Prior to European settlement, the Camaraigal people roamed the bushland and fished from the foreshore of the peninsula in Middle Harbour now known as Northbridge. A number of Camaraigal people were seen by Governor Phillip when his party visited Middle Harbour in mid-1788.
There is evidence that escaped convicts passed through the peninsula and they may have contributed to the devastating impact of the new diseases introduced at this time on the Aboriginal population, particularly smallpox. By the 1850s there were no Aboriginals living their original lifestyle in the Northbridge area.
Evidence of early family life in Willoughby City comprises numerous middens, artwork in caves and archival photographs of rock carvings. in the Northbridge area. A buried ball and chain and the coffin of a young child were discovered on Fig Tree Point in the 1870s, while rock engravings and middens are still present on the peninsula.
The name Northbridge for the suburb was first used in 1913 by a real estate company selling blocks in a land subdivision. The name indicated to buyers that the suburb was immediately north of the splendid Suspension Bridge which had been opened in 1892.
Well before Northbridge was named, 10 acres (four hectares) of Crown Land were auctioned in 1837 in the area now known as Clive Park, on the eastern end of the Northbridge peninsula. At the time, access to the land was only by water. The land was purchased by John Lewis Spencer, a Sydney solicitor.
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported in 1840 that H L Brabazon had purchased 10 half-acre allotments in the same area. A subsequent owner, L Beatason, subdivided the area with streets and blocks, some down to the waterfront. He called the subdivision Albert Town Estate. In September 1840, the SMH reported that all the Albert Town blocks were sold at auction. However, only one house was ever built on the estate, being Mrs Jane Harvey’s house built in the 1870s. In 1907 all the Albert Town Estate was bought by Joseph Booker who ran a tea garden for several years. In 1911 the subdivision was resumed by Willoughby Municipal Council. It was combined with an adjacent Council recreation area and named Clive Park after Clive Backhouse, the Mayor of Willoughby from 1912 to 1913.
The SMH reported in 1848 that 10 acres had been purchased by Ross Donnelly at Fig Tree Point, a small headland one kilometre south of Clive Park. In 1874, a Sydney dentist, William Lenty Twemlow, acquired Donnelly’s 10 acres of land on Fig Tree Point together with another 10 acres from James William Bligh. Despite access only by sea, in about 1875 Mr Twemlow built a large, two-storey sandstone house named The Hermitage on the point. He commuted to his business in Sydney daily by boat. The house and remaining land were purchased by Edward Hallstrom in 1932. He restored the house, developed a small private zoo and ballroom on the point. The buildings were demolished and the land subdivided in 1971.
In 1851, James Harris French built a house named Paradise on part of his original purchase of 50 acres (20.2 hectares) on the eastern side of what is now Alpha Road, Northbridge. French died in 1893 and bequeathed more than 20 acres (8.1 hectares) to North Shore Cottage Hospital. The hospital at first leased the land to the King family for market gardens but in 1916 sold the property to Shore School. This land became Shore’s War Memorial Playing Fields in Northbridge.
Public auctions were held in 1855 and 1856 by the Colony of New South Wales for land on the Northbridge peninsula. The peninsula was divided into 38 surveyed portions ranging from five to 20 acres running down to the water from the ridge which is now occupied by Sailors Bay Road.
By 1856, all 38 portions had been purchased from the Crown by 16 separate owners. James William Bligh bought 17 of the portions in 1856. His brother Henry Hocken Bligh purchased one portion, built a primitive house and became the first resident recorded in Northbridge. The Bligh land was subdivided in 1882 and later became the second of many land auctions in the new suburb.
By the turn of the century, much of the land in what became Northbridge had been purchased from the Crown and a magnificent new Suspension Bridge had been opened to provide access to the new area.
The new bridge had been built by the North Sydney Investment and Tramway Company and opened to traffic in 1892. At the time, it was known as the second largest suspension bridge of its kind in the world. The bridge was an important part of an ambitious plan to construct a tramway about five miles (8.3 kilometres) long from North Sydney to provide access to what are the Northbridge, Castlecrag and Castle Cove peninsulas.
Despite the new bridge, little development took place because of the serious recession in the 1890s, while a severe drought in NSW in the early 1900s hindered economic recovery. Land sales plummeted, the tramway was not extended across the bridge and the North Sydney Investment and Tramway Company went into liquidation in 1893.
