudent decision-making by planners and developers resulting in property lines being positioned too close to the shoreline. A conspicuous case in point being Tennyson Beach 14km from Adelaide CBD. Tennyson locals recall that a stretch of its celebrated coastal dunes was washed away by massive storms in the 1960s…after it was restored to its previous height, amazingly houses were built on the same vulnerable dunes! Erosion at nearby West Beach has become so problematic that the West Beach Surf Life Saving Club has given consideration to moving the location of its clubhouse [‘Adelaide beachfront housing “facing erosion risks” like those at Collaroy, Sydney’, ABC Radio Adelaide, ABC News, 08-Jun-2016,

Hallett Cove – a grim template for other Adelaide beaches?
Coastal inundation
As elsewhere the fear for Adelaide coastal watchers is the inexorable rise of sea levels – scientists have predicted that its low-lying coastal land will be inundated with the bulk of the city’s beaches under water by 2050! Geologists and coastal experts such as Dr Ian Dyson have predicted that the great majority of Adelaide’s sandy beaches are at risk of being reduced to the same denuded state as Hallett Cove – once a glistening sandy beach, now a rocky foreshore bereft of sand¤. Dyson forecasts that the only beaches likely to survive, albeit as “pockets of beaches” on the metropolitan coast beyond 2026 will be at Glenelg, Henley Beach and Semaphore [Thomas Conlin, ‘Expert says key Adelaide beaches could disappear within a decade because of rising sea levels and erosion’, Sunday Mail (SA), 24-Jun-2016,

Notwithstanding the pessimism of scientific experts, the state government’s Coastal Protection Board maintains its sand-replenishment programs are effective in meeting the challenges which are undeniably formidable. Dr Dyson however has been critical of the authorities’ over-reliance on rock wall defences, contending that “retaining beaches (were) a losing battle without angled breakwaters or groynes at the southern end of erosion hot spots to slow sand movement [Conlin, ibid.]

Endnote: A dynamic problem – the natural drag of sand by the elements
An important factor contributing to beach erosion is the natural tendency of the ocean to drag coastal sand in a northward movement. This affects both Adelaide and the Gold Coast. On the GC’s southern beaches where sand is plentiful, the drift north to replenish the northern GC beaches is impeded by the presence of rock walls and groynes which interrupts the free flow of sand northwards [Tanya Westthorpe, ‘Sand erosion threat to prime Gold Coast tourist beaches’, Gold Coast Bulletin, 02-Aug-2012]. the top of the Gulf St Vincent. Sand replenishment and maintenance thus is a major challenge for the more southern lying beaches like Kingston Park and Seacliff which are in continually peril of being sand ‘starved’. Aside from the logistics of managing this, sourcing sand from quarries is proving an increasingly expensive exercise for the authorities [‘Sand carting plea to save Adelaide’s vulnerable beaches, including Seacliff and Kingston Park’, (E Boisvent), 12-Oct-2016,]

* The title is of course a symbolic nod to King Canute (Cnut the Great) 11th century Anglo-Saxon ruler of the North Sea Empire, and the apocryphal anecdote of his futile but persistent efforts to turn back the tide on the seashore
❖ prompting sections of the media to jocularly re-label Broadbeach as “Steep Beach”
¤ Dyson blames ill-considered development and the construction of a beach marina for the degradation of Hallett Cove

The Arlington Amusement Hall, Collaroy’s Architectural Jewel from Yesteryear

Built Environment, Cinema, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

Over recent months Sydney “Pub Tsar” Justin Hemmes’ Merivale Group acquired the Collaroy Hotel on Pittwater Road for a reported $21 million⋇. The hotel (currently closed for renovation) is situated in one of the Northern Beaches’ finest old and best preserved buildings, the Arlington Amusement Hall✦. A hotel since the late 1990s The Arlington’s premises has traded under various names including ‘The Collaroy’ and the ‘Surf Rock Hotel’. Earlier than this the building had housed the Northern Beaches’ first wine bar called ‘1066’. The building also contains the separate Collaroy Beach Club.

The iconic building with its asymmetrical Federation brick facade has a commercial life story dating back to the First World War. It was built by Herbert Williamson for his wife Christina somewhere between 1915 and 1919. It was officially opened as the Arlington Amusement Hall in 1921 although it had already been used a cinema showing silent feature movies from 1919.

The Collaroy in 2017
At the time of The Arlington’s public opening the local newspaper described it thus, “The hall is situated right on the beach and attached to it are four shops … The hall is commodious, and is approached by a fine vestibule, a stage and dressing rooms and also a gallery add to the comfort of both entertainers and patrons …” Originally the building contained a row of (four) retail shops with attached 1st floor residences. We know that the business enterprises of three of these shops comprised a draper, a chemist and a stationer.

