Mosman Voices - oral histories online

John Dansie

Interviewed by Susan Kelly on 7th March 2002
Subject: ,

Citizen of the Year for 2014 John Dansie is a true Mosmanite. Born in the local Mena Hospital he shares some wonderful memories of living and growing up in the picturesque harbourside suburb. John’s pride in and love of Mosman is apparent as he tells of finding an old mattress, some fence palings and his attempt to row across the shark infested Sirius Cove; he describes the sandstone cave he and his mates used as a cubby house; he recalls catching Yellow Tail from the Musgrave Street Wharf, playing cricket and the all important social event the Empire Day bonfires. John also describes rediscovering the hand hewn steps carved out of the sandstone in Curraghbeena Park which had been used by the artists who frequented the Sirius Cove artists’ camp across the bay.

John Dansie. My date of birth is the 21st July 1942, so I’m 59 – I’m nearly 60. I’ll have a big party in July this year, and I live at number 20 Raglan Street Mosman. My mother lives next door at number 22 Raglan Street Mosman, and my sister lives a couple of doors at number 16 Raglan Street Mosman.

Susan Kelly. How long have you lived in this area?

John Dansie. I was born in Mosman at Mena Hospital in 1942. As a little boy I went to Mosman Infant’s School in Belmont Road, which is adjacent to the Mosman Bowling Club, as you know. Then I went from Mosman Infant’s School to Mosman Primary School on the corner of Avenue Road. In 1955 I went to Newington College at Stanmore where my father went as a boy, and I used to catch the ferry from Musgrave Street to Circular Quay and we’d catch a tram from Circular Quay up to Wynyard, and we’d catch the train from Wynyard out to Stanmore. That’s prior to the Cahill Expressway being opened in 1956. Then we’d catch the train straight from Circular Quay.

Susan Kelly. Can you tell me about some of your early childhood experiences, using this area as a playground and what you remember?

John Dansie. Yes this headland between Sirius Cove and Mosman Bay was our playground. If we weren’t fishing off Musgrave Street wharf catching yellow tail and leather jackets – that’s the new Musgrave Street wharf, the original one was further south on the point by about 150-feet. The evidence of the old wharf is still there, the timber is still in the sandstone down opposite Clifford number 1.

If we weren’t down there fishing we’d be tearing around the Curraghbeena Park over the road here on the western side of Sirius Cove. We used to play cops and robbers, and there was a set of swings there. We used to have huge bonfires when Empire Day came around on the 24th May each year; we dragged sticks and all the loose timber and stuff out of the bush and people would bring out old bed heads and any old timber that they had, and we’d have a huge bonfire on Empire Day with plenty of crackers and things. That was 50 years ago.

As I’ve told you Sue, in the park there are some old sandstone steps. There are two sections – the bush or the park – there’s three and a half acres there in the reserve, or 1.4 hectares. Curraghbeena Road, which cuts through the park is access to the subdivision at the bottom where those waterfront homes are down there. That was constructed in about 1910 I would say, probably by the Mosman Council, but the stairs that I found in two sections, I didn’t realize until a few years ago, obliterated about 150 to 200-feet of the stairs or path that went down to the foreshore of Sirius Cove.

In other words the road followed the same grade as the stairs in that section. Those stairs were constructed, I estimate in about 1885 to 1890, possibly by the council, or possibly by people who were active over at Curlew camp on the eastern side of Sirius Cove.

We uncovered those stairs, as boys in the 1950s, and over the last 50 years they’ve become quite overgrown. Only recently I put together what the significance of those stairs were. They were part of the pathway that led down to a jetty in the middle of the park’s foreshore boundary, and from there they used to row across to the other side to Curlew camp, which was the camp where the artists – Arthur Streeton, and Tom Roberts etc, lived. It was a pretty famous part of Mosman now, so these stairs, which I’ve re-located, have a tremendous historical and heritage significance in Mosman. They’re undisturbed, they are as they were and they’ve been preserved by the fact that no one has been down into the bush for the last 50 years. Kids of today don’t play in the park as much as we used to because they have other activities such as TV and computers, and what have you. They don’t go out as much.

