Thursday, September 29, 2011

the 53rd suburb, Palm Beach

A few weeks ago I called for suggestions as to which suburb I should make an honourary 53rd suburb, as a
diversion from sitting stuck behind my desk trying to drum up support for 52 Suburbs Around the World.   

There were so many fantastic responses - in fact, at one point there were exactly 52 suggestions, enough
to keep me busy for another year. But the deal was, the one most voted for would win the day. So after tallying
up all the blog comments, emails and Facebook suggestions, the winner was Palm Beach.

Hmm. Palmie huh. Interesting. Although I felt bad that I couldn't satisfy everyone's requests, I did

quite like the idea of visiting Sydney's most northerly coastal suburb (41km from the city), the last one 
before you hit water and then the Central Coast.

Brief history of the place: Named after the cabbage tree palms that still dominate the area. Original

residents were the Guringai people. European and Chinese fishermen lived on Snapperman Beach during 
the early part of the 19th century. 1843, the colonial government built a customs house to stop smugglers
entering Broken Bay. 1881, shot up a lighthouse. 1912, land sold off to wealthy folk interested in
'fishing, sailing, golf and rowing'. Fast forward to today and not much has changed. PB is regarded as
one of Sydney's most beautiful - and expensive - suburbs, surrounded as it is by water with sweeping views
all around. 


Let's Go Palmie!

Part 1: Palm Beach in a former life - House No 1

As anyone who's followed this blog for a while knows, I am a sucker for the old stuff and not so interested

in the shiny new. So when I rang one of the real estate agents up there to ask whether it was possible to
get entry into a PB home, I requested 'old not new please'. As a result I found myself being driven up a 
windy road by Noel from LJ Hooker to meet heritage listed Windyridge, and David, its owner. A modest
home but one that made you drop your shoulders the moment you entered and saw the view, uninterrupted
to the north, east and west.

Thanks Noel and thank you David for putting up with a total stranger nosing around your house and for

rummaging around to find the original plans of Windyridge, built in 1919.

not windy today

view towards the lighthouse

David with the 100 year old plans


the home's heart

from an era past

tea pot, painted many moons ago by David's wife

ahoy there

Part 2: Palm Beach in a former life - House No 2

I heard about another 'classic' PB house through an old friend. This time it was one of the 75% of homes

in the area that sit empty for the most of the year waiting patiently for a holiday to roll around and life
to inhabit them once again. Luckily for me, not only did the owner happen to be there when I knocked
on the door but she also very kindly agreed to let me in.

In her 80s, Claire explained that the house has been in the family for donkeys and was once a boathouse.

The little cottage is the opposite of grand yet it has the most majestic position - literally right on the
water's edge, looking out over the bay side of Palm Beach, Pittwater. I spent a good few hours there,
talking with Claire and snapping away. Long enough for a southerly to hit and turn the place into a
dreamy, moody landscape, one I had to drag myself away from.

Thank you Claire.

buoy up a tree

beach babes - Claire's mum and her sister, 1928

protection from the harsh western sun

outside in

on water's edge

wish I could stick my feet in the water

Part 3: Palm Beach in a former life - Houses various

Nothing new here either, all wonderfully old and original.

Jodie's house :: 1 - patterns from head to toe

Jodie's house :: 2 - window seat

take a seat

love a breezeway

garage with a view :: 1

garage with a view :: 2


dragonflies ahead of the southerly

troppo in Florida

Part 4: Water to the west

As I mentioned, PB is surrounded by water. Pittwater to the west, Pacific Ocean to the east and Broken Bay
to the north.

Starting with Pittwater, a body of water people traverse in anything that floats, from tinnies to ferries.

straight off the ferry from the Central Coast

Margaret's ride home aboard Myra


long lines


married in a southerly

time to batten down the hatches

Part 5: Water to the east - and from above

Palm Beach Surf Life Saving Club is an institution in the area. Founded in 1921, it holds court over the
southern end of Palm Beach, spread out over four charming old buildings. The members of the club will
happily save your life in the surf but as for having a nose about those charming interiors? No way buster.

no access

flexing their muscle

the boys


shutting up shop

the girls

That was Saturday. By Sunday the weather had really turned and it was only good for ducks. And surfers
with cameras on their heads as it turns out. Jack, if you're reading this, send me your video!

and then it really rained

Jack, wired for video

putting the Beach Closed sign up

Part 6: I can see for miles and miles (19 to be precise)