Collaroy, a beachhead prone to sand erosion
Arlington Amusement Hall’s location, built right on to the beachfront has made it and other buildings around it on that side of Pittwater Road susceptible to storm damage. In 1944 huge storms lashing the beach washed away some three metres of the Hall’s foundations. Fortunately the building was in the main spared in 2016 when many nearby properties had their frontages, fences and walls uprooted in the massive winter storms…not so fortunate was the Collaroy Beach Club premises affixed to the Arlington Hall/Hotel which lost a balcony in the violent onslaught of savage nature.

The Arlington 1920s
PostScript: Collaroy’s other building relic
It is interesting that Arlington Hall started its life as a picture theatre because today when people associate Collaroy with cinema, they think of another old historic building on the opposite side of Pittwater Road – the still operating, independent Collaroy Cinema (trading as ‘United-Cinemas” in conjunction with Avalon and Warriewood cinemas further up the peninsula). Collaroy Cinema, an Art Deco building from the 1930s, with its garish and (to some tastes) sickly blue-painted exterior, stands out from the modern beach shopfronts around it. The Art Deco building retains its elegant design, but its tired, slightly battered appearance representing nearly 80 years of lived-in experience is in stark contrast with the “tender loving care” bestowed on The Arlington. Collaroy Cinema remains one of the relatively few surviving and operating picture houses of its kind in New South Wales.

Picture house in Pittwater Road

Nomenclature: the name of both the suburb and the beach derives from the paddle steamer SS Collaroy which was stranded off the beach for three years in the 19th century (1881-84).

⋇ coming on top of Merivale’s 2016 acquisition of another Northern Beaches’ landmark, the even more historic Newport Arms (rebranded by Hemmes as ‘The Newport’)
Amusement Hall seems to be a bit of a misnomer…rather than being a place where you’d expect to find penny arcade machines and games of fun and luck (the domain of English style seaside piers), amusement halls, also common in the US in the same era, could simply be large buildings which functioned as multi-purpose community halls

John Morcombe, ‘Arlington Amusement Hall a Collaroy icon for almost a century’, Manly Daily, 31-Oct-2014
‘Collaroy/Narrabeen, Voices from the Past’, Australian Heritage Festival, 01-May-2017,
‘The Collaroy hotel’, Architects Nicholas + Associates,
‘Art Deco Cinemas, Picture Palaces and Movie Theaters’,

Glebe’s History of Maritime Industry and Heritage of Terrace Rows and Italianate Villas

Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

Glebe Point Road is the heart of the inner west suburb that bears its name…a leisurely stroll from the Broadway end of the road reveals the variable character of Glebe itself. Close to the Broadway Centre are numerous eateries and coffee shops frequented by Gen X’s, Millennials and the occasional Zennial, three-quarters of which are university students from just across Parramatta Road at USYD. As we get closer to the other end (Glebe Point) there is a mix of elegant old houses, isolated groups of shops and a liberal sprinkling of backpacker lodges. This built-up urbanisation a stark contrast to the era before white settlement in the 18th century when the Glebe area was a Turpentine Ironbark forest inhabited by the indigenous Wangal and Cadigal clans.

‘Florence Villa’ 1883
The word itself, glebe (from glaeba (L), clod of earth), refers to an area of land devoted to the maintenance of an incumbent of the church. The colony of Port Jackson’s first governor, Arthur Phillip, set aside the land here for church purposes in 1789[1].

Sydney’s Broadway and Parramatta Road marks the eastern boundary of Glebe and the suburb extends west to Rozelle Bay, a body of water flowing into Johnstons Bay and eventually into Sydney Harbour. Rozelle Bay houses a bustling marina sitting on a strip of land incongruously known as “Glebe Island” (not an island!) which accommodates the old bridge that once linked Pyrmont to Glebe Island and Rozelle, which was replaced in the mid 1990s by the modernist looking cable-stayed new Glebe Island Bridge (name later changed to Anzac Bridge).

Although Glebe was subjected to waves of greed-fuelled demolition during the 20th century, heritage architecture still characterises a significant chunk of the suburb’s residential complexion. A representative sample of 19th century houses have been preserved despite the best efforts of developers and development-sympathetic state governments to jettison the old to make way for new dwellings and a network of freeways crisscrossing Glebe (see PostScript on Lyndhurst below)[2].

Early trends toward gentrification
The Church’s 1856 sell-off of some of its land in Glebe was the spark that started the suburb’s long spiral into an inexorable gentrification. A two strata society developed with Glebe Point (the bay end) becoming the location for many new homes of the urban gentry, these better-off citizens were clearly separated off from ‘The Glebe’ where the more numerous working class resided[3].

Terraced Glebe
By 1870 the terrace had become the dominant build form in Glebe. By WWI there was several distinct types of terrace – colonial Georgian, Regency, Victorian Gothic, Italianate and Federal style – standing side by side. Terraces were the optimal solution to accommodate Glebe’s rapidly growing population, having the virtue of economical outlays on land and building materials[4].