Susan Kelly. Would you like to tell me something about the construction of the steps and your opinion of the sandstone?

John Dansie. The sandstone obviously, was cut from the rock on site. In larger boulders where the stone has been broken off to form the stairs – I can show you plenty of locations where there are big chunks of stone are missing from big boulders where they’ve taken the stone. In those days all they had were picks, crowbars, gads, hammers and chisels and shovels. It would have been a lot of hard yakker, and they built the sandstone retaining walls and these stairs. These are big steps, probably four or five or six-feet, or up to a meter and a half long in today’s language. It’s not just a track; it’s a really well made path down to the foreshore. It would have taken several months, depending upon how many were involved to build this track down to the foreshore.

We located the original map produced by a Mr. F.C. Lane who incidentally, was a famous Olympian. I think he was a sculler or a swimmer. Anyhow, it showed a track coming from Musgrave Street up and over the ridge and down through Curraghbeena Park to the foreshore where they used to row across in a boat to the Curlew Camp, which was very active around 1890, right through to about 1900.

Taronga Zoo wasn’t formed until 1911 so that area over there around the eastern side of Sirius Cove and Whiting Beach where Taronga Zoo is now was a real remote kind of Hernando’s Hideaway. It was a good isolated place for these bohemians to live – as they were then referred to. There were a lot of fun and games; they had their own billiard tent and a cook over there, and it would have been a wild old time.

Susan Kelly. In your day when you remember it, how was this pathway used?

John Dansie. When we first located it, as boys, it had been disused for up to 50 years. We decided to uncover them and it was like a buried treasure – like finding the pyramids in the jungle. We didn’t have the strength or the tools that we have today – we probably did it with our bare hands. We pulled all the rubbish away from the stairs and exposed them right down to the foreshore. Now it is so overgrown down near the foreshore that I can’t even – well I’m not going to try and chop through it, but I think the heritage grant will allow us some money to get some people to clear it to the foreshore. I uncovered most of the stairs last year, about six months ago. The steps were very well made and they are very, very well preserved in the park.

I believe that Curraghbeena Park is the oldest dedicated park in Mosman. I know it was proclaimed as a park for recreation purposes on 2nd September 1887. It was surveyed in 1884 when the alignment survey of Musgrave and Raglan Streets were carried out. As I said, there’s three and a half acres of bush land there and it was originally an allotment in the whaling allotments. The whole of this Point was subdivided into whaling allotments. I think there were ten allotments fronting Sirius Cove and Mosman Bay because the whaling station was established at the head of Mosman Bay in 1840. That’s why there’s a tidal high water mark around this peninsula, unlike Cremorne or other areas of Mosman where there’s a 100-foot reservation between the property boundaries and the high water mark.

In the top area of the park, adjacent to Raglan Street is a cleared area of grass where we used to have our bonfires. There used to be a white post (indistinct) rail fence running right along the western boundary of the park from number 21 to number 17. There was only one set of swings; big sturdy pipe framed swings that we used to play on as children, sitting where the sandpit is now, in between those two big box brush trees, and we had so much fun on those.

We used to play cricket in the park. There was a power pole at the corner of Curraghbeena Road – a street light power pole, which was our wicket and we used to play cricket there, as children. We’d run along where the concrete footpath is now and we’d slam the ball all over the park, but to see a car – there weren’t many cars using the street in those days.

It was a bit of a rubbish dump too, I’ve carried out bags and bags of bottles and stuff that had been hurled into park over the years, and I’m hoping that we’ll get a lot more attention to this park because it seems to have been the forgotten relative, regarding parks and gardens around Mosman. For example Sirius Cove, I can remember taking – that was a rubbish tip, we used to take rubbish down there 50 years ago. It’s all in-filled now and it’s a beautiful reclaimed area, as is Reid Park and Balmoral Oval – that also was a rubbish tip when I was a boy. But this is a magnificent park, which has been neglected for a long time.