In 1904 and 1905, land was subdivided in Harden Avenue, Pyalla Street, Eric Street (now Eastern Valley Way) and part of Sailors Bay Road, and a small settlement was established. Nevertheless, in early 1913 there were only 25 houses and 112 residents in the new suburb.
By 1913, most of the land in Northbridge was owned by the New North Sydney Investment and Tramway Company (a successor to the company which had built the Suspension Bridge). Its first subdivision was 127 blocks for which an auction was held on March 1, 1913. The sale poster referred to Sydney’s new suburb as Northbridge for the first time. Most of the blocks were sold that same day.
In 1912, the Suspension Bridge was taken over by NSW Government which completed in 1914 extensions of the tramway across the bridge to the present Northbridge Public School in Sailors Bay Road.
Development was initially slow because of the First World War. However, in the 1920s, houses, schools, shops and roads were built. Whereas in 1919 there were only about 65 houses in Northbridge, by 1923 there were more than 500 houses and a population of about 2500.
The Suspension Bridge
The Suspension Bridge was a key element of an ambitious, but speculative land development scheme for the rocky peninsulas on the western shore of Middle Harbour put forward in the boom years of the 1880s. The bridge decking was timber, suitable for light vehicular traffic. Construction of the bridge commenced in 1899, but there were delays due to weather and problems with contractors. Sandstone was brought to the site from the company’s quarry on today’s Castle Cove peninsula by punts propelled by steam boats. Unfortunately the North Sydney Investment and Tramway Company had gone into receivership before completion of the bridge, resulting in the builder placing a toll on its use in an attempt to recover his costs.
When the bridge was opened in January 1892, it was considered an engineering wonder and became instant tourist attraction. It was a steel cable suspension bridge with Tudor sandstone towers at each end. The recession of the 1890s meant there was little development north of the bridge for about 20 years.
As noted above, the speculative land sub-divisions at Northbridge were finally developed and put on the market in 1913. In response to this, the NSW Government took over the bridge in 1914 and the tramway from Milsons Point, which then terminated on the Cammeray side, was extended over the bridge, up Strathallen Avenue and along Sailors Bay Road to the site of the present Northbridge Public School.
On 27 May 1936, however, considerable corrosion was found in the steelwork and cables and the bridge was immediately closed to trams and all vehicular traffic. Northbridge residents were required to walk over the bridge to catch trams on the Cammeray side while a technologically advanced concrete arch bridge was constructed. The Tudor towers were retained to maintain heritage elements of the old bridge. The new bridge was formally opened at a well-attended ceremony on 9 September 1939. The bridge (still named the Suspension Bridge) is heritage listed by Roads and Maritime Services NSW.
The World War II memorial clock at the corner of Strathallen and Cliff Avenues is heritage listed by Willoughby City Council. It was erected by the Northbridge Comforts Fund in memory of the fallen in the Second World War and unveiled by the Governor of NSW in May 1948. The sandstone clock tower fits in well with the sandstone towers of the Suspension Bridge.
Clavering, 186 Sailors Bay Road
This brick and sandstone house at 186 Sailors Bay Road was built in 1923 and is an intact example of a Californian bungalow as built in Northbridge in the 1920s and 1930s. The house was Miss Riach’s kindergarten and private school in the 1930s and 1940s. It had become Dr Woolcott’s surgery by the 1950s and the home of Jack Renshaw MLA, the former Premier of NSW, in the 1960s. In 1984 the Northbridge-Castlecrag Parish of the Uniting Church purchased Clavering and carried out major renovations. It has been the parish parsonage ever since.
Clavering, 186 Sailors Bay Road
The original St Philip Neri School hall is behind the Catholic church at 224 Sailors Bay Road. The hall was once the school, which was opened in February 1927 with 18 pupils. The building had one large room which could be partitioned into three separate classrooms plus a nuns’ room and an office.
The school’s original name, St Ciaran’s Primary School, still appears on the old iron entry gates although the name was changed in 1983.
266-276 Sailors Bay Road
This group of six blocks of flats was built in 1928 to 1929 and may have been the first flats built in Northbridge. The flats have aesthetic significance for their consistent and intact scale and because they create a uniform and distinctive urban streetscape which is rare in Willoughby. They all have minor variations which make each block individual.
