Development of the Beecroft Reserve
Beecroft Reserve developed in stages. In 1893 the newly formed Beecroft Progress Association suggested that seven unsold allotments totalling 23 acres along the north side of Devlins Creek should be set aside as Beecroft Park. In 1938 the Byles family donated five acres to be known as Chilworth Reserve, as a flora and fauna sanctuary, under the care of the Wildlife Preservation society, but in 1942 they handed it over to Hornsby Shire Council with covenants on the title to protect the bushland. The Byles family’s love of the Australian bush also led to Baldur Byles erecting a sign near the scout hall at the end of Welham Street which read ‘Practise good manners in the bush. You are welcome’. In 1953 another valuable donation of land came from Evelyn St Ives McConnell behind Finlay Avenue on the south side of Devlins Creek. This was followed by Council acquiring the adjoining block of bush the following year. In 1959 John Noble, who had moved to a new home in Fiona Road in 1949, petitioned Hornsby Council to add a strip of land behind houses in Austral Avenue to the reserve. A patch of land formally belonging to Beecroft Public School was added to Chilworth Reserve in 1967 and the unformed area of Mary Street through to York Street was added in 1969.
Attitudes to the native bushland
Some early residents wanted parkland that allowed for ‘improvements’ which included somewhere for cricket games. Charles Churchill Tucker, prominent in the Progress Association, complained about the ‘uselessness’ of Beecroft Park and its unsuitability for a cricket pitch. He saw it as a place for ‘picnics and chasing butterflies or something of the sort’. Early in the 20th century The Village Green became a place for organized community functions. Part had already been used for tennis courts. More of the land was used for the building of the School of Arts (now the community centre). In 1907 the local Progress Association initiated a move to purchase seven acres of land known as Wilson’s Grant which ultimately became Charles Tucker’s long-desired sports ground -Cheltenham Oval occupies a large part. This left what is now Beecroft Reserve as native bush.
While it was seen by some as a ‘rough’ place, full of snakes and lizards, which ought to be cleared for ‘more ornamental plantings’, other early residents valued it as a place for tranquil picnics, picking wildflowers, bird watching and walking. Albert Wachsmann built his home in Murray Road so he could be close to the bush and the calls of native birds. In 1890 The Cumberland Argus records that visitors were pulling up ferns, and there was some concern about how to preserve the reserve’s wild beauties. However, from early days tracks developed which allowed residents on the south side of the creek to walk through to the railway station.
Community action in the 1960s
In 1961 and 1962 the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board (MWS&DB, now Sydney Water) installed the main sewer line to the suburb through Beecroft Reserve. The arrival of this infrastructure was welcomed by residents, who quickly began connecting their houses to the sewer line, but after the construction was completed little thought was given to the effect of these works on the health of the creek systems and the bushland. Although the MWS&D had been lobbied to minimize the necessity for tree removal during construction and had then altered the sewer line slightly, there was scant regard to the problem of exotic weeds, and the general degradation of the reserve in the aftermath.
In 1964 residents concerned to preserve the character of the suburb from undesirable impacts of development and services formed the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust. In July 1964 the first president, Mr F. R. Barnett, received a request from the Hornsby Council Shire Clerk to appoint a committee to supervise the area of ‘open space land adjacent to Devlins Creek between Beecroft Road and the Pennant Hills Golf Club’. ‘Such areas are extremely difficult for Council to supervise and maintain’, he wrote. This was the beginning of citizens’ involvement in actively caring for their local bushland.
Bushcare activity in the Reserve
A bushland sub-committee was formed, convened by John Noble. Their duties were supervising the reserve to prevent dumping of rubbish and garden waste as well as the destruction and removal of bush rock, wildflowers and animals. The volunteers organized working parties to remove rubbish and erected signs informing walkers about penalties for dumping. In 1965 the sub-committee formed one of the first bush regeneration groups in Sydney. They sent letters to householders living adjacent to the reserve and planned a group effort on the first Sunday morning of each month to clear lantana, privet and noxious weeds. The first group continued working together until 1969, although there were gradually fewer sessions and members. John Noble continued working regularly on his own with help from a few others and was convenor of the bushland sub-committee until the 1980s. By then, his approach to weed control had become the accepted method for recovering the health of bushland threatened by weed infestation. Botanist Jenifer Lewis, whose husband Ivan had been a member of John Noble’s original group joined the subcommittee in 1984 and in 1987 founded a bushcare group at the western end of Beecroft Reserve. John Noble suggested the group begin work in Chilworth Reserve in 1991 and this group still continues its efforts under the leadership of Sheila Woods.
