Dictionary of Sydney

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Cremorne Point

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Cremorne Point

Cremorne Point is one of Sydney harbour's most prominent northern peninsulas, located in the North Sydney Council area and adjacent to the Mosman Council area. It is flanked on its western side by Shell Cove and its eastern side by Mosman Bay.

The area was known as Wulworra-Jeung by the Cammeraygal, the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land on the lower northern shores of Port Jackson prior to the arrival of Europeans. The natural sandstone cliffs and rocky overhangs of this once-secluded location were a perfect place for shelter, fishing and ceremonial activities.

The story of Cremorne Point following European settlement is a tale of land grabbing, developers' greed and a winning campaign to preserve the foreshore of the peninsula.

Robertson's Point

The point's first European name, Robertson's Point, dates to the land granted to James Robertson, who arrived in Sydney on the Providence on 8 January 1822. [1] Robertson was a Scottish watchmaker and friend of Governor Thomas Brisbane, and was appointed to the role of curator of government clocks and astronomical instruments.

Governor Brisbane promised Robertson land in 1825, but it wasn't until 1833 that Governor Bourke officially granted him 86 acres (35 hectares) including 'all Lands within 100 foot [30 metres] of high-water mark' on the peninsula. [2] Robertson improved upon his land by constructing a Georgian house, but later sold his property to another prominent North Sydney landowner, James Milson, in 1853.

The Cremorne pleasure gardens

During the mid-nineteenth century, this landscape of seclusion from the bustle of the townships of St Leonards, North Sydney and Sydney Town dramatically changed. Only three years after purchasing the point, James Milson leased 22 acres (9 hectares) at its harbourside edge to Jacob Clarke and his business partner WP Woolcott. The leased land was transformed into an English-style pleasure garden, dotted with amusements for all ages, including a carousel, music and dancing stages, a rifle shooting gallery, skittles, refreshments and themed local walks through the surrounding bush and the headland.

The grand opening of Cremorne gardens was held on Easter Monday in 1856, accompanied by much fanfare and a fireworks display. Visitors on the day paid two shillings to catch the steamer ferry from Circular Quay, which included the entrance fee to the gardens. The business entrepreneurs named it after a similar place in London, and the name of Cremorne settled into the vernacular.

Although initially a success, this seaside amusement park failed to live up to its advertising claims and only lasted about six years. Between the 1860s and the 1880s, the pleasure gardens evolved into a location popular with leisure seekers and weekend holiday makers. This serenity was short-lived, as the area's beautiful location and geology resulted in the peninsula being pursued for land development and mineral exploration.

Attempt to populate the peninsula

With increasing interest being shown in further development at Cremorne Point, James Milson's son, James Milson Jr, commenced plans for residential development around the peninsula. Milson did not want to proceed without the 100-foot (30-metre) shoreline reservation, land which had been excluded from most of the land grants on the harbour since 1828. Determined to incorporate this land, he attempted to use the 1861 Crown Land Act to make this a reality.

Unsuccessful in four court cases seeking to revoke the reservation ruling, Milson sold part of the land to a development company. In 1889 the Robertson's Point Syndicate blatantly displayed allotments for sale, including the 'alleged' 100-foot reservation.

This brazen attempt to sell the foreshore reserve sufficiently angered the Crown and in 1891 it brought a case of 'ejectment and trespass' before the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Statements from previous residents of the area and elsewhere on the lower north shore provided strength to the argument of the Crown's prosecutor, Sir Julian Salomons, who concluded that 'the land, therefore, belonged to the public, and always had belonged to the public'. [3]

The assurance of the public land to be set aside for recreational use, however, was not guaranteed for several years to come. Ensuing residential development gathered momentum and substantial dwellings began to appear on its solid sandstone foundation.

Fight against industrialisation

Speculation and exploration did not relinquish its hold on the point altogether. In 1847 a lower north shore personality, the Reverend William Branwhite Clark, a geologist as well as a church minister, speculated that a coal seam could exist under the whole of Sydney harbour. Between 1891 and 1893, the New South Wales Department of Mines bored for coal at two separate sites on the peninsula for the Sydney and Port Hacking Coal Company Ltd. Successfully striking a rich coal seam, the company immediately sought a licence to mine coal. The next stage in the battle to preserve Cremorne Point began.

North Sydney Council had formed in 1890, following the amalgamation of the boroughs of St Leonards, East St Leonards and Victoria. Cremorne was located in the former borough of East St Leonards.

Both the community and North Sydney Council combined forces to protest the industrialisation of Cremorne Point. The fight for the preservation of the point triumphed. The protesters argued the value of the residential, recreational and natural character of the area as well as raising concerns about pollution, and the mining company sought its riches elsewhere in Sydney harbour.

