Narrabeen History

Tracing Narrabeen's long history as a vital part of the Northern Beaches Peninsula. Several of these historic items have been gathered and contributed by Nan Bosler, a local historian, who will provide reference information if required. We've also had input from locals such as Bert Rose and the decendants of the original families. Jim Delaney of Narrabeen Lakes Primary School has also donated information from the history of the school and the Narrabeen area. Know a great story about Narrabeen? Send it to us!! We would really appreciate your input.

"The Naming of Narrabeen is something of a puzzle. One theory is that it is from narrow beans which grew in the area and caused Dr White to become ill while travelling with Governor Phillip's party towards the coast on August 22 1788. The name Narrobine Creek appears in records relating to two escaped convicts in the district in 1801, so it was in use at that time. Surveyor James Meehan placed the name Narabang Narabang Lagoons on his map in 1814. He claimed the words were of Aboriginal origin and referred to a number of swans in the area."
- from Sydney and Suburbs, Brian and Barbara Kennedy.

The possible true origin: On January 26 1801, Lieutenant James Grant and a party of three were walking to Pittwater, where they hoped to find a small rowing boat which had been stolen from Sydney. According to Grant's journal, at the mouth of the lagoon, he was confronted by a stream and the problem of crossing it. The Aborigines told him that their name for the stream was Narrowbine. Grant recorded it faithfully in his journal which was published later that year. Many historians have debated how the name Narrabeen was derived and all appear to have overlooked Grant's journal.
- from an article in the Manly Daily, March 18 1998 by John Morcombe.

May 7, 1770: Captain Cook discovers
"....some broken land that appeared to form a bay bore at N 40 degrees W, distant 4 leagues (7 1/2 miles). This bay I named Broken Bay." According to historical records of NSW, notes to Cooks Logs 2 states that "the broken land LIKE a bay was that in the vicinity of Narrabeen Lagoon."

August 22, 1788: Govenor Phillip first crosses the Lagoon.

Early 1800s: Captain Henry Reynolds, a first fleeter settles the area with his family. There are many stories of how Narrabeen was named - the word means swan in the Aboriginal language. Reynolds and his family were killed during an attack by bushrangers and hostile Aboriginals and his homestead burned. The popular belief is that the location was then named after a young Aboriginal girl who helped soldiers capture the escaped convicts involved in the massacre.

A Tale of Early Colonial Life.


1820:Father Therry, a young Catholic priest barely out of the seminary arrived in New South Wales from Ireland. He had seen a cartload of convicts being taken to the docks, and when the wretched men told him they were destined for New South Wales, he determined to follow then. After some years of fighting with a government who saw no need for Catholic chaplains in the colony, he came with a letter of testimony from Henry Goulburn in London, entitling him "to proceed to New South Wales as one of two Roman Catholic clergymen who had been selected as proper persons to exercise the functions of their office in the Colony, as long as their good conduct shall enable them to that consideration." The second priest, Father Conolly, went to Van Dieman's Land.
In 1797, coal had been discovered at Coalcliff, near present Wollongong, and by Lieutenant John Shortland on the Hunter River, near Newcastle. Father Therry was convinced that the coal ran in a belt along the coast from the Hunter River to Coalcliff and that there would be coal at Avalon. He began to mine at Priest's Flat, the site of the present Avalon Golf Course. He employed a band of men and they mined to a depth of about 400 feet, but alas no coal, only water. Josephtown was established on the shores of Careel Bay for the workers who sought coal, farmed and collected shells for the manufacture of lime. A small wooden church with a shingle roof was built. Even though it was known as Father Therry's, it was not actually built until after his death.
Father Therry died in 1864 and in 1880, the land was finally sold. The farm land round the little church, which stood near the present corner of Joseph and Therry Streets, went back to bush. Catholic settlers of the area were fortunate if the church was opened once a year for Mass. The little church, known as the Barrenjoey Church of St Joseph's was finally moved to Narrabeen on 6 December 1917, where it was used for meetings, or as a lunch room for voluntary workers. Eventually, it was found too small for practical use and the timbers were moved north to Port Macquarie.

1836: George Wheeler, a Somerset farmer who was a weaver by trade, arrived in Sydney in 1817 to work at Simeon Lord's mill at Botany. He remained seven years before setting up a soap and candle factory in Kent Street with his two sons. Soap manufacture had little appeal and son John took up farming at Watson's Bay and James entered the hotel business.

