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PacificEdge | December 15, 2018

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Hidden path to a cove’s history

Russ Grayson

Story and photographs: Russ Grayson 1987, 2002, updated 2009.

The photographs and story are offered as a memorial to Simon Flynn. Thanks Simon.

…………

APPROACH from the Manly side and you encounter a steep, uphill climb. Alternatively, you can descend the path from the road above. Either way, you are likely to miss the turnoff because it is not signposted and the track looks more like a wombat trail than a walking trail. That may be deliberate.

Simon Flynn outside his Crater Cove home, 1987.

Simon Flynn outside his Crater Cove home, 1987. Note the solar electric panels on the roof.

Visitors to Crater Cove have to be either adventurous, curious or in-the-know to realise that the unmaintained, narrow path through the bush leads them to a deserted settlement.

You take the plunge and head off between walls of shrubs and small trees on a track that can be slippery after rain. You move from side to side because the centre of the trail has been worn into a shallow  gully by generations of feet. Enclosed by the bush, you cannot see far ahead, but after ten minutes or so the trail turns into a gully and then, a few metres on, you stand above the flat roofs of the two clifftop huts at the eastern end of the cove. Before you opens a broad view over Sydney Harbour and the open sea beyond the heads. Welcome to Crater Cove, one of Sydney’s hidden heritage gems.

An unwelcome welcome

“Can I help you”, the woman asked. She was in her thirties, solidly built with long, dark brown hair and a friendly but assertive presence. There was something in her manner that did not make me feel welcome and her offer of help was something strange to hear in the bush on the Sydney Harbour foreshore.

“I’m just having a look at the huts… taking photographs… I used to know someone who lived here”, I replied.

Name long forgotten, this man occupied the small shack immeditely east of the Mens' Hut in 1987.

Name long forgotten, this man occupied the small shack immeditely east of the Mens’ Hut in 1987. He was tentatively identified (see comments below) as Stuart, who was a juggler, by someone with a long association with the Crater Cove hut settlement.

We talked for a few minutes. I discovered that the woman was an unofficial ‘caretaker’ of the old huts that line the south-facing, lower slope of Crater Cove. This caretaker group, I learned, is sanctioned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and consists of people with some past association with the huts or with an interest in them. They act as unofficial guides, guides for all but the media, it turned out. Somewhere in our brief conversation she learned that I was a journalist. “We have a policy of not speaking to the media”, she said.

Apparently, they thought that any publicity was bad publicity and might bring more people into the cove. It’s a strange attitude for a group not employed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service but operating with the service’s approval and, apparently, making decisions about media policy in a national park. National parks, after all, are supposed to be open to the public, yet here I had encountered a group who would rather keep the existence of the old settlement — what some people regard as a heritage site — a secret and a place that they, but as few others as possible, get to enjoy.

The social history of common people

The view south over Sydney Harbour shows the Men's Hut, built in the late 1920s, in the foregraound.

The view south over Sydney Harbour shows the Men’s Hut, built in the late 1920s, in the foreground.

The stone huts at the eastern end of the Crater Cove settlement are substantial buildings high above the rock platform and waters of the cove.

The stone huts at the eastern end of the Crater Cove settlement are substantial buildings high above the rock platform and waters of the cove.

The social history of Crater Cove settlement came to an abrupt halt in the late 1980s when the NPWS decided that people should not live in the newly-declared park. That decision was made despite a history of prior recreational and, since the 1970s, permanent occupation of the huts.

The residents lost the subsequent court case and had to pack up and leave, despite evidence that they had cared for the Crater Cove environment. National parks were to be places devoid of human life, apart from the temporary presence of visitors. In the case of the Crater Cove huts, evidence of human occupancy was to be obliterated because the huts were to be demolished. After the court case and the eviction of the residents, the parks service boarded up the huts, turning what had been structures made of salvaged materials in the best tradition of the Australian shack-building into ugly, deserted structures.

One of Simon Flynn's small vegetable gardens adjacent to his shack.

One of Simon Flynn’s small vegetable gardens adjacent to his shack.

This attitude, this belief, that national parks should be free of human habitation seems to be a notion that permeates both the national parks service and the environment movement. It certainly did at the time, anyway. Jeff Angel, spokesperson for Sydney’s influential Total Environment Centre, said that the huts should go. Against the combined forces of the NPWS and the green movement, what chance did a bunch of squatters have, even when their squatting was a residency of many year’s duration?

The notion of parks-without-people seems to have been imported into this country from the wilderness movement in the US. It is a historic nonsense — what is called wilderness today was usually someone’s home territory in centuries past, and home to miners and timber-getters since European occupation of the land.

I had hoped for a different attitude from the environment movement, but its decision to oppose the residents had cache within the sandstone walls of state parliament. I was also aware that, whenever the choice has been between nature and people, the green movement has chosen nature.

