As only one of my suburban Sydney discoveries has been north of the Harbour Bridge (Palm Beach), I am getting off the train at Milsons Point. I want to learn more about the waterfront suburbs west of the bridge. Milson’s Point, Lavender Bay and McMahon’s Point.
Sydney Harbour Foreshore
First, I find a table in a busy coffee shop in Broughton Street. Suitably fortified, I walk towards the harbour. The approach to the bridge towers above me. Trains thunder overhead while maintenance crews continue with their never-ending task.
I follow a road on my left down to the water and the footpath along the harbour foreshore. A sign in the first of two sandstone shelters states that “This is NOT a public toilet” and provides directions to the nearest facility. Fortunately people seem to have heeded the message.
A tall rusted metal sculpture greets me. Called “Australian Angel” it welcomes vessels to the harbour. The steel components reference the history of the area. There are Olympic rings (the sculpture was a gift from the Swiss to NSW for the 2000 Olympics), rivets (representing the six million rivets used in the harbour bridge), a cannon ball, anchors and more.
A discarded fishing rod leans against a palm tree. A photographer takes the portrait of a smartly dressed business man, the Opera House in the background. Nearby is the bow of HMAS Sydney, placed here in 1941 after the vessel was scrapped on Cockatoo Island in 1929.
North Sydney Pool
The art deco arches of the wall lining the North Sydney Olympic Pool are reminiscent of a time gone by. People are swimming laps, their multi-coloured caps bobbing up and down. What a view they have here at the base of the Harbour Bridge.
The iconic smiling face of Luna Park welcomes visitors. Two sets of grandparents, each with a young child in tow make their way to the park. They stop at the entrance and then leave. It seems the rides are closed today.
A sign on the wall of the Crystal Palace informs me that Luna Park was built on the site of workshops used in the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Palace is built on top of the original timber wharf whose wooden piers are still visible.
The foreshore boardwalk continues along the edge of Lavender Bay. Yachts and cruisers bob on their anchors their rigging tinkling in the breeze. A woman runs past, headphones in place. Two more women, walking more slowly are deeply involved in conversation.
North Sydney Public Art Trail
Arthur (Art) Barton was an artist at Luna Park. He designed the smiling face at the Park entrance. I walk under the low hung branches of an old fig tree in Art Barton Park, drawn to a nearby sculpture. The figures are recognisable as those of cartoonist Michael Leunig. The sculpture is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the Ghost Train fire of 1979.
Continuing along the walkway I am delighted by more miniature sculptures. They are images of characters from Australian children’s stories. There is a thoughtful kangaroo (Splodge) and a banksia man extracting a thorn from his foot. His facial expression is priceless. A suited Mr Lizard has had little flowers placed in his bent elbow. There are plenty more. All except one (Ken the Dugong) were sculpted by Peter Kingston.
Beyond the narrow garden bed, I am surprised to see a railway track and a bright silver train with yellow doors. I wonder how and why it got there.
Further along, past three archways, is Quibaree Park. On the way, I read about the Lavender Bay baths (demolished in 1972) and that as early as the 1830s there was a busy boatbuilding industry here. All that remains are parts of the Neptune Engineering Slipway, last used in 1989.
Turning away from the water I walk under the third archway to Watt Park. There I find the site of an historic well, which provided essential fresh water to early settlers. A narrow zig zag path leads me up the hill to Lavender Crescent which is lined by a very high sandstone retaining wall topped by a salmon pink picket fence.
Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden
At the end of Lavender Crescent, I find myself at the Harbourside Indian Restaurant. I bring overseas visitors here for an inexpensive meal with harbour views. If you can’t get a window seat, the fabulous view is reflected in wall mirrors. Afterwards, take a walk down the path through Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden.
This is what I do now, following windy paths and discovering hidden seats and sculptures. I take my time and spend a few minutes at one of the many tables reading the visitors book. A cheeky noisy miner comes to investigate.
On my way back to Lavender Street, I meet three Sydney Trains staff. One, with an immaculately trimmed moustache and sky blue turban, explains that the rail line below is used as a siding after the peak hour rush. Mystery solved. A friend tells me later that there is a proposal to convert the tracks to a walkway similar to the New York Highline. I am sure that will be popular.
I walk past grand Victorian Terraces in Walker Street to the home of The Royal Art Society and The Lavender Bay Gallery. The Society Art Ballot/Auction, held in August each year, is one way to obtain good art at a reasonable price.
Blues Point Road
In Blues Point Road, restaurants fill up for lunch and tables and chairs spill out onto the sidewalk. I meander through side roads to Munro Street and Sawmillers Reserve, a quiet, well maintained park with a ‘tree house’ linking the upper and lower levels.
Water swirls around a rusting wreck. Stone ruins are all that remain of the sawmill that once operated here. A plaque commemorates the election of the first woman alderman to North Sydney Council.
