North Head is a unique area - an island of relatively pristine habitat on the doorstep of a busy coastal community. The area has a rich and diverse history, and also an abundance of native flora and fauna. For these reasons, and also its spectacular views of Sydney Harbour and the Northern Beaches, it is now a popular tourist attraction.
North Head was created around 200 million years ago by ancient river networks. Sea level has fluctuated dramatically over time, and during the last ice age North Head was a high hill on the margin of the Parramatta River, 12-15km from the coast!
In more recent history North Head was occupied by the local Aboriginal clan named Gayamaygal, and middens and engravings are still evident as proof of their occupation. North Head provided the Aborigines with shelter, medicines, and also a source of white clay for ceremony.
European history saw the first land ownership on North Head granted in 1809. The Quarantine Station started operating in 1828, and saw 13,000 people pass through its doors until it ceased operating in 1977. The Church Lands were excised from the Quarantine Reserve in 1859, and St Patricks seminary was constructed between 1885 and 1888. Much of the stone used in its construction was quarried locally from North Head.
When water from Manly Dam became available in 1892, municipal attention moved to a sewerage scheme. Work for a pipeline to Shelly Beach started until 1899. Larger works for the Northern Suburbs Ocean Outfall began in 1916, and the first stage came into operation in 1926. In 1972, the scheme was upgraded to provide a treatment works at the North Head outlet and the deepwater ocean outfall and the North Side Sewage Storage Tunnel were added in the 1990s.
The current Manly Hospital was actually Manly’s second hospital. The land was acquired in 1917, with the hospital being built in 1927 and first used in 1931.
North Head also has significant links to the defence of Sydney Harbour during World War 2. North Fort and Bluefish facilities were constructed between 1935 and 1936, and included:
- Two 9.2” guns, tunnels, an underground plotting room and an anti-aircraft battery
- Artillery barracks (constructed in 1938) and a radar (installed at Bluefish Point in 1942)
After the war most guns were removed and the complex became the School of Artillery in 1953. The land is now managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.
The important history of North Head, as well as its rich biodiversity, resulted in it being declared as part of Sydney Harbour National Park in 1975.
The flora and fauna of North Head is in good condition, despite the pressures it has faced throughout European occupation, and the fact that it is not connected to any other areas of habitat. The area is home to 460 plant species, 14 mammal species, 87 bird species, 21 reptile species and 5 frog species. Further, it is also home to various rare and endangered species and communities, including:
- Little Penguin
- Long-Nosed Bandicoot
- Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub
- Green and Gold Bellfrog
- Ground Orchids
- Common Bent-Wing Bat
- Grey-headed Flying-Fox
- Red-Crowned Toadlet
- Southern Giant-Petrel
- Wandering Albatross