The Coal Loader in Waverton is a place I know of but have never visited. One of the few disadvantages to living on the Hawkesbury River, is that once I’m home there’s little incentive to leave. This project to discover Sydney differently by exploring Sydney Suburbs provides an incentive to get out and about.
So, today I am off to Waverton – to explore the Coal Loader and Balls Head Reserve which I have also never visited even though I lived on the North Shore for many years.
Walking Through Waverton
The little shopping village of Waverton clusters around the railway station, a cream weatherboard building with beautiful ironwork which goes seemingly unnoticed by commuters rushing for their train.
A man wearing odd socks sits on a bench outside the bottle shop, a baseball cap upside down on the footpath in front of him. “Can you spare some silver for a pensioner?” he asks. Feeling uncomfortable, I decline, setting off a train of thoughts about the best way to help people who are homeless.
My strategy is to support organisations who work with homeless people or occasionally (after checking with the person) to buy their choice of food. Interestingly, the request is always for something simple like a chicken sandwich.
Walking down Bay Road soon provides glimpses of the harbour and then the Sydney Harbour Bridge. My pace quickens. How lucky am I to be out and about near the harbour on a fresh, clear winter day?
A couple sit facing each other on their narrow verandah. On a small table between them are two brown stoneware cups and a round teapot. They know how to start their day well.
The Waterview Café looks inviting and I’m sorry I’ve already eaten. Soon, the sparkling harbour opens out in front of me and then another Sydney icon, the ANZAC Bridge comes into view. How lovely is this city?
The fenced land on my right belongs to The Australian Government. Two Naval personnel walk past and then a sign pointing to HMAS Waterhen explains all. This is a Naval Base. Research explains that its main role is mine warfare.
A firm compressed sand footpath under my feet is different from the usual black bitumen. It meanders through street plantings created by the “Streets Alive” program which involves Council supporting community volunteers to create street gardens that enhance and beautify local streets.
Two types of herringbone brickwork (plain and diagonal) decorate a home over the road. A man talking on his mobile moves away from the leadlight window when he sees me take a photo.
The Coal Loader
Both the Coal Loader, and the entrance to HMAS Waterhen are on Waterhen Drive. Behind the tall barbed wire fence, I count three navy vessels. Where have I been? Garden Island is familiar to me, but this is a whole Naval facility that I never knew existed.
Early Aboriginal history is evident here. The Cammeraygal people were the original inhabitants of this area and an Aboriginal Rock carving of a large whale with a smaller figure within the body is clearly visible from the boardwalk near the Centre for Sustainability.
Centre for Sustainability
From the 1920s to the 1990s the Coal Loader was an industrial transfer depot for coal. After an extensive works program, The Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability opened in 2011 and more recently (in March 2018) The Coal Loader platform opened.
The Coal Loader Platform
The largest publicly accessible green roof space in Australia, the platform harvests the sun with a bank of solar panels, captures and recycles rainwater, and is host to a community garden and leased allotments. It sits above the coal loading tunnels and provides visitors with expansive views of the harbour.
Alongside the platform is M.V. Cape Don, the last of three ships called lighthouse tenders that serviced buoys and lighthouses around Australia’s coastline. She is being restored by a dedicated group of volunteers.
The Centre for Sustainability provides information on various measures that promote sustainability. It’s a drop off point for small recyclables like corks, household batteries and mobile phones and it even gives away free worm juice.
People here are friendly. They are out and about taking dogs for a walk or just walking and they greet me as we pass each other. This is quite different from other suburbs I have explored. I feel safe and welcome.
Having explored the Coal Loader Platform, and Centre for sustainability, I descend the stairs (there is a lift) to explore further.
Chooks and Tunnels
Chooks wait expectantly at the fence of their run. Here, volunteers offer their time to care for the birds and community members learn about keeping chooks in their backyard.
Four parallel 160m tunnels run beneath the Coal Loader Platform. The original coal feeder and cart from the historic coal loading system is visible in one tunnel while another is home to threatened micro bats and a third now contains rainwater tanks for storing rainwater that falls on the platform above.