In opposing the continued occupation of the Crater Cove huts, they were not alone. A few Sydneysiders with no association and probably limited sympathy for the environment movement voiced their outrage in the city’s press at people living with expansive harbour views, rent free, while they paid millions for the privilege. I found it strange that the environment movement should agree with such a sentiment. I also thought it strange they would agree with that demographic until I realised that most environmentlaists come from the saftey and comfort of middle class homes. Those were their people.

A long-term resident

The hut above the Mens' Hut, western side. Late-1980s.

The hut above the Mens’ Hut, western side. Late-1980s.

My encounter with the woman of the cove was still quite some years in the future the day I made my way from Manly wharf — I took the long way to make a walk of it — to interview some of the residents facing eviction for a radio current affairs piece.

At the cove, I met Simon Flynn, a man in his early thirties. As I sat on a rock opposite Simon with my tape recorder running, he told me that he was now in his eighteenth year at the cove and was the settlement’s longest-term resident. I was a little incredulous at learning this because it implied that he had moved into the cove in his late teens. But now, his residency was about to end. The court case pitting the residents against the NPWS was in progress and the proposal that they be permitted to stay on in a caretaker role was to gain no sympathy.

Opponents of the residents had warned of damage to the Cove’s natural bushland if they stayed.

Looking eastwards over shack in bush, Crater Cove.

Looking eastwards over shack in bush, Crater Cove.

I found the opposite to be the truth. When I visited Simon to conduct that first interview, he showed me where the residents had removed plants exotic to the bushland using methods developed by two Sydney women — the Bradley sisters — methods which would later be adopted by the city’s bush regenerators. I also learned that the residents kept a dinghy and had helped in the rescue of fishermen in the Cove’s waters.

Simon occupied a small but comfortable one-room hut. Built of local stone, driftwood and salvaged roofing iron, it was a simple home. In one corned was a bed. Against the opposite wall was a rustic shelf with cooking gear stacked on it. Below a window with one of those million-dollar views over the harbour was a desk and musical instruments. He showed me his hot water system — a long piece of black-painted steel pipe with a shower rose attached to one end. It was placed on the roof where it was heated by the sun. Nearby, poultry wire formed a small enclosure for a few chooks and vegetables grew in a compact, well-maintained garden.

Crater Cove hut.

Crater Cove hut.

The place was obviously cared for. Looking around, I could see how innovation played a role in providing the few luxuries that elsewhere were taken for granted. Far from the environmental vandals some would depict them as, these people were practical environmentlaists who were improving the place where they lived.

Simon’s hut stood a little above those lining the forsehore and was sheltered by a large flame tree. The large, bright red blossoms provided food for flocks of rainbow-coloured lorikeets.

I visited a secluded hut and its occupant at the western end of the cove that had been cleverly built into an overhang at the base of a cliff. Set back from the foreshore, it was more concealed than were the others. The most spectacularly-sited huts, though, were at the cove’s eastern end. Here, two adjoining structures had been built of local stone right on the edge of the cliff, about ten metres above the cove. The view over the outer harbour and the southern shoreline would be

The cliffs of the South Head of Sydney harbour are seen in this view over the stone huts at the eastern end of the Crater Cove settlement.

The cliffs of the South Head of Sydney harbour are seen in this view over the stone huts at the eastern end of the Crater Cove settlement.

the envy of property speculators.

I made further visits to Crater Cove a number of times, some in the company of others from the radio station that had broadcast the interview with Simon where we had supported the Cove’s unofficial residents in their confrontation with the national parks bureaucracy.

On my last visit at that time, the court case had finished and the huts were empty. In place of a tiny community that welcomed visitors, the NPWS had given the people of Sydney huts whose doors and windows had been hastily covered with sheets of unsightly galvanised iron.

I felt sad and disappointed to return to the deserted settlement, although on a later visit I felt better in knowing that the NPWS would not demolish the buildings.

Later, I learned that Simon had left for Darwin soon after the evictions. Years later, I was told that he had returned to Sydney.

An Australian past

Occupancy of Crater Cove started around 60 years ago when weekend fishermen built the first of the huts. During the depression of the 1930s, some of the huts may have been occupied full time.

Interior of shack, Crater Cove, Late-1980s.

Interior of shack, Crater Cove, Late-1980s.

Forty years after construction started at Crater Cove, the huts were again occupied, this time by what were described as ‘hippies’. In reality, they were people inspired by the ideology of the late ’60s and the ’70s to search for a simpler way of living. For a time they found this at the cove, but sooner or later they drifted away. By the start of the ’80s only a few buildings were occupied on a full-time basis.

Years before I visited Crater Cove I had seen a photograph taken through the window of one of the huts. It was taken when the hut was permanently occupied in the 1970s and it appeared in a book about home-made buildings. The photograph showed a grand view over the blue waters of the harbour and out through the heads. What a place to live, I recall thinking, what a great view to see every day. Years later, I remembered that photograph and on one of my visits felt privileged to stand at the same window the photo had been taken through, to look out at a view unchanged and to take a similar photograph myself.

