Woodnutt and Windybank: History on the Berowra Track

I decided to revisit the Berowra Track, which connects Berowra and Mt Kuringai via Cowan Creek and Apple Tree Bay. This time, I was on the lookout for some local heritage. Before the area became national park there was a boat shed at Waratah bay owned by Edward Windybank. He moved into the area with his family, after working nearby on the railway, and initially lived in a cave whilst the business was being set up and a house could be built. His family hired out boats, cottages and houseboats. In 1895 he constructed a track from Berowra station down to his boatshed that was good enough for horses and for people to walk. There was even a small bridge that was later washed away in a huge storm. (All of this information comes from Nathan Tilbury’s self published book “Man Made The City But God Made The Bush: A Detailed History of Early Berowra)

The goal of today’s walk was to find the remains of the boatshed and original track.

I started around 10am, which is quite late in the day for me. I had read in Tilbury’s book that someone had managed to drive a car all the way to the bottom (but not back up) but from the moment I stepped on the track I suspected that was nonsense! It was way too thin and bumpy. Even if there had been extensive erosion of the track I just couldn’t see a car making it down. Possibly if a bushfire had ripped through there may have been a route through the remaining bush but I doubt it!

The first signs of the old track was the remains of some old culverts, designed to drain and channel water away from the track. Then I saw a large section of pipe embedded in what looked like ashfelt.

I then came upon a creek where the remains of the bridge stood. There was a pipe crossing the creek and a wooden post was still standing on one side. There were small circular marks on the rock that showed where other posts had been held.

At this point a young Mum with a baby in a front carrier came down the track. We had a brief chat then she carefully lowered herself down to the creek and then back up the other side. That must be a lovely feeling of freedom. So many stay at home parents with babies often feel housebound so it’s awesome that Berowra offers parents such opportunities to get out and have fun.

After the bridge the remains of the piping was more visible and there seemed to be a few more culverts.

At the bottom I could see the remains of an old houseboat. Being a boat builder by trade, Windybanks purchased old steamboats and cut them up to create the houseboats. One of the boats used to travel the Hawkesbury from Brooklyn but was no longer needed when the bridge was built.

I could also see an old jetty and strangely enough what appeared to be two long railway line lengths of metal submersed in the water. Away from the water I could see some very enticing cliffs. I wanted to head over to see if there were any remnants of occupation by Windybanks and his family, but that will have to be an adventure for another day.

Old houseboat
Houseboat, Jetty and… railway lines???

I tried to imagine holiday makers coming down the track and boats pulling in for refreshments. It was such a pretty spot.

I wondered what happened to the structures? Were they purposefully removed once the area became national park or were they removed by bushfire?

I carried on along the track and noticed something in the water. My first thought was jelly fish but it wasn’t translucent enough for that. I then thought sting ray as I had seen engravings in the area of those creatures. It then popped up to the surface and I could see it was a Sea Turtle! How lucky! I watched it go up and down a few times before it disappeared from view. That was an amazing experience! It shows that the water up here is fairly clear even though there are many boats using the creek.

I was getting quite tired even though I hadn’t walked that far so I suspected the 30 degree day was getting to me. I had to decide whether to head up Mt Kuringai station straight away or carry on to Apple Tree Bay. I began craving ice cream so Apple Tree Bay it was!

Enticing

Whilst taking the track to Apple Tree Bay I noticed the ruins of another old jetty. Looking around I started to see old stone walls both along the track and higher up. There was the remains of some steps so I climbed up and found a flat area that would have held a structure of some kind. It looked like there was another platform higher up but a rather gruesome looking (read small and inoffensive) spider blocked the path. There was a piece of rusty metal that could have been part of an old shed. I had not expected to find anything here so I researched once I got home. The “Man made the city but god made the bush” Facebook page states that Francis Woodnutt established a boat hire business on the site in the 1920’s that had a boatshed, residence, pontoon, and two cottages. Again I wanted to head off track and see what I could find, but that wasn’t in the plan I’d left with my wife and there was no mobile phone reception, so it would have to wait for some future time.

Woodnutt Boatshed ruins

Woodnutt Boatshed ruins

I finally made it to Apple Tree Bay but the kiosk was closed. No ice cream for me. The public toilets were open though so it wasn’t a wasted trip. I headed back to meet the turn off to Mt Kuringai station. In a cave near the turnoff there was a faint engraving. I wondered if it was old or whether it was just the work of local kids. It had occurred to me that I had not seen any engravings even though there were plenty of shell middens on the track. There was lots in Berowra Creek, and some on the ridge opposite to where I was standing. I wondered if I simply hadn’t seen them or whether there was a reason they were not made in this particular area.

Engraving?

Aztec temple? Nah. Just the way out!

The climb up was very tiring in the heat. I’d actually thought about walking further but it was too late in the day and I was struggling a bit.

I prefer not to do the same walk over and over but I think I’ve found a few reasons to return to this one. These old boatshed sites offer a glimpse into Berowra’s early history and it was good to do this walk again with a new set of eyes. I’m sure an off track cliff and cave exploration adventure is in my future!

3 thoughts on “Woodnutt and Windybank: History on the Berowra Track

    1. It was fantastic to do a walk I’ve done before but have it feel like a totally new walk. The sea turtle was fantastic- apparently they come in to breed every year and the local fishing folk see them regularly.

      Liked by 1 person

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