On July 27, after Sydney had already been in Covid lockdown for a month, it was announced the restrictions would continue until the end of August. At the time, I found it a bit disheartening. The lockdown has since been extended even further, but back at the end of July I was already over it. I had been taking a daily walk around my local streets, but I needed to lift my spirits by turning my outings into a more creative project.
I decided to take a photo from somewhere across my local area every day in August.
With the four bonus days in July thrown in, that came to 35 days. That’s 35 photos of Sydney’s north.
We call these places Mosman, Manly, and the Northern Beaches. But for 5,800 years they were known as the traditional lands of the the Cammeraygal people, skilled hunter–fisher–gatherers who inhabited much of what is now considered northern Sydney.
These pictures are a testament to the fact that I live in a beautiful part of a beautiful city. Taking them made me feel grateful. And less disheartened. I hope they fill you with some joy too. Each description includes a link to a Google maps location, so you could visit these places too. If we ever get out of lockdown.
Here they are, from Day 35 on August 30 through to Day 1 on July 28.
Day 35 – Grotto Point Aboriginal Rock Engravings, Clontarf (August 31)
It’s only fitting that my final stop on this project was to a sacred engraving site of the Cammeraygal people, the traditional owners of the land around Manly. The Cammeraygal thrived here due to the abundance of fish, shellfish and animals, as this site at Grotto Point celebrates with its carvings of a giant kangaroo, boomerangs, a whale and several small fish. They are estimated to be 1000 years old. Even though the Cammeraygal were part of the oldest surviving continuous culture in the world, it took only a year after British settlement for a smallpox epidemic to decimate them. By the 1830s, only a few Aboriginal people remained in the Manly area.
Day 34 – Kilburn Towers, Manly (August 30)
Built in 1960, this William Beck-designed apartment building was the inspiration behind the 1968 Bee Gees song of the same name. Kilburn Towers sits at the end of Addison Road, Manly, on the tip of Smedley’s Point, easily seen by passengers on the Manly ferry as they pass beneath its shadow. Even though the towers are listed on the Australian Institute of Architects’ Register of Significant Architecture in NSW, the locals still affectionately refer to Kilburn Towers as “the toilet rolls.”
Day 33 – Chowder Bay, Mosman (August 29)
Originally called Gurugal by the Cammeraygal people, Chowder Bay is home to a whole series of World War II battlements called the Beehive Casemates. I went there early one morning to photograph the sun rising on the decaying old fortifications, but the sunrise itself was so beautiful as it burst over the Hornby Lighthouse on South Head that I just trained my lens in that direction.
Day 32 – Davidson Park, Davidson (August 28)
Davidson Park is a pretty little recreation area that sits alongside the upper reaches of Middle Harbour under the imposing presence of the Roseville Bridge. If you walk westward toward the end of the park you’ll find the Lyrebird Trail, a beautiful bush track that meanders up to Carroll Creek, the headwaters of the harbour.
Day 31 – Castle Rock Beach, Clontarf (August 27)
Castle Rock Beach is a lovely little harbour beach to the east of Clontarf, just along the Clontarf leg of the Spit-to-Manly Walkway. That track winds arounds the rocky coastline of Middle Harbour and on a sunny day the shadows and rocks and sand and weeds and blue-green water create stunning patterns.
Day 30 – Spit West Reserve, Middle Harbour (August 26)
The Spit is a narrow incomplete isthmus between Beauty Point and Seaforth. From the 1850s, a punt was operated by Peter Ellery, carrying passengers across the Narrows for sixpence and horse-drawn vehicles for 1s 6d. There was a discount of a sixpence if the horses swam across. I found that funny. Today, the two sides of the Spit are linked by a bascule bridge that opened in 1958. From the park on the west side of the Spit you can watch spectacular sunsets over Middle Harbour like this one.
Day 29 – Curl Curl Boardwalk (August 25)
The name Curl Curl originated from an Aboriginal name Curial Curial, meaning ‘river of life.’ I went there to photograph the surging sea. There had been a huge storm the night before and the ocean was heaving alright. Massive waves lashed the shore . I got plenty of snaps, but then this little grove of seaside daisies caught my eye, right next to the boardwalk that links Freshwater Beach and South Curl Curl. The layering of the blue-green sea, the mottled sandstone, the wooden walkway, and the white-purple flowers was too lovely not to capture.
