The City of Sydney has several suburbs with an interesting history that can be discovered, not only by googling or history books but by participating in a walking tour. Hunters Hill on Sydney's North Shore is one of Sydney's oldest garden suburbs, rich in history and also very picturesque.
The area was first sighted and charted in 1788 by Captain John Hunter. It was inhabited by the Aboriginal people known as Wallumategal. Eventually, the Aboriginal people died from smallpox or were forced out, leaving the way for the early colonisation which began in the early 1830s. Colonisation brought convicts, swindlers, murderers and shady types and also some clever citizens who saw the land's potential. Amongst them, was the respected emancipist Mary Reiby. Mary purchased 110 acres of land in 1835 and named her home Fig Tree Farm. Other famous and interesting Australian characters also moved to the area and started buying and developing.
Fig Tree House - from the collection of the State Library of New South Wales
Recently, I was invited by Discover Hunters Hill to enjoy one of their Art and History Walking tours. These tours have been operating now for three years. Each tour not only embraces the local history and architecture, also the fabulous art and local cafe culture.
The day commenced with a meet up at the Hunters Hill Town Hall at 10.30am. We were greeted by our Discover Hunters Hill Tour guide, Alison Voulgaris, and local historians, Greg Griffiths and Phil Jenkyn. Our $20 ticket included entry to the Hunter Hill art exhibition, an art catalogue, Hunters Hill heritage walks guidebook and a guided walking tour. The tour includes visits to several pop-up art galleries. While waiting for the other tour participants, my friend and I checked out the exhibition.
Once all had gathered and received their tour passes, we set off to our first historical landmark - Hunters Hill Congregational Church. The outdoor area displayed several sculptures from various artists.
We moved onto Madeline Street, strolling past some quaint cottages and spectacular mansions. We also came across plaques on the path marking the sesquicentenary of each area. In all, we were told you can find up to 70 historic plaques throughout Hunters Hill.
Our guides informed us that the area was initially developed by French colonists, notably Didier Joubert and his brother Jules Joubert. These two Frenchman had migrated to Australia from the Bordeaux area of France in the 1830s. After purchasing much of the land including Mary Reibey's Figtree Farm, together they began building sandstone villas and subdivisions.
The Hunters Hill Club has some history of its own, now a bowling club and a local favourite venue for celebrating special events. I had to give the thumbs up on the great coffee. After a chat in the sun, we moved further down past more gorgeous cottages with meticulously kept gardens.
The oldest homes are such a mystery. I couldn't help but reflect on how life might have been back in the 1840s. I daydreamed of what they wore, how they spent their time and what secrets each home held.
As we meandered the streets, we learnt many interesting historical facts and stories about the area and its interesting characters. Our guides had a wealth of information and also some funny stories to tell from growing up in the area.
Then we checked out Garibaldi Square, named by the Cuneo brothers, a group of early Italian and Swiss Italian settlers that were known for their stonemason skills. John Cuneo, in particular, built the first suburb's hotel, The Garibaldi.
Our last stop was at Otimo's Italian Restaurant, more art by Emily Monnignton. It had been a busy morning and all our walking had worked up a great appetite. We were fortunate that part of the group decided to stay on and enjoy a delicious tourers special priced lunch at Otimo Italian Kitchen.
The food, wine and service at Ottimo was wonderful and was the perfect way to end our day.
I would totally recommend anyone booking the tour next time it comes up. It's a fun and informative day out where you can really take your time to explore and enjoy all that Hunters Hill has to offer. Alison and her guides are brimming with interesting information and they will ensure you have a fabulous day out.
If interested in exploring more areas further around the foreshores, there are several walking tours and information on self-guided trails available through the Hunters Hill Historical Society. The council has developed a series of 16 interlinked walks which highlight the area's history and heritage.
Walking tour cost: $20 per person
Tour time: 2-2 1/2hrs
Level: easy walking
Lunch: extra cost