A Walk on the Wilder, Western Side of the Scenic Walkway to Manly

Bushwalking, Heritage & Conservation, Local history, Social History

Middle Harbour: 1922 Sydney street directory
The walk from The Spit to Manly is one of Sydney’s classic walks along a wild, rugged yet suburban coastline. The full journey is 10km through lush, dense bush land and spectacular lookouts. The first half of the walk (rated Grade 3 by NPWS) – Spit Bridge to about Balgowlah Heights – has a lot of up-and-down, crossing over foot bridges, winding steps but nothing too steep. The water views looking across to Little Manly, North Head and South Head are singularly impressive, and offer a sharp contrast with the contours of the walking track, through promontories dominated by a thick covering of nature.

The aesthetic significance of The Spit to Manly walk is evident to anyone who follows its sinewy trail, but it was also intriguing for me to discover little snippets of local history along the way. In my previous post (‘Sydney’s Heritage and History Trails: Manly Scenic Walkway’), I featured some of the historical points of interest pertaining to the eastern end of the Manly Scenic Walkway (Fairlight to Manly Wharf).

Spit Bridge (current)
Spit Bridge
Our starting point for the MSW walk going west to east, The Spit✥, a narrow channel of land jutting out from the northern part of affluent Mosman, was originally known as the “Sand-Spit”. Although there had been some tentative type of service earlier, Peter Ellery started the first truly effective ferry service from the Spit to Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Ellery ran the service from land he had acquired for farming in present-day Clontarf (today where Ellery’s Punt Reserve is situated) in a direct line over the water to the tip of The Spit. Ellery charged the users of his hand-operated punt ⅙d for a horse and cart and 6d for pedestrians. His service proved popular, popular enough for it to become a public ferry by 1871 (in 1888 a steam punt◙ replaced the hand-cranked boat) [‘The Spit – Historical Overview’, (Local Studies Service, Mosman Library, www.mosman.nsw.gov.au)].

The growing pressure for improved communications and transport lines between Sydney and the Manly area prompted a series of proposals (1862, 1888, 1915) for a bridge to be built across The Spit, before finally the go-ahead was given and a low timber bridge constructed and opened in 1924. Manly Council financed the bridge, and in a deal with the state government was permitted to reimburse its expenditure by collecting tolls for its use. In 1930 control of the bridge was passed to the Department of Main Roads [‘The Spit – Historical Overview’, ibid.].

The current bridge, a bascule lift span type made from steel and concrete, dates from 1958. The bridge, constructed in the same position as the erstwhile timber one, is also low-lying … consideration was given to making it a higher level bridge, but displaying a regrettable lack of foresight, the powers-that-be eventually plumped for the easier option and their legacy is still bedevilling Sydney motorists today! The Spit Bridge is believed to be the only Australian lift bridge still in operation on a major arterial road [‘Spit Bridge’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org].

Clontarf Pleasure Grounds
A beautiful tranquil reserve fronting the beach sits on the land where Clontarf Pleasure Grounds once stood (owned for many years by publican Issac Moore (Sr) and his descendants). For around half-a-century from circa 1860 the Grounds was a popular venue for numerous leisure activities…including games of quoits, skittles and cricket, picnics, swimming and of course drinking! Clontarf Grounds were reputed to be “the oldest, largest, and most shady pleasure grounds in the harbour” [MacRitchie, John, ‘Clontarf’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008,http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/clontarf, viewed 31 Oct 2017]. Over the years Sydney’s Clontarf has had several associations with Ireland: the name itself derives from the Battle of Clontarf, 1014 (a town close to Dublin); in the 1800s the grounds drew huge crowds during holidays including the Catholic Young Men’s Societies on anniversary days.

Plaque in Clontarf Reserve remembering 1868 incident
Attempted assassination in the Pleasure Grounds
In March 1868 a lone, mentally disturbed Irishman (and alleged Fenian sympathiser⌘) Henry O’Farrell took the opportunity during a visit by Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh to Clontarf, to shoot but not kill Alfred, Queen Victoria’s son. The British Prince was not badly wounded (the would-be assassin’s bullet was impeded by the “double thickness of the Duke’s trouser braces”). Prince Alfred was ferried to Sydney’s Government House for treatment. One unintended upshot of the incident was the establishment of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) at Camperdown through publicly subscribed funds raised to commemorate the Royal’s safe recovery◬. O’Farrell’s fate was sealed, he was summarily tried and hastily hanged within a month. His lawyer tried to run an insanity defence (entirely plausible) but in the prevailing climate O’Farrell’s case was a hopeless one. The incident had provoked pro-royal Australians into unleashing a torrent of prejudice aimed at Catholics, Fenians and Irish folks generally [MacRitchie, ibid.]

Clontarf Beach ‘Tent City’
During the Great Depression this now fashionable beachfront and reserve at Clontarf was the site of an impromptu tent city comprising several hundred homeless people down on their luck…the makeshift tent ‘homes’ were cobbled together with posts found in the bush and hessian (coated with whitewash, lime and fat as waterproofing)[MacRitchie, ibid.]

PostScript: MSW’s white sands
One of the pleasures of walking the stretch of the MSW track between Clontarf and Fairlight Beaches is coming upon the various little beaches that jot the coast. Often sheltered in bays away from the powerful ocean currents, some of these “mini-beaches” are accessible only from wooden staircases leading down from high on the promontories around Dobroyd Head and Balgowlah Heights. Bearing names like Castle Rock Beach, Forty Baskets Beach, Reef Beach and Washaway Beach, walking on these pockets of sandy white strips convey a sense of being in a remote and deserted location, despite most of the spots being a only a stone’s throw from middle class suburbia.

Grotto Point Aboriginal carvings
A short diversion off MSW onto a side track on the Dobroyd Point stage of the walk will allow you to view a number of archaic Aboriginal engravings – this part of the headland is known as Grotto Point. Enclosed in wooden pens are various depictions of whales, boomerangs and small fish carved into the rock platform.

