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Scotland Island - Western Shores - Mackerel Beach

January 1, 2024

Newsletter for the Offshore Residents of Pittwater, Australia - Volume 25, Issue 1202

We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Traditional Custodians of Pittwater, as well as our Indigenous readers


The 1994 Bushfire: 30th Anniversary

Pittwater's biggest bushfire in living memory, January 1994

Roy Baker

Smoke over Pittwater's western foreshores, January 1994

Next Monday marks the 30th anniversary of an event that remains seared into the memories of many on Pittwater. Never in our lives did so many offshore homes come close to bush fire destruction than on Saturday, 8 January 1994. Indeed several on the western foreshore were lost, and lives were changed forever. Even so, the consensus among those who experienced the fires is that, but for the skill, determination and bravery of our volunteer firefighters, as well as a great deal of luck, the outcome could so easily have been much, much worse.

The fire that threatened our Pittwater homes was one among many that blazed along the eastern seaboard during the summer of 1993-94. New South Wales saw some 20,000 firefighters deployed against around 800 fires, reaching from Batemans Bay to the Queensland border. Many thousands needed evacuation, 225 homes were destroyed and 800,000 hectares of bushland burned. Four lives were lost. The 1993-94 fires were met with one of the largest firefighting efforts in Australian history. It was the event that ultimately led to the formation of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

The fire that so nearly brought calamity to our offshore communities was begun, perhaps deliberately, close to Cottage Point, some 10 km to our west. It ignited on Friday, 7 January, and was to destroy 30 houses and 10,000 hectares of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. During the Friday fire crews were dispatched from Pittwater, and they spent the night attempting to control the fire at Cottage Point, but with little success. By early Saturday morning the blaze was threatening Pittwater's western foreshore and Scotland Island.

To mark the fire's 30th anniversary, I reproduce below a first-hand account written by John Parker, Scotland Island's then fire captain. Based on contemporaneous logs, it provides a salutary lesson. John's description of events originally appeared in Perspective, a magazine produced for the western foreshore.

'All the houses in Elvina are gone'

Pittwater's 1994 fire: a first-hand account

John Parker

An aerial shot taken in January 1994, showing how close the firefront came to Elvina Bay South. Beashel's boatshed can be seen in the bottom lefthand corner, while Church Point is in the top left.

Saturday 8 January 1994

It is 0600 and after 24 hours at the fire station it is time to stand down myself and some of the others for some rest, as the forecast looks ominous: strong NW winds, high temperatures and low humidity. The fire, which originated near Cottage Point, has already caused a great deal of damage. We have had a crew at Cottage Point since 1200 yesterday assisting in back burning operations, and the boat has made several trips to Browns Bay and McCarrs Creek during the past 24 hours.

07:50    The phone rings. I knew there was no point in trying to get some sleep! The forecast wind has not yet commenced to blow, but the network of observers around the island is reporting some debris falling and the fire can be seen burning down the slope into McCarrs Creek and crowning in the bushland above Elvina Bay. The water police are going to pick up our crew from Cottage Point and bring them back. Patrols are organised on foot and by vehicle to cover as much territory as possible.

09:30    A helicopter is waterbombing the bushland behind Elvina Bay. Wind is basically SE, but swirling around and some ash is falling.

Larry & Lesley Woods' shed after the fire, Elvina Bay, January 1994
10:05    Water police request the fire boat to assist them in McCarrs Creek and crew dispatched. Water bombing continuous.

10:40    Reports of flames visible above Lovett Bay. The wind has eased and there is an eerie calm.

12:00    Base radio reports that houses are being threatened in Terrey Hills. Fire is visible along the ridges above Elvina and Lovett Bays.

12:30    The forecast northwesterly wind comes in and the fire swings towards the western shores, flames leaping and the smoke thickening. Reports are coming in from the observers.

13:38    West Pittwater request assistance. The boat and a crew are dispatched, but the wind is strengthening and more debris is falling, I decide to recall the boat. The wind continues to strengthen and a smoke pall obscures the island. Standing outside the station, I can see only a few metres and I wonder whether any spot fires will be seen in time. Patrols and observers continue to report regularly and we continually hear the alert tone on the radio as Fire Control despatch crews to the trouble spots.

15:25    An observer phones into report houses alight, possibly in Elvina Bay, but the smoke is still thick. 10 minutes later, a tinny arrives at Tennis and the occupant reports that ‘all the houses in Elvina are gone’. Shortly after, another observer phones in an identical report.