‘Bellevue’ (detail)
Italianate villas and cottages figure prominently among the residences of Glebe that have survived to this day, eg, Bellevue c1896 (Italianate Victorian home reprieved from the demolishers’ wrecking ball, today a cafe for walkers (with or without dogs) and cyclists on the foreshore)❈; other Victorian Italianate buildings including the Glebe Court House, the Town Hall and Kerribree. Many of Glebe’s finer buildings were the work of the leading architects of colonial New South Wales (such as Barnet, Blackett and Verge). For a time Glebe was known as the architect’s suburb.

As the early land use of Glebe was taking shape the foreshore was not considered suitable for residential development, opening the way for exclusive use for marine industry – and for sporting activity. Glebe Rowing Club has long had its position on Blackwattle Bay and Jubilee Oval, near the old tramsheds, was the home ground of Glebe Cricket Club in the Sydney Grade Cricket competition[5].

Industrial remnant: Crane on walkway
Timberyards in the foreshore dress circle
A walk along the foreshore from Blackwattle Bay reveals precise little of the suburb’s concentrated industrial past. Modern apartments sit hunched together close to the waterfront where once timberyards and sawmillers dominated the landscape❈. On the foreshore path a monument to those activities is a rusty old crane and winch…Sylvester Stride’s Ship-breaking Yard and Crane business used these devices to break up steamers to recycle metals. Most of the industry – which also included noxious industries like boiling down works and slaughterhouses as well as a distillery – were gone from the Bay by 1975. Hardy’s Timber Mill, an extended complex of building structures, was for a time converted into artists’ studios[6].

Remarkably, the small grassy stretch of foreshore known as Pope Paul VI Reserve was until the early eighties the only public access point on all of Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays. The papal appellation bestowed on the reserve derives from the lobbying efforts of right-wing Labor Catholic politicians in Leichhardt Council to commemorate the spot where Paul VI landed by launch during his 1970 papal visit of Australia[7].

Griffin incinerator
One item remaining on Blackwattle is Walter Burley Griffin’s Glebe incinerator dating from the early 1930s. An elegant building in the Art Deco style, in 2006 it was restored as an interpretative work with its once impressive chimney stack in skeletal form. The incinerator was one of a number in Sydney (and elsewhere) constructed by the famous Canberra Capital designer as a response to council’s need to find a more effective way to dispose of increasing amounts of consumer garbage۞.

PostScript: Georgian mansion with a varied past
A survey of Glebe’s history and heritage is not complete without noting one of its grandest, earliest and still extant old homes. Lyndhurst is a mansion with an exceptionally colourful history. The once impressive scale of the estate has been plundered by successive subdivisions over the years…if you visit it today by locating its street address (57-65 Darghan St) the big surprise is finding that the building’s back affronts the street! Lyndhurst was built in 1833 by colonial architect John Verge as a marine villa for surgeon and pastoralist Dr James Bowman, the son-in-law of wool pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur. In the last 100 years the Lyndhurst estate has served many purposes – from theological college to pickle factory to hospital to broom factory and in the 1960s and ’70s as the headquarters of the Australian Nazi Party (Australian National Socialist Party). Lyndhurst was one of the many great Glebe residences slated for demolition in the early seventies by Askin’s government, a fate it and many others fortunately avoided![8].

❈ the campaign to save Glebe’s heritage homes from corporate culling was spearheaded by the Glebe Society, formed by concerned local residents in 1969
today there is one remaining timber yard along the shoreline of Rozelle Bay, Crescent Timber, being actually in Annandale, adjacent to Federal Park
۞ hitherto the preferred methods of disposal were either piling garbage on to tips, burying it or carting garbage six miles out to sea on barges and jettisoning it overboard (only for the tide to return it to shore!), had met with growing public disapproval

[1] B & B Kennedy, Sydney and Suburbs: A History and Descriptions, (1982)
[2] eg, the vision of long-term Liberal premier of NSW Robin (Robert) Askin, born and bred in Glebe, was to turn the suburb into a network of freeways – fortunately for Glebe’s heritage integrity this was never implemented, ‘Sir Robert Askin’
[3] ‘History and Heritage’, The Glebe Society Inc,
[4] Solling, Max, Glebe, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011,, 03 Oct 2017
[5] ‘History of Glebe Foreshore parks’, (City of Sydney),
[6] ‘Timber Industry’, (Glebe Walks),
[7] ‘Pope Paul VI Reserve (interpretative sign)’, (Glebe Walks),
[8] ‘Historic Glebe Mansion Lyndhurst, Once Australia’s Nazi Party Headquarters, on Market for $7.5M’, (B Wong), 07-May 2016,

Balmain’s Legacy of Industry, Workers, Pubs and Architectural Heterogeneity

Archaeology, Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

The Balmain peninsula, just to the west of Sydney’s CBD, has a long post-settlement history of European mixed land use, both as a magnet for industry and a place for workers and their families – and room also for those financially well-heeled enough to afford the pick of the land and a waterfront property with magnificent views of Australia’s finest harbour.

