The Lighter Side of Willoughby – History of West Ward


The Lighter Side of Chatswood

The history of West Ward is rich, diverse and fascinating.

Aboriginal history

We know from archaeological artifacts that Aboriginal people inhabited the area now known as West Ward, for likely eons before the coming of non-indigenous settlers. There is evidence that Aboriginal people lived in the Sydney region as early as 40,000 years ago (at the time of an ice age)

In 1788, the area of what is now known as West Ward was inhabited by the Cammeraygal clan of the Guringai language nation.  Food and water was abundant in the area, so people had leisure time available. They developed a rich and complex ritual life – language, customs, spirituality and law. At the heart of their existence was their connection with the land  (2. Willoughby Council).

It is reported that ‘problematic’ ( fighting to preserve their land and culture?) Aborigines lived (often in caves) along the Lane Cove River. (1. Booker p.5). The Camaraigal men were robust and muscular who held authority over surrounding groups.

The Camaraigal lived in the area until the 1820’s. By 1880 no Aboriginal communities

following a traditional lifestyle were left in the Sydney area. In 1981 there were 113 people of

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent in Willoughby. However it is unlikely that any of them were directly descended from the original inhabitants of the area.

Today there are number of artifacts of Aboriginal origin within West Ward.

The Garadi Track is a reflective journey exploring the cultural remains and mysteries of the Aboriginal people once living in Mowbray Park. The track explores middens, grinding grooves,habitation caves, memories of bark canoes and hand stenciling.

The Mowbray Park Walking Track passes an Aboriginal Interpretive Site. In 2008 Aboriginal artist Joe Hurst created scuptures and carvings to hightlight the Cameragials use of the land. Whilst removing grass to install oneof the sculptures a huge midden was uncovered under the oval.

The Ferndale Walking Track follows a long established Aboriginal trail. It is also likely that there was an Aboriginal trail down the Blue Gum Walking Track.

It is also reported that there are two significant aboriginal heritage sites on the Golf Course.One site consists of a shelter overhang and midden. The other is a shelter overhang with rock art.

Problematic?- fighting to preserve their land and culture?

There is a comprehensive history of the Aborigines of the Northern Shore on the Aboriginal Heritage Office Website.

There is also some evidence that used tracks along many of the creeks that drained into the river (including Swaines and Ferndale Creeks).

Exploring the Lane Cove River

The Lane Cove River is the western boundary of West Ward. The earliest explorers and exploiters of portions of West Ward came up the river from the first settlement at Port Jackson.

Governor Phillip was the first European to lead an expedition into the Lane Cove River Valley, some three months after the arrival of the First Fleet in the colony in January 1788. (1) He led a contingent of marines overland from the confluence of the Parramatta and Lane Cover Rivers. (2)  However it was likely that Phillip’s incursion was only into the Cove at the end of the river. Phillip searched without success for arable land. (3)

Hunter, Bradley, Keltie

According to Russell p.10 Captain John Hunter, Lieutenant William Bradley and James Keltie, some months after the landing at Port Jackson in January 1788. They saw several canoes upstream on the river. As to whether they journeyed as far up as the current boundary of West Ward is unknown.

was Lieutenant Ralph Clarke who in February 1790 took his boat up the Lane Cove river to meet some aboriginals. He went six miles (approx 10 kms) up the river in the vicinity of West Ward.

Lieutenant Ralph Clark, accompanied by three convicts, explored the Lane Cove River Valley in 1790. They rowed some 10 kilometres up the Lane Cove River and reporded that they saw Aboriginal people.

The first European to live in the vicinity of the park is probably William Henry, who took possession of land north of Blue Gum Creek, some seven kilometres from the river mouth, in 1807. He lived on Millwood farm from 1814 to 1850, in what is now Fuller picnic area.


There is a comprehensive set of information available covering the heritage of West Ward. This section of our site will be developed over time as we document this heritage.


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The story of West Ward draws heavily on information from:

  1. Nancy Booker & Ida Bennett, 1988, The West Ward
  2. Willoughby Council, Aboriginal People, Fact Sheet 13, undated, Community Services Division, Willoughby City Library
  3. Claude Leplastrier, 1915, “Willoughby’s Fifty Years”
  4. Eric Russell, 1965, Willoughby – A Centenary History
  5. Lachlan McLean, 1980, The golden jubilee ofChatswood West Ward Progress Association : 50 years of history, 1930-1980.NST, 21-22 February, 1992

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