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
You may be interested in a children’s picture book that I wrote about Island life as seen through the eyes of a child. It is available online or at the Dangar Island Depot.
Dangar Island on the Hawkesbury River is 50km north of the Sydney CBD
Getting to Dangar Island:
Dangar Island is water access only. If you arrive by car, park at Brooklyn. If you arrive by train, alight at Hawkesbury River Railway Station which now has a lift.
Plan your trip at transportnsw.info
You can find the Dangar Ferry timetable here. The Dangar Island Ferry costs $9:00 per adult one way. Concession available ($4:50). Opal Cards are NOT accepted. Card preferred (since COVID)
You can also access Dangar Island by Water Taxi : 0422 300 100
Nice one Jo ! I must check out the real estate prices!
Thanks JD. Fortunately I don’t have to. Joanne
Thanks Jo. Glad you decided to include our ‘suburb’ in your wonderful blog of Sydney neighbourhoods.
Thanks Suzanne….I have been wanting to do Dangar Island for absolutely ages but wasn’t sure how it would go down locally. In the end I bit the bullet as it were. Jo
Great work. Be careful not to sell the island too much. Hornsby Shire’s best kept secret paradise!
Thanks Nathan….that is the danger, but on the other hand why not share it with others? Joanne
As I have had the pleasure of visiting Jo & Bronek several times on the island, I can well understand that it is a secret Paradise!! As always Jo, just loved this blog – very special!! Lib
Thanks Libby. We love to share our piece of paradise with friends. Jo
Wonderful read Jo. Brings back some super memories. Thanks for sharing ! Tim
Thanks Tim. Yes…plenty of great memories are made on Dangar.
Very important are the Evidence of Aboriginal carvings. Their west facing orientation is important to others on nearby Country.
Of course the area here had anti submarine nets here in the event of Impending Japanese invasion of Sydney circa 1942 and the target of blowing up the rail bridge adjacent. In fact the nearby Woy Woy rail tunnel was wired up for such a purpose.
Thank you Dave for your additional information. There is so much history surrounding Dangar Island. The local historical society has a guide with much more detail that I was able to provide. Joanne
It feels quite weird reading about Dangar Island as an outsider!
Great read as always.
Thanks Philip – hopefully brings back special memories. Jo
We were lucky enough to visit this special place and your blog brought back many happy memories, thanks Jo
Hopefully you’ll be back Bernadette. We enjoy sharing our special home. Jo
You are very lucky to live in such an interesting place! I enjoyed reading more about it!
Yes, Charlene, we are lucky and do remind ourselves of that every day when we look out onto the river. Jo
What a lovely place, somewhere I had not even heard of. Sounds like it might get busy at the weekends.
It’s a lovely place and although people do come for a weekend or day trip it’s not too busy. We see a couple of family groups walking past. That’s it.
Lovely post and images Joanne. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place Dangar, no matter how short or long your stay.
Thank you. And yes it is peaceful. I’m so lucky to live there. Joanne
I have vague memories of visiting an Aunty who lived here many years ago!
Was wondering, do you know the traditional name of the island? Are there plans to rename the island to its traditional (Aboriginal) name?
Unfortunately, Rob, I don’t know the traditional Aboriginal name for the Island. It was called Mullet Island by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788 and it was officially renamed Dangar Island in 1921 with the first subdivision, although it had been referred to as Dangar’s Island and Dangar Island prior to that. I don’t know of any plans to rename the island to its Aboriginal name.
Was there ever any form of institution on Dangar like there were on a number of other islands on the East Coast, Jo?
Not that I know of, Roger, but there was one on Peat Island which is nearby (on the left side of the M1 going north).
I visited Dangar Island, perhaps 5 years ago with a walking group. At that time we were escorted by a local historian who imparted a wealth of information on the island and the building of Hawkesbury bridge.
I am very keen to arrange a similar outing for my local Probus Group.
There was a modest charge for this service and we would be happy to make contact with the same gentleman or anyone else prepared to share history of the Island with us.
Lunch at the Bowling Club would also be a nice addition.
Any help or advice you can offer would be appreciated.
Chris, I’ll get back to you by email and put you in touch with someone. I may even be able to take you around.
Loved our visit to the island in 2017. Looling to visit again. Wondering if you can bring well behaved dogs on ferry.
Hi Alison, dogs are welcome but they must wear a muzzle- ferry rules. And of course us islanders request all doggie deposits both big and small are picked up. It is best dogs are kept on a leash.
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Hi Jo, thank you for your reflection on Dangar Island. I am planning a family picnic between Christmas and New year on the island, is there anything specific I should know before we arrive?
Can we bring our dog?
Where are the best picnic spots? I’ve read about Bradley’s Beach, but are there are any other lovely spots for about 10 of us?
It’s worth noting the following:
– Dogs require a muzzle on the ferry and should be on a lead at all times. They are not supposed to go on the beach.
– Check ferry times and costs
– some people enjoy a picnic at the park between the club and the hall – there’s a table and kids area.
– the beach is shallow water at all times and at high tide there’s no sand – picnickers sit on grass in front of houses.
– there aren’t really other areas suitable for a picnic
Hope that helps. Joanne
Thanks Joanne for your descriptive report of Danger Is. Would you know where we could store our car and the approx. cost of under cover storage for a vehicle? Thanks Les
Hi Les, The only covered parking is privately rented by about 5 islanders. The rest of us park our cars in the public car park and when that is full, we park up the hill. Best arrive early to give yourself time to find parking before catching the ferry. Or you could order the water taxi. Cheers Joanne
Even though i have lived on Dangar for a long time now i never get sick of hearing what other people think of Dangar through their eyes. I also like to share this beautiful place with others and trust that they will leave it how they found it so that others can enjoy this special place. Keep up your talent for story telling Jo so that others can also enjoy these special places.
PS The lift off the railway station is now up and running
Thanks as always Wally. Your comments always lift me up.
Hi Jo. I have always been interested in Dangar Island because it’s on my birth certificate I was born there. Apparently my father loved fishing and took my pregnant mother on a regular fishing trip and she fell over on the wharf and the water police delivered me there and then. I am 65 this year so it was quite a while ago 22 June 1956 . I wonder if that is ever a story that is ever talked about if so I assure you it is true. I don’t know much about the details because I eventually got adopted which was not supposed to happen apparently. I later found my birth mother and she told me the story about my birth on the wharf. Anyway thank you for writing about the Island was very interesting. At the time of my birth my name was Janette Rose Grant.
Hello Janet, Thank you for sharing your story. I haven’t heard it before but will ask around. Some of the longer term residents may know more. I’ll ask around and let you know. Joanne
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