DM's Sydney Walks: 15. The Coal Loader and Balls Head

3 May, 2020


Russell Street and Milner Crescent

We start this walk at the corner of Milner Crescent (left-right) and Russell Street (ahead) in the suburb of Wollstonecraft.


House on the corner

A closer look at the house on the corner. It looks like a nice large house, but I think it's split up into about four flats. I don't know if it was originally built as a block of flats, or a large house.


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We walk up the hill on Russell Street and turn left into this laneway, which runs between the rear sides of two rows of properties. We could walk up this lane, but just beyond the brown fence on the right...


Short cut

We turn right and take a sneaky shortcut through the property of this block of apartments.


Shirley Road

We emerge on Shirley Road and turn left to continue up the slight hill.


Liquidambar autumn

This liquidambar tree is one of the very few trees in this area that changes colour and loses its leaves in autumn.


Belmont Lane

We reach Belmont Lane, which is actually a narrow pedestrian path leading between Shirley Road and the parallel Belmont Avenue.


Playing on steps PROHIBITED

Playing on the steps is PROHIBITED. I presume one time many years ago some kids were playing on the steps, and someone took offence. One day I want to come here with a chess set and take photos of myself sitting on the steps over the chess board in mid-game, deep in thought.

The path is very short, you can see Belmont Avenue at the end.


Belmont Avenue

Emerging onto Belmont Avenue we can see the new tower of the to-be-completed Crown Casino across the harbour in the city straight ahead. And also Meadow Lane, which is another pedestrian path cutting across perpendicular to the streets.


Meadow Lane steps

At the top of Meadow Lane is the same set of steps where we began walk number 2. McMahons Point.


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The steps lead down into this green valley.


Ivy Lane

And then back up the other side.


Rocklands Road and Ivy Street

We emerge on to the bottom end of Rocklands Road (ahead left) and Ivy Street (right). We're one long block down the hill on Rocklands Road from the intersection with Morton Street, where we began walks number 11. North Sydney and St Leonards Park and 13. North Sydney to the Opera House.


Ivy Street house

We walk along Ivy Street. There are some nice houses here, that back onto a steep westward facing dropoff, so they must have a pretty good view from out the back.


Ivy Street view

But this is about as close as we can get to that elusive view without trespassing. The view looks west-south-west, over the vast sprawl of Sydney suburbs and the Parramatta River.


Approaching Brennan Park

At the other end of the short Ivy Street we hit Brennan Park.


Brennan Park

We call this chunk of sandstone Pride Rock. Scully likes to sit on here when going for a walk, to survey what's happening in the park before she heads down the steps.

Um... it looks like there are police officers down there today, saying something to a family. I guessed they might have been giving them warnings or possibly fines over not properly social distancing in the current COVID-19 situation.


Brennan Park

As I walked down to the park, the police walked away, leaving the family there. Two kids had large model planes, which they were holding in their hands - so I suspect the police were warning them that flying model planes in the park was not allowed. That seems like the sort of thing that they could have been doing, which someone would call the police in about.


Brennan Park

Brennan Park is triangular, on a slope, running down a shallow valley between two streets. This view is looking up the hill.


Exiting Brennan Park

But I traverse across the wide, low end of the park and then up this path to the next street. The park boundary is where we cross from Wollstonecraft into the suburb of Waverton. The entire remainder of this walk will be in Waverton.


King Street

This is King Street. With this interesting block of flats with octagonal fronted rooms built into what look a bit like castle towers.


We Want Climate Action!

The people in this house Want Climate Action.


King Street house

Many of the houses on King Street are built in this style, with a lower course of sandstone blocks, topped by clay bricks, with wooden balconies.


King Street

This place has an old looking sandstone outbuilding, that looks like it might have been an original cottage in the 1800s.

Also, from the slope in the street you can see we're heading downhill.


Looking over Wondakiah

At the end of King Street we reach this overlook, with a view over the giant Wondakiah apartment complex. We walked past the waterfront section of this complex in the video walk number 7. Balls Head Bay, Wollstonecraft.


Whatmore Street

Turning left, we walk uphill again briefly along Whatmore Street. The hill also slopes down from left to right, so the footpath ends up a couple of metres below the road level ahead. Houses on the left are elevated well above the road, while houses on the right are below us.