The building of the M2
The growth of Sydney and the need for more transport links led to the proposal in 1965 for a road to link the planned industry and housing developments in north-west Sydney to the city. There was no action on this proposed link until the election of a Liberal National coalition government in 1988, led by Premier Nick Greiner. The new state government declared that they were ‘a road building government’ and announced a public/private partnership would build a tollway from North Ryde to the northwest, with the route to go directly through the Beecroft Reserve and other areas of bushland in Marsfield and North Ryde. This proposal, supported by the local member Bruce Baird, who was Minister for Transport, divided the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust membership and was a critical issue for the future of the Trust. Despite strong opposition by groups of citizens who formed themselves into a Coalition of Tollway Action Groups, and two formal inquiries, the M2 was finally built and opened in 1997, although the route was moved southward from the original alignment which, if implemented, would have destroyed the Chilworth Reserve. This battle for the Beecroft Reserve raised issues about preservation of land which had been thought to be protected.
The Beecroft Reserve in the 21st century
Although the tranquillity of Beecroft Reserve is now disturbed by traffic noise, it still offers many pleasures to walkers strolling the tracks. Bush regeneration, both by volunteers and Council contractors, is ongoing to further improve the health of the bushland. It remains important as a wildlife corridor. More than 50 species of birds have been identified, including Parrot species which use the bushland to feed and breed. Among them are Rainbow Lorikeets, king parrots, crimson rosellas, eastern rosellas, sulphur crested-cockatoos, gang-gang- Cockatoos and Galahs. Other birds seen and heard are Eastern Spinebills, Fantail Cuckoos, Golden Whistlers, Pardalotes, Wrens, Finches, Pied Currawongs, Magpies, Noisy Mynahs, Grey Butcher birds, Australian Ravens and Kookaburras. At night Tawny Frogmouths and Powerful Owls can be heard. The Bowerbird who could be counted on to build its bower annually at various locations on the creek’s northern bank has not been seen since 2007, however there is still an active bower on the eastern side of Cheltenham Oval.
Trees dominating include Blackbutt, Turpentine, Angophora, some Bluegums, Bloodwoods, Red Mahogany and Forest oaks. There is a large variety of native shrubs, vines and ferns. Jenifer Lewis, who is the compiler of a herbarium of Hornsby Shire, has identified 270 species in this stretch of bushland, including several types of Orchids.
Members of the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust who responded to a survey in 2008, overwhelmingly agreed that the natural environment must be preserved. Hornsby Council in 2009 began to create walking and cycling tracks which will link the eastern and western areas of the reserve and enhance residents’ enjoyment of recreational activities in the Beecroft Reserve
Lesley Goldberg and Sheila Woods 2010
Fire has been reintroduced to the management of the reserve since 2005. During the 1990's some pile burns were carried out by the local Beecroft Fire Station staff mainly in Chilworth Reserve between Mary St and York St. This helped the work done by volunteers to clear weeds and helped regeneration but only for a small area of the reserve. In March 2005 a control burn was carried out near Austral Ave on a much larger area of bushland and in April 2005 a further area near the Scout Hall was also burnt. The main purpose was to reduce the fire hazard to nearby properties but is was also of good benefit for the vegetation. In April 2006 another burn was carried out behind Finlay Ave on the southern side of the M2. This was a hot burn which stimulated spectacular regeneration with a noted increase in biodiversity. The most recent fire was carried out on 27th January 2011 in the bushland near Cheltenham Oval. The regeneration after this burn should be good especially if funding is forthcoming for some post fire weeding to be done.
Work on widening the M2 by one lane in each direction commenced in March 2011. This will see further loss and disturbance to the bushland in Beecroft Reserve. - Added March 2011