March 6 - 12, 2016: Issue 254

Mermaid Basin, Mona Vale Beach: Inspired 1906 Poem by Viva Brock

 Looking north, "La Corniche", Mona Vale - Digital Order Number: a105575 - from album Scenes views and interiors of "La Corniche", Mona Vale, N.S.W., Sydney & Ashfield : Broadhurst Post Card Publishers, courtesy Mitchell Library - State Library of NSW.
Viva Brock of The Oaks, Mona Vale, wrote a wonderful little song of place in 1906, a poem that reminded a few years prior to that what was originally called Bongin Bongin (lots of shells) in the songlines and place meanings for  the original custodians, and what we now call quite simply 'The Basin, Mona Vale Beach' was known fleetingly as 'Mermaid Basin'. This prompted a whimsical wondering... was young Viva the mermaid upon that shore?

In a few old articles found a while ago reference is made to what we now call 'Mona Vale Basin', the lovely bay in the northern corner of Mona Vale Beach as 'Mermaid Basin'.

We know from other research that George Brock, the gentleman who built 'The Oaks', that he owned a yacht called the 'Dolphin', and had been a member of the Royal Prince Alfred Club from the 1890's, so certainly would have visited Pittwater prior to his grand dreaming realised in 'The Oaks'.

Viva, his younger daughter, is quite the wit, even at a very young age and as her item, describing many shells on Mona Vale Beach, runs in the March of 1906, we can easily imagine her enjoying an Indian Summer too on a much less populated 'Mermaid Basin'...

They say that 'the cobbler's always the worst shod.' Certainly the residents of the crowded city greatly neglect the marvellous opportunities at their very door to spend a pleasant holiday at the minimum of expense. Why go to the far-off mountains, with its scorching days, hot winds, and high fares, solely on account of the cool nights, or take the long journey down the coast to meet with all sorts of inconvenience, when by taking the 9.15 a.m. Manly boat, you have waiting for you well-appointed four-horse coaches to carry 
you on to the lake country par excellence of Australia ? The placid reaches of Pitt Water are at the present time alive with all the delicate fish that swim in the southern waters, with fine, large, luscious prawns at the entrances of the lagoons. 
For an excursion, take a boat in the early morning from Mermaid Basin, on the ocean side, now teeming with schnapper and other large fish travelling up the coast ; or scamper over the long stretching beaches from Narrabeen to Barrenjoey on the panics, so easily obtained locally. Or, for quiet picnicking, go up . the shallow, .clear sandy creeks on the Kuringai Chase, with its magnificent waterfalls, ferns, palms, and luxuriant foliage, not to be equalled by the far-off, highly-praised New Zealand Sounds ; or, further afield, travelling by sail or launch to the entrance of Brisbane Water, .with its silver shoals and splendid fishing grounds, passing the famous Basin and Scotland and Lion Islands. These trips through Wild , country, farms and orchards, ferny dells, and mountain heights, on the Kuringai Chase side, and hundreds of miles of the Hawkesbury beyond, are all obtainable at a fare of 3d by steamer to Manly, and Is coach to Rock Lily, the centre of the whole district. From Mermaid's Basin you are in touch with the ocean, ?with Bay View, Newport, Winjijinni Point. Well-found fishing and rowing boats, launches, men, and nets can be obtained from Is per hour ; with man and net, 2s 6d per hour; prawning parties in the lagoon, man, boat, and net, 2s 6d per hour. Old English quarters Can be had at two or three comfortable establishments in the neighborhood, as well as hampers for picnic parties, boats (either for the ocean or the calm water inside), and ponies for riding parties. For day visitors or parties, meals and accommodation range from 2s ; hampers and tea -room meals are sold at Sidney prices; and the full run of the orchards is allowed for a shilling. Although not one in a thousand know of this cheap and beautiful holiday district, nevertheless it exists, and before the puffing trams arrive to spoil it, advantage should be taken to visit a spot which certainly would be the selected sight for the Federal City only for the 100-mile bar limit. — 'MONA VALE.' 
PARADISE WITHIN EASY HAIL (1902, January 19). Sunday Times(Sydney, NSW : 1895 - 1930), , p. 10. Retrieved from 