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✣✣ for more on Clontarf and the whole Sydney pleasure grounds era see also my 2014 post ‘A Day-Trippers’ Paradise: The Vogue for Pleasure Grounds in 19th/20th Century’
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✥ a Spit (or sandspit) is a deposition bar or beach landform that juts out from the coast
◙ the introduction of the steam punt at The Spit later on (1911) would allow the Manly trams to be carried across Middle Harbour [MacRitchie, ibid.]
¤ as a result Northern Sydney motorists continue to be plagued by traffic bottlenecks every time the Spit Bridge opens in the middle for passing water crafts
⌘ It seems to have been generally assumed at the time that the Irishman was acting on behalf of the Irish Underground Fenian Brotherhood but this remains inconclusive
◬ the adjacent Duke of Edinburgh Parade is named in honour of Prince Alfred

Sydney’s Heritage and History Trails: Manly Scenic Walkway

Bushwalking, Heritage & Conservation, Local history, Social History

Of the many, many coastal walks afforded by “the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security…”(Governor Arthur Phillip’s appraisal of Port Jackson after sighting Sydney for the first time in 1788), the seaside walk on the southern side of the suburb of Manly✳ is certainly right up there with the most picturesque of them.

‘Father of Manly’
Henry Gilbert Smith
Pivotal to Manly Scenic Walkway (henceforth MSW) and to the seaside community of Manly as a whole is the historic Manly Wharf, the original of which was built by Henry Gilbert Smith in 1855⌽. Smith, known as the “Father of Manly”, had a vision of how the undeveloped bushland that dominated Manly in the 1850s could be transformed into a thriving seaside resort. Purchasing and leasing in excess of 300 acres of land, Smith built Manly’s early hotels, including one (as a sop to the local Temperance Society?) that served only soft drinks! As well the pioneer entrepreneur was responsible for planning the layout of Manly’s streets and parks as they still exist today [‘Manly Heritage Plaques Walk’, www.manlyaustralia.com.au]

Carrying passengers to Manly
Creating a seaside resort a good 11.3km from Sydney (a formidable distance in the 19th century) necessitated a good transport link. Travel by water was the obvious mode of transport for the beach suburb. HG Smith started the first regular service from the wharf operated through the paddle steamer Phantom which ferried day-time visitors to Manly and night-time theatre-goers to and from Sydney in the 1860s. From the 1870s the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company. controlled the suburb’s ferry services. Briefly in the early 1890s the Port Jackson Co had competition from a new rival, the Manly Cooperative Steam Ferry Co which lowered fares and increased services. By 1896 the Manly Co-op business however faltered and was wound up and Port Jackson Co resumed its monopoly.

Pt Jackson Steamship Co
The Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Co, whose motto was “Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care”, continued to serve the public at Manly until 1972 when its role was taken over by Brambles Industries which in turn passed ownership to the state government two years later [‘The Heart of Manly Heritage Walk’, www.manly australia.com]. In the early 1990s the government operator introduced Catamaran vessels, JetCats, to replace the unreliable and costly hydrofoils…the Manly service is now operated by Bass and Flinders Cruises operating as Manly Fast Ferries.

Venetian carnivals
East Esplanade was the venue for many of Manly’s early cultural activities, such as the Venetian Carnival which flourished from around 1913 on. The carnival comprised stalls with food and entertainment (eg, “chocolate wheels and other gambling devices”), costumes, fireworks and a water pageant [‘The Heart of Manly Heritage Walk’]. By 1930 the annual Venetian Carnival was promising the greatest “new attractions, new frolics and new stunts … ever organised in the Southern Hemisphere” with the inclusion of aeroplane rides, a “night time raid”, a “monkey speedway” and participation by Manly Surf Club. The event in 1930 ran for three weeks during Summer with the proceeds pledged to Manly Hospital and other local charities [The Sydney Mail, 15-Jan-1930 (Advertisement)]

A meander along the Esplanade
Rows of Norfolk Island pines (no surprise to learn was also the idea of HG Smith!) flank MSW with narrow strips of sand on both sides of the wharf forming beaches sheltered in the cove from the ocean. Standing in front of the wharf building opposite Manly’s famous (Italian-inspired) Corso, if you go left, past the fast food outlets on West Esplanade the walking path heads back toward the suburb of Fairlight. Right, past Aldi◘ takes you on to East Esplanade and the walkway curves around past an assortment of clubs devoted to aquatic pursuits (Manly Yacht Club, 16ft Skiff Club, etc) and connects up with the locale known as Little Manly.

If you head further east where the Esplanade ends, the road will make its way to Little Manly Beach and Point with its spectacular promontory views. Little Manly today is uniformly residential but for a very long period (1883-1964), the Manly Gas Works located at Manly Point Park met all the area’s domestic gas needs.

Beyond Little Manly is the dense pristine heathland known as North Head, a sandstone promontory with a significant history of military and immigration activities. North Head’s surviving fortifications were strategically important to the country’s eastern coastline defence especially during WWII. The headland also functioned as Sydney’s Quarantine Station for a huge stretch of New South Wales’ history (1832-1984), isolating smallpox and other infectious diseases from entering the community.

Little penguins and large selachii
Starting back at the wharf and heading in a western direction this time, along West Esplanade, we note the first of numerous stencilled messages on the walkway alerting walkers to the presence of little penguins. Manly Wharf and its surrounds are known nesting grounds (May/June) for migrating colonies of Eudyptula minor.

Further along MSW one of the first complexes we pass is the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, a public aquarium displaying sharks, stingrays, little penguins (easier to spot here than on the nearby shoreline!) and other refugees from the ocean. A lure for thrill-seeking visitors is the “Shark Dive Xtreme” (swimming with 3m plus grey nurse sharks). The Sanctuary has been somewhat of an institution in Manly for 52 years¤ but is now in the final chapter of its Manly story – in March this year the management announced its upcoming closure, citing that the business, in a small ageing building, was no longer viable [B Kay, ‘Manly Sea Life Sanctuary aquarium to close at the end of the year’, Manly Daily, 30-Mar-2017].

