Whether you are a Sydneysider or visitor to our fine city, if you are looking for a hidden gem overlooking the magnificent Sydney Harbour then this is the place for you…
The picturesque Ball’s Head Reserve situated on the Waverton Peninsular.
Covered in native trees the reserve has a number of walking tracks that meander around the headland taking you past the “Ball’s Head Coal Loader” which is situated alongside the Naval Base HMAS Waterhen.
The “Loader” was built in the early 1900s to supply Steamships with coal to use as fuel…
Mind you, it wasn’t without controversy, and our famous poet, Henry Lawson, wrote about it in his poem “The Sacrifice of Ball’s Head” in 1916.
Lawson, who lived in the area at the time, lamented the loss of the bushland to the ugly looking loader, spewing out its ugly “brown rocks” in such a beautiful setting. These days’ picnickers and hikers, who can enjoy this magnificent vista a stone’s throw from the urban chaos that is Sydney, have reclaimed the area…
We often travel thousand’s of kilometres into our colourful outback looking for those little gems of places just off the “beaten track” – but sometimes you don’t need to look much further than your own backyard; just scratch the surface and you never know what you will find.
And hey, Janet and I are pleased to say, just like Henry suggests in his poem, Ball’s Head is a great place to spend a glorious day.
Photos: Baz – The Landy
“The Sacrifice of Ball’s Head” by Henry Lawson
They’re taking it, the shipping push,
As all the rest must go —
The only spot of cliff and bush
That harbour people know.
The spirit of the past is dead
North Sydney has no soul —
The State is cutting down Ball’s Head.
To make a wharf for coal.
Where picnic parties used to go
To spend a glorious day,
With all the scenery of a coast
And not a cent to pay.
The deep cool tangle shall be cleared
To make the glaring roads
And motor lorries jolt and grind
And drag their sordid loads.
And strings of grimy trucks shall run
In everlasting trains
And on the cliffs where wild trees are
Shall stand the soulless cranes,
To dump their grimy loads below,
Where great brown rocks are grand;
And the deep grass and wild flowers grow —
And boating couples land.
No more shall poorer families
Give “Grandma” and “Grandad”
A glimpse of nature’s mysteries
To make their old hearts glad.
No more our eyes shall be relieved
In the city’s garish day —
A sordid crime has been achieved!
And none has aught to say.
The origin of the Sturt Desert Pea, a magnificent Australian wildflower, is told by Aboriginal people in the following way…
A wonderful story that comes to mind each time Janet and I see this beautiful flower in the Australian Outback.
“A young and beautiful maiden was promised in “The Dreamtime” to a warrior who made a cloak of red parrot feathers. From a distance she would follow her lover in the tribal wars, faithfully roaming the trackless wastes to be near him.
Drought years brought famine to the tribe and the young warrior was one who went far afield in search of food.
During his absence the maiden kept lonely vigil, refusing to leave the place of farewell after the tribe had moved on. Their last view of her was of a red cloak surrounding her black head as she knelt on the ground.
Blue skies, the earthen coloured red soil of the Australian Outback, sunsets to dream of and three weeks in the Corner Country was an opportunity far too good to pass up.
So I didn’t..!
With my customised touring vehicle loaded with supplies and TVAN Firetail camper trailer in tow I headed to the far west corner of New South Wales – “The Corner Country”.
After two days and 1,300 kilometres of travel along bitumen and dirt roads I arrived at Milparinka, a ghost town just to the south of Tibooburra, the town that is often the hottest place in the state during our long summer months.
Now it would be easy to miss this gem of a town as you make your way north to Tibooburra, or south to Broken Hill along the Silver City Highway as it is off the main highway. But a detour to Milparinka, whose history is steeped in a gold discovery, is well worth the effort.
The Corner Country has been a favourite of Janet and mine for as long as we have been touring the Australian Outback. So when the opportunity came along to spend three weeks as resident Information Person and caretaker at the Milparinka Heritage and Tourism Association I jumped at it…
The area’s first recorded exposure to European’s was in 1845 when Captain Charles Sturt mounted his exploration of the interior expedition in search of an inland sea. He found anything but a vast ocean of water, but his journey into the region opened the way for pastoralists’ who began arriving from the 1860’s onwards.
The environment is harsh and unforgiving, even to this day, especially with an annual rainfall averaging less than 5 inches per year. The tenacity of Sturt, and perhaps those who have followed in his footsteps are best summed up by this note in his journal…
“I would rather that my bones had been left to bleach in the desert than have yielded an inch of ground I had gained at so much expense”…
It was near to the current township of Milparinka that a station hand, John Thompson, discovered a couple of nuggets of gold whilst herding sheep on Mt Poole Station in 1880.
This discovery led to a “gold rush” with hopeful miners and prospectors making an arduous journey over an unforgiving land. They had no idea of just how harsh this environment was, and that water and eventually provisions were in short supply. As was the case on Australia’s early goldfields, many perished from disease; some were successful, but most left with little more than the shirts on their back.
Often, those that were most successful were the business’s that thrived on supporting the miners, especially the “sly grog shops” and “pubs”. And it is worth noting, in 1882 water was in such scarce supply that a whiskey and water cost substantially more than a whiskey “straight-up” – such was the value of that most basic of precious commodities, water…!
The township of Milparinka was first surveyed in 1881 and finally chartered in 1883, but its population peaked around this time as the “gold rush” was short-lived. However, the town continued to support a core group of residents and there were many sand stone buildings constructed from stone quarried locally.
Amongst these was the Police Barracks built in 1884 and later; the James Barnett designed Courthouse in 1896. James Barnett, the Architect for the Colony of New South Wales, designed many buildings, including the magnificent Post Office that stands proudly in Sydney’s Martin Place today.
By the 1930’s the police administration and court functions had moved north to the township of Tibooburra, or “The Granites” as it was referred to at the time and many of the old buildings fell into disrepair, some crumbling back to the earth either through lack of maintenance or vandalism.
But a community initiative in the 1980’s halted the destruction of the Courthouse and surrounding buildings, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Milparinka Heritage and Tourism Association brought them back to life and re-opened the Courthouse as the local Historical Centre.
The Association is actively looking to preserve the couple of remaining buildings that are in disrepair and in early 2018 purchased the old Post Office with a view to bringing it “back to life”.
The one remaining business in town is the Albert Hotel, which has been closed at various times, but I’m pleased to say is once again serving cold beer and fine pub style meals to the passing tourists. Much the same as 130 years ago when George Blore built the pub…
Sitting on the verandah of the Albert Hotel, beer in hand, is a great way to spend time reflecting on the beauty of this ancient land, its landscape and people, as the sun casts a golden hue over the surrounding Grey Ranges making way for an inky black sky that promises to showcase the “Milky Way” in all its glory…
So next time you are heading along the Silver City Highway and see the signpost to Milparinka, be sure to take time out to visit this “glimpse of the past” if only to quench your thirst as early travellers did…
Who knows, you might even hear “whispers from the past” as you walk around the old buildings, the sounds of laughter from long ago drifting on the breeze…
I’m confident if you scratch the surface of this town that time forgot you’ll be rewarded with something more valuable than just a nugget of gold; an experience that is golden…
Photo’s: Baz – The Landy, Milparinka, Outback Australia…