Barra Brui to Bungaroo Bush Trek
By ALEC SMART
With a decent pair of hiking boots, or a mountain bicycle with suspension, Barra Brui Oval to Bungaroo and back through Garigal National Park makes an enjoyable return-trek of around 4km.
Garigal National Park, the 2,202-hectare protected native bushland to the east of St Ives, features a number of pleasant forested paths, particularly in the ‘Cascades’ region between St Ives and Belrose.
Here, at the Stepping Stones crossing between the confluence of three bush trails – Bungaroo, Governor Phillip and Middle Harbour walking tracks – flows Middle Harbour Creek.
In the aftermath of rain, the creek transcends from a slow-flowing narrow stream, weaving around sandstone rocks, into turbulent, tumbling cascades.
The Stepping Stones can be reached by following the fire trail known as Pipeline Track, which runs eastward from Barra Brui Scout Hall in south St Ives, adjacent to a large green pipe carrying drinking water. Approximately 800 metres from the start, Bungaroo Track (on the left) veers off to the north, then continues east, parallel to Pipeline Track (the latter safer for cyclists).
The trail meanders 1.5km through the bush, passing a lookout over the valley, and eventually dropping down a steep descent reinforced with stone steps until it reaches a sandy beach beside Middle Harbour Creek. A sharp bend in the water course diverts the path left, west again, to meet at the Stepping Stones - approx. 8 flat sandstone boulders spanning the narrow creek.
Crossing the creek – beware, it is treacherous and fast-flowing after heavy rainfall! – turning left joins the Cascades, but right, following Governor Phillip Track just 20 metres downstream, brings you to a natural freshwater pool. Approx 12m length, 5m width, and 2 metres deep at its centre, it is a refreshing oasis in which to swim and cool off on hot days.
Now named ‘Bungaroo’ – a word derived from the Dharug-speaking Indigenous clans of Sydney – it is thought to mean either ‘resting place’ or ‘running water’.
The pool, situated in a natural reservoir just above the upper tidal reaches of the saltwater Middle Harbour Creek, is where, on Wednesday 16th April 1788, Governor Phillip and a party of marines pitched canvas tents and camped overnight.
We know for certain Governor Phillip’s party camped at Bungaroo, because he followed Middle Harbour Creek inland and described the campsite in his memoirs as where "the flowing of the tide ceased".
This took place during the first of several treks exploring the region north of the new British colony of Sydney. Phillip sought arable land to establish farms to feed the 1000 convicts, marines and settlers that arrived in 11 ships just 11 weeks earlier.
The treks across Sydney’s North Shore were unsuccessful. First Fleet chronicler Watkin Tench described a subsequent trek to Broken Bay/Pittwater: “…the adjacent country was found so rocky and bare as to preclude all possibility of turning it to account...”), the Middle Harbour Creek exploration is significant in Phillip’s journal.
Surgeon General John White, who accompanied Phillip, was not impressed with the region, and described it as “...the most desert wild and solitary seclusion the imagination can form any idea of...”
The day after the camp at Bungaroo, Phillip ascended the heights into what is now St Ives and from a vantage point he first viewed the Blue Mountains. He wrote in his journal: "a fine view of the mountains inland… A mountain between I called Richmond Hill and from the rising of these mountains, I did not doubt but that a large river would be found.”
This was, of course, the Hawkesbury-Nepean, along which fertile farming could be established.
After several attempts in April 1788, Phillip abandoned the search for arable land on the North Shore, much of which is dry Sclerophyll forest, a type of hardy vegetation that thrives in habitats not conducive to European farming practices. Instead, the new colony established agriculture in Rose Hill (Parramatta).
Sclerophyll forests, including eucalypts and melaleuca species, feature tough, sun-facing leaves, unpalatable to most herbivores due to their toxic oils. The soils in which they thrive are typically poor in nutrients, particularly phosphorous, attributable to the Aboriginal practice of burning-back bushland to flush out game. Over the millennia, only Sclerophyll forest evolved to survive this regimen and ultimately dominated the North Shore region.
During the Great Depression (1929-1939), the natural waterhole at Bungaroo, then called ‘Cascades Pool’, was well known to residents of St Ives and the new suburb of Davidson as a popular picnicking and swimming spot.
Unemployment relief workers in the early 1930s reinforced the reservoir with stone blocks (probably from nearby Davidson Quarry) to create a more insulated swimming pool.
Paths wide enough for vehicles were hacked through the bush from Mona Vale Road and Belrose (Quarry Track) to the pool (now among several interconnecting fire trails), and during WWII, military troops stationed at St. Ives Showground travelled down them to swim.
After the war, the stagnant pool became polluted, and Ku-Ring-Gai Council demolished the stone walls that contained the water, allowing the creek to flow naturally through again, cleansing it.
Garigal National Park is named after the Indigenous Garigal clans that hunted, fished and gathered sea foods for millennia along Middle Harbour Creek and across the forested regions descending to the coast. There are 76 identified Aboriginal sites on the shores of Middle Harbour, including shell middens, rock overhangs and cave art.
There are over 35 trails through Garigal Park covering 120km. The 4km hike from Barra Brui to Bungaroo and back should take under 2 hours to complete on foot.
Photos by Alec Smart