Dictionary of Sydney

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The suburb of Waverton is on the traditional land of the Cammeraygal people. The bush and rock outcrops at Balls Head still feature carvings and other archaeological evidence of the original owners. As late as 1878, Aboriginal people were camping on the foreshore of Berrys Bay, but as the population and social structure of the original harbour clans had been comprehensively undermined by the early 1800s, it is improbable that this group contained descendants of the Cammeraygal. They may have been people displaced from the south coast of New South Wales, as groups from the south were also gathering at Circular Quay at this time. These people, and probably the Berrys Bay Aborigines, were 'relocated' to La Perouse in the 1880s.

Waverton is located in the North Sydney local government area, on the north side of Sydney Harbour. The suburb extends from Balls Head north to the Pacific Highway. It adjoins the suburbs of Wollstonecraft to the north-west, Crows Nest to the north-east, and North Sydney to the east. It has extensive waterfront areas in Berrys Bay and around Balls Head.

Early landholders

The suburb takes its name from Waverton House, built by Joseph Purser in 1845 on land purchased from Alexander Berry. William Carr and then his widow, Charlotte, owned the house from 1850 to 1865. The Old family owned it from 1865 to1974, when the building was demolished.

The whole of Waverton was part of the 524-acre (212-hectare) Wollstonecraft land grant which also encompassed present-day Wollstonecraft and part of Crows Nest. Edward Wollstonecraft, who was a business partner of Alexander Berry, settled on the north side of the harbour to escape the unhealthy living conditions of lower George Street in the city. He built Crows Nest Cottage around 1821. His partner Berry is best known for his large land holdings on the South Coast at the Shoalhaven River, around the township of Berry.

The Berry estate

Alexander Berry married Edward's sister, Elizabeth Wollstonecraft, and after Edward's early death in 1832, she became the owner of the estate. Upon her death in 1845, Alexander began subdividing sections of the estate. The sale of the land for Waverton House dates from this time. The gradual subdivision over a century from the 1830s to the 1930s profoundly influenced the character of Waverton. As areas were opened for development, each took on the dominant architectural and planning characteristics of the day.

Berry also gave five acres (two hectares) of land to his good friend Reverend WB Clarke in 1870, upon Clarke's retirement as the first rector of St Thomas's Anglican church. Alexander Berry was a great benefactor of Clarke's church, and enjoyed discussing matters of science, philosophy and religion with the renowned amateur geologist.

Elizabeth and Alexander had commenced construction of a large home to be called Crows Nest House in the early 1840s. After Elizabeth's death, Berry lived alone in the house (with a retinue of servants) from 1850 until his own demise in 1873. The land, by then called the Berry Estate was then passed on to David Berry, Alexander's brother. He died in 1889 and the north shore land was inherited by the Berrys' cousin, John Hay.

A sizable strip of the Berry Estate land was given to the colonial government for the construction of the Milsons Point to Hornsby railway, completed in 1893. The completion of Waverton railway station (then called Bay Road station) added to the commercial attractiveness of the land at Waverton, and Hay put several large subdivisions on the market. Amidst economic depression little was sold. In 1904 further subdivisions were created, with wide streets.

Subdivision proceeded more rapidly under Hay's ownership. After he died in 1909, Lady Hay approved further sales in 1911, 1913 and 1921.

She died in 1931. There were three more subdivisions around Crows Nest House, subsequently called the Lady Hay estate, in 1931, 1932 and 1934. The housing stock on these various subdivisions changed from large Federation era homes to a mix of interwar Functionalist and Old English styles. The North Sydney Demonstration School (originally called the Lady Hay School) was built in 1931 and Crows Nest House was demolished in 1933.

Industrial development

Great hopes had been held out for the industrialisation of the Waverton waterfront at Balls Head: visions of a mirror image of Darling Harbour, on the north shore, were entertained. In 1906 the New South Wales government acquired land around Balls Head and Berry Island from the estate of David Berry, in exchange for agreeing to build and maintain a public hospital at the town of Berry on the south coast. These deepwater frontages were considered suitable for industrial or commercial development and, therefore, likely to offset the costs incurred by building the hospital.

The North Shore Gas Company shifted its productive gas works from Neutral Bay to Balls Head Bay in 1906. Interestingly, the appearance of a gas works in what was becoming an exclusive residential area prompted the formation of the first residents' action group in the municipality – the Bay Road Progress Association – in 1911.

The Sydney Coal Bunkering Company leased land on the western side of Balls Head and began building a coal loader in 1917, to act as a steamship bunkering station. It was the most advanced means of loading coal into steamers then available in Sydney Harbour. Coal from colliers was dumped onto a huge timber and rock platform on the shore. It was fed by gravity down shutes to four tunnels below, and then into waiting hopper cars which were then hauled by cable out to a long wharf. The coal was loaded as fuel onto the steamers docked alongside. In November 1940 a freak wind storm damaged one of the gantry cranes beyond repair, leaving only one crane in operation until the late 1950s. Operations at the coal loader ceased in October 1992. The wharf, coal-loading platform, tunnels and a few brick administrative buildings remain as evidence of bunkering operations. It is currently being redeveloped as a publicly accessible industrial landmark with interpretation signage.