Susan Kelly. From your experience in the RTA and from your experience watching your father, can you tell me something about the construction of sandstone steps?

John Dansie. They were generally big, huge boulders – floaters that were located in the area, and you would get on top of them with a pick, then you would put a row of chip marks in a line where you wanted to split the sandstone, then you’d drive in steel gads, one at a time. These gads would be about 300ml – 30 centimeters, a foot apart. You hit one after the other – bang, then bang, then bang and you’d work along these gads with your sledgehammer until you would split off a big piece of sandstone. You could bust up a huge boulder as big as a car in a few hours if you had the right equipment – picks and things.

Then you’d look for the grain in the sandstone, because it would always split along a seam, and then you could shape these sandstone blocks into steps. You could generally manhandle a big piece of sandstone, like you still see in the sandstone curbs around Mosman. I often look at those and think how they were made and how much effort was used to manufacture those sandstone blocks that are in curbs around Mosman and the city.

Those steps over through Curraghbeena Park, are a real treasure. They would have taken a long time to build and they were built with a lot of care. They are still there in excellent condition, as is parts of the retaining wall.

Susan Kelly. You said your father constructed on his own some substantial sandstone steps.

John Dansie. Dad worked for The Maritime Services Board, as I told you, and he applied for a lease over an area below the high water mark at the western end of McLeod Street in Mosman Bay. In 1950 approximately, about the same time as I was a little boy, dad constructed from the cul-de-sac at the western end of McLeod Street some sandstone steps all the way down to the foreshore. It’s fairly steep and it was quite rugged. As you know in those days when they subdivided they would just get a map of the area and get a set square and a straight edge and everything was north, south, east, west orientated, and in many cases it was physically impossible and impractical to build roads following the gazetted and dedicated alignment of the roads.

As you know there are plenty of areas around Mosman where there are streets that are separated by vertical sandstone walls.

Susan Kelly. Was your father able to do these steps on his own?

John Dansie. Oh yes. You could quite easily build a set of stairs and cut sandstone blocks on your own with, as I said, steel gads, probably a 14-pound sledgehammer, two or three big crowbars, shovels and a good pick.

Susan Kelly. How big were these steps that your father built in size and distance compared to the Curraghbeena steps?

John Dansie. The ones that dad built were slightly smaller. They were about three-feet wide, whereas these ones in Curraghbeena Park going down to the Curlew Camp, those stairs down there in some places would be five and six-feet wide. They are magnificent sandstone steps. It’s certainly not a track through the bush; it was a very well, purpose-built pathway to the foreshore to get access to the jetty on either side. There were jetties on either side of Sirius Cove where the boats would tie up and transport people to and from the Curlew Camp.

Susan Kelly. What would have made it logical for people to build the steps, because of the lay of the land and the swamps and so on?

John Dansie. There were no homes around the area in those days, the only home I know in 1884, which I’ve seen on the alignment plan was Duncraggan up on the corner of McLeod Street where number 40 is now, and it’s a tragedy that that was demolished, as is number 17 where Abbotsford was. There was another home called The Nest, above Mosman Bay, where Harnett lived – he was the first Mayor, and on the ridge probably around Middle Head Road or Bradley’s Head Road, there might have been one or two sandstone mansions, but Mosman was an area that was just kicking off – it was just growing.

North Sydney Council were very reluctant to allow Mosman Municipal Council to establish – I think it was about 1883 that MMC was established. The head of Sirius Cove would have been a boggy, old ooze of black mud at low tide, and there was a creek running down from up where Magic Road comes down into Sirius Cove – there would have been natural watercourse there. It was a long way from Curraghbeena Park by track; you could not get around to the Curlew Camp – there might have been a foot track, but they were was a sensible, practical shorter distance to go straight down to the waterfront of Curraghbeena Park. Across the bay would probably be only about 200 meters and you could wave to each other, or call out and then they would row across, pick you up and you’d go to the other side.