If we follow MSW walkway to its natural end-point, it would take us past magnificent, dense bushland, serene bays and scenic lookouts on a trek of 10km to the low-lying Spit Bridge – this archaic looking bridge is the curse of motorists forced to twiddle their thumbs in peak-time gridlock whilst the bridge opens in the middle to let various sea craft through its passage.

Two Manly pollies from Federation era
The walkway passes another local landmark Manly Pavilion (a bistro/reception venue these days) and continues up the stairs. At the top two base relief bronze plaques greet walkers and joggers, these are of Federation era politicians Edmund Barton and the somewhat itinerant Henry Parkes, both residents of the area in the 19th century. Apparently these are replacement plaques as the originals were stolen from the site in 2014 [J Morcombe, ‘Federation fathers Barton and Parkes stolen from Manly’, Manly Daily, 01-Apr-2014]

Fairlight House
The MSW path soon reaches the suburb of Fairlight, in the 1920s, along with Balgowlah collectively known as Manly West. Fairlight was named after Fairlight House, the mansion home of Henry Gilbert Smith (that seminal figure in Manly’s development again!). English-born Smith took the name from a village in Sussex. Built in the 1850s by colonial architect Edmund Blacket, the house was demolished in 1939. All that is left to remind us of its one-time grandeur is a plaque on the spot showing a grainy old photo of the grand house.

Fairlight Beach
Fairlight Beach Dutch submarine episode
The small beach at Fairlight with its rocky shore and unpredictable breaks holds no attractions for board surfers but its position nestled into the cove and small tidal pool makes it kid-friendly. A tourism sign on the beachfront recounts its connection with a Dutch submarine which had seen action in the world war against the Japanese (the K.12 succeeded in torpedoing several enemy warships). The K.12 sub had been residing in Manly harbour when heavy storms in 1949 prompted the leasee, the Port Jackson Co, to try to tow it to a safer haven in Neutral Bay. Unfortunately in the process it became grounded near Fairlight Beach and sat there for 18 months before being refloated early in 1951…the K.12 was salvaged for scrap and eventually finished up in a new location near Ryde Bridge where it sank again! Parts of the sub’s engine and the bow are still wedged on rocks at Fairlight Beach [G Ross, M Melliar-Phelps, A century of ships in Sydney Harbour (1980); ‘Submarine Refloated, Salvaged for Scrap’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18-Jan-1951]

PostScript: Kay-ye-my, the Aboriginal name for Manly Cove and North Harbour
Long, long before the Europeans came to the area, Manly was home to two indigenous Eora peoples, the Cannalgal and Kay-ye-my (AKA Gamaragal) clans, who were the custodians of the land. On one part of the walkway overlooking North Harbour there’s information signage which celebrates the Kay-ye-my clan who for millennia contentedly inhabited the Manly region, living a traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering.

The Gamaragal were situated on the north shore of Port Jackson – occupying the land from Karabilye (Kirribilli) to the cliffs of Garungal or Carangle (North Head) and the sandy bay of Kayyeemy (Manly Cove) [‘Gamaragal – Aboriginal People of Manly and Northern Sydney’, Dictionary of Sydney, 24-Sept-2013, www.home.dictionaryofsydney.org

Kay-ye-my Point

FootNote: Manly East and Manly West
Less than one hundred years ago Sydney cartographers divided the suburb of Manly and its greater surrounds neatly into East and West Manly…as illustrated in the following street maps taken from the 1922 Wilson’s Street Director (predecessor of the standard Sydney street directory Gregory’s). Today’s distinct suburbs of Fairlight, Clontarf, Seaforth, Manly Vale and North Manly are not identified on the maps, and ‘Balgowlah’ and ‘Dobroyd'(sic) are listed as locales only. Note also no bridge at The Spit in 1922.

Manly East
Manly West

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✳ the origin of the name for the suburb can be traced back to Phillip himself…on his visit to the area the first governor described the aboriginal inhabitants as ‘manly’ in physique. As if to demonstrate the veracity of Phillip’s observation forcefully, one of the clansman in fact speared the governor over a misunderstanding at Little Manly Beach! (Phillip recovered from his wound and to his credit did not seek to inflict retribution on the native population)
⌽ later a second parallel wharf was built for cargo transport which became redundant after the construction of Spit Bridge in 1924 enabled easier road transport. In 1928 the cargo wharf was converted into a Fun Pier which operated until 1989
◘ where the Manly Fun Pier was until its closure and demolition in 1989
¤ starting in 1965 as Manly Marineland and later known as Oceanworld Manly before its present handle

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]

La Perouse II: A Coastal Bush Walk through Obsolete Military Emplacements, Multiple Golf Courses, Shooting Ranges and an Abandoned Graveyard

Bushwalking, Local history

imageAt the end of Anzac Parade, not far from where the bitumen meets the grassy knoll, was once the location of the La Perouse tram terminus (known locally as “the Loop”). The tram lines were torn up in 1961 with the La Perouse line having the distinction of being the last Sydney tram service still running at that time. This is an ideal spot to kick-off a leisurely and instructive saunter through Sydney’s southern suburban coastline and unearth some of the connexions with its past. The knoll is dotted with a number of landmarks recalling both the early British colonial regime and Comte de Lapérouse’s brief sojourn on his eponymous peninsula.

Looking south, the first colonial structure that comes into our line of sight is the 1822 built sandstone, castellated watchtower … today an exotic backdrop favoured by numerous newly-weds for their wedding photos. In the 19th century the watchtower functioned as a surveillance point and customs post (under David Goodsir who had the quaint official title of “coast watcher”): strategically important because Botany Bay was a vulnerable point in the early colony, a sparsely populated “back door” through which smugglers sought to sneak contraband into Sydney by sea. A fire destroyed the attached wooden living quarters in 1957 [‘The Macquarie Watchtower, La Perouse’, (Randwick and Districts Historical Society www.randwickhistoricalsociety.org.au]. To the west of the castle tower is the monument to J-F Lapérouse, not far from the museum which also bears his name.