In 1836 James Wheeler boarded a cutter bound for a shooting expedition at Tuggerah Lakes. A gale blew them ashore at Long Reef where they were forced to remain for 2 weeks. During that time James explored and fell in love with the district. The Jenkins family were the only residents and the place was alive with game.

Wheeler Grave Site
Wheeler applied for and received a grant of 100 acres at Dee Why, but it was found most of the land was already promised to the boatbuilder, William Cossar, years earlier. As a consolation Wheeler was granted 86 acres at Fox's Flat on the north side of Narrabeen Lagoon facing Pittwater Road. He later acquired land south of the Lagoon and built the Homestead on the banks of South Creek. Wheeler cultivated potatoes and cabbages and these were sent to Sydney markets via boat from North Harbour, Manly.


Concerned about educating his children, James Wheeler returned to live in Sydney for the next few years and then moved to North Sydney where he built a row of terraced houses adjoining the post office. James was 80 when he died in 1890 but his son James Jnr, unable to resist the rustic charm of Narrabeen, had returned there permanently in 1878. In May 1926, members of the Manly-Warringah and Pittwater Historical Society made a pilgrimage to the Wheeler's old homestead and family vault.

Both Wheeler Street and Wheeler Park are named after the family, and Wheeler, Delmar and Sturdee Parades are all part of the old estate.

Recorded in 1848: Some 60 years after Governor Phillip's visit, there were only 63 inhabitants living in the whole territory between Manly Cove and Narrabeen. The district was still the haunt of Aboriginals, the wild fowl, the parrot and the kangaroo. The environment was untouched with Banksia, wattle, gums, rock and sand just as Phillip had seen it.

October 28, 1881: Richardson and Wrench conducted the first land sale of a subdivision of 'Mount Ramsay' Estate. One section fronting Pittwater Road was purchased by a resident of Paddington, Mr Obed West. Upon releasing this land for sale on December 23, 1911 as 'West's Lakeside Estate, Narrabeen', he described the land in poetic terms:
"Nowhere round Sydney has nature been so generous or shown so much concentration in the bestowal of her beauties. Narrabeen, the Killarney of Australia, offers unlimited attractions, beautiful scenery, new environment, and all those outdoor sports and pastimes which afford that enjoyable change and recreation so essential in the days of business."
In 1907 land in Lagoon Street sold for 4/- per foot, Mactier Street lots were valued at 3 for fifty pounds and Main Road blocks fetched 1 pound per foot. In 1911, Lake frontages were selling at three pounds per foot. Mr Obed West comments that:
"there were many reasons why Narrabeen Torrens title land will continue to realise a profit on every lot purchased."

The Tale of the S.S. Collaroy, 1881



1884: An application was made to the Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, Sydney, for the establishment of a school for the children of Narrabeen. The suggested location was Tumble Down Dick, Narrabeen. The application was declined. A further application was made on the October 28, 1887. It was also rejected.

1886: The Russell family began business as general carriers, carting everything from parcels for David Jones to groceries for McIlwrathes of Manly, Peters Ice Cream to stores and fish to the fish market. They frequently moved furniture. One of the strangest moves the Russells ever made was luckily a very short one. Mr Russell recalled moving his grandmother who was some 89 years old and not very well from their home in Narrabeen to the home of one of his aunts. She was moved, still in her bed, on the back of a flat top wagon.

March 22, 1889: The resumption of land for a school at Narrabeen was gazetted. Work had commenced on the school building when the Department of Public Instruction received a letter on behalf of James E Black. The letter read in part:

"I have the honor to draw your attention to the fact that carpenters and builders acting upon the authority of your department, have entered upon, taken possession of, and proceeded to erect a structure upon land belonging to me, near Narrabeen Lake, Parish of Manly Cove - more particularly known as the Mount Ramsay Estate Subdivision.
I hereby give you notice to yield up possession, and withdraw the aforesaid workmen forthwith. Failing to comply with this notice I shall instruct my solicitor to issue a Writ of Ejectment of Wednesday next, and to further proceed at law for the recovery of damages for this trepass."