The view eastward along the rocky shorline of Crater Cove reveals the Men's hut.

The view eastward along the rocky shorline of Crater Cove reveals the Men’s hut.

Like the huts at Bonnie Vale, Burning Palms and Era in Royal National Park, the Crater Cove huts were built for recreational purposes, as accommodation for fishermen who visited the place on weekends. The NPWS says that the seven huts scattered along the narrow sandstone shelf between the harbour waters and the steep, scrub-covered slope behind were built between 1923 and 1963. Like all such huts, they were constructed of available materials — rocks and driftwood found on site, fibro sheets and galvanised iron roofing carried in. They were not meant to be permanently occupied, nor was it anticipated they would become of historic interest. That is something that happens only with time.

A better approach needed

I missed the turnoff on my first visit to the Cove and ascended almost to the top of the escarpment before I realised I had passed it. Backtracking, I found the trail and, wondering where it would lead, plunged in.

The Men's Hut, built in the late-1920s

The Men’s Hut, built in the late-1920s

Now I knew where it led and I had come back, standing on the rock shelf above the green waters, recalling past visits and talking with the woman caretaker of the cove. She expressed her annoyance at people crashing their way straight down the slope from the road above. This, she said, damaged the bush. I’m sure it does, but, without a sign indicating where the track starts and without proper maintenance, can you really blame those who take a direct approach to the huts, most of which are clearly visible from the road?

I’m sure that the caretaker group provides a useful service in maintaining the historic buildings, and I understand their motivation in wishing the preserve the place, but I was a little annoyed at the woman-of-the-cove’s presumption that she could enquire as to the reason for anyone’s presence in a national park that is open to the public. I thought it was too little too late because the settlement had been here more than 60 years and is already known to walkers. Photographs

Men's Hut, eastern end.

Men’s Hut, eastern end.

of the huts are found in books and online, and anyone wanting to visit them can find a fine satellite photo of the cove and the huts on Google Maps. Tying to keep the settlement a secret is futile. It seems a poor subsitute for a proper management policy and the provision of interpretive signage so that all can enjoy the Cove and its huts,  so they can come to understand its place in the social history of the Sydney region.

The Crater Cove settlement is an example of the building heritage of ordinary people. It is a reminder of the priorities, the way of life and the simple pleasures of earlier decades. It reminds us of the freer, unregulated access the people of those years had to natural areas and shows that people could occupy a such a place, modify it to suit their modest needs yet not destroy it.

Surely that could be the message were the NPWS to repair and signpost the track into the cove. They could provide a proper interpretive service, perhaps through the voluntary caretakers, that informs the people of Sydney about the huts and their occupants and about the role that unpretentious, seemingly temporary and roughly-built architecture has played in our history.

Somewhere to sleep, somewhere to cook, something to play music on... a life's needs so few and simple as to envoke envy. Interior, Simon Flynn's shack, Crater Cove, 1987.

Somewhere to sleep, somewhere to cook, something to play music on… a life’s needs so few and simple as to envoke envy. Interior, Simon Flynn’s shack, Crater Cove, 1987.

The simple needs of life are demonstrated in this interior image of Simon Flynn's shack in 1987. Note the artwork depicting a view over the harbour.

The simple needs of life are demonstrated in this interior image of Simon Flynn’s shack in 1987. Note the artwork depicting a view over the harbour.

Comments

  1. admin

    Hi Russ
    I found your article recently about Crater Cove and sent this to Simon at the time, and he enjoyed reading it immensely.

    Simon is my brother, and I am afraid I have some rather sad news, as he passed away on Sunday. Simon went to live in a rural enclave in Tasmania (St Mary’s) in the late 90’s after caring for our Dad until he passed away, but sadly the past trials and tribulations (Crater Cove loss precipitated this) had a big effect on his health.

    Thank you so much for continued interest in the Crater Cove history – it was always so very close to Simon’s heart.

    Simon’s funeral service was held in St Mary’s on Tuesday and several people – who weirdly or not – lived at the huts or visited the huts in the past, came to pay their respects.

    I found an old piece of writing of Simon’s — this was a continuing interest of his, along with music, painting and growing things — where he mentioned at least five people, who had at one time or other lived at the huts, were also living at one time or another in St Mary’s district. On going back there I realised how similar the bush was, and how beautiful the area surrounding it is, the Fingal valley, the mountains and cliffs in the distance, the nearby beaches at St Helens and Scamander.

    Simon specifically requested in his will that his ashes be scattered on the waters at Crater Cove, and I will honour that wish sometime in the next 6 months with a small ceremony.