Balmain’s dirty industries
From the 1840s industry had started to make inroads into the Balmain landscape, and the types of enterprises were becoming many and varied. Over the next 150 years the suburb’s diverse industry has included power stationsφ, an English-owned colliery (from 1897) located just east of Birchgrove Public School, whose long-term productivity proved disappointing. After the mine’s closure in 1931 it produced methane gas until the early 1940s. Eventually houses were built over it and today an exclusive residential complex known as Hopetoun Quays sits atop the site.

Thames St Ferry Wharf, Mort's Bay
Thames St Ferry Wharf, Mort’s Bay
At Mort’s Bay a shipyard and dry dock (Australia’s first) was created in the 1850s, the shipyard was not very successful, and the business eventually morphed into a maritime engineering enterprise employing in excess of 1,000 men. Thomas S Mort, the dock owner, created ‘Mort’s Town of Waterview‘, a subdivision of land to provide housing for his dockyard workers[1]. There was also a ferry service built at Mort’s Bay c.1895. The Thames Street Wharf, with its distinctive curved shelter, transported between 20,000 and 24,000 workers to and from Circular Quay daily (it is thought to be the only Victorian era ferry still operating in the Sydney Harbour network)[2].

Colgate-Palm apartments
Colgate-Palm apartments
Balmain’s ‘clean’ industries
Other industrial enterprises on the peninsula included a saw mill at the end of Nicholson Street, owned by Alexander Burns, the location later taken over by the Adelaide Steamship Co which employed more than 600 men in its ship repair business; a coal loader; US soap and toothpaste giant Colgate-Palmolive with a factory employing over 140 operated in Broadstairs Street, later renamed Colgate Avenue (the Colgate building, which was known locally as “the Olive” is now smartly renovated apartments)[3]. Interestingly, grimy industrial Balmain had no shortage of soap as a second company, Lever and Kitchen (later morphing into the multinational corporation Unilever), also manufactured soap and glycerol in a huge (10ha) plant near Booth Street and Punch Park. At its zenith Lever and Kitchen had a workforce of over 1,250, many of whom lived locally.

imageThe co-existence between home-maker and industry in Balmain has not always been an easy one. The peninsula developed as an industry hub and a desirable place to dwell more or less concurrently. Its proximity to Sydney Town made it attractive to industrialists and to the workforce. By 1846 Balmain housed 19.6 per cent of Sydney and was the largest residential area of the colony – predominantly working class as the workers in the main wanted to be close to where the industrial work was[4].

Notwithstanding the numerous working men (and their unpaid women folk) in the early days[5] there was also a significant middle class component, after all someone had to live in those magnificent Post-Regency and Georgian mansions. “Captains of industry” like Ewen Wallace Cameron and Robert (RW) Miller lived in such palatial homes on the peninsula, as did local developers and businessmen like Robert Blake and JJ Yeend.

The peninsula’s population in 1848 was just 1,337, however there was a spike in numbers over the remainder of the century reaching a straining 28,460 by 1895[6]. The working class parts of Balmain were clearly overcrowded and the suburb’s pattern of development disorganised and haphazard, eg, factories were springing up alongside workers’ modest houses and public schools[7].

ALP “Holy Grail”
Because of the historic heavy concentration of blue-collar industry in Balmain, a strong trade union presence (in particular the maritime industries with the Painters and Dockers Union) has always been part of the landscape. That Balmain/union nexus led to the formation of the Labor Electoral League (which changed its name to the Australian Labor Party) at the relocated Unity Hall Hotel (290 Darling Street) in 1891. The ALP has dominated state elections in the seat covering the Balmain area (in 1978 capturing 82.4 per cent of the two-party vote), although the current MP is a Greens politician, which continues the traditional left-leaning trend of peninsula politics.

Birchgrove, btwn Snails Bay & Long Cove: 1855 map
Birchgrove, btwn Snails Bay & Long Cove: 1855 map
Louisa Road dress circle
Birchgrove in Balmain’s north-western point is thought of as the classiest (in reality values at least) area of the whole peninsula, well, not all of Birchgrove, just one street … actually just part of one street, Louisa Road, the end part. Birch Grove House, believed to be the first house built on the Balmain peninsula, was located at 67 Louisa Rd. It was constructed in 1810 for army regiment paymaster John Birch and demolished, sadly, in 1967. In the 1860s and 70s Hunters Hill developers, the Joubert brothers, subdivided Birchgrove land backing on to Snails Bay§. The estate was advertised as “a miniature Bay of Naples” but few of the villas were ever sold[8].

