History of the Park

The Original Inhabitants

The human history of the Berowra Valley begins with the original inhabitants, the Aboriginal people. While no one can be certain for how long the indigenous people occupied the Sydney region, we know that they have been in Australia for at least 70 000 years, and there are relics in the Sydney region dating back at least 22 000 years. It is difficult to determine how long they occupied the Berowra Valley, because prior to the end of the last rise in sea level around 6000 years ago the coastal plain extended 10-20 km out to sea from the present coastline, and the valley was deeper and steeper. The local population was decimated by introduced diseases shortly after the arrival of Europeans and a major portion of its oral history was lost. We now have only the sparse observations of the Europeans, supplemented by some oral history passed to the Dharuk descendants at Blacktown, rock carvings, cave paintings and shell middens, to tell us a little about their long history.

Early European influence

Shortly after the Europeans of the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove they began to explore the region. In March 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip sailed into Broken Bay to examine the Hawkesbury River, and camped at Dangar Island. In April 1788 he made a land expedition and is believed to have crossed the upper reaches of the Berowra catchment near Pennant Hills. In the following year, June 1789, he again explored the Hawkesbury. On 9 July the expedition entered and investigated Berowra Creek, Captain John Hunter charting the course and depth of the creek up to about the Woolwash just before Sams Creek. Captain Hunter noted in his Journal encounters with the natives and the discovery of corpses, possibly the result of smallpox (Hunter, 1968 [1793], pp.109-12).

1816 First Settlement

The first settlement near the Berowra Creek catchment was the government timber-getting establishment at Pennant Hills,  not far from Observatory Park. The convict timber-getters lived on the ridge dividing the waters of Berowra Creek from Devlins Creek. The government bullocks were confined in a paddock at Thornleigh. The northern fence of this government stockyard, roughly in line with Duffy Avenue, marked the southern boundary of Berry and Wollstonecraft’s 1820 timber lease, which stretched north to Cowan Forest (Hawkins 1994, pp. 12-19, 64). Doubtless the convict timber-getters in their quest for Sydney Blue Gums and Blackbutts penetrated the upper reaches of  Berowra Creek.

1829 Establishment of Timber Industry

From 1819 onwards, Alexander Berry had a timber lease in Hornsby valley, for hardwoods (Hawkins, pers. comm.).

1824 Old Mans Valley – By 1824, Thomas Higgins’ quest for timber had brought him to the edge of Berowra Valley Park at Old Mans Valley. For a hundred years the Higgins family continued to log the valley for timber (Hornsby Shire Historical Society 1979, pp. 166, 200-04).

The Yanz family later ran a sawmill above the Blue Gum Valley in the 1920s. Timber was winched up a railway, with the cable being wrapped around a large Sydney Red Gum Angophora costata tree at the head of the valley. A sawmill existed above the southwestern corner of Old Mans Valley, operating until the late 1960s or early 1970s on the site of the dog pound near Warrigal Road, Westleigh.

1829 Survey – In 1829, Assistant Surveyor Govett traced Berowra Creek to its source in the Castle Hill region (Joffe 1992, p. 16). In the following year Patrick Duffy took possession of one hundred acres of land at Thornleigh. His property, Inglewood, was reached by a lane from Pennant Hills Road that is now known as Duffy Avenue (Hornsby Shire Historical Society pp. 142-50).

1831 Thorn Grant – In 1831, the Pennant Hills timber-getting establishment closed and the bullocks at  Thornleigh were sent to Emu Plains. The land on which the stockyard stood was included in a grant of 640 acres made to the Chief Constable, John Thorn (Hornsby Shire Historical Society 1979, p. 78), for his part in apprehending the bushrangers Dalton and MacNamara, associates of ‘Wild Colonial Boy’ Jack Donohoe. Thorn was assisted by Constable Samuel Horne, who received a grant of 320 acres on Pennant Hills Road, which he called Hornsby Place (Ibid pp. 137-141, 144).

1835 Bushranger Reward for Bellamy – Constable James Bellamy also took part in capturing more bushrangers in 1835. As a boy, Bellamy roamed the timbered country around Pennant Hills, hunting kangaroos with his younger brother John; Bellamy Street, Thornleigh, which forms one of the southern entrances to the park, is named after him ( Ibid p. 92).

Between 1830 and the 1840s, shingle splitters worked on Berowra Creek cutting shingles from Swamp Oak Casuarina glauca (Hawkins, pers. comm. & 1994, p. 36).

1856 Boat builders move in – By 1856, Matthew Charlton had acquired forty-three acres of land on Berowra Creek near Crosslands. In 1860, Burton Crossland was appointed caretaker of Charlton’s land, some of which he eventually purchased, building a house on the flat, planting an orchard and constructing a track up to Somerville Road. He was an enterprising and skilled pioneer, building sailing vessels at Crosslands, logging the abundant sheoaks and splitting them to supply roofing shingles for buildings around Sydney. He cut stone for sale, and helped to build the stone church on Bar Island, George Collingridge’s stone house and the Fretus Hotel above Calabash Bay. He was also responsible for pioneering a cart road through Galston Gorge to Galston.

Channels and wharves were built at Crosslands to assist the boat building and the export of stone and timber from the site. One of Charlton’s granddaughters, Marjorie Nelson, recalled for writer Mick Joffe that the wallabies at Crosslands were so tame they would come to be fed by hand every night, as would lyrebirds and possums.

1885 Steam launches common – By 1885, steam launches on pleasure trips were travelling up the creek to Berowra from Sydney. The Crosslands’ boat, the White Cloud, was making regular trips up and down the Creek (Joffe 1992, p. 17).