I walk through Tunnel 2, imagining the noise and dust as coal poured through the numbered shoots above me into waiting skips. The tracks have been removed, and sensor lighting facilitates the walk.
Balls Head Reserve
From the tunnel I continue along the bush track that leads into Balls Head Reserve. In the early 1920s, this area was denuded of almost all trees and vegetation possibly due to firewood collection and wharf construction. As a result of community action, Balls Head was declared a public recreation area in 1926 and together with the planting of many trees and natural regeneration, the Reserve grew back.
Starting off by taking the Isabell Brierley walk, the trail is well sign posted (initially at least). My plan is to zig zag along the different walks to ensure I cover most of the Reserve, and hopefully find Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I heard about the cabin from someone I follow on Instagram (a source of inspiration for suburban discovery), but haven’t found anything in my research.
Termites and Sandstone
Termites tracks climb eucalypt trunks and I spy two massive termite nests close to the track. A continual drone of industrial noise from shipyards, and the occasional sound of a helicopter or aeroplane is the only reminder that I am near the centre of a large city.
The sandstone has been weathered by wind and rain forming large swirling patterns, hollows and rock overhangs. At the cement flagpole footing I turn left. This is the highest point west of the Harbour Bridge at 300ft above sea level.
The Western Walk pathway which meets the road entrance to the Reserve. Across the road the Angophora path descends into the bush via a series of steps. The track leads past a recent hazard reduction burn back to the road and car park.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Across the road again, I walk down some stairs holding onto the green metal handrail to the Harbour Walk. My heart does a little leap when I come across a rusted metal door and realise that I have found Uncle Tom’s cabin.
During the 1930s depression, homeless people often found shelter around the harbour under rock overhangs. This tiny cabin, created by walling in a rock overhang with large sandstone blocks was most likely home to someone during the depression. Then, apparently, in the 1950s a council worker by the name of Tom moved in giving rise to the cabin’s name.
Inside is a little blackened fireplace and a broken chimney. Spaced bricks at the top of the wall form an air vent and a sheet of corrugated iron above the doorway protects the entrance.
As I follow the Midden Walk back to Balls Head Road my thoughts wander and I think about the people who lived and sheltered in Tom’s Cabin and how different their lives were to mine.
Carradah Park is a former BP site. Evidence of three huge storage tanks remains in the form of circular grassed areas edged with brick paved walkways. Cut sandstone cliff faces follow the curved line of where the tanks once stood. A pleasant spot for a picnic.
The Harbour Bridge is clearly visible from numerous spots in Balls Head Reserve and Carrandah Park. Again, my mind turns to other things. Is this a local secret or does the area get overrun on New Year’s Eve?
Heritage in Larkin Street
Larkin Street is home to two very different heritage listed homes. Oakhill, at 40 Larkin Street, is an example of the Edwardian Queen Ann Style, and number 44 is a two storey Federation home built in the Arts and Crafts style. The more I explore Sydney suburbs, the more familiar I am getting with early architectural styles.
Railway enthusiasts will be interested in the Woolcott Street single-line girder underbridge. It was installed in 1893. Today the original foundations remain, but the bridge itself is a replacement recovered from Dombarton and placed in Woolcott Street in 1991.
Henry Lawson Lived Here
A walk up Euroka Street provides a pleasant surprise. A plaque informs me that Henry Lawson lived and wrote in several houses here (21,26,28,30 and 31). The houses are old and varied in style. There are three sandstone terraces, single storey homes and a group of three freestanding two storey weatherboard homes are apparently good examples of Federation Filigree Style. They nevertheless have a quite modern feel to them.
While walking back to Waverton Station via Carr Street I remember that I looked at buying a unit in this street. It had fantastic views but was way out of my price range.
Waverton is Well Worth a Visit
The harbourside suburb of Waverton has a number of places well worth seeing. Visit the Coal Loader to learn more about Sydney’s Industrial heritage and about sustainability for our future. Spend time in the bush at Balls Head Reserve, enjoying the harbour views. Find Uncle Tom’s Cabin, take a walk through Carrandah Park and perhaps see where Henry Lawson once lived.