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),

From Marginalised Malcontents to Micronation Monarchs: The Australian Experience

Local history, Popular Culture, Regional History


Within the world of macropolitics, the realm of large-scale political entities, the urge by some within the whole to secede has always been a recognisable element of those societies. During the last half century Australia as elsewhere has witnessed the emergence of individuals or small groups of people wanting to break away, for varying reasons, and go it alone.

The actions of micronations✻ or “would-be” micronations (sometimes called “model countries”) have been motivated by a host of varying reasons. These include genuine secessionist aspirations, environmental protests, a sense of grievance and financial motives. Quite a few seem to be specifically humorous in intent. Some micronations are just left-field wacky, like Asgardia, a Russian initiative which seeks to launch satellites into space to found a “real nation” recognised by the UN (and therefore, it claims, protect Earth from the threat of asteroids, solar storms and space junk)[1].

The ‘border’ bridge between Vilnius & Užupis
Reactions of the periphery to the metropolitan centre have prompted the rise of quasi-anarchist communities purporting (seriously or less seriously) to be outside the jurisdiction of that same central authority…two such European instances of this are Freetown Christiana in Copenhagen whose advocates proclaimed autonomy over a small district of the city in 1971 and an established open drug trade (tolerated by the Danish authorities until 2004); and Užupis (Užupio Res Publika), a tiny enclave within Vilnius, described perhaps somewhat romantically as a “modern manifestation of a bohemian Free State”[2]. Whereas Freetown strove for a kind of anarchist autonomy, the unrecognised “Republic of Užupis” adopted all the trappings of a sovereign state (flag, currency, politicians, anthem, etc) but uncertainty remains whether the Užupis entity is “intended to be serious, tongue-in-cheek, or a combination of both”[3].

The Prince of Hutt R Province
His Royal Hutt River Highness
One recurring theme of micronationhood including in Australia has been the singular protest against the state (or against the local authority). Leading the way in this (chronologically at least) is Prince Leonard and his self-declared Principality of Hutt River. Leonard Casley was an unremarkable wheat farmer in rural Western Australia in 1970 when a dispute with the state of WA over the wheat production quota set him on a course of (declaring) succession from Australia. ‘Prince’ Leonard adopted royal titles and garb for himself and his family and the Hutt River Principality grew into a tourist attraction. Casley’s failure to comply with his taxation requirements resulted in a Commonwealth prosecution in 1977 which the prince, increasingly behaving like Count Rupert of Mountjoy✪, responded by declaring war on Australia![4].

The Hutt River WA prince, after easing himself into the unfamiliar mantle, like other Micronation ‘monarchs’ enthusiastically set about establishing the tourism potentiality of the novel enclave in the Western Australian bush…HR Province began issuing ‘royal’ stamps, ‘legal'(sic) currency and passports (described by the Council of Europe dismissively as “fantasy passports”)[5]. In 2017 Prince Leonard now a nonagenarian ‘abdicated’ in favour of his son, the altogether less regally sounding ‘Prince’ Graeme.

King Paul with his court (Source: News Ltd)
The principality of the suburban quarter-acre block
Some breakaway entities and would-be sovereign states have arisen from the most trivial of domestic matters, eg, Mosman artist and art school principal Paul Delprat founded the Principality of Wy as a consequence of his local Sydney council’s refusal to grant permission for a residential driveway (a dispute lasting over 20 years!)[6]. Presiding over his ‘kingdom’ which comprised in area one suburban block, ‘King’ Paul, possessed of a theatrical bent and a large supply of whimsy, has warmed to his new status, naturally going the “whole hog” with full regal fancy dress, pomp and ceremony!