    All the best
    Mandy

  2. margaret heggie

    Hello,

    Thank you for the great pic of our old friend Simon outside taken outside his hut. His old hutty friends are saddened to hear of his passing. We are at present talking amongst ourselves about coming to Sydney in October to scatter his ashes. A painting of Simon’s hung on my bedroom wall for years and it still haunts me – so beautiful- like him. I remember Simon as a very gentle soul with a wry sense of humour. I feel very priveledged to have spent so much time at the huts over the years. We were indeed very aware of the idylic setting. What a place to spend one’s youth. It is a very fragile place and sometimes dangerous for all that – the main reason hutties over the years have been a bit defensive.
    Vale Simon, Luv Margie

  3. Hi Margie…
    Thanks for your kind words. Some time, if you feel like writing a memoir of your time at the huts, I would be happy to publish it on this website in association with the article on Simon and the huts.

    I understand the defensiveness of the hutties and share it. There has long been the danger of vandalism and I see no reason that this has diminished in any way.

    I recall, not long after the hutties were evicted, walking into Crater Cove and finding the buildings abandoned and crudely boarded up with pieces of galvanised iron. This had been done by the national parks service in the time before they decided to retain the buildings. It was disturbing to find what had been a colony of welcoming people now deserted and boarded up.

    I think, though, that the survival of the huts would be enhanced were the national parks service to treat them as one of Sydney’s historic assets.

    What I am getting at is that the idea of attempting to conceal the existence of the huts is a rather makeshift and ineffective means of preserving them. Their existence is known to the many who walk into Crater Cove; the Cove, the huts and even the track into them is visible on Google Earth — making them even easier to visit; photographs of the huts appear in many books; and directions to find Crater Cove appears in guide books for walkers.

    What would I like to see? A serious plan from the national parks service to preserve the huts and the history of human use of Crater Cove over the period of the huts’ existence. This might take the form of developing an interpretive program themed around the huts to educate visitors of their historic significance and to employ some of those with links to the settlement to lead guided walks for the public so they could learn about the place.

    Even better would be the agreement of the national parks service for a caretaker staying in one of the huts. This person (it would perhaps be a shared role) would help safeguard the Cove and act as a guide to visitors. This is not a new idea — the idea of having a Cove resident continue to live there to safeguard the huts was raised during the campaign to retain permissive tenancy by existing hutties at the time of their eviction.

    Vandalism remains a threat to the huts whether they continue as at present or as an educational/historic site. So does bushfire. My belief is that creating a community of interest in the huts, that includes those who have had a direct association with them, and others with a historic interest in the Cove and its human settlement, offers the most promising means of their continuance.

    Please feel free to add any reminisces or comments about the huts, the hutties and your own experience with the huts here.

  4. margie heggie

    Hello Russ,

    Thank you for replying. Just wanted to know if you have been down to the huts lately. I have lived on the Far North Coast for the last fourteen years and have not been back down for at least the last ten. Up until the time we left Sydney I was also a National Parks volunteer caretaker at the huts. Parks were happy for us to do what we could, but always under their jurisdiction. We were not supposed to stay down for more than two weeks at a time. We maintained the places, weeded and planted. The deal was that we cost the tax payer nothing. The water police were also on hand and could respond in five minutes if we needed them.

    My Crater Cove connection covered about 20 years, both before and after the evictions. I was present during the court cases. Before Parks took over, the land was owned by the army. They knew people lived down there but they didn’t seem to mind. Another huttie friend has almost completed a book on the subject which he says is 90% finished. He is a journalist and historian so I’m look forward to its completion.

    I have a number of photos, most taken during the early ’90s. My precious earlier photos have been lost, sadly. If my memory serves me, and it does fail me sometimes, the other fellow in your pics is Stuart. He was a juggler. All hutties have been a bit left of centre – all characters – none of them boring.

    I guess the future of the huts depends on help from the people who love the place. It’s a big commitment and most people are simply too busy working. If there is anyone from Parks still over at Quarantine who was connected to the huts, they may be able to help you.

    But Simon was there the longest and no one loved the place more than he did.

    Kind Regards, Margie

  5. admin

    Hi Margie…
    As I live in Manly I do wander over to the huts from time to time, however I have not made any recent visit. Maybe it’s time to go again.

    When I travel to the city on the Manly ferry I sometimes glance over towards Crater Cove and, looking carefully, I see the huts along the shoreline and I see too, in my mind, the visits my friends and I made there all that time ago. And those are good memories, brief episodes they might have been, however duration has little bearing on things that make a profound impression.

    Good to hear that there was some program of maintaining the huts and their vicinity. I assume this is still active.

    I would like to obtain a copy of this forthcoming book on the huts when it is published and would like to review it on this website.

    Oh, and thanks for the likely identification of the other resident in my pictures. I couldn’t recall his name but I do remember his showing us around his hut and speaking with us.

    I first became aware of the huts on seeing the photo in the book that I mention in my article, and, as things do, once something captures your imagination you start to notice more things to do with them. So it was with my experience with the huts and the ongoing interest I have in them.

