As a born and bred Sydneysider I know a lot about the place. And despite what you may have heard about Australia being a classless society, Sydney has very distinct social divides.
These are decided by where you live – north / south / east / west.
The northside is old money, conservative and boring. The eastern suburbs & eastern beaches is where the ‘beautiful people’ live, westies are bogans, and the south … well, have you seen The Shire or Sylvania Waters???
So when Jean-Claude from Cremorne Point Manor invited me to visit the northside it was with some trepidation that I left my comfortable eastern beaches existence and crossed that bridge for a day on the north shore. I know I crossed the bridge once before on this sightseeing tour, but that was only to walk across it straight back to the ‘right’ side.
Before I accepted the invitation I did some research. What on earth was there to see over there, and why would anybody go? Sure, there’s Manly Beach and Taronga Zoo, but they’re both just a nice day trip by ferry from the safety of the city and east.
And, as I just discovered, I have a family connection with Woodley’s ship building and slipway on Balls Head. That part of Sydney was a major ship building area, but this tour isn’t just about chasing up family connections!
I asked a few people what there was to see and do, and I googled. One thing I did come up with, that I’ve been meaning to visit for a while, was Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden. In case you don’t know, this is a garden started by Wendy Whiteley on an overgrown piece of land in front of her house. The land is owned by the railways and they seemingly used it as a dumping ground. Anyway she got their permission, and help, to turn it into a beautiful garden. It’s now grown so big that there are people working there full time.
It is a beautiful garden, but as I discovered when I ventured over the bridge, there’s something about the north shore and gardens.
As well as Wendy’s, there’s another secret garden on Cremorene Point – one that was started with a floating elephant’s ear. This one’s so secret that I don’t know if even Jean-Claude knows about it. While he told me about the secret, free, swimming pool right on the harbor at Cremorne Point (known only to locals), he didn’t mention the garden on the other side of the peninsular that sits right on the harbour’s edge and is a beautiful spot to sit and watch the activity on the water.
This one was started in 1959 when a local resident, Lex Graham, saw an elephant’s ear bulb floating near the shore and planted it right there. To his surprise, it grew and he and his wife Ruby kept adding plants until they had a garden. They’ve added seats where you can sit and watch the water, and there are even dinghies hidden in a cave at the bottom, and a bubbler to get a drink of water.
And it is a beautiful walk to the end of Cremorne Point where there is a view across the harbor to the bridge, city and Opera House. Unfortunately even though it’s only the beginning of spring it appears our bushfire season has already started. There were two major fires west of Sydney and the strong westerly wind was blowing the smoke into the city.
Both these gardens in are public spaces, and I’m sure neither of them would get planning permission today, nor would they pass OH&S rules. But they are both worth a visit. Even the private gardens on the northside are beautiful, and I saw a vegetable garden in pots along a front path.
Both spots are easily accessible by ferry from Circular Quay (and vice versa), but even though they are a short drive from each other (if you can navigate the complicated roads around the Harbour Bridge) it’s not easy to get from one to the other by public transport. The easiest way is to catch the ferry back into Circular Quay, then change ferries and go across to the other spot. Given the beauty of catching ferries on Sydney Harbour, that’s really not a hardship. Well, except for Sydney’s stupid transport ticketing system. You can get a 24 hour pass on the ferries which allows you as many trips as you like during that period.
So would I recommend a visit to the northside? That might take a couple more blogs to decide.
The photos on this page are all of Cremorne Point, more on Wendy’s Secret Garden tomorrow.