Tomayto, Tomahto; Frenchs Forest, Forestville.

Historians are indoctrinated with the importance of dates and names from an early age. I can certainly still regurgitate the dates of significance from WWI and WWII along with names of high profile Nazi party members on demand (thank you very much HSC Modern History). For the majority of my undergraduate degree, most of my historical inquiry for essays and assessments has largely been sourced from secondary sources. So its unsurprising that it is now, when I have very little secondary sources to draw upon (except for the Local Studies gold mine at Dee Why Library) that I’m discovering just how difficult it often is making sense of the past.
My major project will take the form of ten blog posts about lesser known histories of the Northern Beaches. I came across the mention of Forestville Soldier’s Settlement in my early research, immediately intrigued, and jotted it down as a topic for one such blog post. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a very frustrating search for further information.
Inputting this exact name into Trove and Google returned very few results;
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My hopes of finally stumbling across a piece of Northern Beaches history that could be told in a fascinating narrative were slowly withering away. However, I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge – so I started thinking and searching laterally. Thankfully, by skimming the similar results that Google provided, I gained my first clue. Forestville and Frenchs Forest appear to be used interchangeably in different excerpts.
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For those unfamiliar with the beautiful bushland suburbs north of The Bridge, Forestville and Frenchs Forest are two adjoining, but different, suburbs. This clearly hasn’t always been the case. James French was the first to settle most of this area and developed a timber industry, explaining ‘Frenchs Forest’. However, the soldiers’ settlement (an Australia-wide government initiative to provide farmland and, subsequently, livelihoods to soldiers’ returning from WWI) was actually within modern Forestville.
Given that I had now determined this particular soldiers’ settlement was located in Forestville, but potentially referred to as Frenchs Forest – I entered this into Trove and Google, crossed my fingers, and hit enter.
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JACKPOT. Not only did this bring up a wealth of sources to work with (even an entire book on the subject written by a local historian!), there was some juicy details involved. The land in this area was largely infertile, and the returned soldier’s felt particularly failed by the scheme – so they launched an inquiry that was bountifully covered by local and national newspapers.
Shakespeare’s Romeo so famously asks; ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Well, he has a very valid point – tomayto, tomahto; Forestville Soldier’s Settlement, Frenchs Forest Soldier’s Settlement – different names for the same thing.
(Side note: the soldiers’ settlement scheme is itself very interesting and deserves an entire blog post or essay itself).

2 thoughts on “Tomayto, Tomahto; Frenchs Forest, Forestville.”

  1. I am the Cemetery Historian [voluntary] at the Frenchs Forest Bushland Cemetery. We have hundreds of stories of locals resting there including residents from the soldiers settlement. We do free guided tours for community groups and the public frequently. Ring the Cemetery office at 9451 6204 [8am-4pm weekdays] for information and contact with me.

  2. I am trying to find an answer to:the original footbridge over Warringah road at Forestway, I believe, had a name. Please, can anybody tell me the name of the footbridge.
    thank you

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