Home owners today in the exclusive bits of Louisa Rd (properties starting at well in excess of $3 million) include movie producers and directors, famous writers, members of platinum record-breaking rock bands, as well as the more mainstream common, garden variety” type of professionals. But it has not always been the exclusive preserve of society’s elite – 150 Louisa Rd at one time was the headquarters of the Bandidos bikie gang. After the 1984 Milperra Massacre involving rival Comancheros and Bandidos bikie gangs, the Bandidos members were turfed out of the 1897 Federation/Queen Anne house[9].

From pub to friendly society to medical centre
Darling Street: sandstone hotel precinct
The houses in East Balmain don’t overall tend to match the price tags of Federation-rich Louisa Road, but they represent some of the best and most interesting, as well as the oldest, architecture in the peninsula. Darling Street, starting from East Balmain Wharf, is dotted with 1840s-1860s sandstone hotel buildings. Some are no longer functioning as pubs, eg, the Shipwrights Arms, 1844 (10 Darling St), the original Unity Hall Hotel, c.1848 (49 Darling St), the Waterford Arms, now ‘Cahermore’ (“Fort on the Hill”) 1846 (50 Darling St). These 1840s buildings have a plain Post-Regency style to them, simple stone and wooden roofs, clean lines with little or no ornamentation. The contrast is with the later Victorian buildings, such as ‘Bootmaker’s Cottage’ 1860 (90 Darling St) which is more ornate (if restrained) with stone quoins (corner blocks) plus a combination of stone and brick materials and elegant cast-iron balustrading[10]. The enhanced use of decoration and superior materials in the grander later Victorian houses, reflect the affluence of Sydney after the colony’s Gold rushes.

Datchett Street
Datchett Street
Cameron’s Cove and Datchett Street
The extent to which Balmain had become an architectural zoo In the 19th century can be glimpsed from comparing Cameron’s Cove with its Victorian Italianate mansions like ‘Ewenton’ 1854-72 (1 Blake St)[11] with the delightful but ramshackled old timber cottages in little Datchett Street, a narrow, steep side lane-way just across the Cove. Some of the Datchett dwellings look a bit like holiday shacks and would not be out-of-place in a sleepy little backwater down the coast✲.

Just to the east of Ewenton in Grafton St, backing on to the fairly new White Bay Cruise Terminal, sits Hampton Villa. This 1849 Post-Regency house with its Tuscan columns is best known as the 1880s residence of Sir Henry Parkes (five times premier of NSW and “Father of Federation”).

De-industrialising the peninsula: Enter the developers
From the 1960s Balmain’s character began to change. A slow process of gentrification was occurring as property values rose and more people renovated their old houses. Industries moved out, partly because of a trend toward decentralisation, and partly because many were dying off[12]. The prospect of a waterfront home tantalisingly close to the CBD was a lure for many a “cashed-up” punter!

In the eighties and early nineties industrial areas of the peninsula were re-zoned as residential by a development friendly Leichhardt Council to the glee of developers like Leda Group who were free to carve out new middle class estates from the old Unilever site and elsewhere in Balmain. All of which meant the suburb had fast become beyond the reach of most working class home-owners.

_ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ __ _
φ strictly speaking, these two power stations, White Bay and Balmain (Cove), which book-ended the peninsula east and west, were located in Rozelle, but within the Balmain district
§ the Wan-gal (Aboriginal) name for the point jutting out from Birchgrove is Yurulbin which means “swift running waters” as it is the point of confluence where the two headwaters meet (Port Jackson and Parramatta River)
✲ a number of the street’s old timber cottages have gone, to be replaced with dense concrete heavily-fortified looking structures
[1] LA Jones, ‘Housing the Worker’, (unpublished BA(Hon) thesis, University of Sydney), Oct 2011
[2] ‘History of Balmain Thames Street Ferry Wharf’, (NSW Transport),
[3] G Spindler, ‘A Sydney Harbour Circle Walk 2011-12’ (Historic Notes & Background), Apr 2011,
[4] ‘Wyoming’ (Balmain Italianate Mansion), NSW Office of Environment & Heritage,
[5] so much so the mainstream Sydney press in 1889 described Balmain with its 5,000 dwellings as “working men’s paradise”, Illustrated Sydney News, 11 Jul 1889
[6] ‘Balmain: Local History’, Inner West Council/Leichhardt Municipal Council,
[7] ‘History of Balmain’,
[8] ‘Wyoming’, op.cit.. Didier Joubert named Louisa Rd after his wife and the adjoining streets after his children
[9] Spindler, op.cit.
[10] ‘Humble to Handsome – Balmain Architecture 1840-1860s’, (Balmain Walks, Balmain Association Inc),
[11] ‘Ewenton’ itself is something of an architectural mélange with its mixture of Moorish arches and Georgian and Victorian features, ibid.
[12] eg, the 14 or so old shipyards of Balmain have all closed down, ‘Old Balmain: Paddocks and Shipyards’, Local Notes (2012),

