If you live in Sydney, have you ever heard of the North Head Sanctuary? Until last weekend, neither had I. Last Saturday, Tony and I thought we’d go for a drive in our old convertible in that brief opportunity between showers. (Hasn’t this been the coolest, wettest start to summer you can remember?) We stopped off for a coffee in Manly and then decided to continue on to North Head, thinking we’d go to the national park.
As we drove up past the School of Artillery we realised there were signs out the front of the two main driveways inviting us into the North Head Sanctuary. We didn’t even know that the army had moved out some years ago. As with much of our old military land, the army’s occupation has been relatively benevolent, with vast tracts of land left virtually untouched for decades.
At Car-rang-gel (North Head), on its low nutrient soils and windswept hillsides, is one of the largest remnants of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub, a community of plants well-adapted to such a hostile environment, and dominated by Banksia ericifolia, Banksia aemula, Banksia marginata and Banksia serrata.
The scrub supports a huge variety of nectar and seed eating birds, as well as water dragons and endangered long-nosed bandicoots. And echidnas, as we soon discovered while parking our car and watching one bustle and bristle its way up a grassy embankment next to the old parade ground.
In 2002 the North Head Sanctuary Foundation was formed to protect the significant ecological, historical and cultural value of the site. It works with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust which manages the site, including the old art deco buildings once used by the School of Artillery, but now hosting a diverse range of occupations such as carriage making and TV’s The Biggest Loser. The Third Cemetery for the nearby Quarantine Station is also within the Sanctuary.
Like many newish endeavours, the Sanctuary is struggling to get public attention, so if you’re at all interested in indigenous vegetation or bird watching, get amongst it on one of the sign-posted walks either through the scrub, along to Shelley Beach or through the hanging swamp.
On weekends you can find more information at Bandicoot Heaven, the aptly-named visitor centre, staffed by one of the Foundations dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers, like the lovely Mary Johnson I met that day.
Since 2009, volunteers with the Foundation have set up a small community nursery where they’ve been propagating plants from local seed and cuttings for replanting projects, as they slowly revegetate roadside areas, and those given over to mown grass for many years. If you’re interested volunteering for a planting-out day or for bigger one-off jobs like moving mulch, contact the Foundation