I ended my visit to Palm Beach on a high note, climbing 350 feet into the air to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse,
built in 1881 and still guiding ships to this day. Almost killed me but the steep steps were worth it - the view 
ain't half bad from up there. 

tea before the trek

steep steps up Smugglers

on the top - looking back over Pittwater

view to the lighthouse, 1927

sandstone, hewn and unhewn

flora on high

Tim and Bree, barefoot up Barrenjoey

The area is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Services. Back down at sea level I popped my head
into one of the old cottages there and met manager Col and a few of his mates who were visiting. Col told
me the cottage was where the film Tim was shot and hadn't really changed since except for a lick of yellow
paint. Recognise it?

Dan and Col where Tim was filmed

One of Col's friends was visiting with his 11 year old son, Jack. When Jack decided to try his luck on the
Pittwater fish, I couldn't help snap away - both at the beautiful half Balinese Jack and the sublime setting sun. 

Jack, fishing not surfing

as the sun sets slowly in the west


I can see why they call it god's country

people have been fishing here forever

On the way back to my car for my final trip back home, I met another fisherman, Jo. He was surveying
his two fishing rods from the comfort of a wheelbarrow, hoping to catch his dinner. What, I wondered, would
those Chinese and European fishermen - and the Guringai before them - who used to fish in that exact same
spot, make of the wheelbarrow?

Jo, catching his dinner

Having once lived in Avalon, I wasn't unfamiliar with this week's suburb. But I'd never liked it as much as I
did this week. Meeting some of its long-time locals, both human and man-made, made me feel like I'd 
stepped back in time, to a less showy and more down to earth Palm Beach. I thought I would miss
doing a more urban, gritty suburb but it was invigorating to get out of the city for a change. 
Many thanks to those who opened their doors to a curious woman with a camera.


  1. Lovely, Louis.
    Thanks. Missed the Northern Beaches in 52 Subs.

  2. Palm Beach is like a home and away ..

  3. Thank you so much for documenting my choice - Palm Beach - as your 53rd suburb! Your photos are beautiful, uplifting, enlightening as always. A reminder that you can find paradise in your own backyard.

  4. Ahh Palmie, great choice Lou. There's something to be said for a suburb of Sydney that is still pretty much unspoilt.
    Thanks for the fix.
    Di xx

  5. One of my favourite stomping grounds from a past life. Thanks so much for the views and memories

  6. A beauty with a bit of history.
    Definitely your photos make a suburb, you always find elements worth capturing.

  7. Hey Louise - wow! Absolutely wonderful post! Thanks - you made my day!!
    nat x

  8. Fistrel - Glad I could oblige but sorry for your homesickery. Best make it back for another visit soon.

    John - Yes, well, apparently.

    Ros - Glad you liked your choice!

    Di - My pleasure.

    Duke - Glad to be of service.

    Salamander - Thanks!

    Nat - I love to make someone's day, thanks for saying!


  9. Louise - love your shots. Was at Palm Beach in March on my annual Sydney pilgrimage - you capture its 'feel' so well.

  10. Hi Louise, I have been a long time follower and admirer of your work. Having once been a Sydney Sider and now living interstate it's great how you have re acquainted me with this beautiful place.
    Regards Peter

  11. Oh Louise, I've got goose bumps from this post!! Your gorgeous photos and your words are just brilliant! This is all and more I was hoping for from your visit to PB. Makes me want to jump in the car and drive up there right now. From the majestic old homes (that I would never ever have had the chance to get a glimpse inside with out you) to muscles and tats (oh my!), and from the newly weds to the light house...loved it all. Thanks so much for showing us the down to earth side of Palmie. alison x

  12. I'm so happy you chose Palmie! This is one of my local beaches and it was so nice to see a different side of it. And I love the "time to batten down the hatches" photo - I have so many good memories on that jetty.

  13. cool ay u said fb do u have a fb page or a 52 suburgbs page im on fb to great pics if u ever do coogee and want an old house you are ver welcome into this one our house was built in the 1860s jsut come on up to number 25 byron street snap awa at our sandstoan and knock LOUDLY on our door as the doorbell doesnt work although knowing me i may well b in here on fb on the comp wich is right near the door computer is nto fb or ay thatd b funny in your blog riting a comment now that could make a good pic i can jstu see the caption shes reading my blog LOL have a good weekkend

  14. A beautiful post and images, as always :)

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