Blues Point Tower
Leaving the reserve from a different exit, I find myself near Blues Point Reserve where media and players are gathering for the launch of the Rugby Sydney 7s. A man in a red vest leans against his car watching the proceedings, “Dallas” written in small cursive letters on his upper arm. We chat and then I leave to follow a sign to the foreshore.
The path passes behind the much-criticised Blues Point Tower and back along the harbour. A young fisherman throws in a line. A bride and groom pose for wedding photographs.
I could catch a ferry at McMahons Point Ferry wharf, but prefer to walk back via Bay View Road and the boardwalk. A fancy sports car is being photographed for an advertisement. The police and ambulance personnel assist a man who seems disoriented. A train on the line tests its horn.
Reflections on Lavender Bay
It has been a very pleasant day. I have been surprised by miniature sculptures, have discovered parks and gardens new to me and enjoyed the beauty of our harbour.
Katie, a fellow blogger has a written and photographed Luna Park in much more detail here. Take a look for more information on the iconic amusement park.
Enjoyed the sculptures and gardens of Lavender Bay? Then you’ll enjoy Ashfield and Pyrmont (both have interesting sculptures) or Auburn and it’s Botanic Garden
Lavender Bay on the lower North Shore of Sydney is 3km north of the Sydney CBD
Plan your trip at transportnsw.info
The North Sydney Public Art trail can be downloaded as an app or printed off as a pdf (see bottom of webpage)
And a map vaguely showing my route: (You can download it here) (NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):
Fascinating as always, Jo. I did a wedding in one of those sandstone structures, which are not toilets, a week ago as rain was threatening and the celebration had to move under cover. I must say that I have been in them on other occasions when people have not heeded that notice 🙁 Quibaree Park and the Wendy Whitely garden are also regular wedding stops for me, but my wanderings have never been as detailed as yours – I had never seen those tiny sculptures!
Was this walk since your India trip?
Keep up the good work!
Hi Philip. Your weddings must take you to some wonderful spots around our city. I did the walk before India to ensure I keep my promise to myself to post fortnightly. We’re in Delhi and loving the vibrance.
Lovely narrative Jo.
Thanks Loretta. One day I may see your art in the gallery?
Very interesting. Nice photo’s!
Thanks Bronwen. I’m lucky to have Sydney and all her facets as a subject
Thanks for a lovely post, Jo. This is one of Paul and my favourites parts of Sydney as it was where we first lived, when we moved from Perth, and where Paul recently had his office. Happy memories brought to life by your great narrative!
I love that this post brings back great memories for you. Jo
This is one of my favourite local hide-outs. I’ve often sat and watched Wendy and her gardeners debating shrubbery. That garden is a labour of love – magical. Nice to see it through your eyes.
And yet it took me so long to spend time there…
Great to know you enjoyed our ‘backyard’. In fact I skipped the North Sydney Pool gym today and went along the Boardwalk for a change.
Glad India is displaying her charms! Abrazos to you both.
Hi Di…Thanks. Don’t you just love the little statues. India is great. A bit challenging but that’s what I’m here for… Jo
Another interesting read for me Jo. You cover quite a few kilometers and such interesting view of things to see and do . Thank you so much.
Thanks Marie. I do think that someone following in my footsteps may prefer to break it up a bit. I can do anything front five to 15km on one of my days out. Unfortunately I can’t cover everything there is to see in a suburb. Thanks for your encouragement. Jo
Wonderful photos and blog! Keep up the good work! I am from Vancouver, Canada and my husband is Australian. Sydney was home to us many years ago but just for a year and a bit, so not for long enough. In November, during our last trip to Australia, we did our own little tour of some waterfront communities using the ferries and instead of doing our more typical ferry trip to Manly we went the other direction under the bridge from the Quay and just kept going around but due to limited time we didn’t do a lot of exploring. I have it in my head it next time we go to Australia we will spend at least a few weeks in Sydney itself as there is indeed so much to do and see. Your blog will be a wonderful starting point. Hopefully we will find a suitable vacation rental home and maybe even stay for a month. We also like to visit family and friends who live in other wonderful places in Australia such as Shoal Bay/Nelson Bay and Coffs Harbour and Wellington Point in Queensland and O’Reilley’s (bird paradise), so it seems 2 or 3 months is not enough time. One amazing spot I would like to mention is the parkland and Bella Vista restaurant on the north head…..it has views that are truly spectacular / breathtaking. You will need a car or taxi to get there from the ferry terminal at Manly but it is well worth it!
Hi Mariette. Thank you so much. I am thrilled that my blog is being read in Canada and that you will use it as a resource. Most of what I explore (all so far) is via public transport but I’ll see what I can do regarding your suggestions.
Looking forward to hearing what you explore when you’re next here.