The area that now comprises the suburb of Middle Cove was originally known as the Big Sugarloaf Peninsula after the prominent hill — The Sugarloaf — overlooking the waters of Middle Harbour. While landholdings on the peninsula were taken up from 1858, the rocky terrain was not attractive to settlers.
A pioneer of the area was Chen Ah Teak, who purchased land there in 1882, erected a weatherboard cottage and commenced market gardening activities. The enterprise passed into the hands of Quong Lee in 1897, with ownership of the land passing to the English, Scottish & Australian Bank in 1900, although Chinese market gardeners continued to operate there until 1908.
Most of the land in this area was purchased by the North Shore & Middle Harbour Land Company in 1888, which had grand plans to develop residential land made accessible by the proposed Willoughby and Gordon Tramway. The venture failed to materialise and the company was placed in the hands of liquidators during the 1890s depression. In late 1920, Walter Burley Griffin purchased 650 acres of this land on behalf of his newly formed company, the Greater Sydney Development Association (GSDA). Following assessment of the area in early 1921, Griffin proposed that the land be treated as three separate ‘propositions’. The middle parcel of land, comprising 154 acres of land on the Big Sugarloaf Peninsula should, he concluded, “be capable of development into the most picturesque self-contained waterside suburb imaginable.”1
Initially the GSDA resources were focused on the southern portion of the land, which Griffin named Castlecrag. In 1927, however, Griffin submitted a subdivision plan for an estate on Big Sugarloaf Peninsula, which he named ‘Covecrag’, and this was approved by Willoughby Municipal Council on 7 December 1927.2
Financial constraints prevented implementation of the Covecrag Estate, although a small quarry was established on the Sugarloaf to extract sandstone and road access was constructed to this. In 1941 the GSDA, now headed by Eric Nicholls put forward amended plans for an estate on this land, now called Middlecove, and construction of the main streets, namely Covelee Circuit, Glenroy, Greenfield and Lincoln Avenues and The Lee, was undertaken, but the war effort precluded active building. In 1954 the developer Gerardus Jozef (‘Dick’) Dusseldorp purchased the Middlecove land from the GSDA on behalf of his company, Civil & Civic, and commenced the development of the Harbour Heights Estate. The name Middle Cove was gazetted by the Geographical Names Board in 1976.
Civil & Civic established additional streets and installed a sewage system throughout the estate, while the character of the garden suburb was protected by the GSDA covenant, which was administered by Civil & Civic. Most residences were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, reflecting a diversity of architectural styles and generally exhibiting the desire for individuality rather than the challenges of the difficult building sites.3
Harold Reid Reserve
This 36.9 hectare reserve comprises the eastern end of the Middle Cove peninsula. Comprising one of the North Shore’s finest areas of natural bushland, the land known as Sugarloaf Reserve was transferred from the Cumberland Country Council to Willoughby Council in 1960. It was renamed Harold Reid Reserve in honour of the long-standing Willoughby town clerk Harold James Reid and it was officially opened on 8 May 1965.
The access is by a narrow one-way road encircling the headland developed by the GSDA in the late 1920s. It featured steep cuttings through the rock and dry-stone walls of large sandstone blocks.
The reserve is a declared wildlife protection area and features swamp wallabies, goannas, sugar gliders, buff-banded rails, eastern spinebills and the powerful owl. It offers grand views over Middle Harbour to Castlecrag, Seaforth and Castle Cove, and there are extensive bush walks through the reserve and along the foreshores.
In short, the Harold Reid Reserve is one of Willoughby City’s outstanding attractions. Access is via Rembrandt Drive and the reserve entrance is serviced by the 275 bus, which operated from Chatswood to Castlecrag on weekdays. Picnic facilities, including gas barbecues, and toilets are available in the car parking area.
1 JH Catts, ‘GSDA Limited’, report to Directors, 15 April 1921. Charles John Cerutty papers, University of Melbourne Archives, 1990.0096, Box 1, File 1921-22.
2 Jeff Turnbull and Peter Navaretti (eds), The Griffins in Australia and India, Melbourne University Press, 1998, p. 245.
3 Leslie, Esther, The development of Castle Cove and Middle Cove, Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1988, p. 14.