    I have visited the huts in Royal National Park (was a part-time ranger/guide there some time ago) at Era and Burning Palms, as well as those at Bundeena, but have not visited those on the far southern fringe of the national park. As you can see at my Facebook, I have developed an interest in hut life – http://www.facebook.com/pages/PacificEdge/46128279174#/album.php?aid=101922&id=46128279174

    and…

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/PacificEdge/46128279174#/album.php?aid=102160&id=46128279174

    Thanks for your insights into the huts Margie. Please feel free to write with more of your remembrances.

    …Russ

  6. Jilly

    Hi Russ,
    I lived at the huts in 1975-6 in the cave hut next to Kathy and Ian. I lived with John Tait and our dog harlequin and two chinese chickens and a cat called Stewpot. We had a baby girl in March 1976 named Janaia who is now 33 and a mum herself.
    Simon was a dear friend and fellow “Huttie”, a sensitive and brilliant soul whom we shall all miss dearly as he brought a lot of awareness to a fantasic lifestyle and place to dwell…Many fond memories of his art and life.
    Farewell Mr Flynn!! Jilly and Janaia

  7. Mandy

    Thanks Russ and thanks so much to those who remember Simon so fondly and those halcyon days at Crater Valley. A memorial service is planned for December 12th at the Cove and you are welcome to come and bid him farewell as is the tradition of the Huts.

    Kind regards,
    Mandy (Simon’s sister)

  8. Annie

    I’m interested to hear more about these shacks. The Museum of Sydney is currently developing an exhibition on the Great Depression. I’d love to learn more about these shacks and perhaps speak to a few people who lived in them.

    Please contact me if you are interested.
    Kindest regards,
    Annie Campbell
    Curator
    Museum of Sydney

  9. Annie

    Museum of Sydney
    (02) 9251 5988

  10. Russell Baker

    Hi Russ

    My name is Russell Baker and i am a fourth year student studying at the University of New South Wales (Bachelor of Engineering – Surveying and Spatial Information Systems)

    This year we are required to complete a thesis on a relevant topic to our degree. I am looking into doing some research on the huts down in the crater cove area.

    Some aspects of my research might include;

    history (construction, social, laws and rights).
    connecting the position of the huts into the local cadastral network and the NWPS boundaries.
    laser scanning the huts to produce a 3d image.

    how the development above the area has affected the area.

    I came across your website and it looks like you have a great deal of info on the topic. I have a few questions that i would like to ask you and would like to be able to talk with you either in person or on the phone.

    Are there any issues in the area at the moment concerning the huts?

    Whats in line for the future of the huts?

    Who if anybody lives there at the moment and or caretakes?

    Who has ownership of the huts?

    Is there any work that you would like done that a surveyor could assist with?

    Who is the best source of contact that you know who could assist me?

    Thanks for your time and look forward to talking with you soon

    Russell Baker

    0423782860

  11. Heather King

    When we visited Australia in April, 2010 we did a bushwalk from Manly Beach to Crater Cove to see the huts. I was curious about the Men’s Hut. Is it a social gathering place where men work, relax and sometime have a drink or a beer.

  12. admin

    Hi Heather…
    I imagine that is how it was used after it was built in the late-1920s. Recreation was a more relaxed affair in that era than it is now, and people took pleasure in simple things like fishing, having a beer with friends and a good yarn with mates.

    The hut today is more an outdoor museum, a reminder of that time that would, in my opinion, benefit from an interpretive brochure or sign to explain its significance to the visiting public.

    People would probably have overnighted in the hut as they did in similar huts in Royal National Park (on Sydney’s southern fringe).At some time, it is likely that people lived in the hut for some time as they did in other huts at Crater Cove.

  13. Jane Logan

    Hi Russ
    I am doing an assignment for uni (I am studying Primary Teaching) on a significant person, place or event in regard to HSIE and the assignment requires us to design an exhibition around commemorating or celebrating the person place or event and I was wanting to do the Fishermen’s Huts and wondered if you have any further info you could email to me, I found your blog while googling for information. Your blog post gives me a great start but I need more info about the original use of the huts and also the surrounding environment as I need to plan a lesson around it as well. I was thinking about the conservation aspect of the area. I need this information asap and would really appreciate anything you have as well as permission to use the photo of the huts on the cliff side. Thanks very much for your consideration.
    Jane Logan

  14. Merilyn Thomas

    Today I was waiting for my son to have an MRI in Townsville, north Queensland, and happened to read a decorating magazine with an article about the Crater Cove huts. What a fascinating place, and to think that the huts are still intact today, and in the middle of Sydney is incredible. If the huts were more accessible and better known, there would be more issues with weeds, fire, vandalism, theft etc. Our local Landcare group cares for our Council reserve in our rural residential suburb, which is 12 km to the nearest main suburb of Townsville. We have endangered species and it is a really lovely place in the dry tropics. Once a nice area is known, there will be visitors and they have a footprint, literally and figurative. Before we have an open days to promote the site, we need cleanup broken bottles and other rubbish and then another cleanup after the event.