The western foreshores as seen at night, January 1994
16:00    Flames are reported in Lovett Bay. I have moved to Bell to relieve one of the patrols, and through the smoke can see houses burning. Ash continues to fall but so far we have been lucky.

17:20    The wind backs to the SW and the fire front changes direction accordingly. Smoke and ash still cover the island and it is some time before the threat of spotting appears to have eased.

18:05    Observers report that the damage in Elvina Bay is not as great as was originally reported but that Lovett Bay has been devastated. The boat and crew are despatched to assist where possible.

22:30    The boat returns to refuel and a fresh crew take it out again. When they return, the boat is once again refuelled.

Sunday 9 January 1994
02:20    We are despatched by Fire Control to assist at Coasters Retreat and as we pass the shore can see the flames crowning all along the ridges between Towlers Bay and Coasters. On arrival we are redeployed to a house fire in Lovett Bay and then return to Coasters to assist with back burning.

06:20    Back burning is complete, returning to station. However, the fire is now threatening Mackerel Beach. Prepare to commence for another back burn.

08:20    Some members of the Brigade, myself included are forcibly stood down.

09:45    Boat and crew dispatched to Mackerel. The situation worsens and another crew is sent via the ‘Burragai’ at 10:50.

12:15    Crews at Mackerel report that the situation there is under control, but they are remaining to help clear fire breaks.

And so it went on, with callouts to flare-ups in various locations for the next few days, long nights enlivened by power failures and a late afternoon call out to investigate a report of a house fire on the island, which proved to be a false alarm.

The island was lucky and escaped, this time. But in some respects this has only increased the possibility of a major fire in the future, since the wind brought down leaves and branches and materially increased fuel loadings, particularly on the north and west faces. Hazard reductions are planned, but it will be quite a few years before the overall fuel loadings can be reduced to manageable levels.

Properly planned and managed hazard reductions are essential, and it is to be hoped that the lessons of January 1994 are not easily forgotten.

John Parker


The PON: 2023 Index

Back issues of the PON are not always easy to navigate. Most are available from the PON archive, but it's not easily searchable if you are looking for a particular story. In order to make a search easier, I intend to include in each 1 January edition an index for the previous year's main items. That way at least you only have to look at the first edition of each year to find an article. You will find the 2022 index in the 1 February 2023 PON, and now I present the 2023 index.
  • 1 January 2023: Catherine Park Landscape Improvements Plan; Scotland Island Recreation Club; Pittwater weeds
  • 1 February 2023: PON 2022 index; Scotland Island Community Vehicle: usage and history; Alan Hill's OAM; Boobook Owls; 2023 SIRA Committee
  • 1 March 2023: Scotland Island's Tree Canopy: is it dying? The Dark Side of the Moon review
  • 1 April 2023: Cleaning Up Pittwater
  • 1 May 2023: Comparing Scotland Island census data: 2001 v 2021; Island Feast for Freedom; The Two Catherines Play
  • 1 June 2023: Scotland Island's Trees (Alan Erdman)
  • 1 July 2023: The Two Catherines: the truth behind the play (plus reflections from Robyn Iredale); Meeting Catherine Benns' Descendants;
  • 1 August 2023: Mary Helen McMIllan (owner of Scotland Island,1906-1920s); Building Scotland Island Community Hall (photo display)
  • 1 September 2023: Robert Lathrop Murray (reputed owner of Scotland Island, circa 1819)
  • 1 October 2023: Scotland Island ownership,1810-1892; Demographic comparison: Scotland Island v the rest of Australia
  • 1 November 2023: William Wallace Elmslie, quack and owner of Scotland Island, 1892 - 1900; $2 million grant for island roads; PON's 1200th edition
  • 1 December 2023: The Taylor family, owners of Scotland Island, 1900 - 1906; 2023 SIRA AGM report.
On another point of housekeeping, I am aware that some email clients, including Microsoft Outlook, mess up my careful formatting, making the PON less easy to read. If you are having that problem, I encourage you to always read the PON at the archive referred to above: click here. (You will always find that link at the very top of each PON.) That way you will see them in their full glory.


Secret Island

Our new offshore play, coming in March

HUSH! The Pittwater offshore community has a new play, written, directed and performed by offshore residents.

It's a comedy called 'SECRET ISLAND: What you didn't know about your neighbour'.

With a title like that, obviously we can't divulge too much at this stage.
But we can tell you that performances will be in the Scotland Island Community Hall on these dates:
Friday 1 March, Saturday 2 March, Friday 8 March and Saturday 9 March.
Tickets are on sale now: to buy yours, click here.

