On 1 January 2023, Wayne and I took a trip out to Warragamba Dam in western Sydney. We’d discovered a few days earlier that the wall above the spillway was open to pedestrians on weekends and public holidays only, so what better time to go for a walk, avoid the crowds and revisit our pasts than early on New Year’s Day?
My parents never owned a car or even had drivers’ licences, so until my aunt, uncle and cousins arrived from England on Australia Day 1964, our outings were limited to public transport or those where my parents’ friends drove us. When my Aunty Doff and Uncle Red arrived, the whole world seemed to open up for me.
In school holidays, Aunty Doff would often bundle me, Mum and my cousins up in the Morris and take us on outings to the Blue Mountains (she loved the Mountains) and other places of local interest. One of those places was Warragamba Dam, which had opened in 1960.
Warragamba was a place we all loved. We lived in Blacktown, so it took close to an hour to potter out there, up the Great Western Highway and probably down Luddenham Road and out via Wallacia. I don’t know about my cousins, but I loved going for a drive and never got car sick, which I find amazing when I look back now.
Haviland Park, Warragamba Dam
On arrival, there would be a rush to find a picnic spot in what I now know is Haviland Park, and then for us kids to play on the swings, the roundabout etc. while Aunty Doff and Mum unpacked and readied the lunch, which probably consisted of sandwiches and apparently involved a teapot and china cups – along with a pack of biscuits! I have no idea where the boiling water came from to make the tea. I have a vague memory of it being supplied at picnic grounds in years gone by, but that could be false memory syndrome.
Warragamba Dam suspension bridge
Following lunch, we’d go for a walk down to the lower level grounds on the north-eastern side of the dam wall and then have a walk on the suspension bridge. I had a love-hate relationship with that bridge! It was fascinating and terrifying – even more so when my cousin Chris bounced around on it to scare the proverbial out of us.
We would walk across it, but never seemed to venture far on the other side, so I have this memory of being frustrated by never having really seen what existed on the western side. Sadly, the suspension bridge is long gone.
Carols by Candlelight, Warragamba Dam
One of my other abiding memories of Warragamba Dam is being there for Carols by Candlight when I was a kid. I suspect it probably wasn’t much later than 1965 or so, and I have a vague recollection of molten wax dripping on my hand, but oh, what a wonderful evening out for a little girl! The event was held on what’s now known as ‘Lower View’ – I have no idea what it was called back in the day. And it was a magic setting with the flickering lights and voices echoing up and down the gorge.
To relate the above photos to your memories of Warragamba’s grounds, refer to the vistitor’s map available from the Water NSW website here: https://www.waternsw.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/158150/WaterNSW-Warragamba-Heritage-Walk-Dam-Wall-Gardens-Walk-Map-FINAL-V3.pdf
Why this blog post?
For many years now I’ve been researching family history, collecting data, images etc., and building family trees. The hard part is wondering what the value of all this is. The facts and images are one thing, but it’s the stories behind the facts and images which matter – and they’re the things I need to record before they’re lost forever.
Many people manage to collate the information, images and stories and write a book – but I have Mum’s stuff, Dad’s stuff, my stuff and more – I can’t imagine how many books I’d have to write! And the work involved in collating it all into a logical order intimidates me, and who’d read them anyway?
But this visit to Warragamba Dam last weekend gave me a different idea – one of telling stories by place. Not just my stories, but stories from family members, from letters and documents collected over the years. These stories will hopefully have meaning for others, help them understand their own histories etc., where they can connect with them.
So today’s post is hopefully the first of what will be many ‘history by place’ stories I aim to write to get stuff out of my head, out of my cupboard, and out into the world where it might be of use or interest to others.
I acknowledge that the construction of Warragamba Dam flooded the lands of the Gundungurra people, the traditional owners of the Burragorang Valley, and resulted in the loss of access to those traditional lands for them.
More background into the history of the Gundungurra people and their lands can be found in Sacred Waters by Dianne Johnson, published in 2007 by Halstead Press https://halsteadpress.com.au/site/