Once the city’s oldest industrial site, Barangaroo Reserve is now home to the scenic Foreshore Walkway, writes Alan Teh Leam Seng
THE early morning sun is already showing itself at the horizon by the time I make my way out from the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. The cool autumn breeze makes the air crisp and fresh. Thanks to the hotel's strategic location and user-friendly map, I arrive at Erskine Street after a brisk 15-minute walk.
I stand at the sidewalk and scan my surroundings looking for the “ample signs” that the concierge was talking about. I fail to locate any even after 10 minutes of frantic searching. I start to panic. Am I lost? Sounds of heavy construction equipment coming from down the road makes the situation even worse. I am quite convinced that I took a wrong turn earlier.
Then, just as I am about to start retracing my steps, I catch sight of several red and green spots on the road further ahead. My anxiety quickly changes to relief when I start moving closer. The coloured circles turn out to be signs I am looking for. Looks like I am on the right path to Barangaroo Reserve, Sydney Harbour's newest foreshore park, after all!
The route I take soon leads me past the massive Barangaroo South construction area. At that point I glad the presence of the road signs give me the much needed reassurance that I am not lost. I have to admit it is quite very difficult to imagine lush greenery amidst so much concrete and hoarding all around me.
Fortunately, the view changes dramatically soon after I reach Waterman's Quay. The long line of rumbling trucks and unnerving sound of heavy machinery have all but disappeared. I feel like I have been transported to an ethereal realm.
The surrounding is very peaceful and serene. A cool sea breeze blows in from the harbour while the sound of waves gently lapping the nearby shore immediately puts me at ease. I train my sights on the sea.
Never have I seen waters with such a deep blue hue before. The sudden appearance of a glistening white yacht moving effortlessly across the cove thrills my senses further. I cannot ask for a more picture-perfect setting with the majestic Harbour Bridge in the background.
I continue walking along the scenic Foreshore Walkway, stopping occasionally to admire the view as well as the varied flora and fauna. About 10 minutes later, I meet up with Timothy Gray who conducts the Aboriginal Cultural Tour and decide to join his group.
Timothy, or Tim as he wants me to address him, starts by giving a brief history of the park. I listen in astonishment as Tim reveals that just 15 years ago, this entire area was home to Sydney's oldest and ugliest industrial site.
Tim himself belongs to the Gumbaynggirr clan, an Australian Aboriginal group who traditionally lived in the area contiguous with Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.
“In the middle of the 19th century, this entire area served primarily as a coal and ferry drop-off point. Then some 20 years later, in the 1870s the waterfront landscape began to change. People started building countless warehouses and storage depots. A lot of space was needed to store wool which was Sydney's most treasured export at that time,” Tim explains as he passes around pictures showing what Barangaroo Reserve looked like in the past.
“Today, with the aid of innovative and industry-first technology, the once-dull concrete container terminal has been conserved and successfully transformed into a sensitively landscaped natural rocky outcrop with covered with so much lush greenery,” Tim announces proudly as he gestures towards a group of healthy acacia trees growing nearby.
Barangaroo Park offers residents a unique venue that cannot be found anywhere else in central Sydney. The authorities have accurately recreated a bush land planted with 75,000 native trees and shrubs that were once found in this region before the Europeans arrived.
I like walking among the clumps of flowering wattles best as I get to enjoy the delicate scent wafting in the air and observe the occasional honey bee wade through a sea of pollen in each flower as it searches of sweet nectar.
Our walk soon leads to the grassy Stargazer Lawn. This place with its elevated topography provides visitors with a great vantage point to fully appreciate the sights around Sydney Harbour.
According to Tim, the lawn gets its name from the stargazer fish found abundantly in the nearby shallow waters. This demersal species have eyes located on top of their heads.
“This gives the illusion that they are constantly looking up to the heavens. I also hear others claim that this place got its name for being the closest to the Sydney Observatory,” adds Tim as he points towards the observatory's distant green domes.
OWNERS OF THE LAND
After some time, I begin to realise that several members of the group are locals. I find their presence interesting as I would have thought that they already know the place like the back of their hands and would not need to have a guide to show them around.
I soon discover that my assumption is far from correct. Due to the park's rough industrial setting in the past, not many locals have actually set foot here before.
Throughout the 90-minute walk I regularly hear them talking about the never-seen-before views of the city’s iconic Harbour. I count myself lucky to be able to experience something that even the locals consider new.
As we reach the Burrawang Steps, Tim draws our attention to an especially deep yellow sandstone block. He takes a bottle of water from his knapsack and pours some over a section with the most intense colour.
Tim then uses his fingers to gently massage the surface. After a few minutes, he is rewarded with a thick yellow paste. We learn that sandstone comes in a variety of colours depending on their mineral content and the local Aboriginal groups living around Sydney used these natural water colours to decorate themselves as well as create images on rock walls.
We spend the next few minutes dipping into the paste and applying them on our lower arms just to experience the rich culture of the traditional owners of the land. Before walking up the wide limestone stairs, Tim explains that Burrawang is the Aboriginal Sydney language word for a local cycad.
“The seeds from this evergreen plant were an important source of starch for the Gadigal people as well as the early settlers,” notes Tim, adding that these non-flowering plants are especially significant to Barangaroo Reserve as they are known to live up to 100 years. Their longevity symbolises the park's long term success.
At this point Tim delves in the early history of Sydney, telling our group that Barangaroo was a powerful woman who wielded great influence in the local Cammeraygal clan. Her name was chosen for this park to complement Bennelong Point, the site of the renowned Sydney Opera House. Bennelong was one of Barangaroo's husbands.
At a place called Munn's Slipway, we discover a replica of an Aboriginal rock engraving depicting a spiny anteater. Its presence serves as reminder that this Barangaroo site used to be part of the Gadigal clan territory.
The Gadigals are the traditional owners of the Sydney region and they frequented this headland for fishing and hunting in the past. Large shell middens and numerous rock engravings close to the site indicate indigenous occupation dating back around 6,000 years prior to European settlement.
Our tour ends at the Cutaway, a large cavernous space where more than 10,000 blocks of natural limestone have been carefully removed to form part of the Barangaroo Reserve's coastal landscape.
This huge underground space is said to be one of Australia's largest internal spaces. Once ready, it is set to be home to Sydney's latest cultural centre and public recreation. Tim chooses this grand setting to introduce to our group the various tools used by the Gadigal clan when they forage for food.
Before taking his leave, Tim advises me to continue exploring Barangaroo Reserve on my own.
“There are still many special features that I have not shown you. Check out the other walking trails to discover hidden coves and shady picnic spots. Many people seek out these places during the weekends for some quiet contemplation.”
I simply nod my head as we walk off in opposite directions.
Park Size: 5.7 hectares
Sandstone: 10,000 individually crafted blocks
Plants: 75,000 Sydney native plants
Foreshore Walkway: 10 metres wide
Destination New South Wales
Level 2, 88 Cumberland Street
Sydney New South Wales 2000, Australia.
Tel: +61 2 9931 1111
Fax: + 61 2 9931 1490