Pittwater & Hawkesbury River History

On 2 March 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip sailed north to the inlet described by Captain James Cook in 1770 as a "broken land". Phillip explored the southern arm of Broken Bay and declared it "the finest piece of Water I ever saw". He "honoured [it] with the name of Pitt Water", after William Pitt, the Younger, who was Prime Minister of England.

Phillip was searching for the farming land he needed to feed the new colony at Port Jackson. While Pittwater was unsuitable farms were established on the fertile land along the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Produce was transported by ships, which waited to form a convoy in Pittwater, before sailing together to Sydney.

Initially, the area was beyond the law, harbouring escaped convicts and smuggled rum. These convicts lived in caves or rough shacks and attempted to survive as best they could in the bushland. In 1819, a constable was appointed to bring the rule of law to Pittwater. In 1843 a customs house was built at Barrenjoey in an attempt to limit rum smuggling.

Beginning in 1810, land grants were allocated to pardoned convicts and free settlers. Initially people made a living by cutting shingles from casuarina, (she-oaks) and ironbark trees, for roof tiles, extracting salt from seawater and fishing. The many Aboriginal middens around the foreshores of Pittwater provided a rich supply of shells which were burned to yield lime for construction of buildings in Sydney and Parramatta. Some land was cleared for cultivation and to provide timber for building and fuel. Later the Pittwater area became a farming district grazing sheep, cattle, horses and pigs and producing butter, milk, vegetables, fruit and wheat.

Pittwater was isolated and access was mainly by ship to Barrenjoey and by 1880 to Newport. The earliest land explorations followed Aboriginal tracks through the bush. Gradually, a rough bush road was established from Manly, which ran close to the coast as far as Narrabeen. In 1880 as bridge spanned the ford at Narrabeen and the route extended to Mona Vale. Here the Rock Lily Hotel was opened in 1886, where travellers could refresh themselves and horses could be changed. The route then forked with a road to the northwest to Bayview and Church Point, passengers for Newport changed to a smaller coach and took the route to the northeast.

By 1913 trams had replaced coaches and ran as far as Narrabeen. Passengers journeying further north could connect with a bus service, which was established in 1920. After The Spit (1925), Roseville (1925) and Sydney Harbour (1932) bridges were opened, the Pittwater peninsula was more easily reached. Especially with the increasing number of private motor cars, a holiday or day-trip to the area became more feasible. Many homes in the area were holiday shacks, used only a few times per year.

Since the 1950s Pittwater has become predominantly residential in character and a suburban region of Sydney. It has however largely retained the beauty for which it was renowned in the early days of European settlement. The region integrates suburban development into a natural setting of bushland and waterways, which include nine coastal beaches, the magnificent Pittwater estuary and Narrabeen Lagoon.

Hawkebury River Gateway Overview 

Located just 24 kilometres northof central Sydney, the Hawkesbury River Gateway is surrounded by rich bushland and natural attractions. Having served as a major transport route in colonial
times the area now maintains a peaceful charm rare so close to a major city. The tranquillity available with such ease is cherished by all visitors to what is surely one of Sydney's unsung gems. It is an area to relax, indulge the senses and get back in touch with yourself.

The river town of Brooklyn, famous for its fresh Hawkesbury oysters, is a great place to unwind. Catch the ferry to Dangar Island, one of many dotted along the river, or hire a houseboat to make the most of this natural wonderland. Visitors can dine on fresh seafood while you watch the boats and fisherman going about their business.

These Islands are steeped in history of significant proportions. Both indigenous and European history have been major components of attracting visitors, tourists and indeed some of the many residents of the Hornsby Shire and beyond to this magnificent waterway. Much of the history is
based in the river itself and this can easily be experienced on a Cruiser

But don't just satisfy your seafood withdrawals this way. Take your bait and tackle and try your hand at catching your own lunch. With the choice of prawns, crab, squid and a large variety of fish on offer, nothing tastes better than a succulent feast fresh off the barbeque.

If you are an oyster lover, purchase a couple of dozen fresh from the local oyster farms in the Hawkesbury River. Relax for a few hours on an oyster cruise where you will be able to experience the art of oyster growing

But the river is not the only attraction to the area.  