    Yes it is good to share such an unique community as the Crater Cove huts, but the huts will need resources to preserve them and dedicated caretakers. A live in caretaker is a good idea and has been found very necessary to curb vandalism and hoons in one of the well attended picnic areas of a national park near Townsville. Maybe you don’t usually have hoons in your area, but in our case, as our reserve and playground became better known, the hoons came from the city for a night or afternoon of ‘fun’ with wheelies and spraypainting graffati, oxy-welding cutting names etc in the metal table tops, removed our planted local gene pool trees etc.

    It it lovely to see the fishing huts survive as intact as they are. I have seen similar huts at Shelley Beach near Brooms Head, Stradbroke Is, Moreton Island near Brisbane, Magnetic Island and other places along the east coast. The fishing hut is a disappearing breed.

    If the huts are reached only by boat or at very low tide, then the huts are surviving longer as is, but one day a developer or someone will build a bridge. This is one of the reasons a bridge has not been built from Brisbane to North Stradbroke Island, as the islands believe there would be literally millions of visitors and the whole island culture would change.

    Fraser Island was a fisherman’s haven prior to the 1970’s. My father and his mates would travel along the beach in their 4WDs and come home with massive quantities of fish for us and our friends. I went there on a uni field trip and stayed at the central forestry station when it was still a forest reserve of Hoop Pine and other rainforest trees. It was fantastic with few people. There were a couple of small resorts at Eurong and other beaches, but the whole island was low key. In order to ring my parents, my call was put through a manually operated Telstra switch board in 1977. I was amazed even in those days. Dingoes were seen, but were not attacking tourists. The state government and National Parks and Wildlife have promoted it and now it is an extremely well known international tourist island frequented by hundreds of thousands of tourists. It was possible to hire a 4WD with a short spiel on driving the island’s sandy tracks and beaches. Those tracks require much knowledge eg on how to unbog the car from deep dry sand, or not sink into the bottomless sand were a freswater creek flowed over the beach. In the last few years there have been several rollovers, several sunbaking people each year killed by speeding vehicles which want to catch the next ferry to the mainland. Dingoes were no longer fed when the rubbish dumps were enclosed and then they attacked tourists, some of whom still hand feed them.

    The fishing huts are an institution of an Australian past, and which are still intact in remote spots. However as the real estate market booms and anywhere near the shoreline is seen as desirable and limited in number, owners (or their children) are making the most of the opportunity to sale their golden egg. Who can blame them?

    It will be very nice for everyone to see the Crater Cove huts and I will find my way to the Cove next time I am in Sydney, but beware, there are many unforeseen difficulties which will need to be noted and addressed as time goes by. I wish you well. One of the lessons to be learnt, is how few possessions a person really needs to live a nice peaceful life, far from the crowd. What peace there is to be found in the bush with basic needs satisfied.

  15. alida hazelgrove

    I used to visit a friend who lived in one of the huts back in the early eighties. I loved the way it felt like you were entering another world going down the track. In my time the track had a roof of bushes of some kind in one part. I never saw anyone other than hutties in the area at the time – I guess it was more hidden than now. I thought they had demolished the huts, and now reading on your website that they havent. I’m glad, though its sad to hear they are all boarded up. I think my friends name was Quentin, not sure cant remember and his girlfriend lived in one of the other huts nearby. NPWS can be pretty stupid cant they. I returned to Sydney a year and a half ago and the only reason I havent visited the huts area was because I didnt want to feel sad thinking they were gone. But maybe for nostalgia’s sake I will go when the weather gets cooler. I used to take my japanese sword down there and do tai chi on the rocks. What a wonderful place it was then. And any rubbish we found from ‘visitors’ we would pick up and carry out, it was just what you did in a magical place.

    Thanks for your comments Alida…
    Last time I was at Crater Cove you still passed under that roof of bushes. The track’s well incised into the ground now thanks to the traffic of decades.

    The huts were boarded after the residents were evicted but have been unboarded for quite some time now. I think I met your friend Quentin around the time the state government was trying to evict people. Wonder where he is now?

    Yes, go back and let’s know the changes you see.

  16. Tessa Garland

    Hi Russ,

    I am a UTS Uni student doing a Communications degree and I will be doing an essay on Crater Cove. I first came upon these huts over ten years ago through my dad who did site maintenance on the walls there and since then I have taken an interest in the huts, which is why I am now doing an essay on this particular Sydney Site for uni.
    I came across your blog on crater cove and it has such a detailed history. I was wondering if you are able to help point out some really good resources for Crater Cove?

    I also noted that Margie who commented on here has a friend who wrote a book. Did you find out who wrote it and what the book is titled? I would love to get my hands on it and read through it.

