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Scotland Island - Western Shores - Mackerel Beach

October 1, 2023

Newsletter for the Offshore Residents of Pittwater, Australia - Volume 24, Issue 1199

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



Who Owned Scotland Island?

Tracing the island's title from 1810 to 1892

Roy Baker

The certificate of title, dated 8 February 1892, proving co-ownership of Scotland Island by Joseph Benns (spelt 'Binns' on this occasion). His co-owner was Charles Jenkins.

Andrew Thompson was granted Scotland Island in January 1810. He died later the same year. So who owned the island for the rest of Pittwater’s first century under colonisation? The best answer is that we may never know. Uncertainty remains even if we close our minds to Indigenous claims to land, something we should never do. But if we are to make headway in piecing together Scotland Island history then we need, for current purposes, to focus exclusively on those property rights and interests recognised by the conquerors’ laws. 

Sir Robert Torrens (1812 - 1884), architect of Torrens title, a system of land registration adopted in New South Wales in 1863
To appreciate the reason for uncertainty requires some understanding of land law. Most Australians are familiar with the term Torrens title, even if they are not sure what it means. The term refers to a system of land registration. Under this system each parcel of privately owned land is associated with a certificate of title, a piece of paper identifying the owner. The beauty of the scheme is that it introduces certainty: if you know the name on the certificate then you know the owner. What’s more, each certificate is generated by and stored on a central register, so the risk of fraud is negligible.

Compare that with the system that existed in the early years of colonisation. The traditional way to establish ownership of land is through a chain of title. This involves documenting the sequence of transfers of ownership back to the year dot. What constitutes the year dot varies, but in the case of New South Wales a good starting point is the original grant of land from the Crown. In the case of Scotland Island that was 1810.

In some situations establishing a chain of title is straightforward. But what if a link in the chain is open to challenge? Perhaps someone once forged a document, or papers got lost or destroyed. That’s when things get complicated.

Following Thompson’s untimely death in 1810 his executors faced a daunting task. First they had to liquidate Thompson’s vast estate. Then they had to divide the proceeds among numerous beneficiaries, including Thompson’s estranged family in England. To complicate matters, Thompson’s brother vacillated so long over whether to accept an inheritance that the estate was not settled until 1825, 15 years after Thompson’s death. 

Scotland Island as depicted on Benns' certificate of title, Feb 1892
Add to the mix that the fledgling colony thronged with fraudsters and it is easy to see how doubts could arise over who owned what. In the last edition of the PON we met Robert Lathrop Murray: imposter, bigamist and swindler extraordinaire. He claimed ownership of the island in 1819, a claim his son was to repeat in 1868. Did Murray ever buy the island? We may never know. All we can say for certain is that those claims came to nothing.

Enter now another questionable character: John Dickson. Also from Scotland, Dickson arrived in Sydney as a free settler in 1813. He was an engineer, and brought to Australia its first steam engine, which he set up in what is now Darling Harbour. ‘A great Acquisition to the Colony’ was how Governor Macquarie described Dickson, and he swiftly became one of NSW’s great landowners.

Dickson claimed ownership of Scotland Island in 1833, the year of his downfall. It began with him being sued for repayment of a debt. In his defence Dickson sought to rely on a forged document. He lost the case and then faced criminal prosecution for forgery. Rather than face trial, Dickson absconded to England while on bail and died in London 10 years later. 

Two of Dickson’s sons followed their father to England, but they appointed Edwin Daintrey, a Sydney lawyer, to oversee the family estate, which they said included Scotland Island. In 1855 Daintrey leased the island to Joseph Benns, a Belgian mariner, and to Charles Jenkins, a farmer. For seven years Jenkins and Benns paid rent of £10 pa until, for reasons unknown, they concluded that the Dicksons didn’t own the island. They stopped paying and in 1861 Daintrey threatened them with eviction.

Remember that Torrens title was yet to be introduced to New South Wales. Working out who owned the island 36 years after the settlement of Thompson’s estate would have been a herculean task. Did it belong to the Dicksons, the Murrays, or someone else altogether? Fortunately for Jenkins and Benns, an ancient principle of English common law came to their aid.

Edwin Daintrey, the Sydney solicitor who acted for the Dicksons in their attempts to evict Jenkins and Benns
A claim for adverse possession is a means by which an occupier of land can acquire ownership of it. In New South Wales the occupation must have been for a continuous period of at least 12 years. What’s more, the possession must be adverse to the interests of the true owner. That means that the owner mustn’t have consented to it. Adverse possession is akin to what are sometimes known as ‘squatters’ rights’.

Assuming that the Dicksons owned Scotland Island, that would mean that while Jenkins and Benns were paying rent they were occupying the island with the owners’ consent. For that reason adverse possession couldn’t arise. But once Jenkins and Benns were given notice to quit then they were clearly occupying the island as squatters and the twelve-year countdown to ownership could begin.

