A little local history

It’s astounding how much history can be buried right beneath your nose. Illawong has the feeling of a relatively recent suburb. Most of the houses are probably thirty years old or less, though there’s the odd single story cottage, a remnant of its farming days.

Late last year one of the last farm estates was finally sold. It had a tennis court and playground on site. No doubt it will be replaced by bland McMansions or worse.

On this smoky morning I decided to take a rather long way back from dropping Alex off at school this morning and walked down to the Georges River.

Before they built the Alfords Point Bridge vehicles and people would cross the river by ferry. Nothing but the concrete landing and the name of the road leading to it, Old Ferry Road, remain on the Illawong side, but across the river in Lugarno there is a seafood restaurant right at the river front.

What I didn’t realise was that wasn’t the original location of the ferry crossing.

There’s a park and playground a bit further along, quite near to my mother in laws home. I was quite familiar with the park, but it’s been almost two years since my last visit there. A lot has changed. It’s been tidied up – indeed there was a council truck there this morning – with steps leading down to the stone wharf that juts out into the river.

More significant was the history plaque.

It was difficult to imagine that this was once the site of parties and dances, where passengers would cross the river to reach Sydney Town or to cruise along for a picnic. And now the park had a name, Albert Delardes Reserve.

As I stood there on the wharf I could hear the sound of fish splashing to the surface in the river. An Asian couple fished from another jetty further up. I’m not sure if it’s safe to eat anything from the river. Once oyster farms covered the river near its confluence with the Woronora. Disease has destroyed that industry, though many posts remain in the river.

Across the river somebody paddled a kayak, but no motor boats disturbed the waters at that time of day.

Sadly, today the Illawong peninsula lacks any sense of purpose. It is merely a place for people to live in between their working lives elsewhere. Yes, there is a school (a rather good school if I do say so myself) and a small shopping centre, but it is a place where lives are lived in private, a place people travel from rather than to.

Perhaps some ghosts remain with stories to tell. I applaud the council for sharing them and hope to discover more.

Paddle steamers once plied this river

Some more information about the road and river crossing can be found under the heading 1824-64: The Road to the Illawarra.