Walkers’ World: Rambling round a 19th Century Million Pound Foreshore Estate

Built Environment, Bushwalking, Heritage & Conservation, Social History

Whichever way you look at it, its one absolute corker of a good walk … a leisurely 8km or so saunter from Rhodes Station around the foreshore to the former estate of the fabulously rich Walkers of Concord. Whether it’s your dedicated step-counting walker or your insouciant, rambling flaneur, the Concord shoreline walk is an interesting stroll through rustic, undulating fields and flat, serene bayside paths bordered by mangroves and what remains of a eucalyptus forest. A walk through the erstwhile Walker estate takes you past historic reminders of grand Victorian/Edwardian homes and World War repatriation hospitals and convalescence facilities.

Rhodes house
Rhodes house
As we leave the western side of the railway station, we immediately have our first encounter with one of the local historical personages. Walker Street (next to the rail line) is named after Thomas Walker, the first of two Thomas Walkers to leave a weighty footprint on the area of Concord/Rhodes. This first Thomas Walker, an officer in charge of government stores in the early colony, purchased land at Uhrs Point, a locale which eventually became the suburb of Rhodes, named after the house Walker had built for himself.

Rhodes – a background of industrial polluters of the environment and the suburb’s anonymous domestic makeover:
Heading north along Walker Street, we pass the sites previously occupied by many commercial and industrial enterprises including the large paint manufacturer Berger’s and the multinational giant Union Carbide’s Chemicals plant (environmentally notorious for its shameful practice of discharging dioxins/Agent Orange into the Parramatta River). In their place we see the shape of the post-industrial landscape that dominates Rhodes today – masses and masses of heterogenous high-rise blocks of modern apartments and large clumps of new ones still going up. At the end of Walker Street there is a nice little park touching the river (Point Park) where members of the ubiquitous local Asian community perform their daily Tai chi exercises.

Walking under the railway line and passing some light industry and the IKEA warehouse, we loop around Uhrs Point below Ryde Bridge near the sea scouts hall and turn south in the direction of Concord. After a stretch of street we reach Brays Bay Reserve, named after the first land-owner in Rhodes, Alfred Bray, who built the now long demolished ‘Braygrove’ in ca 1800 (the pioneering Brays owned property in Rhodes from 1794 to 1909).

imageIn the Bray Reserve we walk onto a vacant concrete pier on the edge of the river, no indication that it once housed a Philips Industries site when they were in the bike manufacturing business. On the other side of the square there is a plaque with some rusty old sides of a ship signifying the former presence of Tulloch’s Iron Works in Rhodes (during WWII it functioned as ‘Commonwealth Shipyard # 4’). The remnants of a railed track with ship names engraved on the ground … female names, all curiously enough starting with the letter ‘E’.

Kokoda commemorative walk:
The next section of the trail, densely cordoned on one side by thick mangroves, comprises the 1990s constructed Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway. The walkway is set in a rainforest tropics-themed garden with Kokoda Campaign audio ‘stations’ named after various battles and campaigns of the New Guinea conflict (Efogi, Iorabaiwa, Myola, etc) positioned at different points. There is also a memorial with two high, semi-circular walls surrounded by a rose garden in the rainforest, and a small kiosk-style cafe at the mid-way point of the track. When the path reaches the open side gate to Concord General Hospital, the Kokoda Walkway ends and we take the path deviating to the left.

The path (usually muddy here) skirts round the back of the Concord Repatriation Hospital, which itself continues the WWII theme. It was built in 1940 as the 113th Australian Army General Hospital, taking in wounded and convalescing servicemen from the War. The ground on which the hospital dominated by the huge “Multi Building” stands passed to the Crown after the death of Dame Eadith Walker, daughter of the second Thomas Walker associated with the area. This Thomas Walker was a Scottish migrant in the 19th century who made it (very) big from property investment and finance in Australia (in his later years he was president of the Bank of NSW). At the time of his death his personal worth was estimated at around £2,000,000, a staggering amount for 1886!

Classical Greek artwork on Convalescent Hospital
Classical Greek artwork on Convalescent Hospital
Walker estate and convalescent hospital:
This is a very tranquil part of Concord, with only the occasional dog walker or jogger to be seen on the dirt track. As we come round the bend in the path, dense bamboo woods on our left, we get our first glimpse of the first convalescent hospital on the peninsula (much, much smaller than the Concord Repat). Walker left £100,000 for the construction of what became the Thomas Walker Memorial Convalescent Hospital, designed and built by famous architect John Sulman in the early 1890s after the injection of a further £50,000 from Eadith and her aunt and other relatives for the project’s completion. The hospital was an amazingly extensive complex in its day and the central core of the hospital remains, albeit a lot of the surrounding adjunct buildings have not survived.