Leaving the monument and walking east past the Mr Whippy van, the weekend kite-flyers, and assorted day-trippers reclining on the side of the hill, we come to a bridge leading to a one-time fort and later war veterans home, Bare Island. Organised tours of historic Bare Island on Sundays are available, but these days the most activity the hilly island sees are the scores of scuba divers who flock to its shoreline to enjoy what is one of the most popular dive sites in Sydney. From here we return to Anzac Parade and to a sign directing us to Congwong Bay Beach. Before we take that path lined with sandy vegetation on either side, we spot a square, fenced-off area just ahead which is decorated with colourful Aboriginal motifs. This is the famous “snake pit” (AKA “the Loop”), for 107 years a source of entertainment for Sunday visitors to La Perouse. A small, dedicated team of herpetological enthusiasts (for most of this period the work of one family of seasoned handlers – the Canns) have enthralled, mesmerised and horrified (probably in equal measures) untold numbers of onlookers. Every Sunday since c.1909 this pit has been the stage on which countless snakes, goannas, lizards and other reptiles have strutted their stuff!

Congwong Bay
Congwong Bay
We leave the snake ‘sideshow’ and cross small Congwong Beach, heading north-east into the scrub. Ignoring a right turn which leads to secluded Little Congwong Beach (a long-time haunt for unofficial nude bathers … shock/horror!), we keep to the main track which cuts through ragged scrubland that once was thick with tall, abundant Eastern Suburbs Banksias (melaleucas, coast tee trees, banksia serratas and the like). At the top of the rise (where a solitary rest bench sits) we go left up to the boundary of the first of four golf courses we will pass on our travels (the NSW Club), then right down a long, disused service trail that leads us to Henry Head. Henry Head was the site of a 19th century battery post which was meant to back up the fortifications at Bare Island further inside the heads (neither sets of guns were ever fired in anger!). On the point, in front of the Henry Head emplacements, is a small, obsolete lighthouse (Endeavour Light). The empty mountings where the guns were once housed now are bare shells with only the calling cards of vandals, graffitists and rubbish dumpers to show.

Henry Head battery
Henry Head battery
This windswept and desolate spot marks the start of a spectacular coastal walk. The quality of this walk has been enhanced in recent years with the addition of a mini-mesh boardwalk which facilitates the up-and-down clamber over the rocks. About halfway along the winding boardwalk we see a bench seat made from the very same mesh material … obsessive-compulsiveness or 100% utilisation of existing materials? Perhaps when they finished laying the boardwalk they had some mesh left over and thought, waste not, want not, might as well make a matching seat as well! The high cliffs from here down to Malabar provide some of the best vantage points in Sydney to view northbound pods of migrating whales (mainly Winter-Spring).

At the point where the rocks on the shoreline start to get too high to climb without the right mountaineering gear, we verge left and follow a narrow trail that winds up the hill. At the top we find ourselves rejoining the NSW Golf Club course. We steer a tight course around the edge of the cliff so as not to antagonise any iron-wielding golfers we may run in to, but also because it affords walkers the best views of the ocean. Lots of vivid, native coastal wildflowers can be seen along the cliff-top.

What remains of the stern of the SS Minmi
What remains of the stern of the SS Minmi
Halfway through the golf course we take a diversion over a narrow footbridge to explore the aquatic reserve at Cape Banks. This sinewy peninsula, jutting out into the sea, was a WWII fortification and the site of a 1937 shipwreck, SS Minmi. The collier upon impact with the rocks one dark night split in two, the remainder of its stern, a rusty grey mess, draws curious sightseers and hikers to the peninsula (‘Shipwrecks’, Randwick City Council, www.randwick.nsw.gov.au). One of the holes of the golf course has a professional tee on the nature reserve itself, a challenging lofty shot back across a broad and windy stretch of water to the green, fully testing the nerves of even the most confident of golfers.

Continuing through the golf course onto a bush track with lush vegetation, the path turns towards the road, coming out near the Westpac Chopper Base. Adjacent to the base is a pistol range, the home of the Sydney Pistol Club❈. Just after that we turn right and enter what a sign describes as the “Coastal Hospital Management Trail”. It is an ancient looking graveyard … the widespread, abandoned remains of the old Coast Hospital Cemetery, the scattered graves and headstones all looking decidedly unkempt and decrepit (the approaches to the cemetery are usually water-logged after any significant rain). Many patients from the Little Bay infectious diseases hospital are buried here. Most of the headstones, much weathered by the elements and/or vandalised, are hard to read (see below for more on the historic hospital).

'Wrapped Coast' 1969
‘Wrapped Coast’ 1969
After the cemetery the trail returns to the cliffs and we walk along the edge of the second golf course, St Michaels. More attractive wildflowers on the right side. At the end of the golf course where the headland turns to the left we catch a glimpse of a secluded little beach deep in the bay, aptly name “Little Bay” (behind the beach a third and shorter course is situated, this is the Coast Golf Course). There are many more houses and apartments in Little Bay now than 47 years ago when the celebrated avant-garde artists, Bulgarian-American Christo and his partner Jeanne-Claude, selected this remote and uninhibited stretch of Sydney coastline for an environmental art project. In a major logistics operation involving over 100 workers in 1969, these two practitioners of what has come to be called “environmental sculpture” ‘wrapped’ a 2.5km long section of Little Bay’s deserted rocky coast using one million square feet of synthetic woven fibre fabric and an awful lot of rope!❦

Coastal Hospital for Infectious Diseases
Coastal Hospital for Infectious Diseases
A short diversion from the walking path at Little Bay beach takes us up to Coast Hospital Road where the Prince Henry Hospital, initially called the Coast Hospital, was situated (in 2001 the hospital was closed and its services transferred to the Prince of Wales Hospital, the salvageable buildings were absorbed into local public housing). From 1881 Prince Henry functioned alternately as a smallpox hospital, a convalescent hospital, and a “fever hospital” dealing with all manner of infectious conditions over the years (diphtheria, TB, scarlet fever, bubonic plague, swine flu pandemic). Later the medical focus of Prince Henry was extended to epidemiology and preventative medicine and the poliomyelitis virus (‘Prince Henry Hospital – South Eastern Sydney Local Health District’, www.seslhd.health.nsw.gov.au).