We are also able to reveal the play's poster, beautifully drawn by islander Nettie Lodge. You'll find it in the events listing below. But first, we meet the playwright.

'I'm Bogue and Proud of It'

An interview with the author of 'Secret Island'

One of the best things about living offshore is how everyone here knows how to keep a secret. Take, for instance, the code to get into the Scotland Island Community Hall. As Hall Manager I changed it recently and, I swear, several days passed before any island child could tell me what it is.

Yes, beloved friends and neighbours, it's truly impressive how you all know your own businesses and you stick to minding them. Romances, affairs, divorces, illnesses, transitioning, coming out, going back in again, we all know how to respect a confidence when one is passed on to us. 

No doubt that’s why, during the 1950s, ASIO chose Towlers Bay as the ideal location for a safe house. What better place to hide KGB defectors than a tightknit community with limited ingress and egress, where tinnies glide silently through glaring sunlight, everyone keeps to themselves, and no one sits and watches who’s getting on and off the ferry. Drop a couple of Russian double agents into an offshore community and they are bound to go unnoticed.

So hearken, dear reader, because it seems that spies are back on Pittwater. It’s all very hush hush, so I can’t tell you about it. But it looks like their identities will be revealed in early March, in the Community Hall and, would you believe it, on stage.

‘Secret Island’, subtitled 'What you didn't know about your neighbour', is the latest work by Scotland Island’s least known playwright. He’s a man we all know, yet somehow we don’t. Allow me to introduce Bogue Anthill.

Despite preferring a low profile, Bogue recently granted me a brief interview. I began by asking him what inspired the new play. It was a long and awkward silence, given the whole thing’s still under wraps. So I switched to a safer topic.

‘What’s your position on buggies?’ I asked.

‘Usually I’m on the rear facing back’ he said, glancing around furtively. ‘Whenever someone gives me a lift on Heartbreak Hill they put the shopping and kids in the safer passenger seats. To anyone who has given me a lift and I have not been there at the end to thank them – it’s not rudeness, its just that I slid off along the way.’

‘So tell me what the play’s about’, I asked. But Bogue wasn’t falling for any tricks.  

‘On the mainland they say don’t drink and drive. On the island, it’s don’t drink and sit on the back seat. If you look closely at the speed hump on Harold Avenue you’ll notice it has an indentation of my tailbone. Three times.’

‘Three times?’ I asked, wondering how I’d get an article out of this.

‘Three times’, said Bogue.

‘But about this play’, I said, sensing that Bogue had by now forgotten he’d written one. ‘You won’t be taking the mickey out of anyone, will you? It’s just that some people say this play’s pretty harsh, and that’s why you’re writing under a pseudonym’.

‘A pseudonym? Never!’, stormed Bogue. ‘Pseudonyms are for gutless keyboard warriors. I’m Bogue and proud of it’.

‘But it’s been 24 years since you last wrote anything for the island stage', I said, fondly remembering some of Bogue's former triumphs. 'Why the long silence?’

‘My solicitor has told me to say writer’s block. It has nothing to do with any onstage stunts gone wrong, any people who may have been offended or defamed, or any copyright that was infringed. And if any bailiffs are reading this, I’m still Bogue and proud of it.’

In the next PON you’ll hear more from Bogue, depending on what he's prepared to divulge. I’ll also be publishing a full list of offshore residents mentioned in the play, alongside Bogue’s address for service, should you need it.

Until then, please don’t tell anyone about the play. Remember, like unregistered buggies, and the fact that we all drink SIRA water, it’s our little island secret.

Roy Baker


Ferry Fare Increase


Table Tennis Is Back!

Scotland Island Community Hall

Tuesdays, 9 - 11 am

Table tennis is back on the island, and at a new time. Groups will now meet most Tuesdays and anyone is welcome. Sessions are supported by the Scotland Island Recreation Club.

Sessions may not run every Tuesday. If you are interested in taking part then it's best to join the table tennis WhatsApp group to receive up-to-date information on who is playing. If you would like to join the group, please email editor@scotlandisland.org.au. Alternatively, you can just turn up and take your chances.

Adult players are asked to contribute $5 per player per attendance to defray expenses.

The Tuesday Discussion Group

Scotland Island Recreation Centre

Tuesday 16 January, 11 am - 12.30 pm

The Recreation Club runs a discussion group, meeting on the third Tuesday of each month, from 11 am to 12.30 pm in the Recreation Centre. Everyone is welcome.