Jenkins and Benns’ first attempt to attain title failed. But in 1890 they tried again. To support their case they argued that they had occupied the island since the 1850s. In that time they had constructed a path around the island, leading from their residence (believed to be near Tennis wharf) and cut into the side of the hill near the water. They had also cultivated around 10% of the island, while livestock grazed on the rest. The Oliver family, who owned much of the western foreshore, lent their testimony in support of the claim.

This time the Jenkins and Benns succeeded. Certificates of title were granted to them on 8 February 1892, meaning that, for the first time in almost 80 years, the island had incontrovertible owners. And thus was the path laid for the island’s eventual development for housing.

This article draws on a number of primary and secondary sources, most notably a paper by George and Shelagh Champion. Thanks go to Craig Burton for his continuing encouragement to pursue this research.


How Do We Stack Up?

Comparing Scotland Island with the mainland

Roy Baker

Well-educated, well-paid and middle-aged: these are typical characteristics of a Scotland Islander, according to the 2021 census.

The release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest census data provides us with an opportunity to see how Scotland Island compares with the rest of Australia. I provide my analysis below. Apologies to readers from the western foreshores, but the way the ABS presents its figures makes it difficult to run this exercise in terms of the offshore community as a whole.

The 2021 census recorded that 711 people were ‘usually resident’ on Scotland Island on the night of Tuesday, 10 August 2021. But the island’s population is partly seasonal: around 23% of the 358 private dwellings on the island were classed as ‘unoccupied’ that winter’s night. Given the number of weekender and holiday homes, it’s likely that the island’s summer population approaches one thousand.

In terms of household composition, Scotland Island is not particularly different from any other suburb. Out of the 260 island dwellings that were occupied in winter 2021, 37% provided housing for a couple with one or more children, 30% contained couples with no children, 22% were occupied by an adult living alone and 10% housed a single parent with one or more children. The average number of people per household was 2.5. These figures are roughly on par with the rest of Australia. But our gender mix is not quite the same as that for Australia generally. Of the 711 people living on the island in August 2016, 52% were male: the figure for the nation as a whole is 49%.

31% of islanders report 15-plus hours pw of unpaid domestic work, compared with 21% of Australians as a whole. Even so, more islanders undertake voluntary work.
Where we start to look more different is in terms of median age: 48 for the island, 38 across Australia. That said, the island had a slightly larger proportion of children: in 2021, 20% of the island’s permanent population was under the age of 15, compared with 18% for Australia as a whole. What’s more, a much smaller slice of the island’s population was aged 75 or above: 5%, against 8%. This may be part of the reason why islanders, despite the higher median age, seem healthier than most Australians. When asked about a list of long-term health conditions, 69% of islanders reported that they suffered from none of them, compared with 64% of Australians as a whole.  

Given that we have slightly more children than usual, and fewer of us are elderly, what accounts for the older median age? The island has a dearth of young adults. Barely 13% of islanders were in their 20s or 30s, whereas 28% of Australian residents are aged between 20 and 39. In contrast, the island had a whopping 34% of its population in their 40s or 50s, as opposed to 25% across the nation. Being older, the typical islander has had longer to marry (50% versus 47%), but also more time to separate or divorce: 17%, against Australia’s 12%.

Thus far we islanders don’t seem so different from other Australians. We are just more middle-aged. But we start to see bigger differences when we look at our ethnic diversity. In some respects our suburb is much the same as many others. For instance, around two thirds of islanders were born in Australia, broadly similar to Australia as a whole. What is more, the chances of meeting an islander with both parents born in Australia are not so different from those of finding someone with similar parentage in another suburb: 37% for the island, 46% for elsewhere.

The difference lies more in where the island’s 37% migrant population comes from. In terms of countries where English is widely spoken, New Zealanders are more common on the island than elsewhere in the country, as are Canadians and Americans. As for countries of origin where English is not an official language, France was the most commonly cited.

But it’s the island’s English contingent that stands out most. Over 9% of islanders were born in England, compared to less than 4% in a typical Australian suburb. Around 16% of islanders have at least one parent born in England: the figure for the rest of Australia is closer to 6%. Almost half of islanders reported English ancestry, compared with one third of Australians as a whole. 84% of households on the island use only English at home, compared to 72% of households nationally.

43% of the island’s permanent adult population has a university degree, compared with 26% for the rest of Australia.
Scotland Island isn’t exactly representative of the rest of Australia in terms of ethnicity, but it is education and employment that really mark us out. As at August 2021, 64% of the island’s permanent population aged 15 years or above had some kind of post-secondary education, as opposed to 52% in Australia as a whole. Perhaps as a result, a smaller proportion of us were unemployed: 3.5% of islanders self-identifying as part of the nation’s work force were out of a job, versus 5.1% for Australia. That said, a slightly smaller proportion of the island’s labour force worked full-time: 46% as against 56%. Instead, part-time work is more prevalent on the island relative to Australia: 40% versus 31%.