Dutch bell tower
Dutch bell tower
At its height the adjoining structures included an admin block, separate dining rooms and pavilions for men and women, concert hall and servants’ quarters, with a tennis court for convalescing patients. Staying on the foreshore path we reach the distinctive Dutch bell tower on the water, from where a long stepped pathway leads impressively up to the hospital entrance. In the time it was a working hospital the bell tower was the landing-point for ferries conveying patients from Circular Quay, and it also served in a secondary function as a smoking room – for male patients only!

imageWalker’s convalescent hospital admitted 683 patients in its first year of operation and over the following 80 years took in thousands free of charge in accordance with Walker’s bequest. During WWII it was used to house the 3rd Australian Women’s Hospital. By the 1970s however it was no longer viable as a free convalescent hospital and in 1979 it began functioning as the Rivendell Adolescent Unit for the rehabilitation of emotionally disturbed youth, and it is still operating as such today.

Following the path further south we pass coastal bush and mangroves and come to a series of stairs (down and then up again) which are behind the Mental Health Unit of Concord Hospital – a newish facility relocated from Callan Park/Rozelle in 2008. The path curves around the peninsula into Yaralla Bay and the newer buildings (mental health and drug health) give way to a series of old, very dilapidated looking buildings comprising the hospital’s engineering and works divisions.

We walk toward a clear, grassy area and take a sharp left out of the hospital grounds, near the helipad, at its south-western end where the mangroves are at their most dense. This leads into desolate bush and scrubland alongside the bay. Pretty soon the path becomes fairly marshy and prone to be boggy after rain (avoid if waterlogged during a walk by veering to the right over the higher ground of the fields which has better run-off). This field is one of a series of large, empty and fenced off paddocks in this part of the former Walker Estate. What looks like a bare and fallow piece of land has become a hotly contested area of Canada Bay.

Horse-free paddocks
Horse-free paddocks
Agistment wars:
The paddocks had been used for decades by local horse-owners for the agistment of their steeds. The state government held an inquiry in 2012/2013 which found that the tenant in charge had mismanaged the site (fences not properly maintained leading to some horses escaping into the hospital helipad and adjoining streets, and other conditions of the agistment licence not fulfilled by the licensee). The government health authority then did a late night deal with the NSW Mounted Unit of the Police giving them the green light to move their 18 service horses from the city (Surry Hills) to the freshly vacated paddocks of Yaralla Estate. Then the government suddenly backflipped on its decision to move the police horses to Yaralla (prompting an ICAC inquiry into the whole matter of the paddocks’ usage). However it still went ahead with the revoking of the tenant’s lease and the recreational horses were turfed off the estate, causing a vociferous outcry from the aggrieved horse owners. Since then there have been signals from the government of an intention to turn the land into 18ha of parklands for future public use. However the agistment paddocks remain idle and unoccupied, giving further cause for protest from the ejected horse lovers at the current impasse.

imageContinuing the path through this second Walker peninsula we come to the grand Yaralla House set up on raised land 150 metres from the shoreline. Around it are the various auxiliary buildings of the Yaralla Estate. The Walker Estate was acquired by the millionaire banker in piecemeal fashion in the 1840s-1850s from the beneficiaries of Isaac Nichols, convict-cum-colonial postmaster and the original crown landowner in Concord. Yaralla House itself is an architecturally significant, asymmetrical Victorian Italianate mansion, the original alabaster white villa was built by colonial architect Edmund Blacket (1850s-60s) with John Sulman adding extensions to it in the 1890s.

Squash courts shunned by the future Edward VIII
Squash courts shunned by the future Edward VIII
Self-contained ‘Walker World’:
After Eadith Walker inherited the Yaralla Estate from her father she systematically built up the property holdings, adding a swimming pool, squash and tennis courts, croquet lawn, stables, coach-house, guest houses and other auxiliary buildings. The squash court was installed specifically for the use of the Prince of Wales on his visit. However the Royal declined to play on it because of its concrete floor (his cousin and travel companion Lord Mountbatten played instead!).

Yaralla also had its own dairy farm (supplying milk to the Walkers’ and other local hospitals), piggery, fowl enclosures, bakery, fire brigade and powerhouse (Yaralla was the first building in Concord to have electricity!). A good chunk of the 40ha plus grounds were used as a golf course – some of its members later established the Royal Sydney Golf Club in North Bondi. The rest broke away from the Sydney Club and formed the Concord Golf Course (Club) on land, then known as “Walker’s Bush”, that had been part of the Walkers’ holdings.