The Department had not known the identity of the former owner of the resumed land. A formal 'Notice of Claim and Abstract' was submitted on March 28 1890 and Mr Black was paid 803 pounds, one shilling and seven pence in compensation for his land.
The Lagoon and View to Manly From Sheep Station Hill

Narrabeen LagoonFrom Sheep Station Hill

June 4, 1888: Thirty-two residents of the Narrabeen district lodged a petition asking that a post office be established at Narrabeen in the store of Mr C A Yeo. On investigation it was found that correspondence for Narrabeen averaged about six letters a day. As this amount of business did not justify the establishment of a post office, apporval was given for the opening of a Receiving Office for mails.
A telephone was installed at Narrabeen Receiving Office in 1897. Mr Donald McLean was the Receiving Office Keeper and also the Telephone Operator, which increased his earnings by ten pounds per annum.
Mr Dugald Thompson, MP wrote on behalf of Narrabeen residents in January 1899, asking that the Receiving Office be made a Post Office. Following an investigation, the status was raised to Post Office on March 1 1899 and Mr McLean became the first Postmaster.

1893: Mrs Sarah Seymour, Teacher in Charge of Narrabeen School wrote to the District Inspector of Schools, requesting that the school tank be cleaned out, stating that "the water was not fit for drinking". Mr Dwyer replied "Your are requested to repeat upon this letter. Your remarks may be entered on the back." By the time Mr Dwyer's reply reached the school, Mrs Seymour had been replaced by Miss M McBride, who replied that she believed a rat was in the tank and had caused "the unpleasant odour and taste". Cleaning of the tank and repairing of the sprouting was completed by Robert Porter for one pound and ten shillings.
Narrabeen school enrolments in 1909 were 36 with an average attendance of 22. By 1915 the enrolment was 88 pupils and the average attendance was 52. There was a Back to School Reunion held in 1938 for the original class of 1889.


The Larkin Family.


December 5, 1909:
TaylorGeorge Augustine Taylor, achieves the first flight of a heavier-than-air machine in Australia, placing Narrabeen on Australia's aviation map.
Taylor, inspired by pioneer aviator Lawrence Hargrave, had built a biplane with a box-kite tail for balance, from coachwood, covered with oiled calico. Testing began early that day at a chosen launch area atop the dunes at the northern end of the beach, with more than 100 spectators and the media in attendence.
The glider, still tethered to the ground by ropes pulled by associates, was launched exactly as a kite. Taylor, in a prone position to reduce drag, gained control by shifting his weight for manoervring, like modern hang gliders.
At last, with the glider nosed into the wind and lifted by ropes, Taylor instructed that the lines be released and he was flying free. There were more than 20 flights that day, ranging in distance from 100 to 250 metres.



1912 Bushranger's Hill: Located north of Narrabeen, the hill derives its name from early marauding banks of convict bushrangers. One day in 1912 Mr W J Stelzer came upon an old linen notice while sawing a fallen tree on John Ramsay's lease. On this notice was a crown and the words 'Proclamation' and 'Reward (pound sign) 50' and letters forming the word 'bushrangers'. Evidently this was a Government Notice offering a reward for the apprehension of a band of bushrangers.


Tram 1273
Tram Number 1273 at the Narrabeen Terminus 1931
August 18, 1913: Work commenced on the final section of the Brookvale to Narrabeen tramline. It opened for traffic without official ceremony on December 8, 1913. Eunice Russell, Amy McLean and her sister Adelaide helped to decorate the first tram with wildflowers and ribbons. A special celebration ball was held to mark the arrival of the tram. Amy McLean wore a white dress with tram tickets sewn all over it. She also wore a white headband with 'Narrabeen' printed on it. The headband was a base for a crown of waratah, flannel flowers and boronia.


More History of the Trams.



Opening of Furlough House


Lady Cullen Opens Furlough House



1913: The Narrabeen Lakes Brigade which was formed in the late 1800's moves into its first clubhouse and became affiliated with the Surf Lifesaving Association. Bert Lloyd of North Narrabeen was only seven when Roy Atkins aged 11 formed a group of eight students from the Narrabeen Primary School into the North Narrabeen Surf Lifesaving Club. These boys couldn't wait to grow up and have the opportunities of their older brothers. Once the group was formed, word of thir exciting and appealing idea spread. A team was set up at Collaroy in mid 1920 and the North Narrabeen group officially set up in the summer of 1921.

