May 30 - June 5, 2021: Issue 496


Currawong’s 10th Anniversary Funding: the investment in local Heritage continues


Kookaburra, renovated cabin, at the May 2021 Beryl Driver OAM fundraiser for Variety the Children's Charity at Currawong. Photos by and courtesy Elyse Cole, semi-retired Mermaid.

Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes announced additional funding to support the ongoing restoration of the Currawong Beach cottages on Tuesday May 25th. The announcement preceded the Sunday May 29th 2011 10th year marker of a community celebration at Currawong Pittwater's state representative was an integral part of. 

A further $148,000 has been allocated under the NSW Government’s 2021 Heritage Grants Program to celebrate 10 years since Currawong was returned to public ownership. This brings the total amount allocated by the NSW Government to support the restoration project to more than $2.9 million.

“We’ve seen incredible improvements at Currawong in recent years and this extra funding will help support the next phase of works,“ Rob Stokes said when making the announcement.

“Importantly, the restoration works are being undertaken with complete respect to Currawong’s rich history and unique environmental characteristics.

“By using modern materials to match the original fabric and features - we're able to see the holiday cottages brought up to a contemporary standard without losing the iconic charm. 

"We never wanted a situation where Currawong was simply purchased and roped off. We all want as many people as possible to experience and enjoy this truly magical place," Rob Stokes said.

The restoration works at Currawong commenced in 2014 and are being progressively undertaken as part of a joint initiative involving the Council, Friends of Currawong, Pittwater Environmental Foundation, Currawong State Park Advisory Committee and the NSW Government.

The grant is among 220 projects being funded under the NSW Government’s NSW Heritage Grants Program. The grants are awarded to heritage owners and custodians, local government and the community. This enables the delivery of a broad range of heritage outcomes including conservation and repair works, education programs, and heritage interpretations.

Minister responsible for Heritage Don Harwin said our heritage enriches our lives, helps connect communities, enhances our wellbeing and supports local economies. 

“These grant projects will help ensure that our heritage is conserved and maintained for future generations. We want to actively engage communities in understanding and promoting the fascinating stories of our state,” Mr Harwin said.

The 2021-23 grant round saw over $5.5 million awarded to projects across three broad funding categories: Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, Caring for State Heritage and Community Heritage. Funding has been prioritised to support recovery and preparedness for natural disasters, with more than $4.6 million invested in 182 projects in areas affected by declared natural disaster.

“This funding will bring an important boost to the parts of the state hit hard by drought, bushfires, storms and floods,” Mr Harwin said.

Among this extensive list is a $22,370 grant for the heritage listed Loggan Rock cabin, for roof restoration, an $11,000 grant to Council, among 71 projects totalling $781,000 were approved under the Local Government Small Heritage Grants (Devolved funding), $12,000 to Council for Local Government Heritage Advisor Services, one of the 75 projects totalling $900,000 that were approved under this, with 6k allocated each year over 2 years.

Some of the projects supported include a virtual tour of the former Kinchela Aboriginal Boy’s Home Training Site in Kempsey, conservation of woolsheds in the south and north west of the state, and conservation of the Lady Denman ferry in Shoalhaven. A range of the state's historic and iconic churches will also see maintenance under the grants. 

The Currawong Cottages Restoration - Phase 2 - Platypus, is part of this investment into NSW heritage. Readers can learn more about heritage in your local area by searching the NSW State Heritage InventoryInformation on all the successful grants is on the Heritage NSW website, however, the news for Currawong's restoration works will bring a smile locally.

Currawong is a heritage-listed, holiday retreat, located at the northern end of Pittwater, across the water from Palm Beach Wharf and accessible only by ferry or boat. There are nine small cabins - each accommodating a family of five, a four bedroom homestead and a lodge suitable for small groups. 

For twelve years the Friends of Currawong ran an intensive campaign to save Currawong from developers. On the 8th of April 2011 Currawong came under the ownership the the NSW State Government and the management of Pittwater Council.

Over 1000 people attended the Currawong Day celebration at Currawong Beach on Sunday 29th of May, 2011. The day was filled with showers, rainbows, sunshine, a kookaburra watching the proceedings from the Jacaranda tree outside Midholme and other omens of blessing and success. In the lines waiting patiently to catch ferries a sense of bonhomie. On the ferries strangers greeted each other and shared stories as though they had all been going to this place for decades together like this - which some of them actually had been doing. The excitement and happiness created a party atmosphere that lasted all day.

Community Group The Friends of Currawong are who began and led the charge to save this place. They did not cease or desist in their efforts until the job was done. Rob Stokes did more then most are aware of and worked tirelessly to ensure Currawong remained a haven that is inclusive for all rather then exclusive (to exclude). He was there at the beginning, did all he could to ensure the issue stayed alive through the years it took to win back the People’s Park, and he was there at the end. 

