A Changing Tide
The History of Berrys Bay

By Randi Svensen

Reviewed by Bruce Stannard

This is a valuable and important addition to the substantial body of published material on Sydney Harbour and not least because its 120 pages contain an extraordinary collection of historic photographs, many of which are rarely glimpsed outside institutional collections.

The 18 chapters are thoroughly researched and well-written and the photographs and illustrations are all enhanced by extensive, informative captions. I read The Changing Tide from cover to cover at a single sitting and I confess that at the end I was gripped by a profound sadness as I reflected upon the relentless, galloping pace of change that has been visited upon this lovely deepwater bay over the course of my own lifetime. I have known Berrys Bay, man and boy, for three quarters of a century. I kept my own gaff-rigged clinker dinghy in the old timber boatshed that once housed F.J.Palmer’s famous cutter Even. And some of my happiest childhood memories are of daring water borne adventures mooching around the shallows in tar-patched tin canoes paddled from my home on the Balmain waterfront.

Berrys Bay once boasted the busiest working waterfront on the entire Harbour. Many of our most famous wooden boat boatbuilders had their bustling waterfront sheds there where they created vessels of unsurpassed beauty. Vessels like Ena, Lady Hopetoun, Boomerang and Mistral II were all built in Berrys Bay. Each of them, still afloat and in excellent working order today, are vivid testimony to the quality of master craftsmen like Walter “Watty” Ford, Charlie Dunn, William Langford. Bjarne Halvorsen, one of the five famous Halvorsen brothers, also worked there building sturdy 60ft workboats for the Pacific Islands. 

A Changing Tide coverBut inevitably, gentrification has long since swept all that away. The Berrys Bay waterfront has today been overrun by multi-million-dollar real estate developments, the homes of incomers who want nothing to do with boatbuilding and boat maintenance.

Above the bay, on a large ledge overlooking the water is a monumental stone-pecked depiction of a huge whale. Within its massive body stands the naked figure of a man with the feather anklets associated with indigenous magicians. The Cammeraygal clansmen who carved this mythical image many centuries ago could have had no inkling of the complete transformation that would occur with the passage of time. Nothing stays the same. I know that. But at least through the pages of this book it is still possible to catch a glimpse of the tide before it changes.

$39.95 inclusive of GST and postage within Australia

Available from Stannard Marine