890s Thornleigh Zig Zag Branch Line and Quarry – During the massive expansion of railways in the 1890s suitable metamorphosed sandstone was identified in the valley. A Quarrying operation linked to the main Northern Railway at Thornleigh by the last of three Zig Zag lines in NSW was constructed. Halls Camp was established nearby as accommodation under canvas for the workmen. A memorial plaque marks the achievement at the Quarry site. Some short  sections of the track bed a cutting and substantial free stone embankments can still be seen.

1891 Bridges built in Galston Gorge – The bridges at Galston Gorge were built in 1891, before the road was made, by hauling the wooden beams through the bush with horse teams and manhandling them into place with block and tackle (Joffe 1992, pp. 42, 91). The road was formed and opened by 1893, he same year a flood on Berowra Creek forced the Crosslands family to escape from an upper window of their house into a rowing boat (Joffe pp. 18, 121).

1898 Boatshed and then punt at Berowra Waters – Jack Smith established a boat shed at Berowra Waters in 1898. However, his request for a four-acre lease was denied, the surveyor finding that 1 rood 38 perches (1972 square metres) was sufficient ( Joffe p. 19). The road to Berowra Creek was commenced in 1900 and completed to Arcadia by 1902. Jack Smith put a hand operated punt into service for pedestrians and horse drawn vehicles. By 1903 the Arcadia-Dural orchardists were transporting their produce to Sydney via the ferry and Berowra Railway Station (Joffe p. 19). A shark about 4.3m long was seen near the ferry in 1914 (Ibid p. 19).

From 1920s Growing environmental consciousness – Through the 1920s and 1930s development continued at Berowra Waters. An early conservationist, John D. Tipper, saw that the Hawkesbury sandstone ridges and gullies were the preserve of unique animal and plant life that was becoming rare elsewhere. In 1934 he leased 250 ha, which he expanded over a period of time to the 3000 acres (1200 ha) Muogamarra Sanctuary (Joffe 1992, pp. 21, 208-09).

The sanctuary was combined with the Sir Edward Hallstrom Faunal Reserve in 1967 to form Muogamarra Nature Reserve. This added 1700 ha of land south of Muogamarra, near Cowan, that had been reserved in 1961 to protect koalas (NPWS 1990). The eastern side of Berowra Creek north of Berowra to the junction with the Hawkesbury River was now secured for posterity.

1942 – 2000 small boats lost in Berowra Creek – The advent of the Second World War brought the threat of invasion as the Japanese forces overran countries to Australia’s north. Contingency plans led to the Australian Army collecting 2000 boats and impounding them at Crosslands. In 1942 the biggest flood Berowra Creek had seen in the twentieth century swept all these boats away (Joffe 1992, pp. 22. 104). The Berowra Waters road was mined, with army personnel posted in readiness to destroy the road in the event of invasion. During preparatory blasting a fossil fish was uncovered (Joffe pp. 22, 100).

1948 Labrynthodont footprints discovered – In 1948, more prehistory was uncovered when Geoff Scarrott discovered labyrinthodont footprints in his sandstone flagging quarry near Currawong Road, on the edge of the park overlooking Berowra Waters.

1950s Formation of the Park – By the 1950s, concern about the natural environment was starting to rise as it became evident that species were disappearing, and in some cases had already disappeared, from the Hornsby area. Local conservationists led by the then Hornsby Wildlife Conservation Society began to campaign for the reservation of some of the land along Berowra Creek to protect the local fauna, and in particular the lyrebirds. Elouera Bushland Natural Park was reserved in 1964 by the then Minister for Lands, the Hon. T. S. Lewis, ‘for public recreation and the promotion of the study and preservation of native flora and fauna’. Following proposals to mine for sand at Crosslands in the early 1960s, Hornsby Conservation Society, supported by the National Parks Association and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, began to campaign for the reservation of the vacant Crown Lands along Berowra Creek to preserve the scenery and flora and fauna. In 1971, the Minister for Lands, the then Hon. Paul Landa, announced the dedication of Marramarra National Park, stretching from Calabash Bay to the Hawkesbury River and Wisemans Ferry.

1980 Benowie Track and Great North Walk – In 1980 the then NSW Department of Lands, in conjunction with the Elouera Trust and Hornsby Shire Council, began construction of a 25 km walking track from Thornleigh to Berowra. This track was named after what was then believed to have been a clan of Aboriginal people who inhabited the area, a sub-group of the Dharuk, who at that time were believed to have been called the Benowie.   Further research has now shed doubt on this name, which does not match other tribal or clan names of the area.

In 1986, the NSW Bicentennial Council announced support for a project developed by two keen bushwalkers, Garry McDougall and Leigh Shearer-Heriot, to construct a walking track from Sydney to Newcastle as a bicentennial project. They adopted the name Great North Walk for this track (McDougall & Shearer-Heriot 1988, pp. 10-12). The Great North Walk incorporated and extended the Benowie Track.

Naming of the Parks in the Berowra Valley – In 1988 most of the land between the Hornsby and District Rifle Range and Muogamarra was added to the Elouera Bushland to form the Berowra Valley Bushland Park. It was converted into the Berowra Valley Regional Park of nearly 4000 ha in 1997 by the then Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Pam Allan. Berowra Valley National Park was created on 24 August 2012 with several small areas of land amounting to less than 10ha, remaining as Berowra Valley Regional Park. Thus after 63 years’ effort by the conservation movement the majority of Berowra Creek is protected as part of the national park estate.

AUTHOR: Robert J. (Bob) Salt, former trustee of Berowra Valley Regional Park, past president and trustee of Elouera Natural Bushland Park and a conservationist with earth science qualifications.