Observatory Park, Red Hill

The triangular block of forested land situated at the junction of Beecroft Road and Pennant Hills Road was noted on the earliest maps of the district as “Red Hill (good soil)”. This 5 2.2 hectare (5 acre) block is on a high rainfall, ridge atop a vein of volcanic soil with a high iron content which lends it its characteristic red colour. This deep deposit of Wianamatta Shale soil was perfect to support its cover of Sydney Blue Gum High Forest.

The observatory

During the subdivision of the area in 1886 when the railway was completed this block was set aside as a reserve for public use. An observatory, with a conical sliding roof, a branch of Sydney Observatory, was established in 1890 at the eastern end.  For information about the observatory    Link PObservatory 

World War 11 and the aftermath

An army transit camp was established in the park during World War 11 and the undergrowth was cleared for a bivouac and military vehicle access. Only the tall trees remained.

1953 saw the zoning of the park for Public Recreation and subsequently Hornsby Council undertook the maintenance of the park and commenced mowing around the trees. The park was used for fetes, fairs and other fund raising activities with car access and parking. A brick toilet block was built in 1966. This brought degradation. Road widening also brought loss of trees. Mowing continued until 1988.

Regeneration of the Blue Gum  High Forest

In 1988 John Noble, a Beecroft ioneer bush regenerator, assisted by Beecroft botanist Jenifer Lewis, carried out a survey of the site. This revealed a count of 46 species including the trees. Hornsby Shire Council agreed to set aside a central section of approximately a hectare (identified by large yellow dots painted on selected trees). Mowing in that area was to cease and regeneration commence.

John Noble undertook the removal by hand of weeds in this area in a chessboard fashion and many more species emerged. Wooden bollards were placed around the regeneration area to clearly define the boundaries and prevent frequent incursions by mowing contractors. By 1994 more than 100 different species had been identified. In 1997 the NSW Scientific Committee recognised the park as Sydney Blue Gum High Forest and listed it as an Endangered Ecological Community under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.

In 1998, John Noble, then in his eighties, realised he was no longer physically capable of continuing to work alone and asked for volunteers to help. In February 1999 a team of volunteers commenced working one day per month and took over. In January 2000 the regenerated area was virtually doubled in size and the toilet block was subsequently demolished. By 2009 more than 120 species of native plants had returned.

Observatory Park had returned to its original state of Sydney Blue Gum High Forest.

Lesley Goldberg and Sheila Woods

This account is based on:

  1. an article by Ron Leslie who acknowledges a debt to John Noble’s book ‘Red Hill Observatory Park: its history  and regeneration’; and
  2. a paper by Dr D.K. Milne, ‘The Wahroonga  Observatory’ published in The Historian 27 (2) pp64-67, 1998).