Close to the Coast Hospital site the University of NSW maintained a campus for many years. Originally intended for a medical school which was never built, it was used instead for biological sciences research and for solar energy research (Solarch, first building in NSW to generate green power). In 2008 UNSW sold the land to developers and it now contains high-rise apartments (‘Development of ex-UNSW site Little Bay’, LAPEROUSE – Social Change not Climate Change, www.laperouse.info

The Coast walk continues north from Little Bay above “Christo’s Rocks” (a headland once owned by the Prince Henry Hospital) where we trek past the last of the four ocean-facing golf courses in a row, the Randwick Council course. Keeping out of the range of flying golf balls✥ is one of the navigational skills needed to thread your way through the maze of golf courses … a key to managing this is to hug the red marker posts on the cliff edges.

Finally we get beyond the last of the golf holes by the distance of a 4 wood, reaching Bay Parade and Long Bay where there is a rockpool and a tiny, unfashionable beach, too sheltered from the ocean to lure many serious board surfers. On the northern side of Long Bay you will spot plenty of black suited “frogmen and women”, signifying another popular dive site. Malabar Beach is very much the “poor relation” of much larger neighbour, Maroubra Beach, and its popularity probably hasn’t been enhanced over the years by its proximity to both a large sewerage outlet and a large penitentiary (Long Bay Gaol).

Anzac Range
Anzac Range
The route taken for the final leg of our walk, to Maroubra, depends on circumstances at the time of the walk. The optimal route is out to Boora Point where you can find a series of isolated concrete lookout posts from WWII, then north along the cliff-top past dense thickens of tea trees and banksia (the scrubby track here is ill-defined or even non-existent!). The last part which takes you to South Maroubra Beach skirts around the eastern perimeters of the vast Anzac Rifle Range (there has been recreational target shooting here on-and-off since the 1850s). After passing the northern boundary of the rifle range you do a sharp dog-leg left through wild, lanky vegetation around the model aero club field, followed by a U-turn, then back through an open gate (hard to spot until you get close, look to the right side) leading to Arthur Byrne Reserve and the South Maroubra beachfront.

All up the La Perouse to Maroubra coastal trek is about a 12.5 to 14.5 km walk depending on which route you take from Malabar Beach – with very minimal amount of gradient to contend with. If you are looking for a pleasant and feature-packed sort of coastline ramble, with plenty of variety to see on the way, then this one definitely ticks the box.

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❈ located here (near Cape Banks) since 1959, previously the handgun club practiced in a disused rail tunnel near Wynyard Station(!?!)
❦ Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ‘bag’ seems to have been to temporarily wrap large objects – natural or human-made … one of the other famous projects of the environmental artist-couple was the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin
✥ especially on the Council course where we find ourselves walking directly towards the golfers hitting from the tees!
if you are walking on a weekend on which the Rifle Club is holding a competition (red flags flying over the range), then the Boora Point route is not available (for safety reasons) and usually patrolled. On these occasions you need to take the western path through Cromwell and Pioneer Parks and come out at Broome Street, South Maroubra

Homebush Bay Perambulations IV: In the Footsteps of Blaxland and the Newington Estate

Bushwalking, Environmental, Heritage & Conservation, Social History

I wanted to do a follow up walk to an earlier exploration of the Olympic Precinct and the Millennium Parklands, extending it into the Newington and Silverwater hinterland on the other side of the Armory. Taking the ferry wharf at Sydney Olympic Park as our starting point this time, we embark on the 3km riverfront walk to Wilson Park (near the Silverwater Bridge), our first stop.

On the left side of the path we get glimpses through the fence of the Newington Nature Reserve. This huge area (48ha), marshy with mudflats and mangroves, and long neglected before the Olympics, underwent extensive remediation in the 1990s as part of the plan to create a ‘green’ Olympics in 2000. Its native vegetation was regenerated and the land was transformed into an estuarine wetland system and a woodland rich in turpentines and ironbarks. The public is not permitted access as it is a wildlife sanctuary for eagles and frogs and sundry other fauna. An additional factor is that the wetland area is still believed to contain an unexploded ordnance[1].

imageAs we come towards the old Armory site a curious feature is the retention of several old disused navy buildings on the waterfront. This detritus was scattered along the water’s edge, pieces of abandoned wooden and brick buildings tagged with faded building numbers. Some had been fenced up in a valiant but doomed attempt at vandal-proofing, and others near the Naval Depot simply boarded up as best they can be.

Near the always popular Armory Cafe, reborn out of the ashes of the burnt down original building, is the Blaxland Riverside Park, set on a sloping terrain, a treat for children with its flying fox and playground. The park contains several more of those earth mounds, a feature throughout the Bay (I can only surmise that these too are hiding nasty toxic surprises like the other mounds closer to the Olympic Precinct).

Wilson Park: walkers & cyclists
Wilson Park: walkers & cyclists
We stop at the park just before Silverwater Bridge – Wilson Park, there’s a history of toxic contamination here too. The site was occupied in the 1950s by PACCAL (Petroleum and Chemical Corporation of Australia Ltd) which refined gas from petroleum, a process which produced three tonnes of tar sludge a day. The park was where the unwanted waste products ended up. Similarly some of PACCAL’s stockpile of dioxins eventually seeped into Duck River on the other side of the Bridge[2].

We cut through the once highly contaminated Wilson Park, passing the athletics and soccer fields which stand where the gas processing plant used to be, and come out on to Newington Road. Halfway up the street we come to the high, ugly scarred wall of Silverwater Correction Centre. The very large prison, both minimum and maximum (remand) security inmates. The women’s prison, previously known as Mulawa (Aboriginal: in the shadow of trees), these days has mostly minimum security prisoners (in the main for crimes like fraud) but in the past it had ‘celebrity’ inmates such as Lindy Chamberlain (who unwillingly took the rap presumably for an unnamed Australian dingo for the murder of her baby daughter and was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated).

