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History of Castlecrag

A series of short articles on the history of Castlecrag were written by local honorary historian, Addie Saltis, for the community newsletter The Crag in the 1970s and 1980s. The following information draws on Addie’s articles, with additions from research by Adrienne Kabos, Bob McKillop, James Weirick and Elizabeth Lander into the files of the Castlecrag Progress Association and the Walter Burley Griffin Society Inc., research papers held by James Weirick; and interviews with long-term residents and former residents of Castlecrag, in particular, Joyce Batterham and Cis Godfrey.

Before the White Man

The native tribes who lived on our coastline before us know the north side of the harbour as Cam-mer-ay or Cam-ee-ra and its people as Cameraigal. ‘The tribe of Cameraigal is of all the most numerous and powerful. Their superiority probably arose from possessing the best fishing ground.’ They exercised considerable authority, having the ‘exclusive and extraordinary privilege of extracting a tooth from the natives of other tribes inhabiting the sea-coast, many contests, or decisions of honour, have been delayed until the arrival of these people.’

Understandably, they were much feared and hated. ‘Whenever Bennalong recounted his battles the most violent exclamations of rage and vengeance against his competitors in arms, those of the tribe called Cam-ee-ra-gal in particular, would burst from him. And he never failed at such times to solicit the Governor to accompany him, with a body of soldiers, in order that he might exterminate this hated name.’

By April 1789, the Aboriginal population of the Sydney area had been devastated by smallpox. However, there is evidence of the Camaraigal still living in the area in the 1820s, although there were no Aborigines living a traditional lifestyle in the Sydney area by the 1830s. The remains of numerous middens outside caves along the foreshores of Middle Harbour, including the Castlecrag peninsula, bear testimony to the former inhabitants.

Before Castlecrag

Although the lower North Shore and Middle Harbour were visited by Governor Phillip and carefully surveyed by land and sea within a few months of the landing of the First Fleet in 1788, the pressing need for survival of the colony did not encourage expansion into our inhospitable slopes. It was not until 1856 that the first land grants were made on the peninsula which is now Castlecrag. More than half of these, plus a large part of Northbridge, were made to a James William Bligh, who may or may not have been related to Captain Bligh of mutiny fame. James Bligh was later the first Chairman (or Mayor) of the Municipality of North Willoughby. In 1835, the Governor, Sir Richard Bourke, issued a proclamation dividing the County of Cumberland into Hundreds and Parishes. On the north of Port Jackson, the Hundred of Packenham was later divided into five parishes, including Willoughby. In 1856, this was to become the first municipality to be proclaimed on the North Shore, as a direct result of a petition signed by 67 of the 400 inhabitants within the municipality’s boundaries.

The peninsula now known as Castlecrag remained Crown Land until 1856, when some 25 lots were surveyed. Little of the land was sold initially, but by 1860 all the land was privately owned, James William Bligh being the largest of the landowners. Other land grants on the peninsula (then known as East Willoughby) were to Alfred Bradford, John Stapleton, WG Spring, Jas. Yates, Robert Phenna, JA Hunter, EM Stephen, and GR Brown. None of the pioneer landowners resided on their land. James William Bligh became the first mayor of Willoughby in 1865 and was re-elected in 1886 and 1867.

Horse-drawn buses and a branch railway in 1890 gradually opened up Willoughby and Chatswood, but the peninsula remained bushland, subdivided into estates but virtually undeveloped. However, there was significant subdivision and numerous sales of the land during the 1880s as part of a city-wide land boom. A rough track along the windswept, rocky ridge, which is now Edinburgh Road, existed at that time, and the parcels of land were allocated on either side of it. By 1920 we had the Sunnyside Estate on the north, Torquay Estate on Sugarloaf Point and Farmer & Co.’s radio transmitter 2FC along Edinburgh Road. Cows from Warner’s Dairy grazed on what is now Eastern Valley Way and Chinese market gardens lined the road to Northbridge. The southern side of Edinburgh Road was bought by the North Sydney Investment and Tramway Co. Ltd, and then by the Association of North Sydney Debenture Holders. In 1921 Walter Burley Griffin and the Greater Sydney Development Association purchased 90 acres of those southern slopes and Castlecrag was born.

Addie Saltis, The Crag No. 45, March/April 1986; Esther Leslie, The Suburb of Castlecrag: A Community History, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1988

Castlecrag Timeline

To download .pdf documents on the Castlecrag Timeline from 1879 to 1979 click on the following links: