History of Duffys Forest


The history can be divided into eight broad time spans from the birth of the natural world through to the present. From the arrival of the First Fleet, there have been various turning points for the community, some of these related to the broad population but others were more specific to Duffys Forest.

A history of any locality has to start with an appreciation of the natural environment and Duffys Forest is unique in that respect, giving its name to a specific vegetation type. The soil is slightly more fertile than the soils of other types of sandstone vegetation, resulting in generally taller trees and a grassier understorey. The main tree species are the Red Bloodwood, Silvertop Ash, Angophora, and Brown Stringybark. Unfortunately, due to agricultural and residential development, only 15% remains, of what was present in 1788.

The history of the environment takes us into Aboriginal life and the history of the Garigal people. Aboriginal sites abound in the area with the identification of over 800, ranging from rock engravings through to middens. There has been a bora ring site identified in the area but its location has been protected. There certainly would have been marked trees in the area, but these are no longer present. It is interesting that Aboriginal terms have been used for the majority of the streets in Duffys Forest.eg weemela – distant view,  thuddungara – water rushes down. It is hard to calculate an Aboriginal population on the Northern Beaches but a maximum of 700 people would be a rough estimate.
The period from 1788 to 1850 saw very little permanent occupation of the area by colonial settlers, as the land did not offer immediate agricultural potential. The land out at Richmond and Windsor was seen to be very fertile and capable for immediate cropping and grazing. However, there was extensive exploration and surveying. Those prominent in surveying activity were Cayley, Larmer, Meehan and Govett.   Larmer was responsible for the track that eventually became Booralie Road.

As with most of New South Wales, the discovery of gold brought an immediate influx of people from the United Kingdom, which had been in an economic depression from 1837. The population in NSW doubled in 10 years from 1850 to 1860. The first settler was Peter Joseph Duffy who was granted 100 acres (60 hectares) in 1857. He was an orchardist but immediately set about felling trees, the timber to be sold in Sydney Town . He created a bullock track down to Cowan Water and there established a wharf, whose remnants are still there. The timber was loaded onto a barge which was used to convey the timber, both up the Hawkesbury and with greater difficulty around to Sydney Harbour. Duffys Forest was still a very remote place, requiring a trip of over 100 kilometres by horse and cart, via Parramatta to the growing Sydney town. Other small grants were made over this time, but the population was less than 100 people. Timber workers came to provide labour for the endeavours of the Duffy family, but accommodation was rough. This period took us through to 1890 and the economic depression that followed.

Even though the depression was having a sad effect on people’s lives, 1894 saw the declaration of the Ku-ring-gai National Park, which eventually faced Duffys Forest on three sides. The period from 1890 through to the end of WW1 saw a degree of development of orchards and small farmlets. There was the conditional sale of land by the NSW Government in 1907, involving minimum lots of 2 hectares.  The general public were becoming much more aware of the beauty of Australian wildflowers and for a number of years there was a Wildflower Show in Manly at this time, until it was realised that wildflowers were rapidly disappearing and some controls were introduced.
With the end of WW1, soldier settlements were introduced both at Forestville and Duffys Forest . Unfortunately, this was not a success due to the returned servicemen not having enough capital to develop their lots and also lacking expertise.  Many ex-servicemen walked off their lots. The population was still not much more than 100 people. The whole area of Duffys Forest and Terrey Hills was still known at this time as Duffys Forest. In 1924, both the Spit Bridge and Roseville Bridge were opened at this time and private and commercial vehicles were being seen but not in great numbers. A bus service was started from St Ives arranged by Jimmy Maunder on what was known as Lane Cove Road, which previously had been known as Pittwater Road and eventually became Mona Vale Road. The Depression of the 1930s made life hard and there was a transient population of unemployed men who slept rough and had a wash in the surrounding pools off the ridge line. In those days, the water was clear and pure, compared to the sad polluted state of these pools and creeks now. Telephone connections only became available in the 1940s.

The next period started with the end of WW2 and proceeded to the mid 1980s. Increased car ownership meant that more and more people were becoming familiar with the area but roads and streets in the city outskirts, such as Duffys Forest, were only slowly becoming tar sealed. The Sunday afternoon drive was becoming part of suburban family life. Roadside stalls started to appear catering to the suburban tourist. Up to the 1930s, summer bushfires had largely burnt themselves out away from homes but as residential development increased, first Terrey Hills and then Duffys Forest established a volunteer fire service. The bushfires ravaged the area, on average every 5 years. This had a unique impact on Duffys Forest and Terrey Hills in bringing the community together, not only to prepare and fight bush fires but to focus on the provision of a whole range of volunteer services. Both areas have had strong resident’s groups, when other parts of the Northern Beaches no longer have Progress Associations to conduct working bees and lobby local, state and federal government. Electricity eventually came to the area in 1967. The proposal to create an airport at Duffys Forest created a furore from the local residents and a fight after 4 years, which they won. Waratah Park was opened in 1967 and became famous for the television series “ Skippy the Bush Kangaroo “ which ran for 3 years but in people’s memories seemed to run for 20.

From 1985 onwards, there was a general increase in prosperity with a bit of a dip in the early 1990s. The Forest Hills Pony Club started in 1978 but the blossoming of equine recreation in and around Duffys Forest expanded from the 1980s onwards. Bushwalkng still remained popular but mountain biking took off. To such an extent, that in the early 2000s, we saw the President of the USA, George Bush, careering through the forest. The Terrey Hills Golf and Country Club was built accompanied by the Greenway real estate development in the late 1990s. With the general increase in prosperity, we have seen the development of larger houses, complete with swimming pools, tennis courts, horse exercise yards and extensive landscaping.

This has been a fairly fast drive through the history of Duffys Forest  and hopefully I can expand on some elements at a later date.  It has its own unique set of variables which make it such an interesting history to tackle.