Imagine, for whatever strange reason (to the normal world) that you’ve decided to build by the water with no road access whatsoever. It’s around the turn of the 19th/20th century, just living is a significant problem. However, there is a whole world out there of which you know very little in terms of current affairs. Enter the postman…..except there’s no roads, remember.
Thus, in 1910, just four years before the Great War, the Riverboat Postman came into being. It’s stating the bleeding obvious that the wooden ferry style craft that once plied the river delivering stuff have been superseded by a two storied modern catamaran, times two.
Up until March 2012 it was run by Hawkesbury River Cruises who also handled the Dangar Island ferries. After their liquidation they were split up and the Postman is now the province of Hawkesbury Cruises.
We all boarded and arranged ourselves into “friendly” tables. It was hard not to notice the lack of screaming children and active people. It seemed that if you weren’t on some sort of pension you were excluded.
Once departed from Hawkesbury River, where there’s an oh-so-convenient railway station, photographers tended to head to the exposed upper deck as we cruised between Dangar and Long Islands. Though the former is well occupied and has its own restaurant, Long Island is a nature reserve and access, other than by difficult water landings, borders on impossible and will involve scrambling over rocks, something I did the following week.
Today we smoothly transition by the extraordinary sandstone formations after heading beneath the significant railway bridge. The original one, whose pillars are still standing, was constructed by the American Union Bridge Company who unfortunately used inferior concrete which later cracked and the complete bridge we now see was opened in 1946 after being imported piece by piece from England with the trusses cut from the sandstone just to the west of the bridge.
The original pillar supports, despite being a navigational hazard, were left standing because to demolish them may have interfered with the structural integrity of the replacement.
Next bridge we come to is the road one (1945) and the freeway one adjacent which opened in 1973. Also pointed out is a pine tree at Brooklyn that featured on the first five pound note. It’s a long time since I’ve seen one of those!
Under the bridges and, on the right, is Deerubbun (means wide, deep water) Reserve where there’s always heaps of cars, motorhomes and caravans plus the odd fishing boat being launched. Right next to it is the once famous Peat Island where women with an alcohol problem (I know a few even now) were sent to try and sober up. Later it became an asylum for those with mental problems and once two inmates escaped, swam across the water and scrambled up to the main road where they hitchhiked and were picked up by, wait for it, two off duty policemen!
Deeper into the estuary the next island is Milsons and it was where male alcoholics were catered for, but it has also been extensively used for bacteriological research and as a quarantine station. One of the uses was for myxomatosis trailing before it was released into the rabbit population.
Thankfully, after Milsons use-by date, the accommodations have been kept and it’s now a sports and recreation centre with a high ropes course, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, archery, bushwalking and abseiling. Our captain at the helm has a special take on the kayakers however, he calls them “targets”. They’re marginally more popular though than his main scourge, houseboats.
Then we’re heading upriver where, here and there, mangroves put in an appearance. Governor Phillip first probed these waters over two centuries ago and Australia’s first warship, the Parramatta, was wrecked after a distinguished career before being converted to a coal carrier. On the southern side we come to Bar Point where there were 42 residents at last census. It’s a bit of a haven for artistic types and the socially disenchanted.
Here, at Milsons Passage, resides the self-proclaimed ruler of the Republic of Milsons Passage, John Carrick, who will query the ferry crew to find out if there have been any pirates sighted. He normally waits with his ceremonial sash and little white dog who, according to John, is “a specially bred albino dingo who helps keep the sharks at bay.” Sadly he’s a no-show today.
At our next stop the crew have some treats for the numerous dogs that come down with their owners to collect the mail. Some have to walk for up to half an hour just to get here but the daily chore gives them something to do and promotes social intercourse. However, a fisherman who resides way back in the mangroves doesn’t feel a need and has a wooden pole with a hook on it where mail can be left.
At Marlow Creek, a rounded little lady comes toddling down from the cottage atop the hill. “Her name is Boots and she so loves our Anzac biscuits” explains the commentary. I hasten to add she’s not alone in her like of the snack, they were simply the best we’ve ever tasted. They’re served up with morning tea as you leave and you get lunch on the way back.
At Mullet Island we learn that James Stanbury, once world champion sculler, was born here in the late 19th C, though he later moved to the Shoalhaven district.
A little above the southern side there’s a slightly larger building. Turns out it’s actually a restaurant, accessible only by water or helicopter. Imagine the drama when, one day, two helicopters turned up around the same time. The drama came because there’s only enough space for one.
We’re on our way back and we point out Muogamarra Nature Reserve, where once Lorraine and I visited to view the spring wild flowers during one of the rare opportunities allowed at this site. It’s a fond memory that lingers, just like the one we’ve had today.