Parsley Bay is a narrow inlet of Sydney Harbour, the surrounding land enhanced with caves and rock overhangs, a small watercourse and dense native vegetation. The foreshores of this tiny but beautiful bay have long been one of Sydney's favourite harbour-side places, and since 1906 have been officially reserved for the enjoyment of the public.
Parsley Bay History of the site and its surrounds
The traditional owners of this land were members of the Birrabirragal band, a coastal group which clustered around the periphery of Sydney harbour, their culture, way-of-life and economy attuned to the natural characteristics of their foreshore environment. The former presence of this people is evidenced today by rock art sites and shell middens in the South Head and Vaucluse areas. European occupation officially began in 1792. In that year, a grant of a land was given to Thomas Laycock, Deputy Commissary-General and a Quartermaster in the New South Wales Corps. The grant was described as 'eighty acres of land ... at the head of Parsley Bay' the earliest known use of this name, the origin of which uncertain.
Laycock called his property Woodmancote. The land, gradually consolidated with neighbouring parcels, passed through the hands of a succession of subsequent owners, including Sir Henry Brown Hayes and Captain John Piper, before its acquisition by the Wentworth family in 1827. The foreshores of Parsley Bay, as one small part of the Wentworth family’s 105 acre Vaucluse Estate, were to remain in private ownership for a
further eighty years. There is considerable evidence, however, that Parsley Bay was a popular setting for picnics and camping before the establishment of the reserve that validated public access.
Foreshore land at Parsley Bay came into public ownership largely as a result of the efforts of William Notting and his Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee which lobbied the State Government from 1905 to secure access to areas of the waterfront for the people of Sydney. Notting, a keen yachtsman, began his campaign to liberate the foreshores in the late 19th century, and from 1900 was joined by a growing throng of
supporters, who boosted his voice in the cause. Like Notting, his fellow activists could foresee the impact of Sydney’s residential growth upon the harbour, as the large, open estates of the few were gradually replaced by dense settlement, and the ‘pond’ in a privately owned ‘paddock’ became fully enclosed by suburban development.
Notting is perhaps more closely associated with Nielsen Park than Parsley Bay, since that is where a memorial to his efforts stands. However, the resumption of the Parsley Bay foreshore in 1906was the first of a number secured by the movement he founded, and as such deserves a special place in the history of foreshore protection.
Parsley Bay Swimming
Parsley Bay was a popular bathing spot with the small local population of the immediate area long before the provision of a shark proof structure was considered necessary or desirable. However, as the surrounding area developed into a suburb with the break up of the Vaucluse Estate, and as the district became more accessible to tourists with better public transport, there was call from public and local councillors alike for better facilities
for bathers. As early as 1914, Vaucluse Council was considering shark-proofing the Bay, and in the 1920s a proposal to stretch torpedo nets across the mouth of the Bay gained temporary, though insufficient, support.
The need for changing facilities for bathers was also a matter for concern, and modesty perhaps being a more pressing issue than safety, dressing sheds were supplied in the 1920s almost a decade before a swimming enclosure was achieved.