Cycling Manly’s North Head: Bandicoot Habitat, Artillery, and Sandy Coves

We love Manly! What a great place! Are we ever glad we decided to stay here rather than in downtown Sydney.

Yesterday the weather was overcast so we decided to do the Cabbage Tree Eco-Sculpture Walk from the Corso to Shelly Beach along the waterfront (where we were surprised to see many Blue Bottle or Portuguese Man O’ War jellyfish swept onto the beach from the brisk onshore wind). These are actually colonies of thousands of tiny creatures, none of which could survive on its own. More than anything, they look like used condoms.

From the Manly Life Saving Club pavilion at the end of Manly Beach, we walked along a paved foreshore walkway, along which are fabulous little silver sculptures on the rocks depicting the plants, animals, and humans of the Manly area.

Also, in front of several private homes, is a foreshore swimming pool, graced with two curvilinear bronze sculptures of female neriads.

We had a coffee at the beach bar at Shelly Beach and then climbed the stairs and followed the path leading around the forested headland. It reminded me quite a bit of Piper’s Lagoon in Nanaimo, except rather than Garry Oaks, it had Cabbage Palms and pines.

Today, although we had quite a rainfall early in the morning, it was good enough weather to head down to the Manly bike rental and grab two hybrid bikes for a three day excursion. We headed out down the beach walk, past the Manly Wharf Hotel, and up into a residential area for a ride past the Sydney Tourism School in what looked to be a former Cathedral.

After having checked out this area, we entered into the North Head Sanctuary; once housing a school of artillery where gunners lived and trained, the headland is now a sanctuary.

We stopped to talk to the guide in charge of the Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub Community Ecological Project, in which a group of local ecologists are recreating a habitat for the endangered bandicoot in the North Head area. Strangely, in a nondescript hut behind the presentation centre a gentleman is building a golden chariot for the British Royal Family (!).

We rode down the wilderness pathway, locked our bikes to a post, and headed down the metal walkway that winds throughout the North Head area, part of which travels over the old gunners’ walkway and seating area. We were intrigued with the many unusual indigenous plants here, including the Grey Spider Flower, the Heath Leaved Banksia, the Scrub Oak, the Grass Tree, the Red Mountain Devil, the White Flannel Flower and the Red Spider Flower, none of which we’d ever seen in North America.

These plants grow on wind-blown Aeolian Sand deposited in this area many centuries ago. Also along the walk we discovered the Third Quarantine Cemetery, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with 241 graves from the 1890s small pox, the 1900 bubonic plague, and the 1918 influenza epidemics. A few of these still had legible headstones commemorating the mostly young dead. The site itself has a beautiful view over the harbour and the city of Sydney beyond; the gravesites are mostly tumbled-down, overgrown, and likely hardly ever visited, given over to the snakes and spiders.

Here’s more information about the North Head Quarantine area:

“North Head has long been recognised as the entrance to one of the world’s most picturesque harbours, Port Jackson, and has been portrayed by artists such as Augustus Earle from as early as 1825.

In particular, the Manly headland marks the site where ships carrying passengers with infectious diseases were isolated; an important means of defence for an island-nation. North Head was the first site in Australia to be used for quarantine purposes when the Bussorah Merchant was detained in Spring Cove in 1828. Some passengers were found to have both smallpox and whooping cough and were kept onboard the ship while the healthier voyagers were housed in tents on shore.

Soon after, in 1832, the whole area of North Head was set aside for a permanent quarantine station by order of the Governor of New South Wales. The move was in response to the cholera epidemic in Europe at the time, as authorities feared the disease gaining a foothold in the Australian colonies.

For almost 150 years North Head Quarantine Station helped protect Australia’s island nation from disease. Returning soldiers during both World Wars, prisoners of war, evacuees from Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and refugees from Vietnam in 1975 all passed through the station.

From its beginning until 1977 when the facility was closed, a total of 580 ships were detained and about 13 000 passengers, including generations of convicts, war veterans and free immigrants were quarantined for periods of up to 40 days.

Like the Point Nepean Quarantine Station, the facility at North Head is situated in a strategically isolated location. The major groups of buildings, although of a similar age as surviving complexes in other states, are rare in terms of their range and relative integrity. For instance, the Superintendent’s Residence at North Head, built in 1854, appears to be the earliest surviving, purpose-built, quarantine-related structure in Australia.

The layout of the station, including its buildings, roads, fences and cemeteries, was designed to separate the quarantined passengers on the grounds of health, as well as social and cultural background. For example, the first, second and third class passengers were separated into barracks-style accommodation in different areas.

Separate areas were also developed for Asians and in this respect North Head is an expression of the gradual implementation of the White Australia Policy during the 1880s.

The station’s facilities show how the area developed according to scientific responses to disease outbreaks. The smallpox epidemic of 1881, for example, resulted in new facilities such as a hospital, and stricter zoning by fences. The Quarantine Station was added to the Sydney Harbour National Park in 1984.”

Further into the Headland we found the Memorial Walk commemorating Australia’s participation in the Boer War, WWI, WWII, and more recent conflicts, as well as peace-keeping initiatives.

We also investigated the Number One and Two gun placement areas, with the remains of gun and shell areas from the Second World War.

Here’s more information about the site:

“North Head Sanctuary occupies the land of the former School of Artillery. The famous promontory of North Head contains Aboriginal rock engravings, rock art, campsites, burials, middens and artefacts. The island and landmark qualities of the area made it especially significant to the indigenous people of the Sydney region.

The military presence on North Head began in the mid-1930s as part of the coastal defence network established in the build-up to World War II. A battery of two 9.2-inch guns was installed in 1936. The main barracks complex and grand red gravel parade ground were completed in 1938 and today are a feature of the site. During World War II North Head (or North Fort) was one of the most heavily fortified sites in Australian history.

The Army School of Artillery, formed after the war, was based at North Head and remained there until its relocation to Puckapunyal in Victoria in 1998. The site hosts the Royal Australian Artillery National Museum, established in 1990.

Today, the former School of Artillery is being transformed into a sanctuary for flora and fauna, and a place of relaxation and enjoyment for the people of Sydney and elsewhere.”

Having ridden through most of the North Head we arrived back at the Parade Grounds and ate our peanut butter sandwiches while feeding the local birdlife.

Back on the bikes again we headed down to the Spring Cove, the trail to which required us to hoist our bikes over our shoulders and pack them in and out, the Little Manly Gas Works and Cove,

and the Manly Quay beach next to the harbour from which the Ferry to Sydney departs.

Here we had a front row seat at the Manly Wharf Hotel’s bar while consuming a Heffeweisen beer, after which we returned to the bike store, traded in our hybrids for city cruisers, and headed off to the Manly Market and the Coles Supermarket, before returning to the Waterfront Apartment in time for a pasta dinner. This was a really fascinating ride.

See more pictures here.

5 Replies to “Cycling Manly’s North Head: Bandicoot Habitat, Artillery, and Sandy Coves”

  1. Hi, Looks like that’s the place to spend more time. Maybe after Bali, you can return for more time there. It sounds very interesting, history wise and all that. ENJOY! love mom xx oo

  2. What a great cycling trip. Very interesting all the historic and beautiful places you saw along the way. Sounds like Manly was a great choice, but I’d be happy to visit anywhere in Australia since I haven’t been yet! Enjoyed the photos, too.

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