Brighton-Le-Sands on Botany Bay is my destination today. There’s very little information online so let’s just see what turns up. Brighton-Le-Sands is not easy to reach by public transport and I’ll take the train to Rockdale then walk towards the Bay.
From Rockdale to Brighton-Le-Sands via the Tram Route
Over the road from Rockdale station is a plaque on a low stone wall. In November 1885 Thomas Saywell started operating the steam tram from Rockdale to Brighton-Le-Sands along what is now Bay Street. I’ll follow its route.
Little parrots, quite unlike any parrots I have seen in Sydney gather on telephone wires above me. Unfortunately, they are too far away to identify properly.
The homes here are newish with only few examples of mid-1900s architecture remaining. Closer to the bay, houses give way to higher density low rise brick unit blocks. A couple of dogs run around freely around on the Memorial Fields.
A worker on one of the many building or renovation sites greets me with “How are ya?” as he retrieves a boom box from the back of his ute. He begins to sing without inhibition. How nice to hear someone happy at his place of work.
The eye-catching Egyptian street food trailer, El Qahirah (Arabic for Cairo), is parked in the street. I still have to discover Egyptian cuisine and must find out where they go next.
Cook Park is what makes Brighton-Le-Sands special. Eight kilometres of parkland, it runs alongside Lady Robinson’s Beach, stretching from Sandringham in the South, through Brighton-Le-Sands to Kyeemagh in the North. A dual pedestrian/cycle path runs the length of the park parallel to the busy Grand Parade.
I stop and look around, taking in the expanse of Botany Bay. Planes line up along the runway to my left while others slowly drop in height as they approach for landing. There are two traffic control towers (one no longer in operation) and the Terminal Area Radar which looks like a huge white golf ball on a tee.
Two enormous container ships slowly manoeuvre out of Port Botany in the shadow of huge red cranes and large white oil storage tanks glinting in the sun. The bay curves around to Kurnell and Cronulla on the other side of the ‘spit’. The more suburbs I discover, the better the picture in my mind of the patchwork of Sydney suburbs and how they relate to each other.
I can’t come to Brighton-Le-Sands and not walk on the beach. Originally called seven-mile beach, Lady Robinson’s Beach is often simply referred to as Brighton Beach. Even though it is mid-winter two brave men swim up and down inside the netted swimming enclosure.
The water is flat and clear. A lone fisherman casts his line into the side of the swimming enclosure. Two men shout and gesticulate from the decking of a building.
The fisherman tells me that while he hasn’t caught anything yet, he hopes to land a flathead. Aware that the people on the deck are probably calling out to him, he says “they should come down and talk to me” and “not call me like a dog”.
Naming of Brighton-Le-Sands
Brighton-Le-Sands was given the name Brighton-le-Sands to distinguish it from Brighton in England. The little ‘l’ was changed to a capital ‘L’ in 1979 but many still use the old spelling or even just “Brighton”.
Once known as the place for a great Greek meal, other cuisines have entered the mix. Besides Greek eateries like Meet the Greek, Mezes, a Souvlaki Bar, and Kamari (a Greek Taverna) other cuisines include Thai, Lebanese and Italian.
A Little History
A monument to the First Fleet takes the form of sails and rigging of a tall ship. Depictions of the individual ships of the First Fleet are moulded onto the sails. The sculptor, Victor Cusack, created the monument in 1988 as part of the bicentenary. He also created the Hornsby Clock.
One building that is synonymous with Brighton-Le-Sands is the distinctive stepped structure of the Novotel Hotel. It has an interesting back story. The original hotel was built in the late 1800s but lost its licence due to “the behaviour of its patrons”. In 1893 the building was offered to Scots College as a boarding facility for children of pastoralists. After being adapted for use as a boarding school, the Scots College stayed there for about 4 years. The hotel eventually regained its licence and was later replaced by the Novotel.
A group of original houses stand outs from the more modern buildings, a series of blue poles propping up the corner house. These houses are all that remain of homes built on the original beach frontage. Built by Thomas Saywell in the late 1800s, they were once fine terraces. Unfortunately, they may soon make way for development. A 36-metre tower is proposed.
The traffic and associated noise is constant as I walk along Cook Park. When main road becomes General Holmes Drive and The Grand Parade itself continues as a suburban bayside street with rather grand houses and equally grand views, the traffic noise subsides.
Soon, I enter the small suburb of Kyeemagh. Home to less than 1000 people this is one of the smallest suburbs of Sydney.
A large rock wall creates a break at the entrance to the Cooks River. A speed boat enters the river from the bay, their morning fishing over. Cars and trucks whiz past as I cross the Cooks River via the Endeavour Bridge and take a short cut down an embankment to reach my final destination for the day.
Plane Spotting from The Beach
“The Beach” is known for plane spotting. A number of parked cars face the bay. Plane spotters sit in their cars noting the arrivals and departures of planes. One has binoculars on the dashboard.
One man is standing outside his car, notebook in hand and binoculars around his neck. Retired now, he has taken up a hobby that he once practiced as a boy and is happy to explain a few of the finer points of plane spotting.
He tells me about the plane spotters website which has information on plane registrations and airlines. When he finds a plane that he does not recognise he checks the registration (on the fuselage) and ticks it off his list. So far this morning he has found about six new registrations.
There are many different models of planes all with different livery. We see a black plane with a distinctive white fern leaf. Air New Zealand of course. The Fiji Airlines has a cultural theme on its fuselage. Besides the familiar planes, like LAN, Singapore Qantas, Virgin and JetStar of course, there are a number of different Chinese Airlines.
We chat for a while and I learn that (for him at least) Kyeemagh is far more interesting than Brighton-Le-Sands. The Occupation Road Market Gardens of Kyeemagh are a State Heritage site where Chinese-Australians have grown vegetables since the 1800s. The RSL in Kyeemagh is also worth a visit. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to visit these interesting places, but will return to explore the small suburb further.
Plane Spotters App
While here, I must take a walk to the end of the beach which is very close to the runway. A man with his two-year-old grandson on his shoulders keeps referring to his phone. He uses an app – Flight Radar 24 – to tell him the location and movement of planes. The morning rush is over and nothing much is happening right now. The best time for plane spotting is early morning and after three in the afternoon.
The beach is also popular for exercising horses and commercial dog walkers who bring their charges for a leash free run around. As I leave the beach via the sandy bush track, a man with about ten dogs tied by leads to his belt grumbles “If I can get past you, I won’t struggle so much”.
Back in the car park, I use my newfound knowledge to identify the registration of a Cathay Pacific plane which is taxiing down the runway. The rego (B-LJC) is clearly displayed near the tail of the aircraft.
Another Plane Spotting Tool
Another plane spotter rests his camera with long telephoto lens on the wall besides a hand-held radio. The radio is a frequency scanner – yet another useful tool if you take plane spotting seriously.
Finishing off with Lunch
Instead of walking through Kyeemagh back to Rockdale, I walk back to the restaurant area of Brighton-Le-Sands for a late lunch. While I enjoyed my meal in the family run “Meet the Greek”, the less formal Hellenic in Bay Street (discovered on my way back to the station) would probably have been a more suitable option for me today.
My day in Brighton-Le-Sands has definitely been worthwhile. I’ve enjoyed learning more about the suburb and meeting a few locals. I also realise how easy it would be to get hooked on plane spotting.