I'm a Sydney-based singer/songwriter and avid traveller - you can check out my blog complete with songs, travel stories and creative musings at schaumann.com.au.
Published March 20th 2013
Sustainability in historic city surroundings
There aren't too many attractions around Sydney that effectively combine elements of Aboriginal history, early 20th century industry, environmental education and a true sense of community in the way the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability does.
Situated adjacent to Balls Head Reserve (a short distance from Waverton on Sydney's lower north shore), the site of the Coal Loader holds great cultural and spiritual significance for the Cammeraygal Aboriginal people, having been their sacred ground for many thousands of years. It was opened to industry in the 1920's and primarily served to transfer coal from bulk carriers onto smaller vessels. It remained in operation until 1992, with the site later being transferred into the hands of North Sydney Council for management as public land.
In 2011, the Council opened the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability on the site - a valuable resource for the community that embraces & exhibits the art of sustainable living while also providing access to the industrial remnants of yesteryear.
A visit to the Coal Loader would be perfect for soloists, couples, families and school groups alike - there's something for everyone. Some of the many attractions and facilities within the complex include:
The Genia McCaffery Centre for Sustainability Originally the home of the Coal Loader's caretaker, the historical cottage has since been refurbished into a modern living quarters, employing state-of-the-art sustainable technologies such as solar-generated electricity, hot water & heating, recycled insulation and energy-efficient lighting. The building houses numerous displays relating to sustainable living, and staff are also available for consultation at the resource room for any enquiries.
Community Garden & Bushland Nursery Originally a carpark adjacent to the old caretaker's hut, the now-converted community garden has been in place since 2007 and provides an area for locals to communally grow organic veggies and flowers, all irrigated by stored rainwater. The gardens are available for viewing every day of the week, and be sure to also pay a visit to the nearby resident chickens.
Some flowers growing in the Community Garden, just outside the Centre for Sustainability
Towards the rear of the site is a community bushland nursery where native plants are propagated by volunteers with assistance from Council, for use in the regeneration of local bushland and green corridors.
Aboriginal Bush Food Garden & Rock Carving Near the site's entrance lies a garden bed established in 2010 comprising of various native plants. Some are edible, others useful in more practical ways; all possess cultural importance to the Aboriginal people. The opportunity also exists to see an ancient Aboriginal rock carving of a whale, thought to have been engraved millennia ago.
At 160m long, this impressive piece of maritime architecture was used between 1921 to 1976 for loading coal onto docked ships. Access to the wharf itself is not granted, but it's still a majestic sight to view from the foreshore.
The wharf as viewed from the Coal Loader foreshore
Coal Loader Tunnels One of the most impressive features of the site are the series of four tunnels carved underneath a large elevated platform (once a stockpile for offloaded coal). Coal would be directed through chutes in the roof of the tunnel onto skips below, for transportation by rail onto waiting vessels. The second of the four tunnels is open to the public and provides a fascinating glimpse into the coal industry of the early 20th century. A walk through to the other side of the tunnel will lead you to the beautiful walking tracks of Balls Head Reserve.
Parklands & Picnic Area Downhill from the Centre for Sustainability lies the foreshore parklands. At nearly 3 hectares in size, it comprises of a picnic area, wetlands, a reconstructed sandstone bund wall, as well as a walking path along the foreshore offering superb views of the old coal wharf and across the bay to Berry Island Reserve. You'll also find a number of unique artworks and interpretive signs in the area.
A snake-like sculpture made from signposts in the Coal Loader parklands
Balls Head Reserve is the largest area of bushland in North Sydney. An abundance of lush bushwalking tracks wind through the reserve - it's surprising how many incredible photo opportunities of Sydney Harbour you'll stumble across within a matter of a few hundred metres! For those who wish to relax and take in the scenery, there are numerous picnic areas with seats, electric barbecues and toilets. The reserve can be accessed on foot from the Coal Loader by walking through the tunnel; alternatively you can enter the park by foot or road via Balls Head Drive which loops around the headland.
The bushwalk by the harbour on the other side of the Coal Loader tunnels
Getting There & Opening Times
The Coal Loader is a simple 10 minute walk away from Waverton station. If taking the train, you can walk along Bay Road upon exiting the station, which leads on to Balls Head Road (if driving, you can take either Bay Road or Woolcott St to get to Balls Head Road).
Continue down Balls Head Road until it splits off to the right into the smaller Balls Head Drive; from here it's only a minute until you reach the Coal Loader. You can continue along Balls Head Drive by car or foot to access the reserve. There is ample roadside parking outside the Coal Loader and throughout the reserve.
The parklands surrounding the Coal Loader are open all year round, but those wishing to visit the Genia McCaffery Centre for Sustainability should plan to arrive between 9am to 4pm on Monday-Friday, or 10am to 4pm on Saturday.