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Showcasing urban Sydney sustainability

Whatever urban sprawl you might live in, whenever someone in a large city utters the words ‘over the bridge’ it tends to conjure up an arduous and lengthy expedition sitting in traffic, reserved for the most deserving of friends. So naturally I was hesitant when my friend suggested, on a beautiful autumn Sunday morning, that I drive my young sons over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to catch up on an old coal loading site – barren of any play equipment or artfully marked bike track.

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city from the Waverton Peninsula.

Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

However, after a particularly lazy Saturday I was itching for a change of scene. And my friend, soon to return to London, was most deserving of our journey. So, we said yes – and in no time we were over the bridge and the kids were happily exploring the Coal Loader Sustainability Centre.

The centre is an impressive transformation of the old ex-industrial coal bunkering site, which operated from the early 1920s to the 1990s. Sitting on the waterfront of Waverton Peninsula, the coal loader functioned as a transfer depot for coal from carriers to smaller coal-fired vessels. In recent years, the site has been cleverly transformed into a vast green roof and open public space for the community.

Above and below - The platform and green roof, with visible solar panels on the pergola.

Photos - Jessica Podzebenko

The peninsula itself is historically important as it was first a place of physical and spiritual sustenance for Aboriginal Australians. The Cammeraygal people lived there for thousands of years, evidenced by a large rock carving still at the site today. The carving is well protected and celebrated as a main feature of the sustainability centre.

Today, the centre is North Sydney Council’s sustainability and innovation showcase – demonstrating sustainable living practices to inspire and educate people on how to make sustainable choices.

The council has indeed hit the right note - the place was thriving today. To our little boys, it was a huge open platform dotted with gardens and rocks to play hide and seek, dinosaurs and cavemen, and be awestruck at the neighbouring navy ship. As we wandered through the site, we talked to chickens, rode a glass elevator, inspected the re-purposed public piano and went for a bush-walk through regenerated parklands. The boys loved exploring the old coal loading tunnels, climbing rock faces and quietly chatting to a bush turkey. Next time, I’d be happy for the boys to do less Lord of the Flies impersonation and more of the sustainability trail – but that’s for another day.

The 'Play Me' Piano at the Coal Loader

Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

To curious visitors with a more patient and mature character, the centre shows off solar power technology, water recycling and other sustainability concepts, and offers sustainability programs and education.

To locals, the centre houses a well-loved cottage community garden – full of organic vegetables and herbs. As well as the community food gardens, there is an Aboriginal bush foods garden and a native garden demonstration area.

We’re all searching for local inspiration these days, and it’s rare to find somewhere that educates, inspires and relaxes all at once. What’s more, the trip over the harbour bridge was quick and easy - it was such a breath of fresh air to get out of our hood.

Raised community garden plots in the background.

Photo - Jessica Podzebenko


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