It was a real adventure, their "reel" was made fron timber fruit boxes with a couple of fruit tine in the middle! They used this makeshift reel to rescue a local fisherman. Charlie Proudfoot built the boys a new reel. The boys all wore singlets with the "N" for Narrabeen sewn to them by helpful mothers. They continued to work as a team until the group disbanded in 1927. Bert Lloyd continued as an active member of the North Narrabeen Club up until his death in 1988.


1920 Beach Memories - as told by Bruce Goodwin.


The 1920's: Enid Murray (nee King), whose parents had a shop at Collinwood, recalls:
"When I was about 10, a moth plane would come at weekends and give joy rides at ten shillings a time. A family friend who owned a holiday cottage nearby cam down on holidays and took me with him for a ride. My older sister Thelma (who was about 19) also went, all dolled up in her best clothes with a new fox fur around her shoulders. When the pilot closed the canopy that held you in, it chopped off about four inches of the tail. I was watching and rescured it. The result was not very successful when she tried to re-attach it. Many years later, after she was married, it became a mat on the floor. We laughed about it often, but she was very upset at the time as she had saved for a long time to buy it."

More Memories of Living in Narrabeen - a detailed recollection by Enid Murray




Venetian Carnival


Great Flood of 1927
Home FloodedCanoe Against WatersCar in Water

Entertainment was a focal point for visitors to Narrabeen in the 1920s. In December 1924 the South Narrabeen Surf Life Saving Club hosted a Venetian Carnival and Fete.
Early residents of Narrabeen all recall Bryson's Fish & Chips. Doug Russell said:
"Bryson had that old shop called Early's and he turned it into a fish shop. Gee whiz, he put on a beautiful fish and chips. A great big place for 2/6, yes just half a crown. After the picture show was going, everyone would race to Bryson's after the show to get chips."
The Picture Theatre was built in the 1920s. Doug Russell carted all the stone for the foundations on a table-top wagon from Collaroy, and Boston was the builder. Originally called the Roxy, this cinema was situated in Waterloo Street. The building was originally some type of hall. It was licensed as a cinema from April 1929 and seating was for 502 patrons on two levels. Some of the exhibitors were from 1937 to 1943 Camsi Cinemas and by 1949 Acme Theatres. By 1955, it was known as the Odeon. The theatre closed in 1959 and has been the venue of several businesses including a hardware store, a surf shop, a pool hall and a video shop.

Pat Romeril (nee Wilson) recalls her family's introduction to Narrabeen:
"The furniture van shuddered to a stop at the old Narrabeen wooden bridge which spanned the beautiful, clear water of the lake. The couple and their 7 children look in amazement at the gravel track curring through the thick bush. We first arrived in 1928 and set up home on land Dad had bought from Arthur Rickard...it was real pioneer life...clearing land for vegetables, flowers, chickens, a cow and a horse. Very few houses dotted the countryside.
It didn't worry us that the world was in depression...barefoot but healthy, we had the sea, lake, creeks and surrounding bush for our adventures. Our parents helped form a swimming club between Wimbledon Avenue and Pittwater Road. Many a child learned to swim there and quite a few of us were good enough to participate in the New South Wales championships. Parents liked the social contact. When Council had the tidal baths over at the entrance built, the club transferred to North Narrabeen, where it is to this day."

September 17, 1932: Monument to the discovery of Narrabeen by Captain Arthur Phillip was unveiled at the Narrabeen Lakes Public School.


Original War Vets


The Original War Vets




1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles: By the time the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics came around the world was in the grip of the Great Depression. In such straightened circumstances and with public or government assistance out of the question, the Australian Olympic Federation was forced to be as frugal with its selections for the Australian team as it was frugal with its funds.

Eddie Scarf of Narrabeen arrived on the Australian westling scene in 1926 when he was runner-up ifor the NSW heavyweight title at the ripe old age of 17, but proved his status as champion the following year by winning the NSW heavyweight title and being runner-up for the Australian heavyweight title.

In 1928 Eddie won both the NSW middleweight and heavyweight titles and most importantly, also won the middleweight Olympic test event but was overlooked when the Australian team to the 1928 Olympics was selected, probably due to penny-pinching by the selectors.