Day 28 – Manly Dam, Manly Vale (August 24)
Situated in the Manly-Warringah War Memorial Park on the banks of Manly Dam, this has got to be Manly’s most forlorn landmark. I took this photo on a miserably cold day under teeming rain. But it seemed fitting. The sad memorial comprises broken columns depicting the broken men and women who have served our country with the words “To the Fallen” etched onto the base.
Day 27 – Balmoral Beach (August 23)
The little bridge that traverses the sand between Balmoral Park and Rocky Point Island perfectly framed this solo jogger running along Balmoral Beach in the early morning light, which was especially smoky that day due to hazard reduction burns in nearby national parks. The early morning sun can be seen kissing the rocky outcrops in the distance not far from where the Star Amphitheater had been built in the 1920s. The Theosophical Society had built a 2000 seat open-air temple overlooking the beach, which led to the (false) rumor that it was built in anticipation of the Second Coming, so the faithful could view Jesus Christ walking across the water through Sydney Heads. The temple was demolished in 1951.
Day 26 – Basin Beach, Mona Vale (August 22)
Before settlement, Mona Vale was known as Bongin Bongin by the Aboriginal inhabitants. Its beach is bisected by a sharp rocky point into which an ocean pool has been carved. The smaller section of beach to the north is called the Basin Beach, a little crescent of golden sand sitting under the foreboding Mona Vale headland. It was a glorious winter day when I snapped this shot of a gentle little swell lapping at the shore.
Day 25 – The Ting Hao Apartments, Manly (August 21)
Despite a brief internet search, I know nothing about this building — who designed it or why it’s called Ting Hao — but I love the curve of its verandahs and the geometric way it seems to sweep upward. It stands at 104 Darley Road on Manly’s Eastern Hill. And I love that gymea lily spoiling the lines.
Day 24 – The Stone Kangaroo, Manly (August 20)
This must be Manly’s weirdest landmark! The Kangaroo Statue is meant to be a stone kangaroo but it has no tail and no ears. In fact, it looks like a fat otter or a meerkat. It was gifted to the citizens in 1856 by the “father of Manly,” Henry Gilbert Smith, proving rich people don’t always have great taste. So bad was the sculpture that the rumor began circulating it had been carved by convicts, suggesting that Irish convicts were unskilled and uneducated. In fact, the statue was carved from natural rock either by photographer Charles Pickering or by a stonemason named Youll, who might have been too embarrassed to put his name to it.
Day 23 – The Carillon Building, Manly (August 19)
Carillon sits at 27-29 Marshall Street on Manly’s Eastern Hill. I hadn’t really taken much notice of it over the years until I was scouting for another subject for my daily photograph and figured a shot taken near the front door looking up through the awning and facade would look pretty cool. And it did.
Day 22 – The Hole in the Wall Track, Manly (August 18)
The Hole in the Wall track leads to a secret viewpoint looking out over the cliffs at North Head. It isn’t signposted, but you can find the trailhead next to the bus stop across the road from the old North Fort cafe. Sneak around the black fence and follow the old stone fort wall all the way to the cliffs edge (about 400m each way). The wall was built to separate the military base from the Quarantine Station and about two-thirds of the way down there’s a section that has collapsed (hence the name, the hole in the wall). Once you get to the end of the wall at the cliffs edge you are treated to the most spectacular views of huge waves pounding against the wild rocky headland.
Day 21 – Freshwater Beach (August 17)
The rock face at the southern edge of Freshwater Beach bursts into light each morning at sunrise, mirrored in the wet sand below. At certain times, the sun’s rays refract off different windows in the houses and apartments above the cliffs like a beacon or a lighthouse. It’s so beautiful.
Day 20 – Parriwi Head Lighthouse, Mosman (August 16)
When I was younger, this little lighthouse just west of Wyargine Point on Middle Harbour was called the Rosherville Light. I’m not sure when or why it was renamed, but it still beckons across the bay to its sister lighthouse on Grotto Point. Can you see that white dot on the headland in the distance? You can find the Parriwi light between 51 and 55 Parriwi Road, Mosman.
Day 19 – The Bible Garden, Palm Beach (August 15)
The view is of Palm Beach, but the photograph was taken in the Bible Garden, an eccentric project undertaken in 1957 on a block of land high above the southern end of the beach. A conservative South African Christian named Gerald Hercules Robinson purchased the block next to his house and turned it into a garden featuring 143 of the 148 plants mentioned in the Old and New Testaments as a kind of evangelistic witness. Eccentric, but absolutely beautiful. And, as you can see, the view is spectacular!
