I live in the Hornsby Shire and shop weekly at the Hornsby Shopping Centre and yet, a little research reveals that I scarcely know this Northern Suburb of Sydney.
The train line divides Hornsby into a Western and Eastern side. Starting my day on the Western side, my initial thoughts are that the shops and streets around here aren’t very different from other Sydney suburbs.
Hornsby: The Western Side
In search of inspiration, I walk past the police station towards the heritage-listed Hornsby Court House which opened in 1926. There, people are starting to gather. A woman perches on the low wall engrossed in her phone. Others chat and smoke in pairs. I hope their business in court goes well for them today.
A man stands outside the TAFE handing out Bibles. Gently refusing the offer of “a free gift” I instead ask if he knows where the heritage lamp shades are on this stretch of the road. We both peer down the street and identify a pair on the median strip. Then, pointing, he tells me “my mum went to school there”. Her school is now part of TAFE.
The mural in a children’s play area adds a colourful dimension to Hornsby Park. Behind this play area, a path leads to the Hornsby Mountain Bike Trail which offers trails ranging from “Easiest” to “Advanced”. A flimsy laminated sign indicates a Heritage Walking Trail. Frustratingly, there is no further information.
A man covered in a sky blue blanket sleeps rough under a tree, an empty VB bottle beside him. Hopefully the beer provided some comfort on a rather cold night out.
Soothing music wafts towards me from the forecourt of the Hornsby Aquatic Centre. A group of people gently move their limbs in the calm flowing movements of Tai Chi. I watch for a moment mesmerised.
Across the road another bright mural hides a building site. To the side of the mural, a partially hidden plaque remembers the controversially demolished Country Women’s Association Rest Centre. The only reminder of this heritage listed building is this plaque.
I follow Dural Street into Quarry Road. The low-rise unit blocks were probably built in the 60s. Two cockatoos, eating seed from a bird feeder, watch my approach carefully but remain where they are. Their meal is more important than my possible threat.
Old Man’s Valley Cemetery
Somewhere around here, there should be a path to the Old Man’s Valley Cemetery. The Higgins family is buried in this cemetery which has State Significance. It is possibly the only fully conserved family cemetery in New South Wales. While a woman walking her dog knows nothing about the cemetery, she offers to “phone a friend who should know”. Unfortunately, the friend’s phone is switched off.
It’s a pleasant walk through the tall blue gums and fresh Australian bush, and I continue on hoping that the cemetery path will reveal itself. A young man has just finished his mountain bike ride. He too knows nothing about the cemetery. Two women on a bush walk also have no idea. I try my luck and follow the path they were on.
Almost immediately I find a brass plaque describing the Hornsby Heritage Steps (also known as The Depression Steps) constructed during the Great Depression as part of a ‘program of works for the relief of unemployment’. The Higgins Family is mentioned but there is no mention of the cemetery.
The distinctive sound of a whip bird cuts through the air. The bright red head and breast of a King Parrot flashes across my path and settles on a tree above me. Seeing these birds always brings a smile to my face.
Having lost all hope of finding the cemetery, I retrace my steps looking for the Blue Gum walk which is next on my list. Along the way, a sign points to The Great North Walk. Many of my suburban walks reveal connections with other suburbs. Both Eastwood and Five Dock have references to The Great North Walk.
Perhaps the Blue Gum Walk is a section of The Great North Walk. Perhaps not. Annoyingly, I have missed both the cemetery and the Blue Gum Walk and instead make my way to Lisgar Gardens.
The street is lined with beautiful old homes, with extensive views across the valley. Some are heritage- listed and others are fine examples of early architecture. This is a side of Hornsby that I never knew existed.
The entrance to Lisgar Gardens is via a path and sandstone steps which descend into an attractive and well-maintained garden. A couple sit in the sun on one of the benches with their morning tea.
Water trickles down the sandstone rockface. Lisgar Gardens are smaller than the Camellia Gardens in Caringbah, but nevertheless 72 varieties of Camellia are planted there. The Gardens also host a Music program which includes Jazz and World Music.
