Cobblers Beach is an area with special significance within the boundary of the Sydney Harbour National Park that deserves special attention in any future planning for Cubba Cubba (Middle Head).
Gavin Souter, in his renown book on the “History of Mosman”, suggests the name for Cobblers Beach is not derived from the English word for a shoe maker. Rather it is the name of a particular breed of fish that the First Australians were catching at Cobblers Beach long before the British penal settlement was founded at Sydney Cove on 26-jan-1788.
Sadly most of the First Australians who lived at the Spit, Mosman, Cremorne and Kirribilli region were wiped out within a decade of the arrival small pox with the European convicts soldiers and a small number of free settlers. Within 3 years of a British flag being hoisted in Sydney Cove several academics suggest more than 90% of the population on the north and south side of Sydney Harbour was dead.
It happened so fast that bodies were seen by the new arrivals on the Second and Third Convict Fleets laying on the beaches, camp sites and caves close to the harbour’s edge as their vessel made their way up to Sydney Cove from Sydney Heads.
After this sudden depopulation in the early 1790s nothing much changed for Middle Head and Cobblers Beach. Governor Macquarie made a failed attempt to establish a farm for a group of about 70 people left over from various mobs of the Gamaraigal nation, from the south side of Sydney harbour and from the Broken Bay area, who were led by Bungaree. Macquarie made a formal land grant to them on 31-jan-1815, but the actual location of Bungaree’s Farm is not known exactly. It may have been on the flatter land on the top of the ridge immediately north of Cobblers Beach, or it may have been further south-west on the area now occupied by Georges Heights Oval.
Not surprisingly these Aboriginals were not highly motivated to take up European style farming and fishing. There was plenty of wild life for them to hunt on land, vast amounts of shell-fish and crustaceans around the water’s edge and they were skilled at fishing from canoes that they made from bark or fallen tree logs. Several Europeans made written records of seeing Koori people fishing from small, flimsy canoes. When a fish was caught it was often cooked immediately over a small fire burning on top of a bed of rocks that were laying in their canoe. One can imagine them fishing in the sheltered water just off Cobblers Beach on the north west edge of Middle Head, which is sheltered from the prevailing north-east sea breezes, off Obelisk Beach and in Chowder Bay .
Towards the end of the 19th century forts had been established along the eastern side of Middle Head and Georges Head. A small wharf was established at Cobblers Beach to land gun powder and cannon balls. This ammunition was then hauled up the road that still winds up from Cobblers Beach to the flatter land on the ridge, where the former 10 Terminal army base can still be seen.
You can still see evidence of the ammunition wharf in the collapsed retaining wall on the side of the grassy bank at the eastern end of the beach.
Curating the future of Cobblers Beach
I wonder how many of the visitors to the clothing optional beach at Cobblers realise the history associated with this little piece of Paradise. Most visitors today arrive on foot walking down a badly damaged dirt road from the large car parks on Middle Head.
A number of visitors walk down a very rough, steep pathway from the north east edge of Middle Head Oval, having walked down the road from Georges Heights, where there is still free on street parking available.
There is also a considerable number of visitors who arrive at Cobblers Beach by sailing yachts, “tinnies” with an outboard engine hanging off the back or by paddling a kayak right up onto the small sandy beach. A “coffee boat” regularly drops in several times a day during fine sunny weather right throughout the year to sell freshly brewed coffee, cold drinks and ice creams to the sun bathing “lizards” who can number more than 100 on the hottest days. Some people come for a short time, others stay for the whole day, which is surprising given the lack of any toilet facilities or fresh water down at the beach. The total number of visitors on a sunny Saturday or Sunday can easily be in excess of 300 a day.
Volunteer Events at Cobblers Beach
Some years ago a group of entrepreneurs started an event called the Sydney Skinny, which is now a well known fund raising event. As a ticket only event which is charging a donation of $45 per person for the 19-mar-2017 event. This year the beneficiaries of the event are the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife and the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. The nudie drink company acts as a sponsor/partner for the event, and presumably helps defray the costs of putting on this event annually. It seems to be totally managed by a large team of volunteers who plan up to 12 months in advance , down to the smallest details, to ensure the event goes off safely, and raises a significant amount of the 2 benefitting charities.
The Sydney Skinny is a wonderful example of what volunteering can achieve, at no cost to the stretched budgets of the NSW Government. The Cubba Cubba Project Team believe volunteering can be used as a model for more events and activities to occur on Cubba Cubba (Middle Head) throughout the year.
Volunteer Maintenance Work
There is already a well established history of other volunteer groups being active on Middle Head through programs run by National Parks and Wildlife. Their achievements include digging out many turns of soil and rubble from the artillery batteries on the northern edge of Middle Head, a project which took several years to complete. The volunteers even had to raise money to hire trucks to take away the excess soil, building demolition materials and rubbish that had been accumulated in the pits of many decades. It is amazing that the NSW Government could not find the funds to support the activity of those volunteers.
Middle Harbour NPWS staff still operate a corporate volunteer program that brings hundreds of staff from a growing number of corporates, government agencies, schools and not-for-profit groups to undertake work projects nominated and supervised by NPWS staff. It is not insignificant amount of labour invested in the care and maintenance of Sydney Harbour National Park. One wonders what will happen to this mature, established volunteer labour resource once the NSW Government appoints a commercial organisation to operate facilities within the Sydney Harbour National Park on Middle Head.
Maintaining the Asset of Cobblers Beach
Almost no money is spent by NPWS on maintaining what exists today at Cobblers Beach. There are about 3 signs which guide visitors on foot down the dirt road and then set out the rules for behaviour on the clothing optional beach. There is a very old single toilet which has not been in use for over twenty years. The dirt road gets eroded significantly more, usually due to heavy rain washing away the gravel. Once or twice each summer season NPWS may mow the grass down there and take care of the rampant undergrowth that spreads out over the grassed area. Some bush fire load reduction burning off has also occurred in the past 2 years.
NPWS refers in its Master Plan to the possibility of creating a new pathway down to Cobblers Beach, and of providing camping platforms on the grassed area. But with the total absence of sewerage or fresh water, and the extremely high cost of provisioning a new sewerage system down there that meet modern environmental standards that the NSW Government would have to insist on one can only wonder how current regular visitors to Cobblers beach would react to a fee being imposed for their visits to Cobblers Beach, on top of the high fees already being paid to SHFT for the parking spaces on top of Middle Head adjacent to the former 10 Terminal Regiment HQ buildings.
Cobblers Beach exists in a delicate balance that is achieved by relatively low visitor numbers, compared with the potential visitor load if the beach was to receive the wider publicity to justify significant investment in facilities down there.
Cubba Cubba Project Team