Then Mayor of Pittwater, Harvey Rose, who led the Friends of Currawong before having to step down due to his new role, and Mark Ferguson, General Manager at Pittwater Council, brought the considerable knowledge, energy and integrity of what a Council should be to bear on each new phase of the strange waltz one Developer after another tried to impose on them and us. The Labour government’s Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, which gives one Minister the ‘yay or nay’ also makes Kristina Keneally, when she was Planning Minister, the key turning point. Once Ms Keneally Heritage Listed Currawong any proposed ‘development’ of the site would be restricted.

The quote of that week is 'With patience and persistence we will prevail'. This is how Shane Withington signed off all Newsletters from the Friends of Currawong during the long battle to save the historic site of Currawong Beach and Family Park from Developers. On Currawong Day Sunday that became 'With patience and persistence we have prevailed'

A few extracts from those speeches made on Currawong Day 2011 - 

Shane Withington:
"Michael Mannington thank you for all the photography, Harvey Rose, former leader of the Friends of Currawong. Most community groups wont get council support. They were with us from day one. I’d also like to thank every single person who made a phone call, or wrote a letter, without you we wouldn’t be standing here today.

As visitors you will see open spaces and experience peace. What you won’t see is five McMansions along the waterfront. What you will see, 40 years from now, is children being able to jump off that wharf into the water, and families being able to come here to experience this pristine environment."

Shane concluded his oration by presenting a cheque of donations by members of the community to Bill Rooney of the Pittwater Environmental Foundation "for the Restoration of this beautiful site".

Bill Rooney (R.I.P.) with that cheque - photo by A J Guesdon

Harvey Rose OAM (R.I.P.) and Shane Withington in full flight outside the NSW Parliament during the campaign to Save Currawong - photo by Michael Mannington OAM

Mayor Harvey Rose:
"Welcome here, on behalf of Council, to this great historic day for Pittwater and for all the people of NSW. It is great that we are here to celebrate a win by the people over the forces who would have taken away that which is the peoples. We leave to our children and grandchildren and even when they’re gone, to the future of this area, a marvellous legacy. It is not, as Shane said, a private enclave, it is not a private sub-division. It is the people’s place. It is somewhere that anyone can come. Anyone can interact with Nature, with the heritage and be uplifted.

I’d like to thank the Friends of Currawong, that marvellous group that have given of their time and efforts to help achieve this outcome. I’d like to thank Rob Stokes. Rob has done everything possible to make sure this occurred. I’d like to thank Bronwyn Bishop who did everything she could anywhere she could and certainly done her bit. Pittwater Council has been solid in the last 15 years and when the window of opportunity came, as it did in the last six months, we had the expertise, we had the knowledge, we had the background to be able to see that through. So, put all those things together, I’ve been in a lot of community campaigns but if you put those three things together; a strong and active community group, faithful members who care and interact and are part of a whole team, and a Council that knows what it’s doing and, again, is willing to be part of a team, combine that with a community that is really proud of its heritage and will fight to keep the things it needs; our hospital, Currawong, and whatever else it takes, put those things together and you can get a win. And that’s what we have ladies and gentlemen. We have had a win, a win for our community, a win for NSW, a win for all the people. That’s what we’ve had.

So , thanks to you all. Thanks firstly to the Friends of Currawong, for their love and heart and solid fight. To the Friends of Currawong’: (Crowd hip hip, hooree)
To the donors, I have never heard of such a donation, 1.4m; (cheers)
To all the politicians, particularly Rob, and to Bronwyn for helping where she could;
For our Council, which has been solid and has done all it could all along the way;
And to the Department of Lands and other politicians 
(laughter from crowd but also cheers)
And to the people of Pittwater: (cheers)
We’re now going to cut the cake ladies and gentlemen, please share it with us."

Shane(on Rob Stokes while cake was being cut); "One day at Parramatta, when we had to fight the Heritage Office, I turned up at dawn and at 8 o’clock, in the pouring rain, middle of winter and cold, I was looking for a cup of coffee, and I walked around the corner and of course, there was Rob Stokes, who’d spent all night sleeping on a couch in his Parliamentary Office and was there at 8 o’clock in the morning to go and fight for Currawong. If you want to have a look at what Rob did for Currawong, go and look at Hansart, at his beautiful eloquent speeches, and then you’ll see what Rob did for Currawong. So thanks Rob for your wonderful work!"

Currawong has been a great success story for the Council. Not only does it give this important site back to the people of Pittwater, it also opens up Currawong to the wider public in terms of a wonderful low-key holiday destination. - PittwateCouncillor Bob Grace.