While it is a bit of a trek and out of my way, I decide to visit to Ginger Meggs Park. James Charles Banks who created the character Ginger Meggs, grew up in the Hornsby area. He based the character on his friend and future Mayor of Hornsby, Charles Somerville.
Along the way the houses are a mixture of old and newer, and set well back from the road. Many have slate roofs and wide verandas. A van advertising “The Dinner Ladies” pulls up and parks near me. Someone is going to eat well tonight without the bother of cooking.
Rosemead Road soon becomes rather steep. As I descend into the valley, following the twists and turns in the road, negative thoughts crowd my head. “Is this worth it?” and “I’m going to have to walk up this steep incline afterwards”.
The road levels out. Not far ahead is what I suspect is the end of the Blue Gum Walk that I couldn’t find earlier. Oh well. I walk down a side road to Ginger Meggs Park. The park is just a modern children’s playground and not really worth the steep walk down.
The climb back out of the valley isn’t as bad as expected and doesn’t take long. Now, I’m back on track and walking to the so-called heritage precinct around Pretoria Parade.
Another disappointment. Unless I’m at the wrong end of Pretoria Parade, nothing much seems heritage to me apart from perhaps a few cottages near the railway line.
Again, something is wrong. There should have been a turn off before the railway line and yet here I am standing on the rail bridge. I walk back to a pathway between two houses which takes me to the Western Commercial side of Hornsby.
The shops with their beautiful old facades fronting Peats Ferry Road are not the sort you’ll find in shopping centres. There’s Forbes Footwear which has been fitting big feet since 1940 and the Hornsby Odeon, one of the few older style cinemas still operating. In The Bookplate the wooden floor to ceiling shelves bulge with second hand books and there’s a family tailor established 60 years ago.
A fabulous mural by Hugues Sineux shows how the high street may have looked in times gone by. He has colourfully depicted a grocer, florist, barber and restaurant as well as a butcher, pharmacy and draper. Ginger Meggs features strongly in the bright cheerful mural.
Someone calls out “Hey Jo”. I turn around. Four friends from Dangar Island are lunching at the local Thai. They pose for a quick photo and return to their lunch.
The Bee’s Knees Vintage Cafe seems like an interesting place to stop for lunch. The soft soothing music is relaxing and there’s plenty to look at in terms of vintage “clutter “. The coffee and lunch are good too.
Hornsby: The Eastern Side
Every day hundreds of commuters walk over the mosaic Rainbow Serpent on the western footpath outside the station each day. How many even notice the artwork? On the other side of the station is the Hornsby Mall and the suburbs Eastern side.
The Tender Gourmet Butcher announces that they recently won the “best pork sausage in the world”. Their sausages are good. I get mine there.
The sometimes-working Hornsby Water Clock Sculpture “Man, Time and the Environment” by Victor Cusak is a great water feature. People arrange to meet there, perch on the wall to relax in the sun or reflect on the water and moving parts.
Berkelouw Books in Hornsby sells my children’s books and I take the opportunity to check their stock. They sold the last Riverboat Postman this morning and there’s only one Dangar Island book left. I’ll deliver more later in the week.
Walking through the mall to the residential area, I pass an Indian and an Asian supermarket. From there it’s only a short walk to the Edgeworth David Community Garden.
Edgeworth David Community Garden
The Garden is a long narrow strip of bushland running along Sherbrook Road between Burdett and Northcote Roads. Edgeworth David was a geologist who went on Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition to the magnetic South Pole. He lived his last years in the heritage-listed Coringah which can be seen from the Edgeworth David Community Garden.
The current exhibition at The Wallarobba Arts and Cultural Centre is a HeadOn photographic exhibition. One of the photographers, David Starr, introduces himself. He lives near Old Man’s Valley but he too has not heard of the cemetery. The blurb about his macro photographs says that he likes to “see and engage with the natural native environment”. I can so relate to this as that’s what I like about my suburban exploration – seeing and engaging with my surroundings and the local people.
Summing up my walk through Hornsby
Today has been challenging. I’ve taken a few wrong turns, missed places I had hoped to see and climbed an unexpectedly long steep hill. However, I have discovered two interesting gardens on either side of the railway line and found that Hornsby is so much more than the shopping mall that I go to each week.