I'm a freelance writer living on Sydney's north shore. I like tea, books and pop music. If I can combine these into a single activity I'm a happy man.
Published February 8th 2012
Not many places in Sydney can boast a real life shipwreck, but that's exactly what you will find at Sawmiller Reserve in McMahons Point. Drunkenly leaning on its side (is it port or starboard?) it is well within touching distance although the rusty, jagged metal that still clings to its frame is best kept out of the reach of young children.
The shipwreck is just one slice of forgotten history in this surprisingly atmospheric park. As you might have guessed from its name, the area was formerly the site of a sawmill and its ruins lie in the centre of the park. After it was taken over by the council in the 1980s the area has been allowed to revert back to native vegetation with a clear grassy area on the foreshore.
My first trip to the reserve left me stunned, and hopefully you too will experience that same sense of pleasant bemusement as you wonder what on earth happened to the inner city suburbia you thought you were in. Turn one way and you find yourself trekking through wild bushland along twisting pathways. Turn another and you find yourself gazing on the aforementioned ruins and shipwreck. Turn yet another way and you will find yourself in a peaceful marina with creeks, footbridges and bobbing boats.
Like the neighbouring Blues Point Reserve Sawmiller is very much a hidden gem and whilst it is popular with local dog walkers you can usually count on having the place to yourself. The flat, grassy area by the water is ideal for a picnic and has spectacular views over Berrys Bay to Goat Island, Balmain, Balls Head as well as Darling Harbour and the city skyline. Most of the reserve is well shaded and if you are lucky you might see (and hear) kookaburras in the surrounding trees.
Whilst there is no traditional play area for kids, if they aren't entertained by the sawmill ruins, the shipwreck or tearing up and down the wide open spaces there is always what North Sydney council fancifully call the "Treehouse". In reality, this is a timber staircase which links the upper level of the park to the lower foreshore level but with a child's imagination it can be anything they like.
Fishermen can occasionally be seen casting a line in the harbour and there is certainly more room here to sling your hook than at nearby Blues Point, although as is the case there if you fancy catching your picnic lunch you will need a permit.
Apart from the odd bench, there are no facilities at Sawmiller. And in all honesty, the reserve is the better for it. Any incursion of the modern world would disrupt the feeling of timelessness in this secret paradise. The sawmill no longer works, and the ship wreck will certainly never sail again but lying on the grass you can feel their history as the faint sensations of what Sydney must have been like a hundred years ago slowly envelop you. It is a magical place to be.
Sawmiller Reserve can be approached by a number of directions, the easiest is from West Crescent Street or French Street, both off Blues Point Road. There is extremely limited free on and off street parking in both streets. McMahons Point wharf connects with Circular Quay and Darling Harbour every 20 minutes and is 600 metres away. North Sydney train station is 750 metres away. Bus 265 goes from the train station every hour on weekends and stops nearby.