December 12, 2021 - January 22, 2022: Issue 522


A celebration of Avalon Beach’s uniqueness – past, present and future

L to R: A J Smalls' grandchildren - John Hunt, Jennie Small, Peter Small and great granddaughter Lisa Dawson

Arthur Jabez Small left many legacies for the Avalon community, one of which was Avalon Golf Club, the venue for a happy trifold celebration last Sunday, December 5th. The occasion marked the centenary of Avalon Beach as a designated area, the coming together of descendants of A J Small to reflect on their grandfather’s life and legacy in Avalon, and the re-launch the charming book edited by longstanding Avalonian Jan Roberts called Remembering Avalon: growing up in the 1940s and 50s, as a centenary limited edition.

The Members’ Room of the golf club was brimming with locals who had come to mark these three moments in Avalon’s history at a high tea of bubbles, sandwiches and birthday cake interwoven with stories from the day. The Avalonian volunteering spirit, with lots of locals pitching in, was alive and well.

Jan Roberts opened the afternoon with an Acknowledgement of Country and set the scene for the stories that were to follow about Avalon Beach and its evolution as a holiday destination for families.

Grandchildren John Hunt and Jennie Small talked of their grandfather’s massive drive and contribution to establish Avalon Beach as a coastal resort-style precinct back in the 1920s in the wake of the First World War’s end when Australia was starting to emerge as a better place. 

‘He wanted to make a settlement that would last’ Jennie said. And although he was in today’s terms a ‘developer’ he was also an environmentalist of the day, always being respectful of the land by planting trees etc.

John reflected on A J Small’s first encounter with the area:

Our grandfather first came to Avalon in 1905 at a time when people would come by boat to the wharf at Clareville then walk up to the residences that were dotted around. He bought his first 100 acres in Avalon in 1913, then went on to build the ‘Avalon’ residence at 40 Bellevue Avenue in 1920. Although the Californian Bungalow style façade was most engaging, the structure behind was simple.

It is recorded that a priest, Father Therry, owned 1200 acres of land, the largest parcel known before A J Small’s purchase.

John described his grandfather’s character as quite Victorian; he was hard working, honest, capable, foresighted, public spirited, dynamic, a man of vision and fought (often with the council!) for what he believed in.

To realise his vision for Avalon Beach, A J Small extended and widened roads in the area, instigated the building of the rock pool which was initially designed primarily for women and children. He also designed and built the dressing sheds and later expanded the size of the pool.

A J Small’s goal was to provide a solution so that ‘every child has the chance to play and every citizen the chance to recreate.’

Angophora Reserve, which forms a bushland area off Palmgrove Road, is one of A J Small’s greatest legacies for the area. Small sold six acres of land to the community at half the commercial price and put tracks and trails into the reserve which are still there and used regularly by keen walkers today. The feature tree in the reserve was a huge red gum, thought to be the largest in Sydney with a circumference of 25 feet and was 125 feet high. The family knew this just as ‘grandpa’s tree’. Although no longer alive, the tree’s bones are still there today as a reminder of its grandeur.

This photo shows the official opening of the Angophora Reserve on 19 March 1938 by Sir Phillip Street (KCMG). Much of the groundwork to enable the purchase of the land by the Wildlife Preservation Society in January 1937 was done by Thistle Harris. The reserve cost the Society 364 pounds 19 shillings and 7 pence (which converts to around 730 dollars!). The volunteer bush care group meet on the 3rd Sunday of each month usually at the Palmgrove Road entrance. – Geoff Searl, President of the Avalon Beach Historical Society - photo courtesy ABHS

A J Small - an early photo - courtesy Avalon Beach Historical Society

Holiday group on front of house named Avalon - photo by Rex Hazlewood, Image Courtesy The Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, No.: c046220007h - includes Mr. Small and his family outside 'Avalon'.

John’s sharing of a riotous anecdote about his grandfather’s love for being practical made all in the room erupt with raucous laughter. Apparently the story goes that when building the golf course AJ Small finally got a rid of a troublesome tree by exercising the explosive talents of his son Bill (John’s father). They put some gelignite and a fuse under the tree, lit the fuse then moments later heard an almighty bang and the tree jumped in the air. Right at that moment the bus stopped at the stop nearby and, having heard the explosion, the driver ran off the bus and said, ‘I think someone is shooting at us!!’ Seeing no-one as Small and his son were hiding behind a bush, he then got back onto the bus, returned to his driver’s seat and went on his way.

John also reflected on another amusing turn of phrase his grandfather used on Christmas Day when all the family were gathered around the dinner table at the ‘Avalon’ residence. Everyone would wait for his signal which was ‘And they’re off!’ then hoe into the Christmas fare.

The afternoon’s contributions were a reminder of where Avalon’s unique character started and that we are all the custodians of its future. Jan Roberts’ teenage granddaughter and fourth-generation Avalonian Charlotte cut Avalon Beach’s 100th birthday cake, sharing the celebration across the generations.

Report and coloured photos by Jayne Denshire
Avalon Beach Culture Collective Inc + Avalon Beach Centenary Events

Centenary editions Remembering Avalon: growing up in the 1940s and 50s

The Centenary edition of Remembering Avalon: growing up in the 1940s and 50s is at Bookochino and Beachside Books, or you can contact Jan via the Ruskin Rowe email for a copy at: