A walk through the past with a St Ives local
St Ives has the kind of history that lends itself to compelling narratives - especially when they're shared by such a joyful storyteller.
There are few people living in St Ives who would have the sort of at-your-fingertip knowledge of its history that Bev Ogle has. She shares facts and anecdotes as readily as if she was sharing a bag of mixed lollies.
Bev wasn’t actually born in St Ives, but she arrived as a young girl in the early 1960s. Back then the leafy suburb was a remote oasis, untouched by over-zealous developers.
“It used to be all five acre lots….well, not all, that’s an exaggeration, but it used to be full of market gardens,” says Bev.
Most of those were owned by Italian immigrants and some were owned by Germans.
A handful of markets still remain in Rosedale Road.
Nobody fenced off their properties in the 1960s and ‘70s; their borders merged and it created a strong communal feel. Everyone knew each other; kids played in the front yards; people proudly cultivated their own gardens.
Horses were almost as common as dogs and Pony Club was at the very centre of the community. There would have been over 30 kids in the club back then.
“Pony Club was always active…everybody was out every afternoon exercising horses and screaming up and down bush tracks,” says Bev.
When streets such as Banool Ave were first built, the bulldozers left high, broad hills of dirt and clay which were terrifying to ride down but fun to climb on horseback.
“There were a lot of active parents too, who did a lot of work at Pony Club itself, you know, like building the club house and the stables and things like that,” says Bev.
“A couple of times we had Olympic people come out and spend the day there and give kids a bit of a boost: ’This is where you can go if you’re good enough and your horse is good enough.’”
Bev kept horses on what used to be the old dairy at the junction of Warrimoo Ave and Collins Rd. Every two years she bred a new foal.
For a long time there was only one small school in St Ives - St Ives Central which opened in 1889 on the corner of Mona Vale Rd and Rosedale Rd. Bev taught there briefly, before the population in the district flourished.
“I taught at St Ives Central School and we had 120 kids one year and we thought we were overcrowded!”
The dual historic buildings that formed the school and the principal’s residence eventually gave way to a growing population and a new, larger school elsewhere. The buildings now function as The Old School Trattoria restaurant and gallery.
Corpus Christi Catholic School was established in 1954, also beginning as a humble little schoolhouse, but, according to Bev, “it’s grown and grown and grown…because the population’s grown.”
The predecessor of the modern looking Christ Church building on the corner of Cowan Rd and Mona Vale Rd was an old fibro and timber structure. It was built around 1909 and sat prominently on a raised section of town.
“It was said it had the best bell in the belfry of any church because it had to be the loudest bell possible to get the people to go to church,” laughs Bev.
Garigal National Park has only been an official reserve for around 30 years. Prior to 1991 the whole area was generally referred to as Davidson Park and it was much more freely accessible.
“The boys used to like to walk down the water pipe at weekends and camp for the weekend and catch fish (though they took sausages as well),” says Bev.
It was disappointing for a lot of locals who couldn’t use the trails through the park anymore.
“On horseback, every week, we all used to ride to French’s Forest and back, through the bush. And when French’s Forest show was held each year, all the locals just rode out there because by the time you’d gone along the bush track, all the horses had settled down and you had a peaceful day,” laments Bev.
There were orchards along the route. When the orchard owners saw riders go by, they would often leave half a bucket of apples or oranges for the riders on their return. Famous novelist, Morris West, was among the many generous fruit givers.
Village Green was originally a flower market that sloped down from Cowan Rd to Memorial Ave. The owner bequeathed it to the people of St Ives in his will and council later levelled it to create playing fields.
One of the most prestigious and influential St Ives personalities was Eben Gowrie Waterhouse OBE CMG (1881–1977). Among his many talents was his impeccable green thumb and he was renowned world-wide for his contribution to the study and propagation of camellias. He established the Camellia Grove Nursery in 1939 which used to have “orchids like you couldn’t imagine. They really were spectacular,” says Bev. The nursery still operates today. The original Waterhouse home with its spectacular garden - Eryldene in Gordon - is now a living museum.
Another significant figure in St Ives’ history is Arthur H Gillott who started a road haulage and bus company in 1935. It continued as a wholly family owned business until 1998 and was pivotal in the infrastructure development of St Ives. Bev recalls Gillott owned bulldozers and trucks excavating the earth for Cassandra Ave, Grevillea Ave, and Melaleuca Drive and using the soil to help build playing fields at St Ives High.
Being within bird-call distance of vast areas of bushland is one of the blessings of living in St Ives - but also one of its curses. Every summer brings the threat of bushfires. One of the worst to hit St Ives was in 1994 and it remains vivid in Bev’s memory. Fuelled by accumulated undergrowth and fanned by gusty winds, flames coursed through the valley and crossed the perimeter of the parklands. Bev recalls emergency services using Barra Brui oval as a base. Rescue vehicles convened there and helicopters even landed.
Yet, despite the horrors of fire, Bev says her favourite thing about St Ives is living in the bush.
“I mean I look across the road and I look straight down into a valley of trees.”
It’s also a very supportive community. And on New Year’s Eve people gather in the street to watch the fireworks over the harbour. So there’s really no need to go anywhere else.