The Gap Sydney NSW – Part 1 – hopefully this article will give an insight into a little known but beautiful area of Sydney. We can take you here on a Harley or trike tour. Just ask us!
The Gap is part of the eastern suburbs of Sydney, just 7kms north of the famous Bondi Beach. It is an ocean cliff on the South Head Peninsula. It is formed from Sydney sandstone making it part of the Sydney basin. More on that later. The Gap has a spectacular view to the east, out to the Tasman Sea. It’s not possible to see NZ but the north island is 2,154 km from here, straight ahead.
Prior to European settlement, The Gap was inhabited by the Birrabirragal Aboriginal clan.
A short European history:
Shortly after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the British established a makeshift signalling station on the ridge above The Gap. Its role was to give early warning to the colony of any approaching ship. A formal signal station was established in 1790, serviced by a bridle trail that developed into the Old South Head Road by 1811. Pilots based at Camp Cove in Watsons Bay would meet ships at the entrance to Port Jackson in order to guide them safely into Sydney Harbour.
In 1871, a year after the official withdrawal of Imperial British forces, the headland around The Gap became a military garrison when work began to build coastal artillery emplacements to defend the Port of Sydney. Construction was undertaken by the colonial government’s militia under the command of British military engineers. The first barracks, which were occupied by members of the New South Wales Artillery, were completed by 1877. Extensions were added in 1880 to accommodate additional personnel. Many of the early barracks are still standing near The Gap.
By 1895, the area was being used by the fledgling Australian Army as a gunnery school. In 1942, the Royal Australian Navy had established a radar training school nearby. The facility was initially named HMAS Radar, but was later commissioned as HMAS Watson on 14 March 1945. Torpedo and anti-submarine warfare training were relocated to Watson in 1956.
The Gap has been part of Sydney Harbour National Park since 1982. In 1990, the area was opened to the public to offer access to the spectacular cliff views and walks.
In 1857, the sailing ship Dunbar carrying 63 passengers and 59 crew struck the rocky cliff at the foot of The Gap. The Dunbar, which was captained by James Green, had left England on 31 May 1857 arriving off Botany Bay shortly after dark on 20 August 1857. In poor visibility and stormy weather, Captain Green misjudged the entrance to the harbour. The Dunbar drove into the rocky cliff at the foot of The Gap causing the ship’s topmasts to snap and the ship to turn broadside against the rocks because of the pounding of the waves.
By light next day, crowds watched as breakers pounded victims’ corpses against the rocks. Other bodies amid cargo and wreckage were washed inside Sydney harbour with the incoming tide; many of the dead were naked and had been mutilated by sharks. The funeral of the Dunbar victims was one of the longest processions ever seen in Sydney. The unidentified dead were buried in a common grave at Camperdown cemetery.
A young sailor named James Johnson was the only survivor. He was rescued after clinging to a rocky ledge below The Gap for 36 hours. Johnson, who was later employed at the lighthouse near Newcastle, rescued another lone survivor from the wreckage of the steamer, SS Cawarra, in July 1866.
More than fifty years later, The Dunbar’s anchor was recovered and placed on the cliffs at Watsons Bay with a memorial tablet.
We hope you have enjoyed The Gap Sydney NSW – Part 1. Part 2 will be about some of the sad (but interesting) suicides and accidental deaths. It’s really why The Gap was in the news often. Not so much any more, thankfully.