Recreation on the foreshore

In 1916 North Sydney Council had been given 15-year permissive occupancy of Berry Island, the headland to the west of Balls Head which was then joined to the mainland by a tide-affected isthmus. In the early 1920s the State government considered the possibility of leasing Berry Island and exchanging council's occupancy there with undeveloped land at Balls Head, which could be dedicated as a public reserve. This was supported by some in council but opposed by others who, with a group of local residents, wanted to preserve both sites for public recreation. The Coalition government was not supportive. The Labor government that replaced it did agree, however, and the two reserves were gazetted for public recreation on 25 June 1926. At the opening ceremony in October 1926, Premier Jack Lang reiterated the need to protect public ownership of the harbour's foreshore. North Sydney Mayor CW Watt conveyed his 'deep appreciation' to the Premier for the decision. Suggestions to acknowledge the contributions of the local Newlands family and Jack Lang by renaming the reserves were not followed through, and the existing names were retained because of their historic links to Lieutenant Lidgbird Ball and Alexander Berry. Both reserves were vested in North Sydney Council.

At that time, Balls Head was a barren headland bearing little resemblance to the well-vegetated foreshore reserve it is today. There were yearly tree plantings throughout the 1930s, involving the Field Naturalists' Society, the Australian Forest League, Waverton Precinct and North Sydney Council. In 1938 a lookout there was named in honour of the renowned entomologist WW Froggatt, who had supported the rehabilitation of the site in his role as President of the Field Naturalists' Society. In 1935, a further 8.75 acres (3.5 hectares) was added to the existing 14 acres (5.6 hectares) as a result of the activism of Annie Wyatt and Alderman Watt.

Maritime pursuits

The naval station HMAS Waterhen was established on the western side of Balls Head in the early 1960s. The site had been used during World War II by the Royal Australian Navy in conjunction with the United States Navy as a Boom Defence Depot.

Berrys Bay was given over to commercial and industrial use from the early 1800s. Berry and Wollstonecraft had constructed a stone wharf, then a stone warehouse, and workers' cottages and huts on the western side of the bay, to take in the produce from the Shoalhaven estate. In the mid-1800s, Berry leased the site for a short time to shipping companies P&O and General Steam Screw Ship Company, as a coaling depot. Other uses for the site included ship repairs, storage of ballast and even a distillery which operated out of the stone storehouse between 1872 and the 1880s.

The inlet here within the larger bay became known briefly and probably colloquially as Torpedo Bay, while it was used as the site of the New South Wales Torpedo Corps from 1878 to the 1890s. The boats had been built by the Atlas Engineering Company in Pyrmont.

The Anglo Persian Oil Company's occupation of the western side of Berrys Bay may date from as early as 1908, but it was not until 1923 that the first tank was installed. The Commonwealth Oil Refineries took over the Anglo Persian Oil Company (now BP) and many still recall the large letters of COR in lights on top of the cliff face. The cliff face was known as 'Gibraltar'.

The substantial stone store erected by Berry and Wollstonecraft was demolished in the mid-1930s to open the way for additional fuel storage tanks. More were added in the 1950s. There were 31 by the late 1960s, and the site was a prominent feature of this part of the harbour. BP ceased operations at the site in the 1980s and the tanks were dismantled by the mid-1990s. Today their outlines are visible in the cut rock. The site is now public parkland.

Woodley's boat yard began operating next to this site in the first decade of the twentieth century. It joined WM Ford's yard, on the eastern side of the bay and was, in turn, joined by Stannard Brothers Slipway in the 1930s.

The [media]waterfront was then one of the most important boatbuilding sites in the harbour. But it was also a place for recreation for locals. In the 1940s regattas of small model sailing boats called 'Balmain bugs' were conducted there. Men and boys rowed alongside these beautifully crafted working models adjusting sails as necessary and coaxing them around the course. In the 1930s, the old reformatory and naval training ship Sobraon (renamed Tingira) ended its life there as a hulk. Local children swam around its huge rusting hull. Jack Sullivan was one of them:

I learnt to swim in Berrys Bay. There was a little pool down there, fenced around to the keep the sharks out … [and] a training ship, an old thing and we used to muck around and swim out to that and dive off it and play around…


Next to Woodley's was the Quarantine Station, leased by the Commonwealth government in 1912 as a depot for fumigation operations carried out by the Federal Quarantine Service in conjunction with its well established North Head facility. Almost certainly the Berrys Bay depot was built in response to Dr Norris's 1912 report to the Commonwealth government which stressed Australia's vulnerability to a smallpox epidemic. In 1921 it came under the control of the Port Health Quarantine Division of the newly created Commonwealth Department of Health, and 1912 and 1916 are the two dates given for the commencement of operations. If the former is correct then it is probable that the facility played an important role in combating the 1913 smallpox epidemic.

It was the base for two launches and a barge that steamed out to a quarantine line at Bradleys Head. There fumigation would take place and/or doctors would inspect the ship in question. Customs inspections and rat control were also undertaken. The launches were named appropriately enough the Pasteur , after the French scientist who showed that infectious disease was carried by germs, and the Jenner, in honour of the British scientist who pioneered the use of vaccination. Two original cottages built for the crew were later given the same names. A coal bunker was also used for rat poison.

Probably expanded in the 1920s or 1930s, and beautified with landscape plantings of palms, the depot/station operated as part of the Health Department until the 1970s, when the worldwide control of smallpox and the decrease in shipping arrivals to Australia made it redundant. It was used for a period after that by the Department of Primary Industry as a 'non-dairy quarantine depot'. The Australian National Maritime Museum took over use of the site in 1988 to maintain its heritage fleet.


Lianne Hall, Down the Bay: the Changing Foreshores of North Sydney, North Sydney Council, North Sydney, 1997

Michael Jones, North Sydney, 1788–1988, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1988

Waverton Peninsula History Walk, North Sydney Heritage Leaflet Series No 31, http://www.northsydney.nsw.gov.au/www/html/2408-leaflets-and-walks.asp, viewed 23 February 2010

Margaret Park, Designs on a Landscape: A History of Planning in North Sydney, Halstead Press and North Sydney Council, North Sydney, 2002