Glimpse of a view

Here are two of those houses on the right. Again, there must be some incredible view from the other side of these houses.


Whatmore Street

Whatmore Street crests the hill and leads back down again. And gives us a view towards the Harbour Bridge in the distance.


The Grumpy Baker

At the far corner, we hit Bay Road. On this corner is The Grumpy Baker, one of my favourite local bakeries. They do an amazing chocolate babka, as well as delicious specialty loaves of bread, meat pies, and cakes.

Normally the place is packed and they have tables and chairs outside on the footpath, but during COVID-19 restrictions they are only allowed to do take-aways. And the people have to queue up with 1.5 metres between them. I suspect some of these are being a little lax about that.


Bay Road

We walk down Bay Road. Towards the bay.


Horace Street panorama

At the next intersection, Bay Road (behind us) segues into Balls Head Road (straight ahead). Not a bad view from up here. This is the ending point of video walk number 7. Balls Head Bay, Wollstonecraft.


HMAS Waterhen

On the right is the car park for the naval base HMAS Waterhen. You're not allowed to trespass or shoot weapons on the land. Of course, you're not allowed to trespass or shoot weapons anywhere else in Sydney either, so this is kind of redundant.


Balls Head Road

This path leads along the edge of the naval base, heading south along Balls Head Road.


Wood Street

Reaching Wood Street on the left, you can look across and see the office towers of North Sydney to the east.


Waterhen Drive

Continuing down Balls Head Road, we veer right into Waterhen Drive. This leads down the hill and around the back of HMAS Waterhen, where I believe there's an entry gate close to the water level.


Bush food sign

But it also leads (partway along) to this pathway, and a sign explaining the plants here and how they produce native bush foods.


Entering the Coal Loader site

There are several old brick buildings here.


Coal Loader map and history

This is a former industrial site known as The Coal Loader. It's now heritage listed and has been converted into a public space. This sign explains some of the history of the facility.


Cola Loader Cafe

Inside is the Coal Loader Cafe, open and doing a decent socially distanced business on this fine Sunday.


The Coal Loader

But what exactly is a coal loader?? I'm glad you asked!

Here, down some stairs, is a large sandstone wall, punctured by large tunnels...


Balls Head Bay

I'm going to leave you in suspense for a minute though, because the view from here is marvellous.

This is looking back to HMAS Waterhen, and some of the navy ships currently berthed there. Including a tall sailing ship, which I believe is the STS Young Endeavour, which is non-commissioned, but operated by the Royal Australian Navy as a youth training vessel.


Coal Loader wharf

This is the old wharf for the Coal Loader. Where they unloaded coal from ships.


Wharf and MV Cape Don

The wharf is very dilapidated, but protected as a heritage listed site.


Coal Loader panorama

Here's a panorama showing the Coal Loader left, the old wharf, and HMAS Waterhen, right.


Coal Loader tunnels

Here we get to the business end of the Coal Loader. It's literally what the name says. Coal was unloaded from ships at the wharf, and carried up onto the top of this sandstone construction. The tunnels used to have train tracks running through them. Coal trains would back into the tunnels, and coal would pour down from sluices above into the open-topped coal carrier wagons. The sluices had valves so they could be opened ad closed to control the flow of coal.

Once fully loaded, the trains would carry the coal away to various destinations.

The Coal Loader was built between 1916-1920, and operated in this way until the 1970s, when the coal chute system was replaced by mechanised conveyer belts, which operated until as recently as the 1990s.


Coal Loader tunnel

One of the four tunnels is now open to the public.


Coal Loader tunnel

Inside you can see the sluices above. The train tracks are gone though.


Coal Loader tunnel

Sunlight now pours in through the open sluices.


Coal Loader tunnel

A few other people were also walking through here today.


Coal Loader to Balls Head track

At the far end, you can keep walking along a bush track. The back end of the trains didn't extend out this far.


Balls Head view west

From here we have a view towards the west. On the right we can see the old oil storage depot over in Greenwich, which we looked at in detail in walk number 12. Greenwich Baths. Straight ahead the harbour turns into the Parramatta River, leading upstream to the west.


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The walking track here is fairly well maintained. It runs along the western coast of Balls Head Bay. We are heading towards Balls Head itself, a headland jutting out south into Sydney Harbour.


