A Hidden Delight… Schneider’s Gully
The Bondi area once featured several creeks and waterfalls, which would occasionally turn into raging torrents, sweeping away roads and property. Nowadays these waterways are tamed, unseen, buried beneath the ground. Adolph Schneider, a noted German landscape gardener, fought a constant battle with these floodwaters. From 1876, he created a large garden between Martins Avenue, Penkivil Street and Old South Head Road, variously named as Schneider’s Glen or Schneider’s Gully. A waterfall ran right into the garden. It was later described by writer Major William ‘Plugshell’ Johnston as “the loveliest natural gully in the district”*. According to Johnston, Schneider’s “scientific and bold treatment” transformed the gully into “a picture”. Schneider built the garden whilst the area was still largely unoccupied and undeveloped (there was a dairy to the east of the garden and then sand dunes to the beach).
The land where the garden would be created was originally purchased by Michael Woolley of T & M Woolley Ironmongers in 1839. The Dickson family (after whom Dickson Park and Dickson Street are named and whose descendants still live in the area) subsequently purchased the land and sold it to Schneider in 1876. In 1882 a large parcel of the land around the reserve was subdivided and sold off. The advertising copy provided by Hardie and Gorman real estate agents is revealing. Schneider’s Gully became the Bondi Glen. It was envisaged that a tramline would pass right by the subdivision (down Martins Avenue, then Glen Street) to the beach. The “New Recreation Reserve” was touted as a major attraction, as were the “Splendid Views” from “Bondi Heights” (this early example of real estate speak didn’t catch on!).
In 1885, Mr Alfred Lee purchased a newly built house called Glen Roona (since replaced by the apartment block at 2A Penkivil Street) overlooking the glen. It was a truly grand Bondi residence, featuring a reception room capable of holding 200 people and encompassing most of the Bondi Glen. Lee set about building two tennis courts on the flat land at the bottom of the glen and planting many of the exotic palms that exist there to this day. Alfred Lee was a businessman and book collector (his extensive collection later went to the Mitchell Library). His wife Minnie was prominent in social and philanthropic circles and held many events at Glen Roona. Australia’s prime minister was entertained there in 1939.
Alfred Lee’s granddaughter, Mrs Norah St George Butter, recorded her recollections of visiting the garden when she was a child:
“… Anyway I was delighted to get away from the house and into grandfather’s garden. Grandfather as well as collecting books, collected palm trees. His garden wandered from a top lawn down the sides of the hill under huge trees by a winding path and under the huge trees grew a profusion of palm trees. Tall palms reaching the sky down to tiny walking stick palms edged the path and formed romantic clumps of ghostly green. On the corners the path had a few stops and here and there a statue or an urn. About halfway down were several bush houses and even a glass house. The smell was delicious of rotting moulding things and there seemed to be hundreds of pots full of chrysanthemums, orchids and other odd things while over the sheds sprawled a wisteria vine. It was enchanting. At the bottom the garden opened out onto two tennis courts and with sweet peas growing up the vine and trees surrounding them but at a distance…”**
The glen was eventually purchased by Waverley Council for £7,000 and renamed Thomas Hogan Reserve in memory of the former Mayor of Waverley, who lived nearby and died in 1958. In 1924, Johnston had written that Schneider’s Gully “retains much of its peaceful solitude, natural beauty and native timber”. Johnston’s words ring true nearly 100 years later; Thomas Hogan Reserve still provides a quiet, natural respite from the chaos of Bondi.
If you look around the slopes on the western side of Thomas Hogan Reserve you can still find remnants of the old winding paths that led from the tennis courts up to the Glen Roona house above.
With thanks to John Ruffels and Peggy Dickson.
*Waverley Library Local History Collection, Major Johnston’s Scrapbook pages 20 & 21.
** Notes in the family album Alfred Lee m. Minnie Dodds, State Library Collection.