“It was a fabulous day of celebration.  It has taken years, indeed it has been years since Shane Withington, President of the Friends of Currawong, came to me so we could work together to stop the sale and monstrous development of Currawong.  Rob Stokes also took up the fight and did a fantastic job, as did the council which remained committed to stop the unwanted development.” - Hon. Bronwyn Bishop MP, Federal Member for Mackellar

On March 25th 2015, and now part of an incumbent government, Pittwater MP Rob Stokes announced the establishment of the Currawong State Park. Another great day.

On September 15th, 2017 Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes announced the state Government would provide $1 million to support the newly minted Council with the refurbishment of the Currawong Beach cottages. Midholme, the original Currawong homestead dating from 1911, was carefully restored in 2014 through collaboration between Pittwater Council, Pittwater Environmental Foundation and Friends of Currawong. The next phase of works was to focus on updating the 1950s cottages and the Lodge.

Midholme - 2014:  taken at Mermaids of Palm Beach Variety fundraiser. A J Guesdon phoot

On October 26th, 2018 MP for Pittwater Rob Stokes announced a further $1.68 million to support Northern Beaches Council with the refurbishment of the historic Currawong Beach cottages. The funds were provided through the NSW Government’s Stronger Communities Fund and made available from funds that were previously allocated for the acquisition of the Pasadena site at Church Point.

In October 2020 the Northern Beaches Council provided an update on the progress of works - “The $2.7m restoration of the State Heritage listed Currawong site is nearing completion and is anticipated to be open to receive guests by the end of 2020.  Works have included updating three of our cottages, reviving the games room plus landscaping and pathway works to provide safer access to the cottages.'' Mayor Michael Regan said 

Then, of course, came a series of lockdowns and a general cessation of most activities in our area and no one allowed in, or out. Council's late 2020 update did state that approval had been granted for DA2017/0281 (lodged 07/07/2017 with approval granted 16/02/2018) for the first stage – this included updating three cabins, the games room and landscaping. Approval has also been granted for DA2019/0712 for works on the remaining six cabins, so the end of 2021 may see the completion of these works - with this week's announcement, the cabin named 'Platypus' will soon be restored.

About the Cabins

In 1949 the first of ten cabins to be built over the next four years was completed. This first cabin became known as Kenny's Cabin, later also known as 'Kenny's Cottage', Jim and Bess Kenny's Cabin, Blue Cottage and, from 1993, 'Blue Tongue'. The materials to build Kenny's Cabin were donated by the building materials supplier George Hudson and Sons. Hudsons was one of several companies at the time supplying the popular "ready cut" standard building components, which addressed the growing owner/builder market. Kenny's Cabin is similar in some ways to one of Hudsons' standard designs, "the Pittwater", which was marketed from about 1950. Kenny's Cabin had timber flooring except for the kitchen and bathroom, which had concrete floors. It had a stone-paved courtyard at the rear, an area created in 1920 when clay was cut out to build the tennis court. This was the cottage where the Wran family stayed during the period Neville Wran was Premier of New South Wales. 

The next cabin to be constructed was the Games Room. It housed Mrs Kenny's piano for many years and was the central meeting place for children. At night it was a focus for the communal camp sing-along and night time game of spot light.

Both Kenny's Cabin and the Games Room are representative of the simplest form of holiday cottage of "Ready Cut" homes produced by Hudsons, which had first produced their kit-homes in 1916. Although initially popular as weekenders the Hudsons became popular with the owner-builder during the 1950s. Hudson's produced a simple two-room cottage featuring central door flanked by windows either side, but with gabled roof, from as early as 1929. The name of the design changed with the years, being known as "The Woy Woy" in the late 1920s and "The Berowra" by 1931. The sharply raked roof, as featured in "The Pittwater", was a post-World War II product that Robin Boyd referred to in 'Australia's Home' (1952) as "The Contemporaire".

The next eight cabins to be built were positioned in a curving single line following the escarpment along the high ground above Kenny's Cabin. The layout of the cabins follows that of the original concept plan of the camp. Jo Holder (quoted in Design Plus, 2003) states that this layout was influenced by that of the YMCA Camp Manyung at Mornington in Victoria, established in the late 1920s. Camp Manyung was designed by Eric Nicholls, partner of Walter Burley Griffin during the latter's time in Australia.