The Cremorne Reserve was gazetted in 1905, thus ending the speculation and scheming which had beleaguered the peninsula from the confirmation of the '100-foot reservation' ruling in 1891. There was no longer any threat of coal mines, factories, coal loading wharves and coal dumps taking over the point.


Cremorne Point's built environment is considered to be highly significant in heritage terms and is identified in the North Sydney Heritage Study as a conservation area. The first housing subdivision was opened in 1903, and this was closely followed by an increase in building activity throughout the Federation period and well into the 1920s and 1930s.

Interwar apartment buildings became a popular development pursuit, providing comfortable middle-class accommodation for business men and women. Frequented as holiday and tourist destinations in the 1920s, many large guesthouses were erected and eventually adapted for residential accommodation, or demolished and redeveloped for the modern apartment construction boom of the 1960s and beyond.

One such place was the Ritz Private Hotel, a former guesthouse operating from the late 1910s. The Ritz gradually succumbed to owner neglect, and became a run-down boarding house, like many other former guesthouses which thrived during the point's heyday. The Ritz redevelopment was the subject of resident protests and local council debate for many years. While heritage concerns were relevant, the social issues of tenant evictions and availability of low-cost housing were key factors in the council's deliberations on the development application.

In the early 1990s however, The Ritz was redeveloped into a luxury waterfront apartment block. By this time the point had shaken off some of its former shabby reputation and had become a highly marketable Sydney address.

Transport by the harbour

During its early history, the major mode of transport to the Cremorne peninsula was the ferry, with regular ferry services running from the city and other areas of the lower north shore to Cremorne gardens and recreational areas at the point.

Early in the twentieth century, when housing development commenced at the point and additional modes of transport were required to transport people to and from the city, the Cremorne wharf was planned, and constructed in 1911. The terminus was cut out of the sandstone cliff on the tip of the point, with a turning circle to allow for the new tramline to meet the ferry. The Cremorne Point tram line was closed in April 1956, as Sydney abandoned its tram system and introduced bus services. Ferries, however, continue to ply their trade along the waterways and stop at both Cremorne Point, and Old Cremorne, the site of the former Cremorne wharf.

Harbourside recreation

A place of natural beauty in a bush setting, Cremorne Point offered superb vantage points to the harbour and access to water sports and recreation for its residents. As with many such localities, this encouraged residents to pursue leisure activities in their own backyard.

The point's residents created a harbour pool at Shell Cove on the eastern edge of Cremorne Point. Believed to have initially been the work of the Olympic swimmer and Cremorne Point resident Frederick Lane, the pool was maintained for and by the locals, in particular, Hugh MacCallum, founder of a subscription club for the pool's care and upkeep. A badge of honour for subscribers was devised by MacCallum, emblazoned with the letters CBP which stood for Cremorne Bathing Pool. [4]

This was not the only rock pool constructed around that time, as swimming was a typical summer pastime, and such pools not only provided relief from Sydney's hot summer days, but also protected swimmers from the dangers of the harbour.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, governments became more aware of health issues regarding harbourside pool hygiene. At this time, many councils were constructing official swimming pools based on Olympic and Empire games standards. They were more wary of the dangers of unofficial harbourside pools, and in 1930 North Sydney Council took over the management of the Shell Cove rock pool and named it the Hugh J MacCallum Pool. Over 50 years later, the council restored the pool and added features such as decking, landscaping and fencing, renaming it the MacCallum Pool.

The Lex and Ruby Graham Gardens are located on the eastern side of the point and are so named because the Grahams began planting a bush garden, cascading down to the foreshore in the late 1950s. This garden grew over the years, to the joy of bushwalkers, locals and sightseers. North Sydney Council provides support to the once privately managed garden, and encourages visitors to detour through the garden on their way around the Cremorne Point Reserve, North Sydney Harbour Foreshore Bushwalk, which includes signs interpreting the history of Cremorne Point.


Godden Mackay, North Sydney Heritage Study Review, North Sydney Council, North Sydney, 1993

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, Sydney, 1988

Joan Lawrence, Lavendar Bay to the Spit, Kingsclear Books, Sydney, 1999

Margaret Park, The Heart of Cremorne Point, North Sydney Council Heritage Leaflet Series no 29, 2000

Eric Russell, The Opposite Shore: North Sydney and Its People, John Ferguson with North Shore Historical Society and North Sydney Council, Sydney, 1990


[1] Bede Nairn, 'Robertson, Sir John (1816–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 6, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1976, pp 38–4

[2] Eric Russell, The Opposite Shore: North Sydney and Its People, John Ferguson with North Shore Historical Society and North Sydney Council, Sydney, 1990, p 172

[3] Eric Russell, The Opposite Shore: North Sydney and Its People, John Ferguson with North Shore Historical Society and North Sydney Council, Sydney, 1990, p 172

[4] Lianne Hall, Down the Bay: the Changing Foreshores of North Sydney, North Sydney Council, North Sydney, 1997, p 71