Some years ago while bushwalking at Apple Tree Bay near Bobbin Head, I found a large rusty boiler tank on the hillside above the track. Further hunting revealed stone steps, a drystone wall and a few rotting pillars in the water. Whose house was it? I had to find out.
Local historical society records showed that Edward Windybanks was leasing holiday houseboats at Waratah Bay at the north end of Cowan Creek as early as 1887. (More about Windybanks in a later post.) But my mystery ruins were far too close to Apple Tree Bay to be associated with the Windybanks establishment. But comparing the two locations did reveal that the sites had something in common: both were situated at the foot of walking tracks from railway stations on the main northern line. Windybanks built his boatshed at the foot of a track from Cowan station. And my mystery site was right at the point where the steep track from Mount Ku-ring-gai Station descends to meet the Cowan Creek track. Clearly, people were travelling there by train.
The State Library of NSW provided more information. A Bobbin Head Guidebook from the 1930s announced: “A mile below Bobbin Head is Woodnutt’s boatshed which may be reached on foot after a walk of a mile and a half from Mt. Ku-ring-gai station, or by road to Apple Tree Bay. Tackle and Tucker is available at boatshed stores.”
Several fuzzy photos in the Library showed Woodnutt’s Boat Shed and tearoom on the hillside right where the the rusty boiler now lies. Moored boats for hire once floated close to the spot where the rotting wooden posts and slipway rails are still visible in the water.
A Lands Department survey map confirmed that was indeed my mystery site. (my annotations in yellow.)
So I had a couple of faded photos of Woodnutt’s boat shed and a map, and there my information seemed to end. Who was Woodnutt? And why build a boat shed so far from Bobbin Head? Then last year I walked the Cowan track again, and discovered that the National Parks and Wildlife had erected an information board with a photo of Woodnutt’s. It spurred me to take up my quest again.
The unusual surname helped me to trace the Woodnutt family, who had moved to Queensland, where I was delighted to discover they still build boats today, and I had several long chats with them.
Francis Hall (Frank) Woodnutt (1887-1963) emigrated from the UK to Wellington, New Zealand, where he worked in the merchant navy and became a champion sculler. In 1915, Frank enlisted in the 2nd NZ Reinforcements, but he was wounded and invalided out. He later moved to Australia where he and his brother Alf bought and developed the Apple Tree Bay boathouse. The brothers couldn’t agree over the business and Frank took over alone, with the help of his wife, who baked dozens of batches of tea house scones every weekend, and his son, who remembers having to leap down that steep bush track from Mt. Ku-ring-gai to be in time to meet the bus-loads of tourists at Bobbin Head every weekend.
So my little lost boatshed finally has a history, and an owner. You can see more pictures here on my Pinterest board.