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 is 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 and the Homebush track was eventually made into a market garden[³]. 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 may be contested as horse races were held on a course built in Hyde Park in the City of Sydney as early as 1810.

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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, C 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.

Homebush Bay Perambulations I: a Walk through ‘Toxicity’ … Munitions Dumps and Toxic Mounds

Bushwalking, Environmental, Heritage & Conservation, Social History

The north-western part of Homebush Bay in Sydney’s west was once a backwater of swampy industrial and military dumping grounds and wastelands. The rubbish dumps are still there but no longer visible and the entire surface area of the Bay now boasts a diverse range of interesting walks for the enthusiastic pedestrian. The network of walkways allow you to commence a walk in Homebush Bay* from various points of the compass … we shall start with a walk from the north-west commencing at Silverwater Bridge and throw in some digressions and let’s see what we can unearth.

The Rivercat on route to Sydney Olympic Park
The Rivercat on route to Sydney Olympic Park
As you set off by foot on the south bank along the pathway you can see across the River the predominantly low-level housing of Ermington and Melrose Park. There is not much river traffic around this part of the waterway but expect to see the green-and-white Rivercat glide by at regular intervals.

1897 Gatehouse
1897 Gatehouse
The first item of historic interest we encounter is the former Royal Australian Navy site, Newington Armory. There is a modern (‘Armory’) cafe, an older shop that also sells coffee and some play facilities here, near to the naval depot entrance. The entrance area is much as it was when the Navy abandoned the site in 1999 – still standing is an 1897 brick gatehouse (also known as “the cooperage”), with a rail track leading down from the gate to where the wharf used to be. Two old, grey-toned cranes (circa 1960s) stand fixed in time on the edge of the river.

The Sydney Olympic Park Authority describes the Armory site as it exists today as “compris(ing) a range of historically significant natural and cultural features including former army and navy ammunition storehouses, workshops, offices, small gauge railway and other infrastructure associated with the operation of a naval armament depot”¹. One hundred years ago (1916) it was a military powder magazine and five years after that a munitions store for the navy.

When the navy moved out there were skiploads of old armaments and other dangerous pollutants lying around the depot, so the department simply buried them and fenced off a large section of the site from the public. Other sections of the former naval property still have limited access for commercial activities on the weekend only (eg, rides on a historic electric locomotive which had been used for moving armaments around the ordnance depot). Blaxland Riverside Park nearby has flying fox rides and tunnel slides. Not far from here is the new Newington housing estate.

Continuing down the waterfront path, you come to a side path next to a high electricity tower. This bush-lined path (named in honour of paralympian Louise Sauvage) can be either a digression to take in the view from the second highest point in the Bay (after the Treillage), or an another route to the Sydney Olympic Precinct (railway station) via the lush Narawang Wetland and Haslams Creek.

Woo-la-ra
Woo-la-ra
There’s a steep, linear walk up a very large conical-shaped earth mound full of dangerous chemicals and other toxins² buried under several layers of top and middle soil … atop this geographical marker (Bay Marker) is the best view around here – a 360-degree panorama incorporating the river, the uniformed high-rise of Rhodes and Liberty Grove and the numerous Olympia stadia. Steeply descending the mound trail to the bottom you immediately ascend again, this second hilltop not as steep as the mound but with a plateau at the top, bears the name ascribed to it by the local, Wan-gal clan, Woo-la-ra (= lookout).

From the high ground of Woo-la-ra you have a choice (several choices in fact): you can take the path down to Hill Road where you can walk along the forest trail parallel to Hill Road**. The Sydney Olympic Park Wharf is about one kilometre away, where you can catch the ferry back to Circular Quay or west to Parramatta.

Kronos Hill
Kronos Hill
We decide to continue the path for a further 2.5km through the Millennium Parklands down to Haslams Creek. Here on the south-eastern shore of the Creek there is another high mound known as Kronos Hill, and also full of hidden toxic surprises³. You can follow a staggered, concentric trail up to the summit and be rewarded with sweeping 360-degree views of the Olympic Precinct (Allphones Arena and ANZ Stadium are both in the immediate foreground). From atop Kronos Hill it is only about half-an-hour walk’s back to the Olympic train station.

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* “Homebush Bay” strictly historically speaking refers to the inlet, the body of water, off Parramatta River. The area that is now generally thought of as Homebush Bay (including Wentworth Point and the Sydney Olympic Park) was described in the early part of the 20th century as being part of “Lidcombe North”. The name “Homebush” itself derives from D’Arcy Wentworth who was granted a large land grant in the area in 1810, literally “his home in the bush”. ‘Homebush out to make a point’, Daily Telegraph, (Sydney), 04 January 2009, www.dailytelegraph.com.au

** Optional diversion: you might consider a side trip from the corner of Bennelong and Hill. From the intersection its about 400 metres to the Olympic Archery Field … catch a look at a bunch of would-be “Robin Hoods” in “bow and quiver” action (not a skerrick of Lincoln green in sight though, I’m afraid!).

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¹’Armory History: The Military Magazine’, (Sydney Olympic Park Authority), www.sopa.nsw.gov.au. During WWII the US Navy Pacific arm had its own ammo depot at the Armory, ‘Newington Armory’ (Wikipedia), www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newington-Armory
 
² these include dioxins (DDT, pesticides and herbicides), hydrocarbons, lead, heavy metals, asbestos, benzenes and phenols, Sharon Beder, ‘… And what the tourists will not see’, Sunday Age, 18 June 2000

³ Haslams Creek is heavily polluted with toxins (especially dioxins) as are all of the waterways and wetlands around Homebush Bay. Largely this is a direct result of chemical pollution by the Union Carbide/Timbrol Rhodes Plant between 1949 and 1976. The giant chemicals manufacturer poured the waste by-products of dioxins as well as other toxic landfill along the shoreline of the Bay. This practice (unbelievably) was sanctioned by the Maritime Services Board on the grounds that it “reclaimed stinking wetlands for a useful industrial purpose”. Consequently the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1994 ranked Homebush Bay as one of the five worst dioxin hotspots in the world, ‘A race against toxins’, The Irish Times, 19 August 2000.

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

Bibliography:
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, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/yaralla_estate, viewed 31 January 2016
Graham Spindler, Uncovering Sydney: Walks into Sydney’s Unexpected and Endangered Places, Sydney 1991
‘Rivendell School’, http://www.rivendell-s.schools.nsw.edu.au/
‘Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital (Rivendell)’, City of Canada Bay Heritage Society, www.concordheritage.asn.au
Yaralla Estate, Dame Eadith Walker Estate Management Plan, 2014-16, (draft), www.edas.canadabay.nsw.gov.au