The following letter will interest visitors to Newport and Bay view: — 'Dear 'Glaucus,'
— For the last few weeks I have been trying the points between Manly and Barrenjoey for rock fishing, but without success, and we found fresh water as scarce as the fish. There seems to be none procurable at all as far as we could see. Any suggestion you can make will be acceptable, as to likely points. I might say that we ride bicycles, and so distance Is not of much account.
We tried Narrabeen Lagoon without success. This place Is a disgrace to all concerned In looking after its welfare. Could you not do something with the A.F.A. to prevent the netting going on, and to have the opening made as you suggested, so as to let the lake fill again P.S:We used to have first-rate camps up Deep Creek a few years back, and the fishing was fair at times, too. —Yours, &c, C.H.S.'
C.H.S. might try the Mermaid's Basin and rocks thereabout. It is on the coast at 'The Oaks,' Mr. Brock's beautiful home near Newport. 
BILLIARDS (1905, February 1). Referee (Sydney, NSW : 1886 - 1939), , p. 9. Retrieved from 

From The Children’s Corner – then conducted by Ethel Turner, author of ‘Seven Little Australians’, ‘Three Little Maid’s etc.): and soon to be a regular at Palm Beach herself!

"The Oaks," Mona Vale, via Manly.

Dear Dame Durden,-It seems quite a time since I wrote you. I was so pleased to see I was mentioned in the first and second honours of the last competition. The other day I  sent in a story for Princess Spinaway's Competition. It is the first I have ever completed. Often I have written them, but never finished them. 
Nearly every morning a friend, my sister, and myself go for a swim before breakfast in the surf. It is glorious swimming in with the big strong waves, one after the other. When the swim is finished, we lie down on the sand and have a sun bath, which nearly burns us black. There are so many different and beautiful things on the beach. Some of the shells are a work of art, the colours on them are so prettily tinted, some shading from dark to light. 
My sister has a lovely collection of shells, mostly gathered off the beach near us. I think the sea egg is the quaintest of them all. To get a large one of these, you must hunt for it amongst the rocks where it lives in a round hole, as the shell Itself is round. It is covered with pointed spikes which enables the fish (who lives Inside the shell) to travel about. The largest sea egg I have seen just fitted Into my hand(which is not very small) and the smallest I have seen was about the size of the tip of my finger. The shell is very delicate, and is either grey or pink. There are so many different things to tell about shells and their wonders that I am afraid, dear Dame, it would take all the page to describe them; but as the sea-egg is a favourite of mine, I thought I would tell you all about it. I suppose you have seen an octopus. It is a very funny fish. However, I will tell you the kind we have here. The body Is flat and long, with great long legs and arms projecting from its body, and each leg and arm has suckers underneath them, which is like a tiny white shell, very soft and jellylike. The fish is harmless In the way of biting, but is dangerous when it is a very large one, as it dings to you and squeezes with great strength. When it is angry with you it throws black liquid all over you. I love to spend a whole day on the beach and Interest myself in its wonders. I hope you will understand my descriptions of the sea-egg and the octopus; they are poor; but I hope to improve each time I write to you. I will finish my letter now, and hope you and the rest of the Court are well.-I am your loving correspondent.
Viva Brock.

(The Jester:

A Sea-egg and an Octopus were walking hand In hand;
They wept like anything to see a girl upon the sand.
"If she were only swept away," they said, "it would be grand."

"If seven whales and seven sharks hung round for half a day,
Do you suppose," the Sea-egg said, "that still she'd want to stay?"
"I fear so," said the Octopus and brushed a tear away.
"If I were only old enough," it added, with a sigh,
"I'd squeeze her up to jolly In the winking of an eye."

"Still, why not throw your ink at her?" the Sea-egg did reply.
"Oh, come now," said the Octopus, "I'll own it is a bore
To find a tiresome girl like this thus littering up our shore,
But a revenge so horrible was never planned before."

' For don't you see," he added, "she's already fond of ink.
And like a thirsty blotting pad would simply lie and drink,
With a consequence so awful that I shudder as I think."
"I understand," the Sea-egg said, "I quite com prenez-vous,
There'd be sonnets on the ocean, and on each wave a few,
While odes unto the billows continually she'd do.

