Bantry BayLocation: Northern Beaches
The upper reaches of Middle Harbour is the only place where the spectacular scenery of Port Jackson as seen by the First Fleeters in 1788 can still be seen today in its untouched state. And the area that closest resembles that original state is Bantry Bay - the last undeveloped deepwater bay in the Sydney region.
Bantry Bay was never developed as a suburb, no doubt because of its isolated location and being relatively difficult to access a centry ago when the suburbs around it were being subdivided and sold for housing. Instead, Bantry Bay was used as a shipping point for timber cut from the forests of the north shore around the Frenchs Forest area during the early part of the 19th century. Bantry Bay was set aside for public recreation in 1879. By the late 1890s picnic grounds were established by John Nelson at Bantry Bay and nearby Flat Rock, at the southern tip of Killarney Heights, where dance halls and pavilions catered for those seeking refreshment or entertainment, serviced on Sundays and public holidays by ferries from the city.
Bantry Bay Explosives Magazines
Because of its isolation from the rest of the city and its narrow entry, and steep sided valley, it was chosen as the site for a public explosives magazine in 1907 when development of Seaforth began, and the powder hulks anchored there had to be moved. There was public outcry that this untouched public recreational area would be used for such a purpose, but to no avail. Work began on the complex in 1909, but progress was slow until the advent of World War I, which saw construction accelerated and an opening date of August 1914 set and achieved.
Many of the explosives magazine's disused buildings still stand. Consisting of explosive storage buildings, offices, wharves, seawalls, tramlines, a dam and landing stages, the complex was built between 1911 and 1915. It replaced a series of hulks anchored in the bay which had been used for storing explosives for some time. The bay was chosen not only because of its isolation from existing residential areas of the time, it also was relatively close to the heads of Sydney Harbour. The twelve storage buildings of the complex, which were partially built into the hillside to deaden the effects of an explosion, have double brick walls and corrugated iron roofs designed to lift on impact. A concrete dam was built above the complex to provide water to a hydrant and hosing system outside each magazine.
During its years of use, the complex functioned as a highly specialised and industrious port with a variety of barges, boats, tugs, trams and hand trolleys being utilised to transport the goods from the boats to the magazines. At its peak, it had two jetties, two pontoons, a Watchman's Cottage, a Testing Shed, a Sailmaker's Loft, an Office and a Slipway. The remnants of these structures can still be seen, as well as the terracing that was created at the northern end of the eastern shore complex. It was manned by a team of 16 to 18 people who wore special clothing to protect them in case of an explosion.
The shift in the transportation of explosives by rail which began in the 1950s combined with falling revenues and the high expense of maintenance of the complex led to its closure in May 1974. The complex became part of Davidson State Recreation Area in 1974 and then incorporated into Garigal National Park in 1992. Today it is in the slow process of being restored to its original condition. Public access is forbidden until restoration has been completed and the danger from explosives contamination addressed.
Garigal National Park
The park encompasses the upper reaches of Middle Harbour Creek on the northern outskirts of suburban Sydney, including Bantry Bay. Bantry Bay is one of a number of valleys in the park through which creeks trickle and cascade into sparkling rock pools on their way to Sydney Harbour. A maze of fire trails and walking tracks make access easy to all but the most isolated sections of the park. Stepped sandstone ridges guard the valleys and provide numerous vantage points.
Aboriginal Rock Art
The most extensive single group of carvings in the Sydney metropolitan area are located on a rocky outcrop on the hillside above Bantry Bay and accessed via the Engravings Track alongside Wakehurst Parkway 400m south of the end of Bantry Bay Road. There are some 82 figures, including two mundoes, people, animals, fish, shields, a canoe, a basket and bag, boomerangs, circles, stone axes and clubs, snakes and a whale. One group of figures shows two men, one of whom is carrying bark canoes.
As the carvings are on flat open ground, sadly these carvings have suffered greatly from exposure to the weather and many have faded so badly there are only recognisable to the trained eye. The best time to view them is at dawn or dusk. Other engravings occur in the surrounding bushland but they are not easy to find as they are not marked and often in locations where fallen leaves and other bush debris have covered them. Middens and rock shelters can be seen on the shores of the bay. Tool sharpening grooves have been found near the engravings and creek beds.
Bantry Bay Bush Walks
The scrubland beyond the head of Bantry Bay contains a number of bushwalks of varying difficulties leading to a number of interesting places. The Cook Street Track, which commences from Cook Street, Forestville near the Nursing Home, leads into the upper valley of Bates Creek. The Bay and Magazine Tracks take bushwalkers past three smaller races and falls on the Main Creek.