Day 18 – The Cascades, Frenchs Creek, Davidson (August 14)
The Cascades is a series of beautiful little waterfalls, rock platforms and rockpools at the junction of Middle Harbour Creek and Frenchs Creek, between Davidson and St Ives. We hiked in from the Davidson side, following Frenchs Creek as it meanders under big gums and banksia trees, peppered with wattles, pea, boronia and wax flowers. The water wasn’t flowing strongly, so the cascading effect was less, but the rock formations were still beautiful.
Day 17 – Tea Tree Lookout, Curl Curl (August 13)
Tea Tree Lookout clings to the precipice of the North Curl Curl headland as part of the Dee Why to Curl Curl Coastal Walk, a clifftop trail linking the two beaches. I took this shot at sunrise, as the first rays of daylight played upon the sandstone cliffs. The trail features three stunning lookouts – Tea Tree, Gahnia (near Dee Why) and Cole’s Ledge, which can be seen in this picture aligned perfectly with the horizon.
Day 16 – Clontarf Beach (August 12)
I tried to get a shot of the grove of angophora gums between Clontarf Point and Castle Rock Beach at sunset when the last rays of sun light their red trunks up like they’re on fire, but I just couldn’t capture their beauty. Frustrated, I headed back to the car and got this shot of the late afternoon light playing across Clontarf Reserve.
Day 15 – Allenby Park Waterfall, Brookvale (August 11)
It’s not much to look at in this shot, but when Brookvale Creek is flowing strongly, the Allenby Park Waterfall is lovely. Allenby Park itself is a bit of a secret to those outside the area. It’s 42 hectares of remnant bushland in the suburbs of Allambie Heights, Beacon Hill and Brookvale, confined largely to steep valley slopes on either side of Brookvale Creek. But it’s hidden between suburbia to the north and an industrial zone to the south.
Day 14 – Forty Baskets Beach, Balgowlah (August 10)
Sunrise over Manly viewed from little Forty Baskets Beach, the only beach I know named after a fishing trip. In 1885, fishermen caught forty baskets of fish near here and sent them to feed a contingent of troops detained at the nearby North Head Quarantine Station after returning from Sudan. From then on, they referred to this as the “40 baskets beach” and the name stuck. Imagine a fishing day so good it is immortalised as a place name!
Day 13 – Manly Wharf, Manly Cove (August 9)
It was the clouds I was particularly struck by this day. The Freshwater was docked at the wharf taking on the few passengers still commuting to the city, but the foreshore and the terminus mall were empty. But those clouds were strewn across the sky so beautifully it demanded they be photographed.
Day 12 – Manly Corso (August 8)
It was wet Sunday morning and the lockdown felt especially bleak because of the weather. I ventured down to Manly’s main street, originally named the Concourse, but many years ago shortened to the Corso, and found this child splashing in the rain-filled puddles. All the stores were closed (some permanently with “for lease” signs in the window) and the pandemic was raging across the city, but she didn’t seem to care a bit.
Day 11 – Fishermans Beach, Collaroy (August 7)
Fishermans Beach is a small sandy crescent just to the north of the imposing Long Reef. Its boat launching ramp is well used by local fishermen and a small gaggle of pelicans have taken up residence there, frequenting the area around the fish scaling and filletting table in the hope of getting some fish heads thrown to them. As I photographed this sunrise one pelican trotted around the beach behind me in vain.
Day 10 – Stony Range Botanic Garden, Dee Why (August 6)
Besides its spectacular beach, Dee Why is almost entirely high-rise apartments and light industry these days. So it’s strange to find a little pocket of rainforest surrounded by factories and storage units. In the 1950s, this park was a disused stone quarry, but in 1960 a few visionary locals with a green thumb established it as a reserve for native bushland. Managed by volunteers for decades, Stony Range became an official state botanic garden in 2007. It’s a small oasis.
Day 9 – St Patricks Seminary, Manly (August 5)
I know it’s a hospitality training college now, but this building will always be St Patricks Seminary to me. Built between 1885 and 1889, it was Sydney’s primary Catholic theological training school until 1996 when it relocated to Strathfield and the building was rented to the International College of Management. Baz Luhrmann used it as the location of Jay Gatsby’s house in his film The Great Gatsby. Nicole Kidman married Keith Urban in the marble chapel there. But I can still picture priests and seminarians wandering the corridors.