Susan Kelly. What’s the water frontage and the drop off like, from the Curraghbeena side?

John Dansie. From the northeast corner of Curraghbeena Park where the first private land starts is very deep water. There are five water frontage allotments there – this subdivision was done in about 1810 or 1811, I remember from the plans. There were ten allotments, five facing Raglan Street, there was a road in the middle called Curraghbeena Road and there were five on the eastern side of the subdivision, which had deep water frontage – very deep water, because even at low tide the sandstone drops straight into very deep water – there’s a very deep hole there and you can’t walk around it, even at low tide. Therefore you have to swim around to the head of the bay, or walk by track around to the top of Sirius Cove.

To get from Curraghbeena Park, around the Curlew Camp by track, in those days would have taken you probably three or four hours. In those days it was just an overgrown wilderness. There were no formed roads – there were no cars; everything was done by horses.

Susan Kelly. How do you remember the head of Sirius Cove yourself?

John Dansie. It was a rubbish tip where all sorts of rubbish were dumped. In those days bricks, builders waste, plus vegetation and big piles – there were fires going all the time, they were always burning off rubbish and things. That was so, up until – I think the retaining walls around Sirius Cove must have been constructed somewhere in the mid to late 60s, which is really only 35 years ago, and then they made quite a nice playing area. We used to go down there swimming a lot.

In Sirius Cove I can remember from just about where the low tide limit is now, there was a net stretched right across the bay. It went from one side to the other – we always swam at high tide because Sirius Cove was a nice swimming area. But unfortunately, whenever there was a southerly all the rubbish from the south side used to blow across, catch on the net and at low tide it was a disgusting sight – papers, sticks, twigs, plastic and things used to hang on this net and it was removed I think, at about the same time as they constructed the retaining wall and built the nice area that’s down there now at Sirius Cove.

I can remember a very old set of timber framed swings in the actual sand. As the tide came in you could jump off the swing into the water. It was good fun. On the eastern side there was a huge storm water pipe, which was probably constructed in the 40s. I think it was at least 6-feet diameter, because we used to walk, what we though was a long way, but it was probably only a few hundred feet – up this concrete storm water pipe on the eastern side of Sirius Cove. I’m quite sure that storm water pipe is still there, as a culvert that’s bringing the water from that catchment area. The catchment area of course, is from the ridge right up to Prince Albert Street up to – well it’s the whole of that Sirius Cove area, from Raglan Street up to Mosman Junction and around to Prince Albert Street, all drained into Sirius Cove.

As I say everything was dumped down there. I can remember one time we found an old mattress (laughs), and Paul Jusher and I found this old double bed mattress, so we thought we’d be sailors. We got on this old mattress with a couple of palings and we started paddling it out into Sirius Cove. We probably got about halfway down the bay and the bloody thing sank (laughs), and we had to swim for our lives off this mattress. But they were the things that we did as kids.

As you know Cliff Gentle has photographs of the warships tied up to the wooden wharves in Sirius Cove. During the war big ships were moored in Sirius Cove, and the sandstone wall below number 17 they said, cost about six thousand pounds to construct at the turn of the century, and it was a magnificently constructed sandstone wall. There was a bath house there built above the swimming pool, and you could row in through the wall into an area behind the sandstone seawall and the saltwater baths were in there.

Now it’s all just been filled up with rubble that was shoved down the hill when they built number 17. But I can remember as a boy, very clearly that beautiful – and Cliff Gentle has photographs of the bath house, or the boat shed that was built above the pool. It would have been a magnificent sandstone mansion of a gentleman’s residence in those days. That was Abbotsford, which would have been constructed somewhere about 1895 to 1900 and it was demolished, bashed down in 1965 to make way for this ugly great tower that’s over there now – number 17.

Susan Kelly. Can you tell me about this pathway from the ferry wharf that is named after your father?