Balls Head track

Up and down a bit.


Tree termite nest

Several trees here have large termite nests in them.


Termite tunnels

The termites build covered tunnels like these to protect them from predators and the sun as they walk up and down the trees. At the bottom you can see where someone has peeled off the covering layer of dried mud that forms the roof of the tunnels.


Termite nest

Here's a bigger termite nest.


Squatter chamber

Also on Balls Head there are a few old buildings like these. The windows are filled with concrete, but originally I believe this was a squatter residence. Researching the history of Balls Head indicates squatters lived here in the early 20th century.


Pied currawong

A pied currawong on the track. The foliage is dense and there's not much of a view....


Balls Head lookout

Until suddenly we come across this lookout spot! There's the Bridge and the city centre. In front of the city is Goat Island, one of the harbour islands. Goat Island has a long history of military and industrial use, but is now public space and part of Sydney Harbour National Park.


Balls Head lookout panorama

A panorama, because the single shot couldn't do the view justice.


Balls Head emplacement

Further along the track is this area. I have no idea why it was built up like this. It looks a bit like an old gunnery position, but as far as I've been able to ascertain there were never any military emplacements on Balls Head.


Balls Head picnic area

Here is a picnic table area, currently occupied by some people doing a personal training fitness session.


Balls Head track

More steps lead us back down close to the water level.


Balls Head track

As we can see.


Fishing rock, Balls Head

We reach this rock, where a guy is fishing.


Balls Head fishing spot panorama

Another panorama. Not a bad fishing spot.


Opera House from Balls Head

This is the best view of the Opera House we can get from Balls Head. Balls Head is a prime location for people to camp out on New Years Eve and await the fireworks that are set off over the harbour and from the Bridge. You can see why.


Australian brushturkey

Oh, a friendly brushturkey! I've never gotten this close to one to take a photo with a phone before.


Balls Head picnic spot

At the eastern tip of Balls Head is this grassy picnic spot. It would have a great view, but a lot of it blocked by the trees.


Balls Head view north-east

Rounding the eastern end of Balls Head, we turn north into Berrys Bay. From here we can see across Berrys Bay to Sawmillers Reserve (right), which we visited in walk number 2. McMahons Point. In that walk, we walked along the opposite shore from the left to right.


Cool old boat

A cool old boat.


Balls Head track

The path continues around Balls Head, leading up...


Balls Head track

To a road.


Berrys Bay from Balls Head

This takes us around the western side of Berrys Bay. We see North Sydney across in the distance.


Balls Head Reserve entrance

Here's the main entrance to Balls Head Reserve, which is what we have been walking around since we left the Coal Loader. We missed the main entrance earlier by taking the alternative route through the Coal Loader. Balls Head Reserve is heritage listed.


Coal Loader topside

Speaking of which, we can enter the Coal Loader again from the road up here. This is the top of the sandstone construction with the train tunnels. It's been renovated into a public space, with grassed areas, some sparse shade, and a bunch of small community gardens.

There are a few people out and about here today. A few times a year they hold an artisan's market here, which is very busy.


Coal Loader panorama

A panoramic view of the top of the Coal Loader.


Community garden

The little gardens grow fruit and vegetables. Anyone can join the community garden group, work on the garden, and share in the produce.


Community garden units

Several of the garden units.


Top of the Coal Loader

It's a cool space. The large square grates in the middle of the grass are covers over the coal sluices. You can hear people below in the tunnel.


MV Cape Don

The MV Cape Don is a former lighthouse tender ship, now converted to a museum ship. It's berthed here at the Coal Loader and is open for public tours once a fortnight.


MV Cape Don

A wider view, showing the edge of the Coal Loader on the left. The Cape Don creaks audibly as it rocks on the gentle swell of the harbour.


Coal Loader wharf

The old coal wharf from above. The old oil depot in Greenwich is on the far shore, with Berry Island on the right.


The Coal Loader

A parting view over the top of the renovated Coal Loader.


Balls Head and Coal Loader walk map

Today's walk route, starting at the top, heading south, then anticlockwise from the Coal Loader around Balls Head Reserve.

My walk tracking app unfortunately crapped out on me about 200 metres into this walk, but from Google maps I estimate the complete round trip from my home and back was 7-8 kilometres.


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