    Regards,

    Tessa Garland

  17. Russ Grayson

    Hi Tessa…
    Thanks for getting in contact. Do you plan to publish your essay anywhere? Always space here.

    Sorry, I have no knowledge of the book you mention nor any detailed sources of information on the hut settlement. Have you tried NPWS?

    I think I mentioned in my article that I first heard of the settlement wen I found an image taken from one of the huts in a photo book. that would be back in the 70s and I don’t know what thay book was.

    It was in the 80s when I made a succession of visits to the settlement. Then, I was studing the Communciations degree at UTS and was a stringer for a Melbourne based, national public radio current affiars program called Watching Brief. With Yvonne Gluyas and Beth Powell, both fellow students at the time, we produced a number of radio current affairs programs about the huts and their occupants.

    Let’s know how you get on with your paper.

  18. William Peat

    I was lucky enough when I visited Australia for the first time in March this year to have a niece who knew the whereabouts of Crater Cove. Apart from meeting my long lost brother for the first time in 52 years this was the highlight of my visit. What a simple but rewarding life the “hippies” must have led as must their predecessors. Many huts are still preserved and although no one is allowed to sleep over some look suspiciously “occupied”. Wonderful.

  19. Robert Towns

    My grandfather, John Maloney, had a similar hut at nearby Reef Beach. As a child in the 50’s I used to stay there on weekends and we kids used to walk around the cliffs to Crater Cove, although we called it Frog Hollow

  20. Ben Armitage

    Margie: Do you have any more news on the book about these huts?
    Tessa: Any chance you can post your essay on here?
    Others: Let’s talk

    I was just down at the huts today, showing a friend one of my favourite parts of Sydney. Two parts of Russ’s article resonated with me. First, we took a wrong turn before finding the right one. Second, I also once had an ‘unwelcome welcome’. I had again taken a wrong turn higher up the hill, but got so far down it that I decided just to keep going down the gully which I knew would lead to the huts.

    I find these huts a really special place. I don’t know anyone who ever lived there but like to imagine how well they must have lived. The easternmost hut, built into the rock, reminds me of Frank LLoyd Wright’s Fallingwater because of the way it uses the natural features of the rock. Waking up on the rock shelf and looking out over the water would have been an invigorating arousal.

    I would be very interested to learn more about the history of these huts. I discovered them intentionally after seeing them from the track above.

    It is brilliant that the huts still exist as a reminder of the ‘simple but rewarding’ lives the hutties created. I agree, Russ, that the current arrangement seems precarious and could be improved, but I am glad that there is a group of people acting as caretakers. Without them I am sure the huts would be in disrepair, or as a next step – removed.

    If anyone wants to talk about how the caretaker system currently works I would be very interested.

    Ben

  21. I finally found the path to the huts. Quite surprising where it is! On my first visit to the huts a few months ago I took a different route from near the top of the path. Not too bad until I got to some big rock shelf about half way down. From there it was a fight to make it all the way since I was carry a lot of photography equipment. By the time I got to the eastern huts I was exhausted and knew that no one would carry supplies or equipment down that ‘path’! I met a young woman there and asked how she got there and that is how I exited the site. Quite an easy walk with one or two scrambles.

    Well, the huts are abandoned and no one around to show us through although signs assure us the site is maintained by volunteers. Windows were shut and usually covered so it wasn’t easy to take photos of the interiors. What a wonderful location. No wonder they kept it secret. The path was easy to find and well worn for the first 100 or so metres.

    I liked the sandstone cliffs surrounding the site and they occupied some time recording what was there. I was left feeling quite angry that no one resides there. Damn the government and parks people. It just makes no sense to have these huts unoccupied. There should at least be one or two people living in the huts to act as guides, etc., to visitors. They could also make the path easier to find so more people could visit it. Since it is a national park it belongs to everyone but the cloak of remoteness remains. The huts are slowly deteriorating and the once proud gardens are gone. A few flowers remain but things seem overgrown.

    Have a look at the many photos I took that on on my Flickr site. 50 or more.

    Not sure what is going to happen to the site and huts but what a shame the way things are at the moment. Not at all satisfactory. A disgrace, even.

    Vince

  22. Rob Fearnside

    Great site Russ. Thanks so much. Have since the mid 80’s done many trips from The Spit to Manly and always via Cater Cove. I love the place and being an ex-hippie can’t imagine how I didn’t find it back in the 60’s and 70’s. Today was again another blast. I just love ‘the vibes’of the place- so peaceful. None of my 10 or so visits to The Cove have caused me to encounter homosapiens.

    Today I had a very close and personal relationship with about a 60cm water-dragon, who sat on one of the dead trees on the path outside one of the huts. He was not fazed at all about my presence and was quite ok to pose for photos and have a chat. Pity some of the homosapien species are not the same, particularly ‘the volunteer’ you described.

    I was pleased to see most huts still intact despite the infrequent vandalism which is no doubt restricted due to ‘the hidden’ entrance, which is much easier to locate than the last time visiting.