The Currawong cabins No. 1 (Kookaburra) and Cabin No. 3 (Platypus) were built to plans specifically adapted for the NSW Labor Camp at Currawong by Vandyke Brothers Pty Ltd in 1950. They were based on Vandyke Brother's "Sectionit" prefabricated system of construction and featured the use of pre-assembled asbestos cement sheet (fibro) sandwich panels that could be easily erected on the required site, guaranteeing efficient and cost effective construction. In correspondence to Jim Kenny, then the President of the NSW Labor Council, in April and May 1950, Vandyke Brothers Pty Ltd pointed out that the design of the roof of the cabins had been modified from the original sketch. The design had been changed from a hip end to a gable so that prefabricated roof trusses could be used, making erection of the roof simpler. The Pier Plan also notes that Malthoid on a wooden floor had been specified for the wet areas but should that not be acceptable to Council, brickwork would need to be provided as shown. The plan of the cabin was simple with a large living area the width of the cabin at one end and bedroom at the other end. There was a Kitchen and Bathroom between and the Kitchen was partially open to the Living Room, a reasonably new concept at the time. Each cabin had a small covered porch on the side at the entrance. Charles Vandyke recalled the special order for Currawong being sent on a pontoon across Pittwater. The factory foreman, Snowy Popperwell, travelled with the components to show volunteers, members of a building union, how to assemble them.

In 1953 the remaining six cabins, Goanna, Magpie, Lorikeet, Wallaby, Possum and Echidna (cabin numbers 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8) were built. While these are similar in concept to the Vandyke cabins and appear to be copies, their construction methods and detail are quite different. Like the Vandykes, these later cabins had gable roofs, fibro panelled walls, double hung windows, concrete piers and awning covered entrance doors but they were fully assembled on site from pre-cut materials and manufactured components, not integrated units like the Vandykes. These cabins were based on a steel framed system, said to be painted red, but the origin of the cabin's manufacture is not known. The floor framing is timber and the bathrooms have concrete floors. The cabins were initially thought to have been built from materials donated by building supplier George Hudson and Sons and used Hudson's trade name "Ready Cut" standard materials. The detail, such as mouldings, vents and architraves would suggest they were either standard Hudsons or James Hardie products. The latter seems the more likely as Hardies manufactured and promoted fibre cement products exclusively at this time. Also the architraves of the Currawong cabins are similar to those manufactured by James Hardie. Holder believes that they may be pre-fabrication prototypes purchased at cost from the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station at Ryde. Given the shortage of steel in Australia at the time and considering the Labor Council's close connection with government housing schemes, it is not unlikely that they were surplus stock. [1.]

Patricia Nolan, who came from far away to be part of Currawong Day in 2011, shared a few insights on her days of play at Currawong during the 1950's and 1960's and staying in a building called 'Northend', which had originally been at the north end of this place:

Above: Peter, Mark and Julie at Northend, 1964. 

That building in the background is Northend.  It was originally on the northern end.  It was build up with rocks in front.  It was once used in the Australian TV series called Riptide.  We used to go and stay there when there were 9 of us - 7 children.  It had enough room for a large family. It has more room than Midholme I think.  It was fun.  The shower was cold and we could look down through the wooden slats to the ground underneath where the water washed away down a hole. We could jump off the verandah into the water when it was hightide. 

I think in the 70s it was carried away or destroyed because the tide was so high the place just floated away.  A family named Carey was in it at that time.  Gabriel Carey was a co author of Puberty Blues with Cathy Letts. Gabriel was there holidaying one of the years that I went back with my husband and sister in the late 90s.  So you can see, families returned year after year even taking their children back as well.

During their occupation of the property, and Midholme, the Stiles also constructed a house and garden later known as 'Wilderness' or 'Southend'. Southend was constructed prior to 1937. The building was constructed in a Federation style, however it was destroyed by fire sometime between 1946 and 1949. Bernard Stiles junior recalled that this building [Southend] replaced an earlier structure which also had gardens containing jonquils and geraniums. Southend was also used as a general store by the Stiles family and for a brief period as a guest house.

When the Stiles subdivided some portions and sold these Hector Henry Forsayth, one purchaser, built Northend within their allotment which fronted the beach in the 1920s. They also constructed a boatshed, a flagpole and a concrete retaining wall in an effort to obstruct the tide which was undermining the foundations of Northend. 


 Above: Patricia and siblings on Northend bridge, 1959. And: Peter, David, Robert, Trish (Julie) and Terry, circa 1962 on Northend steps

The Wilson family owned Little Mackarel from 1871 until 1908, when the property was known as "Wilsons Beach" In 1908 Little Mackerel Beach came into the possession of Pink Marie Stiles, who was married to Dr. Bernard Tarlton Stiles, a physician. The Wilson house, occupied by the Stiles family, was destroyed by fire before 1917. Between 1916 and 1917 a house named "Africa" was built by the Stiles family. This house survives today, albeit renamed "Midholme".