John Dansie. This is remarkable. In the publications by Rob Sturrock (Pictorial History of Mosman, volumes one and two) I saw a map, which shows a foot track from Musgrave Street wharf up and over the ridge to Sirius Cove. The sketch said how to get to the Curlew Camp by road and water. This of course, was some time after the pathway between Musgrave Street and Raglan Street was named after dad. I do appreciate the councilor Don Lopez suggesting, and having that pathway named after my father – The Charles Dansie Walk. That pathway I believe would have been where the access track to Curlew Camp came from Musgrave Street wharf. There are still some old sandstone steps in Musgrave Street that are still there, which I’m sure was part of the track from Musgrave Street up and over the ridge to Sirius Cove.

Musgrave Street wharf was built by Richard Hayes Harnett and his endeavours, as a real estate agent to open up Mosman. The only other wharf I know of would have been the sandstone pier over at Bradley’s Head where they used to bring sandstone by rail up to make the fort. That was probably about the same time, in the 1880s. So between Bradley’s Head and Musgrave Street there was nothing except virgin bush – Taronga Zoo – nothing – it was all bush. Maybe, as I said there was an occasional sandstone residence, or mansion on Bradley’s Head Road, or Middle Head Road, but it was scattered development around Mosman in those days, and access was either by water from Circular Quay, or by horse and cart along the ridge from North Sydney.

This track named after dad was in recognition, I know of my father’s (pause).
Let me just tell you more about it. Dad used to look after Musgrave Street; he did all the maintenance of that area between the two roads. It is a divided road where you come off halfway down Musgrave Street – dad used to always maintain it – as I did after he died, cut the grass, look after the trees, and dad planted those jacarandas down there. There used to be two big palm trees down there, and he used to have a lovely little garden. He always kept the streets swept so they were nice and clean. The same thing up here in Raglan Street, he used to always keep the place nice and tidy, and that pathway was named after dad.

That’s been a bit of sore point too, because that pathway named after dad was an undedicated piece of private land. Part of the original grant to William Edward Wilson, and the owners could never be traced. The properties butt onto the laneway and it was a public used private pathway and only recently have I been able to get the council to realize that they have to do something about formally acquiring that pathway and converting it from an unidentifiable, privately owned piece of land to a public thoroughfare. The council has spent money there sealing the road, putting in steps – there’s a street light in there – it’s one of the gray areas. It’s finally going to be sold. I’m quite sure that that was part of the track that went through Curlew Camp.

Susan Kelly. Can you see any sandstone there that….

John Dansie. …..yes you can Sue. I think I showed you. The steps at the bottom when you come into Musgrave Street were old and very worn. Sandstone stairs get a belly in them from people walking up and down them. They were replaced down the bottom, probably about 15 years ago, but in the middle section the old sandstone stairs are still there in pretty good condition. In some spots there’s been a concrete capping placed on the sandstone where it’s worn, and the old sandstone stairs are still there. They were probably constructed at the same time as the stairs going down through Curraghbeena Park.

There’s a storm water pipe running from the drain – there’s a sump halfway down where the properties drain into a storm water pipe running down through that pathway. I’m quite sure that pathway leads down to Sirius Cove.

Recently, Donna Braye has written to Caroline Hinchcliff at Port Douglas who is a descendant of Mr. Lane who was the fellow at Curlew Camp, to seek permission to get the memorabilia and artifacts from the Art Gallery that are in store over there, which have photographs of Curlew Camp, and the map is over there, and even an old shopping list. And the rules – the rules of Curlew Camp are kept there – we’re trying to get those back to store them in the Mosman Library. I went over with the former Mayor Peter Clive and located those and I’ve told Virginia Howard, and (indistinct) and Donna Braye about them, so that’s something that will hopefully be brought back to Mosman soon.

As a boy I didn’t even know Curlew Camp existed; it’s only now that I’ve found out that when I was surveying the country in 1990 they had the centenary of the Curlew Camp and it was a big thing. There was a bronze plaque over there on a rock where the Camp was and you can still locate the sandstone block that has ‘Curlew 1890’ cut into it.

