A Self-Guided Walk in Concord West
When researching Concord West, I discovered that it is much more than a bayside suburb. Today, alighting at Rhodes Station, I’m looking forward to a Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, heritage homes and a pleasant bayside walk.
The Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway
I’ve often driven past Brays Bay Reserve entrance, and wondered what’s there. Well, there’s the posh looking Oliveto Restaurant whose tables laid with white linen cloths, look out onto the bay, a playground, a picnic area and the start of the Kokoda Memorial Track Walkway.
A man wearing khaki shorts and navy t-shirt walks up the metal stairs to ‘give life give blood’ at the Mobile Blood Donor Centre in the car park. Not for the first time, I reflect on my ‘ineligible’ blood donor status, after my year in England in the early 1980s.
The Information Stations
The Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, a wide, flat winding path begins here. Opposite the first of twenty-two information stations, wooden seating provides a place for contemplation. At each station, a photographic record and written piece describes an aspect of events in Papua New Guinea in World War II.
As I walk between thick tropical vegetation, a reminder of conditions on the Kokoda Track, I learn about Sanananda, Buna “Battle of the Beaches”, Gona “Gona’s Gone” and Gorari “Crucial Victory Against All Odds”.
This smooth 800m memorial walking track is easy, a far cry from the horrors experienced by our troops and the challenges faced by many who today choose to walk the Kokoda Trail. Instead this track serves to inform and provide space for contemplation.
Industrial Heritage of the Area
Off to the side some structures draw me away from the Kokoda Walking Track. There’s no signage to explain the series of grey painted metal frames with cross beams which lead to the water or the other concrete path with a tall frame at each end.
Two sections of a rusty bow of a ship with chains and beams rest on a bed of white pebbles. An explanation of sorts reads “WW II (1939-1945) Commonwealth Ship Building Yard” and “120-foot steel vessels”. Walking up the concrete path I read a series of names and dates.
MRL251 Feb 1946, Evelyn, Empress Oct 1945, Ellen Mar 1946, and more women’s names. Why do all start with the letter ‘E”? Elvira, Ellen, Elsa, and Endeavour, then Elaine, Enchantress, Eunice and Estelle. Ship’s names perhaps?
Later, off the Kokoda Walkway, I find a plaque which explains that Brays Reserve reflects early industrial activity here including slipway construction, ironworks and WW II shipbuilding.
Returning to the walking track a recorded male voice gets louder as I approach the next ‘station’, Wairopi. A strong male Aussie voice describes the place that is Wairopi and explains what happened there.
Two nurses walk towards me take away coffee in hand. This walking track ends at Concord Hospital. It facilitates hospital staff accessing public transport, but what about those whose shifts begin or end in the dark. How safe is this walk at night?
The Memorial Centrepiece
At the Memorial Centrepiece, wreaths of poppies crafted by students from Epping West Public School fade in the hot sun. Etchings on the large granite Memorial Wall recognise the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel and Mateship.
Nearby, a sandstone bench provides seating under a shady tree. Vietnam Veterans crafted this bench in their Ryde TAFE Outreach stonemasonry class. A nice link between one group of Veterans and another.
A mosquito lands on my arm. A small but fitting reminder of the awful conditions faced by our soldiers who served in Papua New Guinea.
Today is Monday, and The Kokoda Cafe is closed. That’s OK, I’m not ready for coffee yet. Another depiction of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel, this time a statue, stands outside the Kokoda Education Centre.
Around Concord Hospital
Now, I leave WW II for a different side of Concord West. Walking alongside Concord Hospital Car Park, I notice people being transported on a golf buggy. This valuable service provided by volunteers assists people to get around the large hospital grounds.
Thomas Walker Hospital
A magnificent gatehouse with arched gateway at the end of Hospital Road, leads to the heritage buildings of “Walker Convalescent Hospital”, not accessible to the public. Now Rivendell School for adolescents with mental health issues, the Hospital was built in the late 1800s from money bequeathed by philanthropist, banker and politician, Thomas Walker.
Taking a chance now, I ignore my prepared notes to follow the arrow through the hospital grounds to “The Foreshore Walk”. All goes well until the Hospital Redevelopment Works confuse me. A traffic attendant reassures me that I can get through and then another Foreshore Walk sign provides confirmation.
The Foreshore Walk
Mangroves come right up to a retaining wall beyond the car park. I look around. There’s another sign to my right. An earthy scent permeates the air and reflections from the mangroves ripple in the receding tidal water.
A construction worker taking a smoke break answers my question about access with “I think you can. Yes, I’ve seen other people come from there”.
He’s correct. The dirt path continues between two rusty wire fences. A male Superb Fairy Wren dances with two females on some dried vines. He really is very pretty and the females rather dull.
Thick mangroves hide the water from the Foreshore Walk. Tree roots criss-cross the flat dirt path. The sight of a thin owl resting on a fallen log startles me. On closer inspection I find it’s not an owl at all but the knotty end of a branch.
A sign announces Yaralla Estate. Also known as Dame Eadith Walker Estate, Thomas Walker and his daughter Eadith lived here. Apparently, the Governor General of Australia lived at Yaralla between 1912 and 1914. Now the house operates as a health facility.
People walk their dogs and throw sticks into the water for them to retrieve. One young labradoodle bounds up to sniff me. The man says “sorry”. His partner walks by stony faced, studiously avoiding eye contact.
Marks on the Concord RSL Memorial Wall indicate where name tags and other items have been removed for “storage and safekeeping”. How sad that these service people are no longer publicly remembered, possibly because thoughtless others vandalised or removed items from the wall.
Heritage in Concord West
Away from the Foreshore Walk now, I enter suburban Concord West to find heritage tree lined streets and the so-called heritage gardens in Cumming Avenue. All I find are a couple of tall eucalypts and trimmed hedges.
Concord West Station was once heritage listed, but from a distance, I can see it’s been modernised. All that remains is a photograph of what once was.
A series of mosaics decorating the pavement on Victoria Avenue refer to the area’s heritage. The Arcadia Theatre, The Concord Hotel, The Concord West Public School and more.
Closed on Mondays, Three Spoons Café at number 29 is described as the “Best preserved example in a row of five attached, two-storey shops”. Not anymore! The hairdresser next door seems more heritage-like with its leadlight windows.
An entire front yard laid with fake grass gets me wondering if fake grass is becoming “a thing” as people have less time and inclination to garden.
Many of the shops along busy Concord Road look tired and the newsagent is dark with little stock on the shelves. Only the building housing an antique store seems reasonably well maintained.
After passing the Masonic hall (are all Masonic Halls built to the same design?) and a pretty mural, I walk up and down suburban streets peering at the architecture and looking up heritage listed homes.
These Federation Style homes have been identified as significant for some unique characteristic, be it the hipped roof, number of gables or a particular design feature.
Tiles decorate curved paths in some, and the risers on stairs to the house in others. Verandahs differ from one another and pretty leadlight windows abound.
The more organised households already have their Christmas decorations up. A couple fly the Australian flag. Most homes seem to be well maintained with neat gardens.
Dame Edith Walker Estate
At the end of The Drive, open gates lead into the Dame Edith Walker Estate, her initials welded into the blue metal gates.
On the way back to the station, I again pass the Anglican Church, this time noticing the detail of the spire. Decorated pressed metal with scalloped edges, it’s really quite pretty.
Thoughts on Concord West
Concord West has turned up a few surprises. The Kokoda Memorial Walking Track is well worth a visit as is the Foreshore Walk. If, like me, you enjoy discovering fine Federation Architecture, there is plenty to see in Concord West.