As only one of my suburban Sydney discoveries has been north of the Harbour Bridge (Palm Beach), I am getting off the train at Milsons Point. I want to learn more about the waterfront suburbs west of the bridge. Milson’s Point, Lavender Bay and McMahon’s Point.
First, I find a table in a busy coffee shop in Broughton Street. Suitably fortified, I walk towards the harbour. The approach to the bridge towers above me. Trains thunder overhead while maintenance crews continue with their never-ending task. I follow a road on my left down to the water and the footpath along the harbour foreshore. A sign in the first of two sandstone shelters states that “This is NOT a public toilet” and provides directions to the nearest facility. Fortunately people seem to have heeded the message.
A tall rusted metal sculpture greets me. Called “Australian Angel” it welcomes vessels to the harbour. The steel components reference the history of the area. There are Olympic rings (the sculpture was a gift from the Swiss to NSW for the 2000 Olympics), rivets (representing the six million rivets used in the harbour bridge), a cannon ball, anchors and more. A discarded fishing rod leans against a palm tree. A photographer takes the portrait of a smartly dressed business man, the Opera House in the background. Nearby is the bow of HMAS Sydney, placed here in 1941 after the vessel was scrapped on Cockatoo Island in 1929.
The art deco arches of the wall lining the North Sydney Olympic Pool are reminiscent of a time gone by. People are swimming laps, their multi-coloured caps bobbing up and down. What a view they have here at the base of the Harbour Bridge.
The iconic smiling face of Luna Park welcomes visitors. Two sets of grandparents, each with a young child in tow make their way to the park. They stop at the entrance and then leave. It seems the rides are closed today. A sign on the wall of the Crystal Palace informs me that Luna Park was built on the site of workshops used in the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Palace is built on top of the original timber wharf whose wooden piers are still visible. The foreshore boardwalk continues along the edge of Lavender Bay. Yachts and cruisers bob on their anchors their rigging tinkling in the breeze. A woman runs past, headphones in place. Two more women, walking more slowly are deeply involved in conversation.
Arthur (Art) Barton was an artist at Luna Park. He designed the smiling face at the Park entrance. I walk under the low hung branches of an old fig tree in Art Barton Park, drawn to a nearby sculpture. The figures are recognisable as those of cartoonist Michael Leunig. The sculpture is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the Ghost Train fire of 1979.
Continuing along the walkway I am delighted by more miniature sculptures. They are images of characters from Australian children’s stories. There is a thoughtful kangaroo (Splodge) and a banksia man extracting a thorn from his foot. His facial expression is priceless. A suited Mr Lizard has had little flowers placed in his bent elbow. There are plenty more. All except one (Ken the Dugong) were sculpted by Peter Kingston. Beyond the narrow garden bed, I am surprised to see a railway track and a bright silver train with yellow doors. I wonder how and why it got there.
Further along, past three archways, is Quibaree Park. On the way, I read about the Lavender Bay baths (demolished in 1972) and that as early as the 1830s there was a busy boatbuilding industry here. All that remains are parts of the Neptune Engineering Slipway, last used in 1989. Turning away from the water I walk under the third archway to Watt Park. There I find the site of an historic well, which provided essential fresh water to early settlers. A narrow zig zag path leads me up the hill to Lavender Crescent which is lined by a very high sandstone retaining wall topped by a salmon pink picket fence.
At the end of Lavender Crescent, I find myself at the Harbourside Indian Restaurant. I bring overseas visitors here for an inexpensive meal with harbour views. If you can’t get a window seat, the fabulous view is reflected in wall mirrors. Afterwards, take a walk down the path through Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden. This is what I do now, following windy paths and discovering hidden seats and sculptures. I take my time and spend a few minutes at one of the many tables reading the visitors book. A cheeky noisy miner comes to investigate.
On my way back to Lavender Street, I meet three Sydney Trains staff. One, with an immaculately trimmed moustache and sky blue turban, explains that the rail line below is used as a siding after the peak hour rush. Mystery solved. A friend tells me later that there is a proposal to convert the tracks to a walkway similar to the New York Highline. I am sure that will be popular.
I walk past grand Victorian Terraces in Walker Street to the home of The Royal Art Society and The Lavender Bay Gallery. The Society Art Ballot/Auction, held in August each year, is one way to obtain good art at a reasonable price.
In Blues Point Road, restaurants are filling up for lunch and tables and chairs spill out onto the sidewalk. I meander through side roads to Munro Street and Sawmillers Reserve, a quiet, well maintained park with a ‘tree house’ linking the upper and lower levels. Water swirls around a rusting wreck. Stone ruins are all that remain of the sawmill that once operated here. A plaque commemorates the election of the first woman alderman to North Sydney Council.
Leaving the reserve from a different exit, I find myself near Blues Point Reserve where media and players are gathering for the launch of the Rugby Sydney 7s. A man in a red vest is leaning against his car watching the proceedings, “Dallas” written in small cursive letters on his upper arm. We chat and then I leave to follow a sign to the foreshore. It passes behind the much-criticised Blues Point Tower and back along the harbour. A young fisherman has just thrown a line in. A bride and groom pose for wedding photographs.
I could catch a ferry at McMahons Point Ferry wharf, but prefer to walk back via Bay View Road and the boardwalk. A fancy sports car is being photographed for an advertisement. The police and ambulance personnel are assisting a man who seems to be disoriented. A train on the line tests its horn.
It has been a very pleasant day. I have been surprised by miniature sculptures, have discovered parks and gardens new to me and enjoyed the beauty of our harbour.
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Next Stop: Gladesville
The North Sydney Public Art trail can be downloaded as an app or printed off as a pdf (see bottom of webpage)
Click here to plan your trip.
And a map vaguely showing my route:
(If you would like a pdf of the map, email me via the contact page, and I will send one to you).
(NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):