That’s why Curraghbeena Park is a very historical park and it is part of Mosman’s heritage, but as boys we lived over there all day. We’d have our breakfast, we’d run over there and play in the park. We called it the top bush and the bottom bush because they were separated by the road that was constructed through the park, and that road by the way, is an unsurveyed, undedicated road that severs the park and all it does is give access to those private properties at the bottom.

It was cut through the park – you’d never get it done nowadays, it would be like the Snowy Mountains Authority, you’d never be able to put a road through a public reserve to give access to five waterfront properties. It would be unheard of, but it has never been dedicated, and there’s no survey plan of Curraghbeena Road running from Raglan Street down to the southern boundaries of that subdivision.

In the lower part of the Curraghbeena Park, or the bottom bush, as we used to call it, between the road and the high water mark, there is one area where there’s a big cave formed by some sandstone boulders and we had a cubby house in there. You could go in to about 10 or 15-feet – it’s still there. Go into this cave and we cleaned it out and we thought we were like the phantom – we had our own little skull cave kind of thing, and we had a lot of fun down there. We’d take our comics – Heckle and Jeckle and Mighty Mouse and all that stuff. We used to hide our comics in there, and our cigarettes.

Musgrave Street Wharf used to have a boot-maker, a newsagent and a grocery shop under a big terracotta gabled roof. It was a big area with a shelter shed and there were public toilets down there. We used to buy cigarettes in packets of 10 or 20 in the late 40s and 50s and you’d get a packet of 10 cigarettes and we’d hide our fags (laughs) in the cave, and we’d go down there. I can still remember the smell of tobacco, it’s a craving smell, you’d never get rid of if you ever smoked. Then we’d be sucking on lifesavers like mad on the way home so your parents wouldn’t smell the cigarettes on you, but we had a lot of fun down there in those days in the bush.

No children go down there now; the little ones play in the sandpit, but the younger boys don’t go down there; they’re still playing with their computers or TVs nowadays.

Susan Kelly. What was the fishing like in Sirius Cove.

John Dansie. Fantastic. Sirius Cove in those days – I can remember reading a book by Vick Coppleson called ‘Shark Attack’ in the 30s, somewhere between the abandonment of Curlew Camp, and when I was a young boy someone was taken by a shark and killed in Sirius Cove. That would be documented somewhere else. The book mentioned someone being killed by a shark in Sirius Cove. But the fishing was great.

As a boy in about 1950 I used to row our dinghy from 1950/52/53 – 50 years ago I used to row around from our boatshed in Mosman Bay and I’ve have a drum – in those days it was a five gallon drum, which is about a 20 litre drum now. I’d have a landing net; I’d have my gumboots on and a stick, and at low tide I used to walk around through the sea grass, and as you disturbed blue swimmer crabs – they put their nippers out to arm themselves and you’d see them. You’d come up towards them with a stick, you didn’t come behind them with the net, and I used to catch up to a dozen beautiful big blue swimmer crabs, which I’d put in the drum and bring them home to dad, and he’d put them in the big boilers and we’d eat them.

In those days there were no moorings in Sirius Cove. There might have been a couple down the far northeast corner near where the green scout shed is. There were also a couple of moorings in the deep water off the western side where those five deep-water properties are. Other than that there were no other moorings in the bay, and I used to drift around in my little dinghy and I’d catch very good flat head. The old dusky flat heads – almost black on top with a creamy/white belly underneath, and I’d catch four or five of those and bring them home.

I was a bit of a rebel because I’d rigged up a setline on several occasions. I’d lower a brick over the end of the dinghy and about every six-feet I’d put a big hook with a yellow tail on it. I’d catch the yellow tails off Musgrave Street Wharf and then I’d put 20 hooks on them. I’d drift down the bay putting out these 20 hooks – probably about 150-feet long, and then at the end of the line I’d lower another brick over and I’d get a tiny little piece of cork about as big as a cork from a wine bottle, and I’d just have that floating there. No one would know it was attached to a fishing line and I’d leave that down overnight, and then I’d row around the next morning – I’d locate my cork, because I’d take a mark off a rock, or line up something, and I’d then pull up the line, and then I’d pull up the brick, and as I pulled in the line I used to catch up to a dozen great big flat head, real beauties they were.

