including Stanwell Tops and Coalcliff
STANWELL PARK’S sparkling ocean has been a draw-card for hot and flustered Sydney-siders for decades. One of the state’s first surf lifesaving clubs opened here in 1908, and Stanwell Park continues to attract a wide range of beach-lovers.
To get to the park, simply follow the signs from the F6 freeway, drive down Bald Hill and then, when you get to the bottom of the hill, look out for the turn-off on the left. Take another left into Station Street and you will arrive at the park - a large, lovely patch of green surrounded by cabbage tree palms.
Other features of the park include a picturesque creek, children’s playground, BBQ facilities and kiosk. During the hot summer months, families flock to the park to enjoy a picnic, play cricket, catch a ball, have a swim or simply laze about in the sun.
The beach itself is long and clean, with creeks at either end feeding into the sea. Fully patrolled between September and April, the beach is also popular with surfers for its “big left-handers” and “small summer waves”.
The sight of hang-gliders coming into land adds a sense of drama, as do the views of the Illawarra escarpment.
Back on the main road, Stanwell Park has a range of eclectic shops housed in a complex that includes Articles Fine Art Gallery. Established 25 years ago by artist John Vander, the gallery showcases the work of local artists, as well as etchings by artists of the calibre of Norman Lindsay. Adjacent to the gallery is a contemporary jewellery store, antique shop and fashion boutique, as well as The Palms Café and Restaurant.
In his fascinating sketch of the life and work of Lawrence Hargrave, the former president of the Illawarra Historical Society, W.G. McDonald, wrote, “It is no exaggeration to say that no Australian’s work has more profoundly affected the world, for good or evil, than Hargrave’s.” He is referring, of course, to the work that Lawrence Hargrave did in the field of aeronautics, and the way in which planes have been used in war.
As a young man, Lawrence, the son of a famous NSW judge and politician, spent several years exploring remote regions in Australia and New Guinea before deciding to settle down in Sydney, where he took a job at the Sydney Observatory. While there he helped to discover 480 new double stars.
Meanwhile, his father, Justice John Fletcher Hargrave, had acquired over 1000 acres in what was first known as Little Bulli, later Stanwell Park. The judge built himself a house at Coalcliff, which he later let out to holiday-makers.
John later divided his estate among his children with Ralph, his oldest son, receiving the central “park” area, where he constructed his own home, Hillcrest, later inherited by Lawrence. It still stands in Station Street, near the rail station.
Meanwhile, Lawrence sold his parcel of land near Coalcliff, giving him enough money to engineer a flying machine. On Stanwell Park beach in 1894, Lawrence was lifted five metres off the ground in a series of box kites tied together with rope. Details of his flight were sent around the world.
In 1895, Lawrence designed a powered machine, but it wasn’t powerful enough to fly. Again, news of this was widely broadcast.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers made the world’s first controlled flight in a powered machine.
Lawrence Hargrave died in 1915, but his work is celebrated with a memorial and in the annual Festival of Flight, held in Stanwell Park in November.