Castle Hill covers a large geographic area. That’s one reason I haven’t explored this suburb. Another is the difficulty getting there by public transport. Now, with the Sydney Metro, Castle Hill is easily accessible by public transport. So today, I’m off to Castle Hill, prepared for a long walk.
Arthur Whitling Park
Behind the vaulted ceilings of the Metro Station Arthur Whitling Park provides welcome greenery alongside busy Old Northern Road. Arthur Whitling opened the first general store in the area in 1924. He worked to get the tramline (from Parramatta), and water and electricity to Castle Hill.
Under a tree, a plaque unveiled by Philip Ruddock in 1994, remembers Philip’s mother, Emmie Ruddock for her work in the local community. Behind the tree another plaque (1977), states that the tree was planted for Philip’s father, Maxwell Ruddock, former Member for the Hills District and Minister of State. The Ruddock family have a long history here.
From 1910 to 1932, a tram carried passengers and goods between Parramatta and Castle Hill. Two years later all traces of the tram tracks had disappeared. Today, after 80 years, the new Metro provides a public transport alternative.
The Changing Face of Castle Hill
New high-rise developments surround the station and huge cranes operate on nearby building sites. No different from areas around all Sydney train stations, high density living is encroaching on Castle Hill.
Tucked behind scraggly bushes, an old corner house is for sale. Next door a large sign informs passing traffic that a high-rise residential development is coming soon.
Spring flowers bloom in abundance. Bright red bottle brush and the pinks and whites of a flowering tree colour the streetscape. I walk past comfortable homes on large, wide blocks their lawns extending to the pavement, unhindered by garden walls or hedges.
A sign warns drivers that wildlife cross at the exact point where I too must cross the road. What about pedestrians, I wonder as cars speed around the corner taking little notice of the red stripes in the road.
Castle Hill Heritage Park
Plaques on the Ceremonial Gate Entrance to Castle Hill Heritage Park describe the area as the birthplace of Castle Hill. They mention the 1804 Castle Hill Rebellion and the Vinegar Hill Rebellion in Rouse Hill the following day.
Walking along the footpath, I read information signs which describe Castle Hill’s history from when the Bidjigal Clan of the Darug Nation lived here, to when it was the Third Government Farm with convict barracks, then the first ‘Lunatic Asylum’ in New South Wales, and later a church, and a school.
Now, it is peaceful parkland well used by power walkers, dog walkers and grandparents babysitting young children.
From the parkland a path leads to bushland with one of the largest remaining stands of endangered Blue Gum High Forest in the world. It’s calm and peaceful here. Birds twitter as they flit from tree to tree. And yet, human noise intrudes. A plane flies overhead, traffic noise and that from nearby building work encroaches on the sounds of the bush.
Although Powerful Owls nest here, I only see Lorikeets, noisy miners, cockatoos and corellas. Then, turning to a rustle in the bush, I notice a pretty bird with a speckled undercarriage, a Lewin’s Rail.
Returning to the park, a couple powerwalk towards me. I saw them earlier. The man nods and says “That took the same time”. Yes, but they probably walked twice as far as I did.
Suburban Castle Hill
In Spain Reserve, a small family of ducks peck in the grass watching me with one eye as I pass. Back in quiet suburbia, there are no pavements. My ankle twists in an unseen grassed hollow. Fortunately, no harm is done.
As I walk from the bush towards the village centre, more low walls and hedges separate private property from the public nature strip.
It’s not surprising really that the side streets off Britannia Road have a decidedly British theme. I pass Ensign, Essex and Waterloo. And then the theme changes. I turn into Patrick Avenue, pass White Place and further on, Nobel Place.
Nobel Laureate, Patrick White lived in his home “Dogwoods” on nearby Showground Road from 1948 to 1964. He set novels written while living in Castle Hill in fictional “Sarsaparilla” and “Durilgai”, places based on Castle Hill.
Outside “Dogwoods”, a hanging sign swings in the breeze. My first (hopeful) thought that the house is now a Bed and Breakfast, proves wrong. Instead the house serves as offices for a legal firm.
A young man walks past me, letters under his arm. He stares studiously at the ground avoiding eye contact. A stop/go lady looks as if she’s wilting. I know how she feels. It is hot out in the sun, and I hug the shade.
On this side of Showground Rd houses are smaller, some quite rundown and gardens overgrown. Perhaps they are rental properties – certainly one is available to rent.
The large double storey house with a red corrugated iron roof in Parsonage Road stands out. The date ‘1995’ carved into a sandstone block on the sympathetic addition, contrasts with the ‘AD 1886’ on the original section of the house. From what I can work out, this was the old Parsonage.
Wings from a small bird brush my head. A Noisy Miner doesn’t like my presence. He returns for a second go and then leaves me alone.
A large colourful umbrella shelters potted plants from the harsh sun. On another wall, a blue umbrella protects ferns. And it’s not yet summer.
The shaded Platypus Track in Bidjigal Reserve provides a welcome relief from the sun. There’s a sharp drop off to a creek on my left as I follow the well sign posted path which soon descends into the gully below.
With the uneven ground and no one around I wonder if I should be walking here alone. What if I fall? I even consider calling home to let someone know where I am.
A Pleasant Bushwalk
In the gully, a creek bubbles over rocks. A dragon fly dances in a patch of sunlight above the water. I look briefly for signs of platypus without success. A friend tells me later that they are best seen at dawn and dusk.
Contrary to my earlier bushwalk, there is no human sound, only birds and rustling in the leaf litter as I walk past timid unseen creatures. Water dragons take fright on my approach, leaping from rock to rock across the path ahead of me. They stop motionless on an outcrop, only their eyes moving, watching me pass.
A Strange Encounter
Did the man in blue overalls kneeling forward towards a rock face near the water hear my “Good Morning” as “What are you doing?”? It’s way past midday after all. His reply “It’s none of your business” baffles and briefly concerns me.
For once, when the path divides, there’s no helpful sign. Fortunately, a second man comes bounding towards me across sandstone stepping stones. He’s been at the nearby Men’s Shed, but doesn’t know which is the Platypus Track. With prompting on my part “back to Excelsior?” He says to cross the creek. Soon a sign confirms that I’m on the right path.
Near the top of the steep hill I stop and turn around at the sound of footsteps. It’s the man in blue. He waves dismissively before turning off into the bush again, camera in hand.
A series of suburban streets take me back to the shopping village via the heritage building that was St Paul’s Anglican church (now a funeral home), past the fenced off and empty Castle Hill public school (1879). Castle Hill Arcade caters to consumers of Korean and Japanese products. Castle Mall and Castle Towers aren’t much different from other suburban shopping centres.
Thoughts on Castle Hill
I always enjoy discovering a new suburb, and Castle Hill is no exception. From history to bushwalks, a Nobel Laureate and suburban gardens, I have a much better feel for this sprawling suburb. If I were you, I would choose between history (the Heritage Park) and bushwalks (the Bidjigal Reserve has more than the Platypus Track). For another park with bushwalks and a Museum Discovery Centre see below.