Members take it in turn to design a session. The December session discussed the ethics of giving, and the concept of 'effective altruism'.

For the January meeting, Hazel Malloy asks us to consider cultural appropriation. When is it a bad thing?

Cultures borrow and share, copy and converge. So when is it problematic for members of one identity to adopt something belonging to another? From dot painting to yoga, blues to falafel, cloth caps to queer, what's the difference between appropriation and appreciation in a multicultural world?


1. 'Cultural Appropriation', from Wikipedia

2. 'What Does"Cultural Appropriation" Actually Mean?' from The Atlantic (behind a paywall, but you should be able to read it for free as an introductory offer. Alternatively, click here for a pdf version).

3. 'You Can't "Steal" a Culture: in Defense of Cultural Appropriation', from The Daily Beast

4. 'Don't Let the Woke Scolds Ruin Cinco de Mayo', from Reason

5. 'Hopis Say Boy Scout Performances Make Mockery of Tradition, Religion', from Santa Fe New Mexican

6. 'Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture', from Time

The group is administered via a WhatsApp group, which will be used to distribute further information about this and future discussions. If you would like to be added to the group, send your mobile phone number to editor@scotlandisland.org.au. Alternatively, contact Jane Rich (janebalmain@hotmail.com) for more information or to express your interest in participating.

The Recreation Club asks for $5 per person per attendance to defray expenses.


Landscape Painting Workshop

Avalon Sailing Club

Thursday 18 January, 6 - 9 pm

To email Meredith Rasdall, click here


Kids' Holiday Workshop

Avalon Sailing Club

Friday 19 January, 10 - 12 noon

To email Meredith Rasdall, click here


Island Café

Catherine Park, Scotland Island

Sunday 28 January, 10 - 12 noon


As You Like It

Saturday 10 February, 5 - 7.30 pm: Avalon Sailing Club

Sunday 11 February, 4 - 6.30 pm: Catherine Park, Scotland Island

For tickets to the Avalon performance, click here
For tickets to the Scotland Island performance, click here


Island Swim

Cargo Wharf, Scotland Island

Sunday 11 February, 9 am

To join click here


Moon Dance

Scotland Island Community Hall & Recreation Centre

Saturday 17 February

Saturday 6 April

Saturday 27 April

Tickets are now on sale for the incredible first show: "The Dark Side of the Moon Dance" (Saturday 17 February).

Choose from three very different sessions of this hugely popular show with something for all tastes.
5:00pm The Early Show
An unplugged performance of Pink Floyd's seminal album plus other PF favourites. With reduced volume and no strobe lighting, this session is designed for youngsters (and the young at heart) to enjoy classic music in a comfortable, safe environment. All are welcome. Please spread the word. Reduced price. 90 minute duration. Scheduled ferry back to the Point via the Bays at 6:40pm.
7:30pm The Evening Show
An intimate concert style performance of Pink Floyd classics including The Dark Side of the Moon album. 90 minute duration. Special complimentary ferry to the Point via the Bays after the show. Hang out in the Green Room bar before and after the show. Snack food available.
9:30pm The Late Show
The full volume extravaganza. The Dark Side of the Moon from heartbeat to heartbeat PLUS lots more. Amazing audio visuals effects. Longer duration. Dance floor.

The new backstage-themed Green Room bar and snacks will be available throughout the evening. It's the new offshore gathering place. Everyone welcome.

Be quick! Capacity is limited for all sessions. To buy tickets, click here


Secret Island

Scotland Island Community Hall

Friday 1 March, 7.30 pm      Saturday 2 March, 7.30 pm

Friday 8 March, 7.30 pm     Saturday 9 March, 7.30 pm

To buy tickets, click here


Wanted: Island accommodation to rent

Active retired couple who have lived on the island before, and dream of returning for six months to a year, are looking for a small residence, reasonably close to a ferry wharf, not at the top of a mountain.

We have a non-roaming, non-destructive, small dog who loves ferry travel too.

We own our own home at Bulli and are financially comfortable and reliable. We would look after your place as our own.
We are non smokers and community minded. We could give you references.

Hope to pay about $600 - 650 pw.

We are willing to pay a bond and sign a lease. Any takers?

Cheers, Robyn
Tel 0435 758776 or 0414 604748

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The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those of the Scotland Island Residents Association (SIRA),
or the Western Pittwater Community Association (WPCA)
Original Newsletter Design:Paul Purvis & Julian Muir