Cruise up through the stunning Berowra Waters, visit one of the many National Parks and State forests and go for a hike, picnic above breathtaking views or just relax in these treasures of
nature. Sit back and relax, with that favourite person or a group of friends! The sun is shining, the fish are biting and there you are enjoying a cold drink in one hand and a fishing rod in the other. Steeped in history and abounding with hidden treasures the Hawkesbury River Gateway is a must see Experience for anyone visiting Sydney.

Hawkebury River Gateway History 

There would be few people to doubt that the magnificent Hawkesbury River is Australia’s premier waterway. It’s history and beauty have been written about many times over, from the days not long after Governor Phillip first explored its length in 1789.

The port of BROOKLYN is always busy with ferry traffic, trawlers and pleasure craft. It became important when the Union Bridge Company of Brooklyn New York completed the first railway bridge across the river in 1889. Prior to that, passengers were met at Long Island by the steamer “General Gordon” and were transferred to Mullet Creek station by boat, very near to the site of the present Wondabyne station. As you pass under the present railway bridge, you will see the sandstone piers of that old bridge, that was replaced in 1946.

Each weekday the Riverboat Postman carries tourists, mail and supplies to isolated communities upstream from Brooklyn, a reminder of pioneering times when the river was the only highway linking families scattered along the banks from the ocean to Windsor.

Fishing and oyster farming are still major commercial activities, and large quantities of oysters are sent daily to the Sydney Market. The early river  settlers did not value the delicate river oysters, and millions were burned for lime until this practice was banned by the government in 1868.

DANGAR ISLAND sits in the estuary overlooking Brooklyn and has many historical associations. Governor Phillip’s party camped there in 1788 and named it Mullet island because of the large numbers of fish taken. Henry Dangar built a house there in about 1871, and constructed a stone tower which can still be seen on the hill, a short walk from the public wharf. The island was leased to the railway contractors and large sections of track were built there and towed into position by boats. There are roads on Dangar but they are mown lawns and cars are prohibited. Several artists and writers make their home on the island. 

THE LOWER REACHES OF THE RIVER are mainly valleys drowned at the end of the last Ice Age. These are now picturesque fjords of deep water, with steep sides covered in thick bushland. When Governor Phillip explored Cowan Creek by small boat in 1788, he found “several coves of good
depth of water all the way up”. He reached Bobbin Head before turning back.

REFUGE BAY is a sheltered anchorage at the entrance to Cowan Creek, and a popular haven for cruising boats. It is not uncommon to see foreign yachts taking refuge here as their first landfall in Australia. It was from here that the “KRAIT” began her journey to raid Singapore Harbour in 1943.

In 1889 it was suggested that land between SMITHS CREEK and COWAN CREEK become the
site of “PACIFICA” a proposed capital of the new Commonwealth of Australia. Buildings were to have replicated Windsor Castle, the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament, with a grand entrance across a suspension bridge near Bobbin Head. The plan, thankfully, came to nothing and we were spared “Canberra on the Hawkesbury”.

Two bridges now span the river at KANGAROO POINT carrying traffic on the Pacific Highway and the Newcastle F3 Freeway. It was here that George Peat established the first ferry service for travelers in 1840. Motorists now cross the bridge in a few seconds whereas Peat took all day to take 34 horses across the river in 1852.

MILSON ISLAND was bought by the government in 1901 and used as an asylum and then as a
prison. It is now a recreation centre. On the northern shore opposite the island lies the wreck of the HMAS PARRAMATTA, the first warship of the Australian Navy. In service from 1911 to 1928 she later carried construction materials for buildings on the island. A gale drove her ashore to where she now lies rusting in the mud.

BEROWRA WATERS was established in 1902 when a track was built down to the river from the railway at Berowra Village. Enterprising locals began conveying people down to the creek, and it soon became popular as a holiday destination. By 1914 there was a kiosk, 2 boatsheds and houseboats for rent. In the depression years many people lived in the area in caves and shacks. Fishing, oysters and home grown vegetables were a great help through this time.

BAR ISLAND near the mouth of Berowra Creek is one of the romantic and historical landmarks. In 1876 John Crumpton built a church on the tiny island. Some of the early pioneers are laid to rest in the cemetery there. Among them is James Milson after whom Milson Island was named. Although the church has long since disappeared, annual pilgrimages are made to the island and a memorial service is still held.

Ref: hawkesburyriver.org.au & Pittwater Council Website


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