Global open borders orchestrated from the NSW South West Slopes
George Cruikshank together with his cousins started up his own micronation whilst still a schoolboy in Sydney. Known as the Empire of Atlantium ‘Emperor George II runs it from Reids Flat¤, 344km inland from Sydney…the 0.76 square kilometre province has its own post office, government buildings, currency, national anthem and monuments (ie, a small white pyramid and obelisk in the micronation’s Lilliputian-sized capital). What marks Atlantium out from other micronations is its espousal of liberal, progressive values – described by the Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations as serious in its aims and “a refreshing antidote to the reactionary self-aggrandisement of so many micronations”…a “secular humanist utopia”[7] George is also a bit atypical as ‘micronationals’ go as his separatist impulse derives not from a specific beef with local authority but from genuine idealism. Emperor George advocates the international freedom of movement and other socially progressive goals. The Empire claims in excess of 3,000 ‘citizens’ hailing from various parts of the globe – all signed up online.

A Great Britain strawberry patch in Sth Australia!
The strawberry fields United Kingdom
One of the more exotic if not outright wacky secessionists in Australia was Alec Brackstone. English migrant Brackstone, alarmed at the prospect (as he saw it) of Australia’s drift toward republicanism, founded the Province of Bumbunga in rural South Australia in the 1970s. The ultra-monarchist, self-appointed governor-general of the breakaway mini-state, planted thousands of strawberry plants in the pattern of a huge scale model of Great Britain (A++ for loyalty/subservience to the Crown!) The Bunbunga Province also issued Cinderella stamps honouring the royals, but the province dissolved in the late 1990s after the “G-G” was charged with possession of illegal firearms and repatriated to the UK[8].

PostScript: Micro-states of mind?
Wy and the self-styled Hutt River and Bumbunga provinces conform with RT Reid’s characterisation of the ethos of contemporary micronations …”mock sovereign states fuelled by local disputes, utopian idealism and the imaginations of a few eccentric individuals”[9]. Ultimately it is that eccentricity, together with their isolation and the fact that they pose no real inconvenience or harm to the greater (macro) political entity✦, explains why they tend to be tolerated (but not encouraged) by the central authority of the state.

✻ defined as an entity claiming to be an independent nation or state but not recognised by world governments or major international or supranational organisations, ‘Micronations’, Wikipedia,
✪ leader of the fictional minuscule tinpot state of Grand Fenwick which declares war on the USA in the 1959 comedy/satire The Mouse That Roared
¤ Cruickshank’s Atlantium had two prior “spiritual homes” in Sydney, a house in suburban Narwee and a flat in inner city Potts Point
✦ the ‘Principality’ of Seborga in the Italian Riviera is a good case in point: despite a 98.7% vote in favour of independence from Italy in 1995, the tiny town (pop: <400) still pays its taxes to Rome [1] 'Space oddity: Group claims to have created nation in space', Science, 12-Oct-2016,
[2] J Crabb, ‘Gabriele D’Annunzio And The Free State of Fiume’, (Culture Trip), 12-Jul-2017,
[3] ‘The Republic of Užupis’ (Užupis Everywhere), . Some of the more absurd sounding clauses of the Užupis Constitution evoke a suggestion of whimsical hippiedom, eg, 12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
[4] ‘Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations’, (J Ryan, G Dunford & S Sellars, (2006)
[5] ‘Principality of Hutt River’, Wikipedia,
[6] ‘Prince of Wy Paul Delprat loses driveway court battle’,
(Simone Roberts), Mosman Daily, 17-Jul-2013
[7] Lonely Planet, op.cit.
[8] ‘Province of Bumbunga’, Wikipedia, Hutt River, Atlantium and Bumbunga are only three of the estimated 35 Australian micro-nations in existence at one time or other, according to ‘A quick tour of some of the many, many Micronations Australia has to offer’, (Joseph Earp, Mashable Australia,
[9] RT Reid, ‘Micronations of the World’, Smithsonian, 23-Aug-2009,

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),

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

Built Environment, Coastal geology & environment, Local history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collaroy Beach dune reinforcement


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

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

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

Archaeology, Built Environment, Environmental, Local history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Built Environment, Cinema, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

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

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

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

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

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

Picture house in Pittwater Road

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

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

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

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