The men’s prison at Silverwater has also been the scene of one of the most daring jail escapes ever in Australia. In 1999 the Russian girlfriend of an inmate in Silverwater hijacked a helicopter at gunpoint and landed inside the prison, enabling her convict lover to get away by air. Six weeks later they were both cornered and caught and the girlfriend (dubbed “Red Lucy” by the Australian media) ended up behind bars in Mulawa as well.

The history of the land the Silverwater prison occupies is a varied one and some traces of of its historic existence can still to be seen … only though if you are a prisoner or a staffer at Silverwater. Within the facility grounds are several old colonial homes, most notably ‘Newington’ built by early landowner John Blaxland§. The Newington Estate, some 520ha of land, was named after the Blaxland family home in Kent.

Newington House
Newington House
Newington House has been variously used over the last 180 years. Initially Blaxland’s principal home, after his death it became the hub of Newington College (established by the Methodist Church in 1863) before the preppy college was relocated to Stanmore in inner city Sydney. The Newington Estate was acquired by land-owner John Wetherill who subdivided it for residential settlement (Homebush Village) but the public didn’t clamour to take the lots on offer (even the majority of the workers at the nearby Abattoir and Brickworks were not interested in living there!).

The government purchased a part of the Newington Estate, turning it into a hospital for the mentally ill – an aged women’s asylum. Buildings named in honour of notable early colonial women (Catchpole, Chisholm, Reiby) were added to Newington House as hospital wards. Later the asylum was extended to male patients and was categorised as a “state asylum for dependent adults with infirmity or illness of “incurable character”[3].

By 1960 the hospital had closed and was handed over to the Department of Prisons. Ten years later Silverwater Gaol opened in a very large block fronting on to Holker Street and incorporating the grounds of the hospital. Newington House itself is still used as the administration wing of the corrective centre.

The entrepreneurial flair of John Blaxland led to the estate use’s in the 19th century for numerous commercial enterprises including salt production, lime kiln, flour mill, tweed mill and coal mining (this last venture proved unsuccessful)[4].

SOP Lodge
SOP Lodge
We turn off Holker Street and into Jamieson Street and walk past the newer part of the prison, these days called the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre (the gaol entrance point for visitors). On the right we get a fuller view of the vast expanse of the Armory’s restricted area. About halfway up Jamieson Street we come across a fenced-off section of the Armory with a series of old military-style huts set on green pastures. This is the Sydney Olympic Park Lodge, an urban holiday camp run by the YMCA and offering school kids a mix of outdoor and educational activities drawing on the resources of the Armory. Although part of the Olympic Park accommodation portfolio these rather spartan looking dormitories are certainly not likely to be mistaken for luxury five-star accommodation for Olympics or other sports-related VIPs.

The Lodge is buffeted from Blaxland Reserve by a large nature reserve. As we come back to the Parramatta a River trail we spot some more of the artificially created earth mounds, so characteristic of the Bay area. From the impressive gatehouse of the Armory it’s only about one-and-three-quarters kilometres back to our SOP ferry wharf starting point.

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§ in the earlier posts Homebush Bay Perambulations I and Homebush Bay Perambulations III I referred to the Wentworth family’s role in the early development of Homebush Bay, being the beneficiaries of the grant of a large swathe of land in the area. Blaxland’s early land acquisitions led to him and his family having a similar imprint on the western part of Homebush Bay. At around the same time, Blaxland’s younger brother, Gregory (of Blue Mountains explorer fame), purchased the Brush Farm Estate in Eastwood from the father of his exploration companion, WC Wentworth – another interaction between the two great colonial families.

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[1] ‘Management Plan for Newington Nature Reserve’, (SOPA, 2003), www.environment.nsw.gov.au
[2] ‘Industrial History’, Sydney Olympic Park Authority, www.sopa.nsw.gov.au
[3] ibid.
[4] ibid.

Homebush Bay Perambulations III: a Walk through an Industrial Graveyard

Bushwalking, Environmental, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

This walk starts from a central point in Homebush Bay, Sydney Olympic Station, and will explore some places on the periphery of the area. This will include parts of the present Olympic Park complex with a very different industrial past to its current activities.

From the station we are very close to the first stop on our walk, but when we get there we discover that a small group of linked buildings (between Dawn Fraser and Herb Elliott Avenues) is the only reminder of the area’s former industrial preoccupations. The nest of Abattoirs administration buildings are all that remains of the once vast (Homebush) State Abattoirs. This handsome brick structure, circa 1913 but maintained in good condition, now bears the name (in SOPA* speak) Abattoir Heritage Precinct. Today, it houses, appropriately enough for the surroundings, sporting bodies, eg, the NSW Rugby League Professional Players Association and the Australian Paralympics Committee. One of the smaller, adjunct buildings is used as a cafe (with the slightly melancholy and possibly perverse name (given the history) “Abattoir Blues” Cafe.

Abattoir humour
Abattoir humour
There is a backhanded tribute of sorts(?) on the admin site to its former status as an Abattoirs. The forecourt’s garden setting includes a series of panels trivialising the activities involving the slaughtered creatures in a humorous fashion. The signs consisted of painted ceramics depicting cute-looking cows and pigs with captions echoing popular nursery rhymes – “Here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo-moo, e-i-e-i-o”, “To market, to market, Jiggety Jig, Jiggety Jog”, etc. Very sensitive stuff, eh? You don’t have to be a committed animal liberationist to find this in poor taste.

Next we walk from the Admin Precinct down Showground Road and through Cathy Freeman Park with its “Olympic Torch” Fountain (a hit with five-year-olds in summer, if not their parents) on to Kevin Coombs Avenue around the Showground block up to Australia Avenue. The Abattoirs itself was located within this broad area, and comprised at its peak 44 slaughterhouses with a capacity to kill over 20,000 animals a day … at one point it was the largest abattoir in the Commonwealth. Serviced by an industry rail link from Rookwood Station, there were saleyards and meat preserving facilities in the immediate vicinity (Homebush and Flemington).

