Mona Vale Headland
Type of park:
Park is suitable for:
A moderately easy walk, 10 leisurely minutes one way. The walk features large, open, grassy areas and a scenic lookout point, as well as insights into the history of settlement in Mona Vale and the Pittwater area.
In the same year that Europeans arrived in Sydney, Governor Phillip noted with delight that many hundreds of acres of land between Manly and Pittwater were "very proper for cultivation". The prime concern of those early years of settlement was to ensure enough food and materials to sustain the infant colony. So the initial land grants encouraged settlers to work toward this, usually by requiring that at least part of the land be cleared and cultivated within a set time.
Farming at Mona Vale
Land grants at Mona Vale were smaller than those further north, on the peninsula. By 1860, there were about ten families farming the Mona Vale areas. Their most important crops were wheat and oats, although some also grew fruits and vegetables, or grazed cattle. The produce was taken either to Manly, by horse and cart, or to Sydney town, by steamship from Pittwater. Other materials were also sent by steamship: timber for firewood and building, evaporated sea salt for cooking and preserving foods, and shells to be burned to make lime for building. As with most coastal people, fishing and boatbuilding were also prime local occupations.
Not only honest livings were made here. In the early days of settlement this area was also known for its outlaws. Escaped convicts headed north from the Sydney colony to hide in the rugged scrub country around Pittwater. Bushrangers Hill is the highest point behind Bungan Beach. It was so named for those who were said to use it as a lookout, watching for unsuspecting travellers who crossed the Mona Vale flats in wagons or on horseback.
Family feuds and fearless fighting
By the 1870's there was a general lawlessness about the Mona Vale countryside. Those local farmers who had never visited the city were regarded as "uncivilised" by the others, and the limited transportation increased the sense of isolation. Among some families feuding and crime were common activities, with the outcomes being loss of life and destruction of property. Not surprisingly, this reputation did nothing to encourage potential residents.
Within a few decades, however, Pittwater had gained a better reputation as a place to go for holidays. The Rocklily - still standing on Pittwater Road at Mona Vale - was a popular refreshment stop for the horse-drawn coaches travelling between Manly, Newport and Church Point. Crowds of weekend visitors boosted the local population, and were accommodated in resort hotels and boarding houses. In 1903, the rules which prohibited surf bathing as dangerous and immoral were finally relaxed. This boosted land sales to people seeking a leisurely, healthy and pleasurable lifestyle.
When the Government pledged to extend the tramline from Narrabeen to Mona Vale, George Brock saw the fortune that could be made from a well-placed resort - and so in the early 1900's he built one. It remained one of the most outstanding landmarks in Mona Vale for many years. Originally known as The Hydro, it was an impressive three storey mansion built in a grandiose style, complete with fountains and statues. The surrounding grounds boasted four cottages, a gatekeeper's lodge, a private race course and polo ground, and a motley parade of pet emus, ostriches and kangaroos.
Unfortunately for Brock, the tramline was not extended after all. He went into debt, and the estate was sold. Although destroyed by fire in 1912, it was restored and used first as a Guest House, then as a World War 2 Officers' Training School and as a Country Club, before finally being demolished to make way for home units.
Swamp on fire
Unlikely though it may seem, we now benefit from the fact that the coastal low-lying areas - swampy and flood-prone - were previously considered useless as building grounds. Despite being prime beachfront land these areas were left largely untouched. Many are now parklands and golf courses.
But even golf courses need dry land. So when the golf course in Mona Vale needed extending, the 20 acre Black Swamp behind the beach was drained and filled. But, during the drought of 1983, the peaty soil under the fill dried out. Enormous cracks appeared, some as much as a metre wide and four metres deep. Then the peat caught fire. It continued to burn, underground, for more than a year. The only way of stopping it was to dig the swamp out again, right back to the water level, and refill it.