Eadith lived alone at Yaralla – in the sense that she never married, however in a very real sense she was far from alone, even after her companion/adopted sister Anne left to marry the architect Sulman. Dame Eadith maintained a huge retinue of some 200 servants, maids, grooms, cooks, gardeners, engineers and other live-in staff. In addition, twin cousins of the family from Tenterfield, northern NSW, Egmont and George (Walker), lived there for many years (each having a room named after him!).

imageRockery from Italy:
Dame Eadith spared little expense on the beautification of her estate. Stonemasons were imported from Italy to build an sculptured Italianate terrace and a grotto. The grotto is a series of sculpted rockery caves interspersed with exotic flora, ferns, palms and especially succulents, lying at the foot of the bluff on which the former Walker home sits. The area between the grotto and the shoreline once contained the Walkers’ swimming pool complete with its own pumping station. There is also a decorative sunken garden and the evocative Four Winds Fountain located near the house.

At one period around WWI Eadith was a regular holder of lavish parties and charitable fetes and balls at Yaralla (Walker received her DBE for charitable activities). For the socially advanced, “old money” set, it was the place to be seen! Periodically she entertained royalty … both the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) and the Duke of Gloucester (the future George VI) stayed at the Yaralla Estate. Lesser luminaries, including governor-generals and premiers, also stayed at the Estate. In one celebrated incident aviator Ross Smith landed on the front lawn in a bi-plane in 1920 and had cucumber sandwiches on the lawn with the good Dame Commander. From her art and artifacts collections garnered from frequent overseas’ trips she brought back many Indian treasures to incorporate into a special showcase Indian room at Yaralla. After visiting Scandinavia she had a Norwegian cottage shipped out and reassembled on the Concord estate.

During the Great War the patriotic Eadith gave over Yaralla’s grounds to the army to be used as a ‘tent’ hospital. Yaralla House (sometimes known by the name Eadith Walker Convalescent Hospital) fell into the Crown’s hands after her death sans heirs in 1937. It eventually came under the trusteeship of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (the RPA) and then that of the Sydney Local Health District (SLHD). RPA now uses the former mansion (and other on-site cottages) as a residential care facility to house HIV and dementia outpatients.

After Dame Eadith died, the contents of the Yaralla properties were auctioned in 1938 by Lawson’s and de Groot. Held over eight days, it was the biggest auction held in Australia to that time. Some of the Yaralla items sold are now in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

imageFortunately for the vast Estate, there has been a lot of conservation and restoration work carried out at Yaralla in recent years – a combined effort by the City of Canada Bay Heritage Society, the Council itself, and the SLHD. We resume the walk, past the grotto, where the path slopes gently down towards a dense patch of very tall and wild bamboo on the water side with a small child care centre on the right. If you look west up the road that leads away from the centre, you will see a row of planted trees which guards an elaborate rose garden created by Eadith.

In the next section of the walk the narrowing path is encroached upon by overhanging branches in what is a pleasant little, untamed stretch of bush. Shortly we come to a metal fence signifying the boundary where the Yaralla Estate once ended, it has a gate that is no longer locked. Past the gate is a large, well-kept park which looks out on to Majors Bay. A small but dense turpentine-ironbark forest leads to the right in the direction of Nullawarra Road which is flanked by Arthur Walker Reserve (coincidentally named after an apparently unrelated ‘Walker’!).

The expansive park curves around Majors Bay with a continuous trail of dense mangroves on the foreshore and sporting fields on the right. The concrete pathway ends, abruptly and surprisingly, at the back fence of someone’s house. Surprising because, with just a little imaginative urban planning and some funding, a bracket-shaped boardwalk could have extended the foreshore path around the houses to connect with close-by Shadrock Shaw Reserve (much in the manner achieved with sections of Salt Pan Creek and other coastal walkways).

imageThe conclusion of a wonderful walk full of interesting history and natural beauty and charm … a tranquil corridor of nature with an air of unhurried ambience. From the Majors Bay Reserve end-point you can choose between walking on through the Mortlake and Breakfast Point streets to the ferry at Cabarita, or heading west, cutting across Concord Road to the nearest train station at Concord West.

Yaralla Footnote:
The entrance to Yaralla is the main (wrought iron) gate and the Hyacinth (Gatekeeper’s) Cottage at the junction of Nullawarra Rd and The Drive. In its heyday however, the Estate extended as far west as Concord Road (the original gate being where the Masonic hall is on Concord Road). Where privately owned red brick cottages and Californian bungalows are today, Dame Eadith constructed retirement cottages for her loyal staff to live in at the end of their working lives.

Tradies entrance – circa 1900

Sheena Coupe, Concord A Centenary History (1883-1983), Sydney 1983.
Jennifer MacCulloch, ‘Walker, Dame Eadith Campbell (1861-1937), Australian Dictionary of Biography, ANU, published in hardcover 1990
Patricia Skehan, ‘Yaralla estate’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011,, viewed 31 January 2016
Graham Spindler, Uncovering Sydney: Walks into Sydney’s Unexpected and Endangered Places, Sydney 1991
‘Rivendell School’,
‘Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital (Rivendell)’, City of Canada Bay Heritage Society,
Yaralla Estate, Dame Eadith Walker Estate Management Plan, 2014-16, (draft),