Homebush Bay (1922 edition of Wilson's Street Directory)
Homebush Bay (1922 edition of Wilson’s Street Directory)
In a previous piece on Homebush Bay I mentioned the super-sized contribution of Union Carbide and other industrial polluters to the extreme level of dioxins and other contaminants found in Haslams Creek. Well, the Abattoirs did its bit as well in the old days. The proximity of the plant to the Creek was too tempting … an easy way to dispose of the waste materials of animal carcasses resulting in algal blooms and further pollution of the waterway. This practice had the additional affect of attracting sharks to the nearby Silverwater Baths[¹].

About 500 metres along Australia Avenue, opposite the Showground, we see a mechanical relic of a bygone industry on display, rusted throughout. Here a narrow, sloping pathway starts, cutting a v-shape through the bush. At the end of the path you reach a long, elevated catwalk, caged on either side, which leads to the viewing tower of the old Brickpit, known as the Brickpit Ring. This aerial, circular structure, sitting 18.5 metres above the ground on slender metal stilts, provides a spectacular view of the former quarry with its gouged sandstone pit floor filled with viridescent-coloured water.

The Homebush Brickpit closed operations in 1988 (same year as the Abattoirs) and was destined to become one of the venues for the Olympics (possible site for among other things the tennis centre) but the last-minute discovery of an endangered frog species in residence saw it converted into a habitat for the green and golden bell frog.

As you walk around the 550-metre circumference of the Ring, the walls (multicoloured mesh panels interspersed with clear glass ones) double as information kiosks on the history of the brickworks (including an audio speaker with former pit workers recounting stories of their experiences). Other panels are equiped with soundscapes of frog calls.

imageThe information walls encircling the Ring give a concise summary of the history of the State Brickworks from its establishment in 1911. It tells an interesting story of a public enterprise formed to counter the oligopolistic tendencies of private brick manufacturers. Having a state brickworks was a means of keeping prices down and of increasing the percentage of owner-occupied dwellings in Sydney (only 30% in 1911).

Brickpit Ring
Brickpit Ring
The story is also one of intrigue in the form of sabotage – in the Depression the Nationalist government sold off the brickworks to a consortium of private brick-making companies which did its upmost to sabotage the brickworks when it was reacquired by the NSW (Labor) government. From 1946 the reformed State Brickworks, with their kilns destroyed and the works vandalised, struggled to meet the demands of the immediate post-war housing boom before again reaching an optimal output of 63 million bricks in the mid 1950s. Technological and work practice changes to brick-making in the 1970s presented a further challenge to the Homebush operations before its inevitable closure in the 1980s[²].

We exit by the northern catwalk which is apparently the official entrance to the Brickpit and cross over Marjorie Jackson Parkway into Wentworth Common. The Common today has a sporting field, children’s play area and family picnic facilities, but in the first half of the 19th century when it was part of the Wentworth Estate, the famous explorer William Wentworth built what was claimed to be Sydney’s first racecourse on the site¥ … an apt place to position a racecourse given that the Homebush area was originally known as as “The Flats”¤. In 1859 the premier racecourse (and the home of the Australian Jockey Club) was moved to its present site Randwick[³]. The Homebush track eventually was used (ca 1910) as something euphemistically called a “resting paddock” for the Homebush Abbatoirs. When the Brickworks were in full swing the workers dug the clay for construction of the bricks from the soil where Wentworth Common is now.

At night back in the 1960s and ’70s, when the Brickworks and Abattoirs workers would go home, the back roads around the works would be taken over by testosterone-driven (and almost certainly alcohol-fuelled) local hoons who would turn it into a drag strip and stage their own ‘Brickies’ version of Mt Panorama[4].

The exploits of the suburban ‘revheads’ in the sixties and seventies, curiously, anticipated the recent conversion of Olympic Park into a street circuit for the running of V8 Supercars events from 2009. Amazingly, despite the furore caused by using such an environmentally sensitive location for this purpose, the Sydney 500 race continues to be held at Homebush (although 2016 is the last year it is scheduled to be held)[5].

Just to the north of the Common we come to a high earth mound with a circular path winding its way to the top. The Bay Marker as it is called contains the same cocktail of toxins and contaminants as the other markers and mounds in Homebush Bay. After taking in the views from atop the Bay Marker we head down Bennelong Parkway towards Bicentennial Park (a distance of about 1.4km to the park gates). On route we pass businesses of various kinds, electric power generators, fencing contractors and the occasional tertiary education centre.

Inside the gates we walk up the undulating grass slopes close to the road. The land at Bicentennial Park was once a large, de facto garbage tip with nothing aesthetic about the area to recommend it. It was a real eyesore with dumped cars, building wastes, tyres, all manner of ‘unwantables’ found their way onto the land over the years. The coming of the 200 year anniversary of white settlement in 1988 transformed the site with a makeover of the park, complete with fountain lakes, large modern sculptural pieces, bike hire facilities, ‘adventure’ playground and picnic areas.

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great
On the walk through the Park there are several interesting features to see. Near where a small footbridge crosses from the park over Bennelong Parkway there is a monument to the ancient lawgiver, the 6th century BC Shahanshah Cyrus II of Persia … Iranians stumbling upon this whilst picnicking in the Park may puzzle over why his commemorative stone turned up here (NB: the footbridge is closed until November 2018 to allow for the construction of a new brickpit park).

Treillage in Bicen Park
Treillage in Bicen Park
From the Cyrus stone we walk east through the multi-fountained “water play area” to the striking structure at the highest point of the Park, the Treillage Tower. A treillage is a type of latticework that you are supposed to grow vines up, however there is not a vine in sight around this one! The structure has an oddly artificial appearance to it, a bit plasticky or cardboardish … like a cross between King Arthur’s Camelot and something you’d find at Disneyland! Unreal-looking it may be but it does afford good views of the nearby Badu Wetlands, Olympic facilities and yet another earth mound marker on the south side of Australia Avenue.

