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Tamarama Gully Inspires Artists, Poets And Even A Major

By Kimberly O'Sullivan Steward on July 7, 2011 in Other

Tamarama Gully was formed by a creek eroding an edge of the Hawkesbury sandstone plateau, the ridge of which sits at the top of Tamarama Gully. The creek begins in a catchment west of the gully, near the present-day Waverley Park, and it cascades over the edge of the plateau, creating Tamarama Gully and its waterfall.


The creek originally ran the length of the gully, across present day Tamarama Park and out to sea. It still goes out to sea at Tamarama Beach, but now goes via an underground stormwater drain.

In 1876, the first Mayor of Waverley, David Fletcher, bought land at the top of Tamarama Gully. There he built a house, ‘The Glen’, with the whole area being known for many years as Fletcher’s Glen. It was also known as Fairlight Glen, named after another house Fletcher owned in the gully called ‘Fairlight’.

Fletcher built a wooden bridge over the top of the waterfall that would have afforded beautiful views all the way to the ocean. He fashioned steps and pathways across his land, providing picturesque walking trails that took in the natural waterfall and the lush rainforest-type vegetation that flourished in the narrow protected gully. These pathways can still be seen, although they are now largely overgrown.

In 1878, Sydney magazine ‘The Australian Town and Country Journal’ described Tamarama Gully as: “a lovely valley with its myrtle trees, hidden caves and bamboo and the flow of a creek across the valley”.

It also captured the imagination of local politician and amateur poet Alfred Allen, who in 1876, inspired by a visit to Tamarama Gully, penned the poem ‘Fairlight Glen’. Waxing lyricall, he enthused about the waterfall’s “wild and rugged nook, divided by a tumbling brook” and declared the gully “has a charm for every eye, a balm for every ache and sigh”.

In the early 1880s, artist Julian Rossi Ashton was similarly enchanted. He was sent to sketch Tamarama Gully for ‘The Picturesque Atlas of Australia’ and this commercial art job had a big impact on him. He fell in love with Tamarama, settled locally and continued to sketch and paint images of the gully for the rest of his life. Ashton’s sketch for the Atlas titled ‘Fletcher’s Glen’ is significant as it is the first known image of Tamarama Gully and waterfall.

In 1889, Ashton painted a small canvas of the gully as a present for Mary Anne Fletcher, the daughter of David Fletcher. On November 25 that year he wrote to her: “Your father has no doubt handed you the little sketch of the Glen I did for you. If it gives you a [little] of the pleasure I have felt in that beautiful spot, I shall feel that the poor and unsuccessful effort I have made to reproduce those beauties is amply repaid.” In 2010 that painting was donated to the Local Studies collection, Waverley Library, and recognised by the Art Gallery of NSW as a significant part of Ashton’s work.

Ashton is now remembered as a major artist and an exponent of Australian impressionism, known for taking his students on ‘plein air’ painting excursions to the Eastern Suburbs beaches.

In the late 19th century, local historian Major William L. Johnston took the first photographs of Tamarama Gully. These evocative black and white images show a fast flowing cascade of water, dropping between large boulders and rock benches and Fletcher’s rustic wooden bridge spanning the head of the waterfall – a sylvan glen indeed.

If you would like to learn more about the colourful history of the Eastern Beaches area you can call Waverley Council Local Studies Librarian Kimberly O’Sullivan Steward on 9386 7744 or you can send her an email at