288-296 Sailors Bay Road
This group of five shops is heritage listed by Willoughby City Council because it is a good example of early 20th century commercial architecture. The shops were built from 1915 when the trams from Milsons Point first terminated outside the school, when this part of the suburb was starting to develop. For many years the area was called The Terminus and at one time the shops included a butcher, greengrocer, “ham and beef”, newsagent, hairdresser, chemist, haberdashery and sandwich shops for school lunches. The two-storey block of flats at the corner of Woonona Road is the site of the first shop in Northbridge. It was originally a general store and real estate agency occupied by Mr Poole.
Northbridge Public School
The original Northbridge Public School building was completed in 1923. It is typical of the modest school buildings built by the NSW Department of Education in the 1920s for small growing communities and is rare because it is still largely intact. The original building had three classrooms with movable partitions to form one long room. Built to house 48 children, the school opened with 159 students and six teachers. The school yard has a number of significant trees which have been planted over the years. Many of the early photographs of Northbridge were taken by the first headmaster, Mr Albert Mitchell, who was also a keen photographer.
Northbridge golf course
The golf course was built between Sailors Bay Road and Middle Harbour under the Emergency Relief Work Scheme after the Great Depression. Up to 250 unemployed men worked on the course under Council engineer Hugh Robb. The stone for walls and surrounds was quarried on the site. The course opened with nine holes in April 1935 and was extended to 18 holes in 1936, although the club house was not completed until mid-1938. Northbridge Golf Club was formed in 1933, before the course was opened. Both the golf course and clubhouse are heritage listed by Willoughby City Council.
These two brick shops and residences at 395 Sailors Bay Road were built for William Bond between 1925 and 1928 when east Northbridge was being developed. It was originally a land and estate agency on one side and a mixed business/grocer on the other.
Despite additions to the rear, the original building and façade are largely intact.
Clive Park is an example of recognition in the 19th century of the value in reserving areas of Sydney Harbour foreshore for public recreation and use. It is a picturesque combination of natural and modified bushland, rocky outcrops, viewing points and Aboriginal sites. The park, tidal pool and sailing club are all heritage listed by Willoughby City Council.
Tidal pool, Clive Park
The tidal pool in Clive Park is one of the smallest pools in Sydney Harbour. The pool was constructed in the mid-1940s by members of the Northbridge Volunteer Defence Force Association and the East Northbridge Progress Association. The tidal pool (which is now in poor repair) was classified in 1994 by the National Trust.
Northbridge Sailing Club, Clive Park
The club has heritage significance as an example of the development of amateur sailing in Australia, the design of new sailing craft and the construction of community sporting facilities in Northbridge. The clubhouse and stone wharf were built in 1964 with money raised and borrowed by club members.
Sailors Bay Boatshed, Clive Park
This large timber boatshed and wharf were opened in 1940 and heritage-listed in 2005 by NSW Government as notable contributors to water transportation in Sydney Harbour.
Remains of wharfage, Fig Tree Point
NSW Government has heritage listed the site and remains of wharfage at Fig Tree Point because of its role in water transport on Sydney Harbour.
Snelling House, 9 Coorabin Road
The house is an example of the work of noted Sydney architect and designer Douglas B Snelling. It was built in 1948-1951 by Snelling for his family but sold before they moved in. The house shows American influences from architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright in its approach to the natural bush and slope of the site, and use of local sandstone, timber, steel and glass. More recent award-winning alterations bySydney architect Alexander Tzannes reflect contemporary attitudes to conservation.
Devine Erby & Mazlin building, Northbridge
The building design by the architectural firm Devine Erby & Mazlin at 115 Sailors Bay Road, Northbridge, as its headquarters was opened by the Mayor of Willoughby, Noel Reidy on 2 May 1984.
In 1985 it won the BOMA (Building Owners & Managers Association) Award for a commercial building of less than 5000m2 lettable area. The award is given to a major new building that best represents the property industry through its positive contribution to the community, and is an economically viable building statement that meets the needs of investors, managers and users.
Parks and Reserves
The 46 hectare area of Crown Land now known as Northbridge Park stretches from Sailors Bay Road down to Middle Harbour. In the 1860s the area was reserved for harbour defence and for a boys’ school attached to the training ship Vernon, but neither project eventuated.
At one stage the NSW Government planned to build a police station and lunatic asylum next to what is now Northbridge Public School. Fortunately, Willoughby Municipal Council persuaded the Government to proclaim all the land a park and the area was dedicated in 1910.