Heading east from the Treillage down the archaic-looking stone steps and over the Powells Creek bridge (with its curved lines which seem to mimic the Olympic Stadium) you come to the eastern entrance to the Park, flanked by two small-scale replicas of the Bicentennial tower. By walking 500 metres straight up Victoria Street you’ll reach Concord West Railway Station.

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* Sydney Olympic Park Authority – the body responsible for managing and developing the 640 hectares of the Park’s area post-Olympics
¥ this claim would be under serious challenge as horse races were held on a course built in Hyde Park in the City of Sydney as early as 1810…Hyde Park ‘racecourse’ clearly predates other known claimants in Sydney.
¤ although the racecourse at Homebush was a ‘downs’ course apparently, undulating, not flat

PostScript: Homebush nomenclature
The earliest free settler in the area then known as Liberty Plains, Thomas Laycock, chose the name “Home Bush” for his farm in the area (1794) [M Wayne, ‘NSW State Abbatoirs/Sydney Olympic Park – Homebush, NSW’, (2012)]

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[1] ‘Timeline of Narawang Wetland and the Surrounding Area’, (Narawang Wetland, NSW Government Education & Communities), www.geographychallenge.nsw.edu.au)

[2] ‘Industrial History’, (History and Heritage, Sydney Olympic Park), www.sopa.nsw.gov.au

[3] The Homebush Racecourse was the home of the powerful Australian Jockey Club before the relocation to the (new) Randwick Racecourse in 1860, Cathy Jones, ‘Homebush Racecourse’, Strathfield Heritage, (2005), www.strathfield heritage.org

[4] M Wayne, ‘NSW State Brickworks/Brickpit Ring Walk – Homebush, NSW’, 14 June 2012, www.pastlivesofthenearfuture.com

[5] ‘Axe falls on Sydney Olympic Park street race’, Speedcafe, 22 March 2016.

Homebush Bay Perambulations II: a Walk around Nuevo Rhodes, Shipwreck Bay and Waterbird Refuges

Bushwalking, Environmental, Heritage & Conservation, Social History

The ferry wharf at Olympic Park is a good starting point for a ramble through Homebush Bay commencing from a ferry and ending at the rail line. From the wharf we walk down Hill Road, passing a dense concentration of light industrial businesses, turning left at either Monza or Baywater and walk through the Wentworth Point estate to the Promenade, a pleasantly wide and newish waterfront path (1k walk from the ferry).

imageIf you take a left at the Promenade, the bay path passes large residential blocks, removals and waste disposal companies before it morphs into a very thin bush strip. The strip which doubles as a rubbish dump meanders on for a bit but ends up against a high residential fence about 100m from where workers are currently building a non-vehicular bridge across the Bay to the homogenous looking towers of Rhodes. Taking a look at the skyline on both sides of the Bay it is less than a “Sherlock Holmesian” deduction to conclude how much the newer Wentworth Point waterfront has come to resemble the Rhodes prototype – albeit there is less of it.

You can happily skip this dead-end digression and just head south from the end of Baywater Drive … the path becomes a narrow trail which swings round a bend closer to Bennelong Parkway. We pass a gated estate within touching distance of its largish but shallow communal swimming pool (at least we can touch the reinforced glass that separates the pool from the boardwalk). The pool is in a nice location but there’s zero privacy for the bathers it seems to me, right on the public boardwalk. Personally I’d be somewhat put off by the regular stream of passers-by.

SS Ayrfield
SS Ayrfield
This is the ideal spot to view one of the best examples of a distinctive feature of Homebush Bay, a number of old vessels deliberated shipwrecked and left to co-habit with nature. The steam collier SS Ayrfield was scuttled and broken up in 1972 and here sits its rusty, rotting steel hull, impressively assimilated with the water-bound vegetation and crops of mangroves. The tree growth sprouts out of the hull so luxuriantly that is looks like something organic and even artistic in its visual effect.

Shipwrecks plaque
Shipwrecks plaque
At the end of the trail we turn left at Bennelong and (carefully) cross the often busy road on to the right side to cross the small bridge spanning the Bay. About 30 metres after the bridge cross over Bennelong Pkwy and follow the trail into the bush. Almost immediately you come to a side track with a plaque on the ground identifying a Shipwreck Lookout. This is a dedication to the “remnant hulks” of Homebush Bay. These are abandoned, rusting wrecks resting here, like the Ayrfield, scattered along the shoreline and overrun by vegetation and mangroves^.

Water bird Refugee
Water bird Refugee
The curved path continues around the Bay, and it is common to see white egrets and purplish-blue crested Pukekos or swamp hens lurking around the water’s edge. As you continue on the trail, if you keep glancing to the right you will shortly notice a bird hide camouflaged in the vegetation to allow glimpses of the waterbird refuge – the Charadriiformes population inhabiting these tidal waters include Pacific Golden Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-necked Avocets, ducks and black swans. Look for the observation tower to the left of the nature strip where the path turns south (note the prevalence of large spiders webbed above the pathway).

Approaching Bicentennial Park a turnoff on the right takes you on to a zig-zagging boardwalk through the Badu Mangroves, a dense patchwork of grey and olive-coloured mangrove growth which leads to the Bennelong Ponds and the western side of Bicentennial Park. If you choose not to do this diversion continue south to the next crossway and go left opposite the tinny looking Field Studies Centre building. After passing a small bridge and another of those observation towers in the mangroves you soon reach the far-eastern edge of the park and a path which heads north along the water, parallel to Homebush Bay Drive.

It’s about 1.5km from this point to Rhodes Station. When the Wentworth Point to Rhodes bridge is completed, walkers will be able to do the walk as a loop starting at Rhodes Station and returning from Homebush Bay to the same start point.

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^ for more details of the vessels involved and the ship-breaking industry in Homebush Bay during the 1970s see G Blaxell, ‘The Wrecks of Homebush Bay’ (May 2008), www.afloat.com.au.