A Self-Guided Walk in Northbridge
My answer “Northbridge” to a friend’s question about where my walk will take me today brings a smile and the reply “Hilly!” As the bus descends steeply towards the bridge where my walk begins, I realise that my friend is right.
The Northbridge Bridge
The name “Bridge” painted on the timber bus stop refers to the suspension bridge around the corner. Officially called “Long Gully Bridge”, this bridge has carried traffic into Northbridge from Cammeray since 1892. Privately built as a steel suspension bridge with sandstone turrets and timber decking, a concrete arch replaced the corroded suspension system in 1939.
Crossing the bridge to the monotonous drone of cars streaming across the bridge in both directions, I observe the now sealed holes where the suspension cables passed through the sandstone towers.
I stop and stand on tip toes to peer over the sandstone wall at the gully below. There’s a long drop down to the sandy coloured path running parallel to a broad stream.
On the 22nd of June 1923, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the discovery of the body of a schoolboy (16yrs) in the water underneath the suspension bridge. The report mentions that the drop is “about 150 feet”.
Wide views stretch across the bush below to Artarmon and Chatswood in the distance.
Across the bridge, a simple clock adorns a sandstone War Memorial. Originally dedicated in 1948 to those who died in WWII, a more recent plaque dated 2015 pays tribute to the men and women of Northbridge who contributed to war efforts at home and overseas.
Walking through Suburban Northbridge
Now the steep ascent starts towards Sailors Bay Road. The pavement peters out. With no particularly safe place to cross, I wait for a break in the traffic and cross at a run. Do people not walk in this suburb?
Multi-level houses hug the hillside on my left. Extensive views across the bush compensate for their location on a busy road. Closer to the shopping village, locally quarried sandstone walls and foundations feature on older homes.
Sailors Bay Road
Junk piled up on the sidewalk awaits an upcoming hard rubbish collection. I watch a woman inspect an old style wooden framed chair. She moves on to the next pile, perhaps making a mental note to return with her car.
On Sailors Bay Road, cafés with pavement seating, a local bakery, a vet and a couple of real estate offices make up some of the shops lining Sailors Bay Road.
Houses here range widely in architectural style and age. A small brick art deco block of flats stands alongside a more modern apartment block. An early Edwardian home hides behind a tall hedge while a beautifully maintained Tudor-style house is similarly obscured.
A sandstone wall and entrance distinguish ‘Clavering’ from its neighbours. This Californian bungalow, owned by the Uniting Church since 1984, served as a kindergarten and school in the 1930s and 1940s.
The gate bearing the original name of the school (St Cairan’s), at St Philip Neri Church and Primary School has been removed. Perhaps, like the suspension bridge, it became corroded.
Six small blocks of flats, perhaps the first in Northbridge, share similar characteristics. Five of the six have decorative leadlight windows. Painted white, four have blue detailing while the last two have olive green shingle patterning above the windows.
Arches above a strip of shops characterise this as early 20th Century Commercial Architecture. Only the tile shop still has an original leadlight window. The first shop in Northbridge, a general store and real estate agency stood here on the corner of Woonoona Road.
Northbridge Golf Club
From Northbridge Park, I look through the smoky haze to Cremorne and Cammeray. Closer in, golfers sporting matching blue shirts walk past sand bunkers to a putting green. Further on another group, this time wearing purple, tee off. And some say golf is a dying sport?
I wonder how many Northbridge residents know that from the 1960s until the late 1970s, there was a vineyard along the perimeter of the Northbridge Golf Course. The first vintage was bottled in 1978.
Aboriginal Heritage in Northbridge
A large flat rocky expanse reminds me of similar rock formations I’ve seen with Aboriginal carvings etched into their surface. As happened elsewhere in Sydney, the original inhabitants – the Cameraygal Clan, didn’t survive disease and displacement and no longer lived in this area after the 1850s.
Aboriginal Street Names
Northbridge has more Aboriginal street names than any other Sydney suburb. Apparently, Allen Taylor (after whom Taylor Square in Darlinghurst was named) decided on the street names, choosing relatively easily pronounceable words not necessarily related to Northbridge at all.
Today I’ve walked past Namoi (an Aboriginal word for breast or a species of acacia), Narooma (meaning sacred doctor stone or a magic stone), Neeworra (meaning star), Minimbah (from the Aboriginal minim – teacher or elder and bah – place) and Coorabin (curlew, barking lizard or spring constantly running).
The Northbridge Bike Skills Park, alongside the War Memorial Reserve is a surprise. Instead of a bitumen surface with mini roads and traffic signs, it’s a dirt track with mounds and sharp turns. Young teenagers would have a lot of fun on their bikes here.
On to Clive Park
After passing Bond’s Corner (named after a real estate agent who commissioned the building in the early 1920s) I make my way past architect designed homes towards Clive Park. Relatively flat until now, Sailors Bay Road descends sharply.
Entering Clive Park via a bush track, I disturb a Brush Turkey scratching amongst fallen leaf litter. A Council Worker cleaning the BBQs in the picnic area grumbles “I got the BBQs this week. They’re not pretty”.
Here too, as I walk through bush and rocky outcrops towards the tidal pool, I feel a strong presence of the Cameraygal people. It is quiet and peaceful with the water lapping the shore at the tidal pool.
A woman, having finished her yoga class in the yacht clubhouse smiles in greeting. She agrees with me that “it’s the best place for yoga” with floor to ceiling windows looking out on the bay. She adds “if you’re ever here on a Tuesday or Thurs morning” ….
Leaving Clive Park now, the burnt bush, (from earlier backburning) and smoky air, are a sober reminder of the fires currently raging across New South Wales and Queensland.
Former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, lived in this street and Harry Seidler designed two houses here. These multi-level houses, some with inclinators and indoor lifts have spectacular views of Sailors Bay.
It feels like I’m taking myself on a personal tour of homes that could easily feature in the show “Grand Designs”. And I’ve seen more than a few high-end cars like Range Rovers, Mercedes Benz’ and even a Porsche and a Jaguar.
A builder rummages in the back of his ute, one of many tradie vehicles parked nose to tail in the street. The local resident leaving his garage tells me “It’s always like this. There’s always work going on”.
Perhaps the smoke has kept people away from Northbridge Baths today. One or two sunbake on the decking surrounding the pool. Another swims laps. A regular visitor to the baths climbs out of the pool and stops to chat.
She recently saw an echidna near the road. Behind her, a fish surprises me by jumping out of the water and landing with a splash. I don’t see an echidna, but I do see a water dragon nearly get squashed as it crosses the road.
After an uneventful walk past the old bowling club and Warners Park, I climb the steep path to an area with an interesting history. Harden Avenue was once the site of a number of Market Gardens growing fruit and vegetables as well as flowers.
It is lunch time now, and workers enjoy their lunch break in King Park whose name honours market gardeners, brothers Bill, Norm and Noel King and notes the importance of market gardening in Northbridge in the 1930s and 1940s.
After a quick walk through Northbridge Plaza and on to Eastern Valley Way (originally called Eric Street) I end up eating a pleasant lunch in the courtyard out the back of The Local before catching a bus to the station.
Thoughts on Northbridge
I so enjoyed today’s walk through Northbridge. Yes, at times it was hilly and I puffed up bit up some of the hills but walking across the suspension bridge for the first time and discovering a mix of heritage and new architecture and harbour pools made for a really pleasant day.