Not to be deterred, Eddit Scarf continued his winning ways, taking out the Australian heavyweight and middleweight titles in 1929, the NSW heavywight title in 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932. He also won the Australian heavyweight title in 1932, so his claim for inclusion in the Australian team to the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles could not be ignored...

It was Eddie Scarf who brought home the bacon from Los Angeles. The only wrestler in the Australian team, Edie Scarf did himself and his country proud by winning the bornze medal in the light-heavyweight division - the first Olymic wrestling medal every won by an Australian.

- article by John Morcombe (Manly Daily - 22/04/00)

December 1934: In 1918, William Pilon's mother opened a confectionery shop in Octavia Street which Bill converted into a butchery in 1925. He had joined tha North Narrabeen SLSC at the age of 16. On Boxing Day 1934 he was working in his butchery when a Narrabeen resident, Ronald Bowyer was overcome by cramps while swimming at North Narrabeen Beach. When his plight was observed by a group of children, they ran to Bill Pilon for help. Without hesitation he ran from his shop, across the beach, abandoning surplus clothes as he went and swam som 300 yards to support the now unconscious man until two other lifesavers could don belts and come to their assistance. The unwelcome presence of a shark was ignored. William Pilon was awarded the Bronze Medal and Certificate of Merit by the Royal Humane Society for this outstanding feat of courage and endurance. He died in 1985, aged 81.


South Narrabeen Surf Life Saving Club 1934

South Narrabeen SLSC


Old Men's Home 1936 and Surf Carnival 1936

Old Men's Home 1936Surf Carnival 1936


Pre World War II Narrabeen


January 22 1939: The official opening and blessing of the new church-school at St Joseph's Narrabeen, was reported in the Catholic Press of 16 January 1939. The first church building on the site of the school was the original St Joseph's from the shores of Careel Bay. St Joseph's, known at the 'Chruch at Barrenjoey', was built in what was planned to be Josephtown. It was built by Father John Joseph Therry, described by his biographer, Dr Eris O'Brien, as "the priest who planted the tree of Catholic faith in Australia and who protected and cared for it almost single-handed for ten years."

1939: The 'butchers relay' race over 440 yards was organised between two rival Narrabeen butcher shops to settle the friendly disput of "Who had the most customers". The shops were those of ex-Olympic wrestler, Mr Eddie Scarf and that of Mr Billy Pilon of North Narrabeen SLSC fame. Four employees from each shop "doffed aprons and downed cleavers" to run the race at the Narrabeen Recreation Ground. The prize, a 5 gallon keg of beer, was won by the team representing Eddie Scarf's shop, by enjoyed finally by both teams and a crowd of barrackers.


The Z Special Unit



Pilot Jim Broadbent on Narrabeen Beach, 1944 during WWII



Bob Hope Visits Furlough House, 1944


1947/8: The Narrabeen Ice Rink, built using a World War II airplane hanger, opens beside Narrabeen Lagoon. The first Australian ice hockey team is also formed in Narrabeen - The Narrabeen Bombers. Sadly, the rink closed its doors in 1997 after 50 years of providing pleasure and pride to the Narrabeen community.


Narrabeen Shopping Centre 1949


Beginnings of Wakehurst Parkway, Mr Stone's Bridge

Wakehurst ParkwayMr Stone's Brigde


The Narrabeen Lakes Chamber of Commerce was formed in the early 1970s by the business people of Narrabeen. These included such illustrious families such as the Berrys, the Wheelers and the McLeans.

Narrabeen is also a very unique area of business divided into retail, service and tradespeople, falling into the zoning of two separate Councils, Warringah and Pittwater.

In 1983 the NLCC was successful in persuading Warringah Council to create a carpark in a vacant lot on Lagoon Street between Waterloo Street and Pittwater Road. This little used parking facility offers 3 hour parking Monday to Friday and 2 hour parking Saturday and Sunday, yet stands virtually empty. We really should be using it, rather than parking on Waterloo Street in front of the shops!




January 1993: The famous Beach Boys performed at Rat Park in North Narrabeen. Thousands attended the performance and young and old alike knew all the words to their songs. The irony of this event is that in their song "Surfing USA", there is actually a reference to surfing at "Australia's Narrabeen".