By Tom Richmond
When the railway arrived at Brooklyn in 1887, it changed the whole pattern of river trading. Before the station opened here, farmers and orchardists along the river had to send their produce to market either through Windsor or by sea to Sydney. From 1887, goods could be transferred from river vessels to the railway, improving the speed to the market. Seafood was also loaded onto the trains from river boats.
At first, the main wharf at Brooklyn was the “Gordon Wharf “at the end of Long Island. As the use of the area as a harbour increased, there were strong arguments for developing port facilities closer to the station. In 1907, the Brooklyn Progress Association lobbied successfully to have a mud bank heavily dredged to give access for large vessels to the embankment near the station. The mud that was lifted from the river was used to reclaim what used to be an inlet but is now Dangar Road. A further large area was reclaimed, forming what is now McKell Park. All of the park’s flat area is actually land reclaimed in 1908/9.
Gradually, railway sidings were added down to the main wharf so that cargoes could be easily transferred to railway wagons. The reclaimed area remained in State Government control through the NSW Government Railways, which operated the park as a camping ground and picnic area. The railway actively promoted the park to encourage tourism and use of the trains. The park became known as the “Railway Reclamation Reserve” and the supervisor had the powers of a special constable. A shelter shed was erected and it was used by the locals for bazaars and other events. Strangely, amidst all of the change over the years, the shed is still standing, behind the Seniors’ cottage. It may well be the only such building remaining from the period when the railway operated its own tourist facilities and it is a fine example of bush carpentry.
T here have been claims that the palm trees were planted for the royal visit in 1901, but such claims are absurd because the park did not exist then. From old postcards, it would seem that they were planted not long after the Reclamation Reserve opened. They were certainly there when the kiosk opened on the location now occupied by the Teahouse. Four boatsheds were also built in the park, where the Marina now stands. All of them did a brisk business and it was reported in 1909 that the fleet of hire craft at Brooklyn could accommodate four hundred people at peak periods. It was a splendid holiday venue. During the Second World War, gun emplacements were built into the park to provide defence for the railway bridge, which was a prime target for any invader. The soldiers who manned the defences camped there and the toilet block at the lower level was added to serve their needs. In 1941, Hornsby Council urged the State Government to pass control of the area to the Council. This was done in that year and, in 1942, the newly acquired park was named after the Premier, William McKell.
The Park not long after the reclamation. Note the Shelter Shed that still stands today, behind the Seniors’ Cottage.
Council had many urgent post-war tasks, but in 1951, the President, Cr Charles Somerville, who had a strong interest in Brooklyn, posted a minute that he believed that Brooklyn was second to none as far as a holiday resort was concerned because of the proximity of McKell Park to the railway station. Other councillors spoke at a September meeting about how the actions of the Council’s workers, at McKell Park, had turned a “wilderness into a paradise”. Cr Paterson commented on the need for a road to the upper level to move parking away from the baths, which were then being constructed.
Up until the 1960s, there was a charge for vehicles entering the park. Towards the end of that decade, the boatsheds, which had deteriorated badly, were demolished and replaced by a building owned by Don’s Boats. This, in turn, was replaced in the late 1980s by the present marina complex. The kiosk, too, was replaced by the much larger building that now contains the Teahouse. The Fishermen’s Co-operative opened in 1951. Much of McKell Park is still Crown Reserve, which means that the area should not be used for “off-reserve” parking, or car storage. Perhaps our new Master Plan will address that problem.