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

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

KMT in Sydney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sydney’s Seaside Amusement Piers of Yesterday – Recreating Brighton Pier on the Pacific Coast

Heritage & Conservation, Local history, Popular Culture

The beach and the seaside being such an integral part of Sydney, it is not surprising that amusement piers – following the fashion of Brighton, Blackpool, Hastings and a host of other seaside piers scattered throughout Britain – sprang up and achieved popularity for leisure-seeking Sydneysiders in the early to mid 20th century. I have previously outlined the meteoric but short-lived rise of Tamarama’s Wonderland in an October 2014 blog, ‘A Day-Trippers’ Paradise: The Vogue for Pleasure Grounds in 19th/20th Century Sydney’. In this piece I am focusing on former amusement piers at two of Sydney’s most iconic beach suburbs – Coogee and Manly.

Coogee Pier
Coogee Pier AKA Coogee Pleasure Pier took four years to construct (1924-28) but its operational lifespan was as ephemeral as Wonderland, lasting only a mere six years! (1928-1934) The pier was constructed by a private firm, the Coogee Ocean Pier Company, at a princely sum of £250 thousand…”large crowds gathered to watch the first pile being driven on 24th July 1926. Radio stations 2BL and 2KY made live broadcasts of proceedings”¹.

Coogee Amusement Pier
The Pier on the beach at Coogee, when opened was a spectacular sight, reaching out 180 metres out to sea. Built with the boardwalks of English Coastal towns in mind, the entertainment pier complex was lavishly furnished with a 1,400 seat theatre, a ballroom that could accommodate 600 dedicated foot-shufflers, a 400 seat restaurant, a penny arcade and small shops. Beach-goers flocked to the pier as illustrated in the old photograph at right, helping to establish Coogee’s credentials as a resort town. The pier also incorporated a large, netted safe swimming area for its patrons – the shark net itself, attached at one side to the pier, cost £6,750. The “occasion of the shark net’s official opening was made grander by the additional unveiling of the new Giles’ Ocean Baths and the new surf sheds. The celebration was promoted as ‘Come to Coogee’ Week and attracted a crowd of 135,000 people”².

Unfortunately the amusement pier’s fate was sealed by its precarious location in the open bay, where it was subjected to the physical onslaughts of nature. Damage to the pier by the surf’s repeated thrashings❉ took its toll and the operators eventually decided to pull the plug – in 1934 Coogee Pier was closed and subsequently demolished³.

Manly wharf & fun pier 1950s/1960s
Manly Fun Pier
Manly Fun Pier (MFP) (at one point it was referred to as Manly Amusement Pier and Aquarium) was located in Manly Cove on the wharf that had hitherto been used as a cargo wharf♦. The Pier opened to the public as a “fun parlour” in 1931, eventually adopting as its slogan, Built for Fun in ’31. Establishing itself as a local icon, MFP gradually expanded its rides and features over the years – which included the Octopus ride, the Space-Walk ride, the Mexican Whip, a tumbling house and slide, indoor mini-golf, as well as more traditional features such as a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a ghost train, a mirror maze and a train ride. The Pier’s aquarium anticipated the Fun Pier’s debut, kicking off from the year before, 1930⁴. The distinctive feature of the aquarium was its entrance which required visitors to go through a gigantic synthetic shark mouth to get inside!⁵

Later additions to MFP included dodgem cars, scooter-boats, speedboat joy rides, Pierrot shows and a wax museum. Richard Smith rose from being in charge of the speedboats to become manager of the entire amusement pier. MFP continued to be run by Smith’s family until 1971 when a group of concession holders took over its management under the banner “Fun Pier Company”. A sygna storm in 1974 damaged the Pier necessitated repairs by the Company⁶.

Manly Fun Pier & Aquarium late 60s/early 70s
By the 1980s MFP was on the wane, small suburban fun piers were passé, and it was of no surprise when the Pier closed in 1989. The old Cargo Wharf was incorporated into an expanded, modernised Manly Passenger Wharf in 1990 and new amusement rides were erected (carousel, Ferris wheel, etc). However this revival was short-lived – locals living on the eastern side of Manly Cove (East Esplanade, Little Manly) didn’t waste much time before they started voicing complaints about the noise and light coming from the new rides at night…within a short time what remained of the Manly wharf amusement park was permanently closed⁷.

Old portico entrance to Giles’ Baths

PostScript: Coogee’s “pay-to-swim” baths
As suggested above, the opening of Coogee Pier in 1928 was something of a double act for Coogee with the simultaneous opening of Giles’ Hot Sea Baths, in a natural rock pool setting off the northern headland of Coogee Beach¤. The baths (AKA “Giles’ Gym and Baths”) were built on the same site as the earlier Lloyd’s Baths. The baths’ proprietor was Oscar E Giles, a masseur who promoted health and fitness through hydrotherapy, electric and hot sea bath treatments, as well as offering a “weight-reduction massage course”⁴.

Coogee Beach’s long tradition of “pay-to-swim” baths extends to the other (southern) side of the beach, two such still operating are Wylie’s and McIver’s. Wylie’s Baths, an ocean tidal pool, was started by Henry Wylie for Olympic swimmers (including his daughter Mina (Wilhelmina Wylie) and pioneering Australian gold medallist Fanny Durack) to train. McIver’s Ladies Baths is the only women only saltwater pool in Australia. The baths have been available only to women and children since the 1880s. Since 1922 it has been run by the Randwick and Coogee Ladies Amateur Swimming Club.


░▒⁰ ¹ ² ³ ⁴ ⁵ ⁶ ⁷ ⁸ ⁹▒░

❉ lifeguards at Coogee recently found remnants of the pier on the ocean floor 50m from the shore
¤ known for its distinctive portico entrance… to the 1980s a male only swimming preserve, Giles’ Baths closed down in 1998 but the rock pool is still used by swimmers today willing to brave its turbulent waves
♦ parallel and subordinate to the larger, Passenger Wharf
there is some understanding that the southern end of Coogee Beach was sacred to women in traditional aboriginal society

¹ ‘Bicentennial Commemorative Plaque – Site of Coogee Pier & Shark Net’, Monument Australia,
² ibid
³ Gillian McNally, ‘Sydney’s long lost amusement parks’, Daily Telegraph, 23-Jul-2015
⁴ ‘Manly Fun Pier’, (Parkz – Theme Parks),
⁵ ‘Manly Fun Pier’, Wikipedia,
⁶ John Morcombe, ‘Manly had its own fun pier for almost 60 years’, Manly Daily, 26-Jun-2015
⁸ ‘Giles Baths’, (Randwick City Council),

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

Built Environment, Cinema, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

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

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

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

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

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

Picture house in Pittwater Road

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

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

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

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,].

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,].

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,, 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.


✣✣ 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’

✥ 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’,]

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]. 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,

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

✳ 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

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

Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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,, 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’,]

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),]. 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.


* 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]