Occasionally you’d have a big Port Jackson shark on there, or a (indistinct) shark or a stingray – I’d never put those in the boat. They used to frighten me, but I’d cut them off with a big knife and away they’d go, but the flat head were beauties and you had to get them the next day otherwise octopus and crabs would kill them, because they couldn’t get away – they were hooked.

I lost my setline. I went down to pick it up one morning and I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t there, someone must have pulled it up. That night I went over and the next night, and the Italian trawlers used to come into the bay at nighttime and they used to trawl the bay, and that’s how I lost my setline.

But they can’t trawl Mosman Bay, Sirius Cove, or any of these bays now because of the number of moorings in there. Consequently, the fish stocks would be improving, but I believe from the late 60s when I left Mosman and went into the country area for a while, up until probably the 70s and 80s – over that 20 year period Sirius Cove became one of the most polluted bays – if not the most polluted bay in the harbour because Taronga Zoo had a pipe outlet running from the – I don’t know whether it was the cassowaries or the bison’s, or the tigers, or the lion’s cage into Sirius Cove and underwater it used to discharge into the bay and that’s how Sirius Cove became so terribly polluted from the Taronga Zoo pumping this stuff into the Cove. I don’t think they can do it now, but that’s how Sirius Cove became polluted. But you could catch terrific fish in the bay.

There was a very deep hole off the western shore between properties number 1 and say number 15 – along where Cliff Gentle’s little boatshed is, and up towards where the big sandstone seawall is – there’s very deep water there where those moorings are now, and it’s a great breeding area for bream. I could anchor there and I could catch half a dozen good bream up to a pound in size – red and black bream. There’s a deep hole there; it’s shallower on the eastern side, along the Curlew Camp side – there’s a deep hole along the whole of the western side, and on the eastern side it rises up towards the sandy area.

Mum’s father used to walk down to Sirius Cove and walk around to near where the Curlew Camp is and he used to catch good flat head using strips of raw red meat. The fishing was excellent in that bay and in Mosman Bay, as a boy. But it was badly polluted by Taronga Zoo, as well as where Athol Bight is, between Tarango Zoo Wharf and easterly around below the aquarium. That used to discharge into the harbour there. Anything that was under the water was just polluted.

Susan Kelly. I was wondering if the artists at the camp might have taken advantage of the abundant fish.

John Dansie. I have no doubt that they would have. You could walk down and just throw a line in and catch a fish in those days quite easily. There was very little pollution. An indication of lack of pollutants is the growth of oysters around the rocks. As a boy we could get a good feed of Sydney rock oysters without fear of pollution, but it was in the 1960/70/80s where Sydney Harbour became a rubbish tip – a sewer. I can remember the ferries going back to the Quay and fellows sweeping everything – papers, cigarette cartons etc would be swept off the boats into the harbour.

I can also remember fishing off Sydney Heads, probably only about a mile or two off the Heads, and seeing these barges being towed out by tugs and the guys rolling off these big 44-gallon drums of toxic chemicals that would just sink to the bottom. God knows what was in them, some sort of acid or toxic waste, but the sea and the harbour was a rubbish tip in those days. It’s good now that it’s been cleaned up, and as a consequence oysters are growing back around the foreshore. In the mid 80s to the mid 90s there was no evidence of oysters anywhere around Sydney Harbour, but now around Mosman Bay there are glorious oysters growing. I’d have no hesitation eating them myself now.

Oysters are like canaries in coalmines; if a canary snuffs it, you don’t go in because of the gas. It’s the same thing with oysters. It’s a good indication of the quality of the water that they’re surviving