"And goodness gracious, gracious me, too horrible 'twould be,
If she should make a poem upon you, dear friend, or me,
An 'Ode Unto an Octopus,' or 'Lines to Egg of-Sea.' "

"Oh, Viva," wept the Octopus "you've had a pleasant swim,
Won't you be trotting home again; it's high time you went in?
I dare not angry grow with you, I find 'twould be a sin.")

Peeps in Four States. (1906, March 21). Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907), p. 38. Retrieved from

The Jester's Competition.
1. What is a salmon on a gravel path?
Answer: A fish out of water.
2. Why are poultry the most profitable on a farm?-Answer: For every grain they give  a peck.
3. If I buy four cakes for a penny, and giveaway one of them, why am I like a telescope? Answer: Because I make a far-thing present.
(Sent by Viva Brock, aged 15, "The Oaks," Mona Vale, via Manly.)

The Jester's Competition. (1907, July 10). Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907), p. 32. Retrieved from

When Viva moves to 'the city' in 1907, she expresses missing 'the freedom and beautiful air of the country' - Mona Vale!

This little experience happened in one of my old neighborhoods during a stay with some friends. One night, in the middle of winter, it was bitterly cold, and we had just returned home after visiting a country concert some miles away. Our host suggested a fire, and we  all agreed it was a welcome plan. Soon a big bundle of firewood was carried in, accompanied by two huge logs, familiar to the country fireplaces. With eager hands the master of the house lighted the wood, and then followed a grand sound of cracking and a big blaze. He continued to pile the wood on with great enthusiasm. The flames grew to an enormous height, and our hostess, whose name was Mrs. R-, cried in very alarmed tones "The chimney is sure to catch on fire!" But he assured her it was quite safe, and surveyed the successful fire proudly. Mrs. R- became very nervous, and disappeared through the front door only to come back with a rush and uplifted arms calling loudly
'I knew it, the chimney is on fire!"
Then there was a stir, and we hastened outside to find it was true, for there a great blaze and flying sparks wore shooting upward from the top of the chimney. Someone suggested wet bags to be thrown over it; others buckets of water, and so on. I was summoned to "awaken the maids. I banged and called loudly at their door, which was soon opened, and two frightened, ghastly figures appeared.
"Hurry!" I said; "the chimney is on fire; Wrap yourselves in cloaks, and come and help!"
Then the groom was called.
Everyone was hurrying hither and thither with buckets of water when I returned. The groom and two others were on top of the roof in no time throwing water as fast as they could over the blaze.
One girl, who was also a visitor, declared it could not be put out, and the house would be burnt to the ground. She rushed inside to her room, and was soon back with her silver purse and brush clasped preciously within her hands.
She has always been teased ever since, as you may guess.
At last the blaze grew smaller, and after a real good half an hour's work we were relieved to see the fire was out. We were tired of  handing buckets of water up to the three men on the roof, and were fairly splashed during the hurry.
When we returned to the drawing-room the fireplace and hearth were covered with water and lumps of soot floating on top of it.
Then we all set to and helped straighten things up, which took some time. It was very late, and we talked and laughed a great deal over the exciting little adventure. We then went to bed somewhat dazed and it was not till the beginning of the new day that we drifted away into the land of nod.
I hope,' dear Dame, you have enjoyed this description. You will see by the address I. am now living in Sydney at Rushcutter's Bay, and like it immensely, but miss the freedom and beautiful air of the country.
By Viva Brock, 'Aloha', 'Rushcutters Bay' (aged 16 years).

QUITE A MODEST FIRE. (1907, November 13). Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907), p. 31. Retrieved from

FROM:  Album 57: Photographs of the Allen family, 2 May 1911 - 7 October 1911 Digital Order No. a3289055; 'Top: Enlargement of view taken looking over the Polo GroundsThe road up the hill leads to Barrenjoey' and Digital Order No. a3289054; 'Below Enlargement of view taken from Brock's house, 3rd of September, 1911'. Both Courtesy State Library of NSW.