The regeneration of Observatory Park, Pennant Hills


A good start
A triangular block of forested land situated at the junction of Beecroft Road and Pennant Hills Road in Pennant Hills has been noted on the earliest maps of the district as “Red Hill (good soil)”. This 2.2 ha (5 acre) block receives high rainfall and the soil has a high iron content which lends it its characteristic red colour. This deep deposit of Wianamatta shale soil was perfect to support its cover of Sydney Blue Gum High Forest.
What happened next
During the subdivision of the area in 1886 this block was set aside as a reserve for public use and an observatory was established in 1899 at the eastern end to map the southern skies. Thus the reserve gained its name ‘Observatory Park Red Hill’. The observatory, operated by astronomer James Short, was demolished in 1932 upon completion of its important work.
An army transit camp was established in the park during World War Two and the undergrowth was cleared for a bivouac and military vehicle access and only the tall trees remained. 1953 saw the zoning of the park for public recreation and subsequently Hornsby Shire Council undertook the maintenance of the park and commenced mowing around the trees. The park was used for fetes, fairs and other fundraising activities with car access and parking and a brick toilet block built in 1966. Mowing continued until 1988.
Regeneration starts
In 1988 Council to set aside a central section of approximately a hectare (identified by large yellow dots painted on selected trees) for mowing to cease and regeneration to commence. At that time a survey of native plants in the area revealed a count of 46 species including the trees.
John Noble, a Beecroft resident, undertook the removal by hand of weeds in this area in a chessboard fashion and many more species emerged. Wooden bollards were placed around the regeneration area to clearly define the boundaries and prevent the frequent incursions by mowing contractors. By 1994 more than 100 different species had been identified. In 1997 the NSW Scientific Committee recognised the park as Sydney Blue Gum High Forest and listed it as an Endangered Ecological Community under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
Regeneration continues
John Noble in 1998, then in his eighties, realised he was no longer physically capable of continuing to work alone and asked for volunteers to help. In February 1999 a team of volunteers commenced working one day per month and took over. In January 2000 the regeneration was virtually doubled in size and the toilet block was subsequently demolished. Today, 10 years later, more than 120 species of native plants have returned and now weed removal is almost at maintenance level.
What now
After 13 years of abuse, 34 years of mowing and 21 years of regeneration Observatory Park has returned to its original state of Sydney Blue Gum High Forest. Regeneration continues…..
Written by Bushcare volunteer Ron Leslie in 2009. With thanks to John Noble’s book: Red Hill Observatory Park – its history and regeneration.
Download group KML