Steeped in history, heritage listed Currawong operated for 60 years as a union workers' holiday camp. The original homestead built by Dr Bernard Stiles in 1917, along with ten other cottages, now provide a home away from home for so many more families.
Currawong is situated on the Western Foreshores of Pittwater, accessible only by water, surrounded by a national park and is home to a sheltered sandy beach. It has an area of 19.7ha, most of which is pristine native bushland, and around 4 ha of which is built up. The entire site is listed on the State Heritage Register as “an intact remaining example of a mid-twentieth century, union-organised workers' holiday camp in NSW, designed for workers 'to get away from crowded industrial areas and enjoy places normally frequented by richer people' (Sydney Morning Herald 30/12/1947, p3),” and which has been used by generations of trade union members and families. Its significance also rests on its rarity value, as the only remaining holiday camp consistently in use for 60 years, with original buildings, designed and promoted specifically for workers and one which is moreover situated in one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of Sydney, despite its proximity to the metropolitan area.
The Garigal/Cadigal and Cannalgal groups had a strong relationship with the Pittwater-Broken Bay area. As traditional custodians of the area, the indigenous people from these two groups engaged in hunting and fishing and supplemented this diet by gathering plants from the surrounding area, now protected as the Ku-ring-gai National Park.
Early contact between the indigenous population and colonists appeared amicable but with the introduction of new diseases, the local population sharply declined as they had no previous exposure to such illnesses (AHMS, “Currawong”, Aboriginal Heritage Impact Assessment, March 2008, p.23).
Between April 1789 and 1790 many Garigal people died of diseases, to which they had no immunity, such as smallpox and measles. Most of those who survived moved away from the coast as Europeans invaded their territory competing for food and territory (Pittwater Library Local Studies online - Aborigines). Read more
The existing Currawong land parcel was created as early as 1823. A formal land grant was made in 1836 to Irish settler Martin Burke – who was often referred to by local historians as the “Father of Pittwater”.
From this time until the 1940s the land was used by various owners and families as farming land. Only one of the original farm homesteads remain from this period, being the heritage listed “Midholme”, which was constructed about 1911 and remains as one of the oldest buildings on the western foreshores and is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.
In 1942-1944 the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company (PJMS Co) purchased the land with the intention of developing it as a picnic ground and destination for day trips from Sydney. The PJMS Co. intended to “extend its interests in tourism in the region, providing day outings to the proposed picnic ground, which was to have a shark-proof swimming pool.’(85)
In the announcement of the purchase in 1943, the PJMS Chairman’s Report made reference to the property as ‘Currawong’ for what was believed the first time.This was in conjunction with the launch of two new ferries to service the Basin and Mackerel Beaches: the Currawong Star (1942) and the Rambler Star (1943).(91)
Labor Union holiday camp (Now Union NSW)
The next important phase in the history of Currawong begun in 1949, when the land was purchased by the Labor Council of NSW (now Unions NSW). Weekender and holiday cabins responded in part to the new working conditions, with people able to leave Sydney for the weekend. They were increasingly constructed in locations with good access to coastal areas via public transport and car ownership.
The main impetus behind the purchase of Currawong as a proposed holiday camp was James (Jim) Kenny, Assistant Secretary of the Council, board member of the ferry company and a member of the NSW Legislative Council. At the end of World War II, and following the introduction of two-week paid annual leave, Kenny commenced negotiations with the State and Federal Governments to grant a suitable holiday camp site. The objectives for the property were outlined in brief in “Rules of Currawong Holiday and Convalescent Resort” as follows:
- To establish holiday and convalescent resorts.
- To provide accommodation without cost for members of affiliated Unions and their families whilst recuperating from sickness.
- To provide accommodation at a nominal cost for members of affiliated Unions, their families and general public, to enable advantage to be taken of Annual Leave prescribed by Awards, etc.
The majority of the ten camp cabins were constructed between 1949 and 1953. The first one built, the cabin located in pole position near the jetty, was called “Kenny’s cabin” (now known as Blue Tongue Cottage) after James Kenny. The next eight cabins and their outdoor dunnies were built up behind “Kenny’s cabin”, following the escarpment and connected by pathways. Many of them were constructed with discarded materials from different building sites around Sydney. But there are also cabins of significance (Kookaburra & Platypus) as they were built to plans by the Vandyke Brothers, using their new “Sectionit” prefabricated system of construction.
Too beautiful to lose – the fight for Currawong
In early 2007, Unions NSW sold Currawong, amid much controversy, to developers and in early 2008 the property was included in the State Heritage Register.
In 2011 Currawong was acquired by the NSW State Government and Pittwater Council (now Northern Beaches Council) was appointed to manage the site and Currawong State Park was established.
In May 2015, the Currawong State Park Advisory Committee was formed to provide strategic direction and leadership to ensure Currawong State Park retains its tourist, heritage and recreational values as well as ensuring sustainable land management of the entire State Park.
Today Currawong is safely in public hands and is considered the most intact remaining example of a mid-twentieth century, union-organised workers’ holiday camp in NSW and probably Australia.
Council has worked with the Currawong State Park Advisory Committee to plan the restoration of Currawong. All plans have been endorsed by the Office of Environment and Heritage and have been completed in full alignment with the Conservation Management Plan for the site.
Since 2020, Council has progressively restored and upgraded amenity to original 1950s state heritage listed holiday cottages at Currawong. A new pathway and drainage systems have also been delivered to improve access and preserve the site.
Restoration and amenity upgrade projects have been delivered thanks to $2.68M in funding provided by the NSW Government along with contributions from Council.
- Currawong Workers Holiday Camp (NSW Heritage Act - SHR01784)
- Midholme - homestead (Pittwater Local Environment Plan (LEP) 2014 - 2270040)
- Currawong Heritage Conservation Area (Pittwater Local Environment Plan (LEP) 2014 - 2270410)
- Currawong Workers’ Holiday Camp (Pittwater Local Environment Plan (LEP) 2014 - 2270517)