Day 8 – The Mermaid Pool, Manly Vale (August 4)
Below the imposing walls of Manly Dam, where Manly Creek meanders toward the sea, cascading over rock ledges and snaking through suburbia, there’s a tiny waterfall and a beautiful pond affectionately known as the Mermaid Pool. The Cammeraygal people believed the creator spirit lived here and so they wouldn’t swim in the pool. It was explored in the late 18th century by Governor Arthur Philip, but it wasn’t until more than a century later that it earned the name ‘Mermaid Pool’ because, during the Depression, girls from a nearby shanty town would go skinny dipping here in the evenings. It’s still a beautiful (and somehat secret) haven.
Day 7 – The Flying Fox Camp, Balgowlah (August 3)
In 2010, a group of grey-headed flying foxes established a camp in urban bushland at Burnt Bridge Creek in Balgowlah. In the years since, it has grown to a colony of over 6,000 bats, including black and red flying foxes. All flying fox species are protected under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act, so the camp is off limits to locals, but the presence of thousands of screeching, stinky, flying mammals is hard to miss. This colony is not far from my home, and while I can’t hear or smell them, I see the sky covered in them as they fly off each night searching for food.
Day 6 – The Old Explosives Depot, Bantry Bay (August 2)
Bantry Bay is a serene inlet surrounded by Garigal National Park. It is also the site of the old Sydney explosives depot. Built in 1910, there were nine specially designed “magazines” that were used to store military explosives, each with an integrated cooling system using water from a concrete dam, double brick walls and special roofs designed to lift off in case of an explosion. There was also a small tram network linking the buildings to each other. The depot was decommissioned in 1974. I trekked down the Timber Getters Track in Seaforth on the opposite side of the bay to get this shot.
Day 5 – Manly Beach (August 1)
I took this photograph of a stunning sunrise over Manly Beach at the ugly old storm-water pipes that used to drain effluent into the sea. It gives the shot a sense of focus and the old metalic rings on the pipes glow in the new days light. But it did get me thinking about who decided that one of the world’s most beautiful locations needed two big pipes installed smack-bang in the middle of the beach. And who thought pumping polluted effluent into the sea was a good idea? The pipes have been decommissioned but apparently their removal is too costly for the local council.
Day 4 – Narrabeen Lagoon, North Narrabeen (July 31)
I was taking a walk around Narrabeen’s picturesque lagoon at sunset when I came across these two taking a selfie. Best friends? Partners? Siblings? Who knows, but there was something sweetly intimate about them framing their shot with the late afternoon sun reflecting off the water.
Day 3 – South Curl Curl Rock Pool (July 30)
Sydney’s rock pools (or ocean pools) are a cultural icon. Many of us learned to swim in them, and some continue to exercise by swimming laps in them. Dotted along the coastline and harbor’s edge, they are a spectacular place to swim and many of them are more than 100 years old. And entry is free. Here are two hardy swimmers getting some exercise in the chilly waters of South Curl Curl rock pool in the middle of winter. Brrrrr.
Day 2 – The Manly Wormhole, Queencliff Beach (July 29)
The Manly Wormhole is one of Sydney’s best kept secrets, mostly known only to locals. The 40 metre tunnel was dug in 1908 by local fishermen to avoid them having to climb around the rocks to get between Freshwater Beach and Queenscliff Beach. To find it, start at the Queenscliff rock pool and clamber over rocks toward the point of the headland. The wormhole entrance is under the big pink graffiti’ed QBC heart (you can’t miss it). Take a torch. It’s pretty dark in there.
Day 1 – The Manly Cove Launch Club, Manly (July 28)
Situated in the north-east corner of Manly Cove is the crumbling old weatherboard clubhouse of the Manly Launch Club. Founded in 1956, the building was constructed by a handful of colourful locals as a members’ only boatshed, for the purpose of maintaining traditional timber boats, with dinghy storage and facilities, within easy rowing distance of their moorings. The rock the shed sits on (you can see it in this photo) was affectionately known as “Fisherman’s Rock” prior to the club gaining the lease on the land. It was a popular fishing spot in the early days of the Manly village