Learning About My Local Area: The Watsons Bay Walking Tour

The view of Marine Parade- Watsons Bay (featuring some locals)

The project that I undertook this semester was to compile a comprehensive historical walking tour of Watsons Bay. I have lived in the area all my life, so of course I have a fair degree of sentimental attachment to the subject matter and felt a strong engagement with the project. I worked with the Watsons Bay Association to complete this project. The association drew me in with a professional looking website with a comprehensive history section, which indicated a real passion for the history of the area. Upon meeting Roger Bayliss and his wife Julie, the president and treasurer of the organisation respectively, I learnt that the organisation was relatively small and dormant, and only springs to action during times when community lobbying is needed, like during the successful Save South Head movement.

Roger and Julie suggested I do a walking tour of the area in a PDF or brochure format that could be uploaded to the Association website and that they could circulate via their popular Save South Head Facebook page. They wanted me to do a walking tour because Watsons Bay is such a historical area, especially in a colonial context, as it was the sight of the landing of the First Fleet and one of Australia’s first colonies. It has a long history of indigenous inhabitation going back some 60,000 years. It is now one of the most popular tourist spots in Sydney. Roger and Julie thought a tour that gave a more complete perspective of the area’s history was necessary, as many tours revolve around the typical sites such as The Gap and Macquarie Lighthouse which offer obvious photo opportunities. Roger and Julie gave me a large folder of old newspapers, heritage documents, photos, and historical texts to sort through and gather information from. They also put me in contact with various local community members and local history experts to correspond with and talk to. They sent me a map of the tour circuit and the sights they wanted me to include, and the initial list involved 26 sights with others later added or removed. They included an example walking tour from Canada Bay which they wanted me to base the format on.

I began the project by reading through the documents they gave me and compiling information for each sight, and issues that required clarification. I consulted the online resource Trove and other historical sources such as Robin Derricourt’s South Head Sydney and The Origins of Watsons Bay, and Megan Martin’s A Thematic History of Watsons Bay, when there were gaps in my information. These two publications proved very useful and, along with the old Bay Lief local newspapers, formed the basis of the information for my walking tour. An area where my information was lacking was the Indigenous history, much of which had been destroyed by colonial settlers, or the natural erosion and weathering of the area. I understood this was a sensitive topic and wanted to consult a local Indigenous group about the information. Through research, I found Kadoo Tours, run by Tim Ella, Grant Hyde, and Tim Ella’s daughter Latoya Brown. They were very accommodating and invited me on their Watsons Bay and La Perouse tours which provided me with interesting insights regarding the cultural practices of the Aboriginal people that lived on the South East Coast of Australia. Grant also sent through a long list of all the native flora that can be found around South Head and information on how Indigenous Australians maintained the land. I consulted with Kadoo Tours throughout the project to ensure my information wasn’t encroaching on their tour, and my Indigenous information was historically accurate and sensitive. Ultimately, they were happy with the work I had done and approved of me using it.

One of my most significant challenges was to limit the sites in the tour to a reasonable number, and to keep the information included reasonably concise. Despite cutting the initial word count down by around 2000 words, the tour still was not applicable for a traditional 3 panel brochure. I decided that the best way forward was to format it like the Canada Bay walking tour example and design it as a downloadable pdf booklet. This will hopefully get enough traction through the website and Facebook page which has well over 1000 likes.

My revised scaffold was sent around to a number of knowledgeable local residents and historians of the local area, to see if they could offer more insight. I met with a couple of local residents, Kim Messenger and Terry Wolfe. Both offered valuable insight on the Cove Street residences, a site on the tour. Terry was particularly interesting as he lives in one of the oldest houses in the area which is made from ballast from the first fleet vessels with mortar containing remnants of Aboriginal shell middens. He had a lot of documents and books on the area too, which I read and used for additional information.

Once my scaffold was approved by the Watsons Bay Association I commenced designing the booklet. While trialling the idea of a brochure. I experimented with several programs, like Canva, however I would have had to do a very substantial edit to fit all the sites in and I felt a lot of important and interesting information would have been left out that way. I designed 3 maps for the tour using Google Maps which separate the tour into three distinct parts. When factoring in time spent eating, swimming or using the rest rooms, I think the tour is best suited for a full day trip. This is suitable for tourists as public transport options to and from Watsons Bay run all day long. I also included original photos most of which I took when walking the route. I also included information about the location of refreshments, restrooms and public transport.

The Watsons Bay Association seems very happy with the work I have done for them, and they have been a great organisation to work with. They have been very helpful and accommodating and are enthusiastic and interested about the history of the area, and the importance of history for conservation. The organisation plans to put the tour on their website in the near future. The Association and I have big plans to develop the tour over the summer to reach a wider audience.

When the tour goes live I will add the link to it from their website.

One thought on “Learning About My Local Area: The Watsons Bay Walking Tour”

  1. Dear David
    My grandparents lived in Military Road Watsons Bay.
    I would like to talk to you about their story.
    Rick Johnston

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