It now contains Northbridge Oval and pavilion, a Scout Hall, Guide Hall, Northbridge golf course and clubhouse, multi-use courts, a children’s playground, a bike track, a Men’s Shed and large areas of natural bushland.
Northbridge Golf Course
Construction of the Northbridge Golf Course developed at considerable cost by Willoughby Municipal Council as an unemployment relief scheme from mid-1932. The State 1 nine-hole course was opened by the NSW Premier Bertram Stevens at a gala event on 13 April 1935. Its spectacular setting overlooking Middle Harbourmade it one of the most attractive courses in Sydney, but the topography required a high level of investment in developing the greens.
Nevertheless, the Council continued to invest large amounts of money expanding its new facility into an 18-hole course. The expanded course was inaugurated with an AIF Cup Day on 21 March 1936, which attracted large crowds.1
War Memorial garden, Northbridge Park
A one-acre (0.4 hectare) area of Northbridge Park opposite Bonds Corner was dedicated as a War Memorial garden in 1950. It includes a small sandstone memorial, a commemorative plaque and a flagpole.
John Roche Park
This tiny park is a separately fenced children’s playground and part of Northbridge Park. It was dedicated in 1983 to John J Roche, a local resident and activist on Northbridge Progress Association in the late 1940s.
In the 1840s, the area now known as Clive Park was subdivided and offered for auction under the name the Albert Town Estate. The subdivision was accessible only by water and few sales were made. Only one house was built and this was in use until the 1940s. Council rate books show that there were ‘tea gardens’ in this area at the turn of the century. The 13 acres (5.7 hectares) Clive Park was gazetted in 1933.Sailors Bay Boatshed started operating within the park in 1940. There was a picnic pavilion near the boatshed, accessible by ferry.
The Clive Park tidal pool, now in a poor state of repair, was built by the Northbridge Volunteer Defence Force in the mid-1940s. Northbridge Sailing Club commenced operating in 1946 and its clubhouse was opened in 1965.
The open area to the north of Kameruka Road to Castlecrag is now known as Warners Park. The park has a picnic area, children’s playground, community garden and meeting hall. It adjoins the clubhouse and greens of Northbridge Bowling Club. The area was originally part of Warner’s Waratah Dairy, established in 1914. The dairy’s motto was ‘Service, hygiene and pure raw dairy milk’. Milk was delivered daily to homes in the district by horse-drawn carts. Dairy cows grazed on the area to the south of Edinburgh Road and past Sailors Bay Creek. The milking sheds and cottages were where The Quadrangle shopping centre now stands in Castlecrag, while the milk depot in Eastern Valley Wayis now used by the Sailors Bay Sea Scouts. The dairy, with different owners, operated until about 1951, but by then was mostly a milk depot. The nearby 26 housing blocks in The Outpost in Northbridge were part of the Castlecrag Estate, designed by Walter Burley Griffin in the 1920s.
This fenced harbour swimming pool and small adjacent Forsythe Park were opened in 1924, when the pool provided a 33 yard (30 metres) swim. Dressing sheds were completed with voluntary labour in 1927 and extensions were made to the baths to give a 55 yard (50 metres) racing course in 1938.
Northbridge Amateur Swimming Club was formed in 1925 and has operated continuously since that time. The baths were classified by the National Trust in 1994.
The tiny formal park in Harden Avenue near Sailors Bay Road was named after the King brothers. They operated market gardens from 1933 until 1951 at No 10 (called the ‘big garden’ and now Council’s car park at Northbridge Plaza), No 24, and Nos 30 to 34 Harden Avenue.
This small reserve (which is more generally known by residents as The Knoll) is located within Byora Crescent and is a remnant of native bushland. It is one of the highest points on the lower North Shore and has views to the Spit and North Head. Originally called Pudding Hill, the reserve was named about 1933 after Alderman Robert Charles Broomham who sat on Willoughby Municipal Council from 1920-1922.
This small, steep reserve follows the southern edge of Minimbah Road. It has value as part of the chain of reserves around Middle Harbour. The reserve was named about 1933 after Alderman W J Killingsworth, who served on Willoughby Municipal Council from 1920-1922.
1 Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 11 July 1933, p. 11, Relief Work; Dates for the Northbridge Golf Course development from the David Warner Photo Collection, WDHS archives.