North Head Sanctuary (NSW)
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Most Australians who grew up in the 60s are familiar with the May Gibbs stories about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, two little gum nuts that have adventures in the Australian bush, helped by lizards, birds, possums and other native animals. The bad guys were ‘the bad bad banksia men’ modelled after the cones that are left once the banksia flower stems have fallen out and the cones have hardened. There are 76 banksia species and the banksia is named after Sir Joseph Banks, a naturalist who travelled to Australia with Captain James Cook. If you are familiar with the banksia tree it is easy to see where Gibbs got the inspiration for the bad bad banksia men as they mostly look kind of wicked.. but there are friendly and jovial ‘banksia men’ to be found, like this little guy that I spotted at North Head, Manly, Sydney on a recent trip.
Sydney Harbour is the most breathtaking expanse of water surrounded by sandy coves and cliffs. Boats entering the harbour traverse a stretch of water between formidable cliffs known as North Head and South Head (not very imaginative of the early pioneers).
I grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney and North Head Sanctuary with its wild, exposed cliff tops, sense of isolation, delicate flora and fauna and World War 2 tunnels and gun emplacements (great cubbies when we were young) has remained one of my favourite ‘city’ places, a must see on every trip back home.
You can’t help but come away feeling revitalised by the pure force of the wind, the crash of the waves battering the crumbling cliffs or the tenacity of the scrubby melaluca and banksia. There are seven banksia in the area, the most common is called Old Man Banksia, it is one of the first plants discovered by Joseph Banks and the creamy flowers are a favourite with birds.
It is also the banksia Australians associate with the ‘bad, bad, banksia men’ of May Gibbs children’s classic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie that I mentioned in an earlier post.
The whole area owes its survival to its early use as a quarantine station as well as a defence post. For practical purposes the surrounding area was left in its natural state and the army kept civilians, non-native animals and developers out.
Over time its worth as a flora and fauna reserve was recognised and the area became officially protected.