    On my exit, via an eastern cliff stopover, I noticed a ‘pod’ of kayakers pull in for a visit. The place is still a gem from the past, let’s hope it remains a jewel for future generations.

  23. Quentin Gan

    It’s strange, how do I say it, like the woman at the top of this article said; we don’t talk to media or to general society, all the old residents seem to have an unspoken mutual agreement, we just don’t have need to talk about, about our time spent there, we lived we learned we experienced, we remember, we know who we all are, and it, this place has given us all a whole different way of looking at and knowing about life. it’s good enough

  24. Kay Benjamin

    I went on a photography excursion to the huts in 1976 with a group of art students from Seaforth tech. Leonard Matkervich was our art teacher and seemed to know one of the residents.It was an amazing place. We were invited into a few of the huts.

  25. Russ Grayson

    I understand Quentin Gan’s comment above. The Cove, the settlement and the lives that people lived there are evidently of considerable emotional value to the Cove’s past residents. They are under no obligation to share the stories of their lives there and I understand their unwillingness to speak openly about what must have been a significant episode in their lives. Times that are special we sometimes like to keep to ourselves and, even if we feel like speaking about them, we find it difficult to put a lived physical and emotional experience into words.

    My motivation in writing about the Cove — the story above was written quite a few years ago, now — comes from the knowledge that social history is easily lost. I’m talking about the experience of ordinary people… what they do in life, what motivates them, what leads them to do something out of the ordinary, what they think about that when they reflect on it, what it felt like to be involved in what they did. From those things readers can mentally construct an impression of a place, the people involved and some particular time, a period in our local and national history. This has social value and it also has historic value. It can take readers to a time, a place and way of life they have never experienced. I think this is one of the values of history, especially oral history, and it leads too insight and understanding.

    All too often it is left to the noteworthy, the academic and the articulate to write the history of a time. Too few are the words of other people. Their story of a place, their associates and a time is all-too-often lost. That’s what I feared with the Crater Cove settlement.

    MEMORY AND ITS LOSS
    Let me take a side trip by way of illustration.

    I became aware of this potential loss of the stories coming from lived experience some years ago while speaking with a friend, someone I met in 1969 when we — and the world, it seems looking back — were young.

    She was one of those people who took to the streets against the war in Vietnam and was also one of the early participants in the women’s movement. I had photographed some of those actions opposing Australia’s involvement in that war and over the years those photographs – the few that remained — had proven useful to others and for the two of us in reconstructing memory of the times in a shared writing exercise we engaged in.

    Why this diversion from the story of the Crater Cove shacks?

    First, because I learned from the experience I talk about that memory is a pliable thing. It changes. Time muddles and confuses it. It drops out into the underworld of the forgotten. Discussion amends memory so that individual recollections become more like shared memories. By sharing what we remember with others we reconstruct a time and place.

    Secondly, because the story of the Crater Cove settlement and how the occupants related to the place could be lost unless one of the past-residents or someone else decides to write about it.

    Third, because of the caretaker group’s choice, and it is their choice to make, not to discuss their experience with the media or with people outside their circle.

    That last point I understand, having worked in the mainstream as well as community media. My story with mainstream media is entering it with high hopes as to its mission of informing and educating society, followed by a progressively-declining trust and confidence in it that has now completely bottomed-out.

    This is where I should again reiterate that my first contact with the Crater Cove residents was in the 1980s when they were fighting to remain on-site. I was surprised that Sydney’s Total Environment Centre, the peak body of the then-strong and influential environment movement in the city, had come out in favour of evicting the residents. I has expected a more nuanced approach but I had been disappointed.

    After making enquiries, I and two others — Yvonne Gluyas and Beth Powell — made our way to the Cove along the track that now takes walkers from Manly to The Spit. With Simon Flynn we recorded an interview for a short radio documentary for the educational radio station we worked at. After that first visit I realised the Cove was a special place, and not only to those who had made their home there.

    There had already been print media attention to the settlement, even preceding the start of the eviction process that would incorporate the Cove into Sydney Harbour National Park. I recall one magazine article that featured a photograph made through the window of the hut closest to The Men’s Hut that stands by the flagpole atop the rock shelf. There was other reporting, and the eviction controversy brought more.

    My visit to the settlement was more than filing a news story. I have for some time had an interest in shacks and shack settlements and the people who inhabited them. I realised that there was social history here, the story of people sometimes choosing life on the fringe of society. I know from friends and colleagues, and from personal experience, that fringe-dwellers have much to offer society in terms of practical values.

    So, thinking about it, I realised that it was this social history aspect that lay behind my interest in the Crater Cove settlement as well as other examples of independent living. It is of course up to the remaining past-residents and their colleagues whether they ever speak publicly about life there, however writing down their own story would, I believe, add to Australia’s and to Sydney Harbour’s story, its own history. That way, there is much we can learn.

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