A Self-Guided Walk on Dangar Island
Sometimes mistakenly called Danger Island, the Sydney suburb of Dangar Island on the Hawkesbury River is only accessible by water. Having lived on Dangar Island for over 10 years, today I explore it through a visitor’s eyes.
It’s only a short walk from Hawkesbury River Station to the Brooklyn Wharf and the Dangar Island Ferry which I board for the trip across the river to Dangar Island.
Taking the Dangar Island Ferry
“The Sun”, a little white wooden ferry has a long history of working the Hawkesbury River. Beautifully restored, it has been transporting passengers between Brooklyn, Dangar Island and Wobby for around 40 years. The ferry ride is relaxing, with great views of the river, the Hawkesbury River Bridge and the boatsheds and cottages lining the shore. All too soon, the ride is over and we pull up at the Dangar Island Ferry Wharf.
The Dangar Island Community
Walking through the Ferry Shed it is already obvious that there’s a strong community on Dangar Island. Notices adorning the walls inform locals and visitors about boats and other goods for sale, about the community buggy and upcoming events. There’s a shelf laden with books and unwanted goods and clothing and a row of bicycles line one wall.
Upside down wheelbarrows wait silently for their owners to load them with shopping for the last leg of the homeward journey. People walk freely on the roads as apart from the Fire Truck, First Responders Ambulance, Community Buggy, a ute and the odd service truck there are no vehicles on Dangar Island.
How does the Island get its Mail?
Mail arrives on Dangar Island via The Riverboat Postman and is sorted into numbered letterboxes which line the wall of Dangar Depot, the local café and general store. One of the last glass enclosed telephone booths in the Sydney metropolitan area serves as a notice board with hand written notes and carefully designed posters looking for or selling anything and everything.
The blue community Buggy (of golf cart style), is parked outside the wharf. Today’s volunteer driver, Julie, enjoys a coffee with other locals at one of the outdoor tables while waiting her next fare. I stop and chat.
We notice something is floating in the water near the sea wall. Julie wades in, avoiding the oyster shells, and drags what turns out to be a floating oyster bag ashore. Michael guesses who the owner is, calls them and owner and oysters are reunited. The community is a major reason for me living on Dangar Island.
Points of Interest on Dangar Island
After bidding my friends farewell, I wander up the hill to the narrow path that will take me to the Community Hall and Bowling Club.
As the path opens out, I admire, not for the first time, the sandstone clad water tower which used to supply water to nearby Dangar House. All that remains of the house after a fire in 1939 is The Pavilion, part of a home now located behind the quaint “Beware of the Rabbit” doorway.
The Dangar Island Bowling Club, often a hive of activity on weekends is quiet now. The monthly afternoon music sessions in the park and open mike nights in the club usually draw quite a crowd.
Exploring the island “as a visitor” has me paying closer attention to my surroundings than usual. I pass a fence lined with colourful surfboards. A boat woven out of sticks, now a garden feature, was one of the many contributions to a Dangar Island Sculpture walk a few years ago.
A magpie flies up to a low hanging branch, with a large insect in her beak, her baby squawking hungrily down below. The maggies here tend not to swoop but seem to warble and chat as I walk past. I know I’m not the only one that talks back.
A Brief History of Dangar Island
For over 30 000 years, Aboriginal people were the custodians of the area around the island. The Guringai (or Eora) to the South, the Dhargug from the West, the Darkinjung to the North – used to meet here as is evident from the numerous middens and the rock carvings (now quite indistinct) on the top of the island.
More recent history is recognised by a plaque which commemorates the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip on the island on the 7th March 1788, when he was in search of arable land. He named the island Mullet Island. In 1921 it was renamed Dangar Island.
Two young girls in wet swimmers walk towards me after their swim on Bradley’s Beach. They greet me easily and reply in the affirmative to my question about the warmth of the water. Dangar Island has a magic feel. Children have a freedom not often experienced these days.
Halfway along the beach, a large barge is pushed up on the shore. A worker loads it with building material. Everything from bringing the shopping home to renovating a home is complicated and requires careful planning. I wonder aloud if the work will be finished before Christmas. The man replies “everything has to happen by Christmas – it just depends which Christmas”.
Playful barking and children’s chatter reaches me from further along the beach. Someone calls out “Hey Jo”. My friend Sue is sitting in the water surrounded by her grandchildren and dogs enjoying respite from the heat. We chat and watch the dogs chasing a ball and the children playing in the water.
Back on the Streets
Away from the beach now, a pair of low flying lorikeets fly past me in a blaze of colour. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any king parrots or galahs today nor have I heard any Kookaburras. Perhaps it’s too hot. What I have heard is the constant drone of cicadas in the trees.
An oversized egg sculpture marks one of the many chook runs on the island. One of the chooks looks at me expectantly and then turns away.
A group of residents have worked hard to establish a community garden. Different from the usual vegetable garden beds found in community gardens, abandoned tinnies have been given a new life. Their reuse reflects the water access only feature of Dangar Island.
My walk takes me past the Fire Shed and Ambulance Station (both services are run by volunteers) and I make a detour to the shop to collect my mail and get an ice-cold drink.
While sitting outside enjoying the pleasant breeze and quiet lapping of the water against the sea wall, one of the people from the beach walks past. When he realises that the ferry will be a while he offers me a lift back to Brooklyn. He isn’t local and my camera has marked me as a tourist. Dangar does that to people – they are friendly and helpful and talk to strangers.
I make my way up the steep hill to explore the top half of the island. Recently two women passed me on this section of the road and asked “is there anything up there?” For me there is plenty “up there”.
Back to nature
There are beautiful native trees and bushland, views past rooftops down the Hawkesbury River and if you stop and look, lots of little things. There are termite mounds in trees and their tracks crossing the road, there’s birdlife and the occasional blue tongue lizard or other reptile.
Look out for quirky things
A friend sells local honey at a roadside stall complete with honesty box. Yarn bombing decorates a pole and large wooden Scrabble-like blocks with letters spelling “Dangar Island” challenge passers-by to create new and different words. Today there’s a new one “Lizard Sanga”
The path up to Kiparra Park and the top of the island with its elusive Aboriginal rock carvings has been reopened (on the high side of Riverview near #146) and is worth taking for the view across to the Hawkesbury River Bridge.
Having completed the top loop, I return to the shop and ferry shed having seen my island home in a new light. Now it’s time to jump off my jetty to cool off.
Thoughts on Dangar Island
This water access only suburb on the northern outskirts of Sydney feels like a world away from the pressures of city life. The pace is slower, people stop and chat and the views of course are special. Living on Dangar Island has its challenges, but spending a day or two experiencing this special place – well why wouldn’t you?
Children’s Book on Dangar Island
If you enjoyed reading about Dangar Island, you may be interested in a children’s picture book that I wrote about Island life as seen through the eyes of a child.