Returning to education, the most striking finding is that 43% of the island’s permanent adult population had a university degree, against 26% for Australia. This ties in with the fact that 53% of those in employment identified as ‘professionals’ or ‘managers’: the figure for Australia as a whole is 38%. In terms of median household income, the island was 37% ahead of the rest of Australia. 40% of households had an annual income above $156,000, compared with 24% across Australia. 85% of us owned our home, either outright (37%) or with a mortgage (48%). Australians in the rest of the country were more than twice as likely to rent but, unsurprisingly, they pay less.

Many would say that living on Scotland Island is hard work, and the census figures possibly bear this out. 31% of islanders aged 15 or over report 15 or more hours per week of unpaid domestic work, which includes chores such as shopping and gardening. This compares with 21% of Australians as a whole. But some of us still find time to help others. 23% of islanders over 15 reported doing some kind of voluntary work through an organisation or group in the 12 months preceding the census, compared with 14% nationally.

Putting all of this together, who typify Scotland Island’s permanent population? Taking ‘typical’ islanders to mean those with individual characteristics that reflect each of those most commonly found on our island, they are in their early 50s, married with children in primary school. They think of their ancestry as English, but were born in Australia to parents also born in this country. They are university-educated, ‘professional’, probably work in IT, and drive to a full-time job in order to pay off the mortgage on a three-bedroomed house. Not every islander fits that description. But then, few of us are exactly normal, are we?

More details relating to the 2021 census of Scotland Island can be found here.


School Holiday Terrarium Workshop

Scotland Island Recreation Centre

Thursday, 5 October, 9.30 am - 12 noon

For further information or to enrol, click here.


'Secret Island': Second reading

Scotland Island Community Hall

Saturday, 7 October, 4 pm

Following the success of The Two Catherines, performed on Scotland Island in June, Pittwater residents are embarking on another theatrical venture: a new comedy written especially for the offshore community. We are working towards performances on Scotland Island in early March 2024.

We are now in the process of choosing a cast. Anyone interested is encouraged to attend the play's second reading this coming Saturday. This will help potential actors familiarise themselves with the script, and work out who wants to do what.

Remember that, besides actors, we need lighting and sound operators, stage hands and many more.

All are welcome to come along on Saturday. If you have questions about the play, send an email to editor@scotlandisland.org.au. The acting roles to fill are;
  • Lead role Pat: 20s to 30s
  • Lead role Wendy: 20s to 30s
  • Fitzy: Any age
  • Natasha: Eastern European accent
  • Alex: Eastern European accent
  • Fire captain: Any age
  • Non-speaking character: brief, preferably tall.

Elvina Bay Fireshed Dinner

Elvina Bay Fire Station

Saturday, 7 October, 6 pm

COST: $25 per person. Families $50.
All proceeds go to support the work done by the volunteer members of the West Pittwater Rural Fire Brigade by improving safety, equipment and facilities.
To help with catering, please RSVP and prepay via EFT by Thursday 5 October. Walk-ins cannot be guaranteed a meal.
RSVP: firesheddinner@westpittwater.com.au
EFT:   West Pittwater Fire Brigade
BSB: 032 196
Account: 960017
Ref: Add your surname as reference
BYO. Fire Shed dinners are a volunteer community event. Help with washing and packing up on the night would be greatly appreciated.
All fire brigade dinners are NO DOG events – please leave pets at home for the evening.


The Tuesday Discussion Group

Scotland Island Recreation Centre

Tuesday 17 October, 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. At the September session, CB Floyd led a discussion on the concept of 'meritocracy', and what they mean in practice.

For the October meeting, Roy Baker asks us 'what is intelligence?'

Sometimes missing from the current brouhaha over artificial intelligence is clear agreement over what we mean by 'intelligence'. We use the term a lot, but how does it butt up   against concepts such as intellect, knowledge, recall, understanding, empathy, morality, conciousness, self-awareness and so on? What's emotional or social intelligence? Are plants and other animal species intelligent? How do we best measure intelligence, develop it, use it and maintain it? And is AI as smart as it's cracked up to be?

To prepare:

1. Read the Wikipedia article on intelligence, which offers at least ten different definitions of the word. (The listed references throw up additional reading suggestions).

2. Read this Conversation article on the topic of human and AI hallucination. 

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.


Scotland Island Café

Catherine Park, Scotland Island

Sunday 22 October, 10 am - 12 noon


International Folk Dancing

Scotland Island Community Hall

Saturday 28 October, 7 - 9 pm

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


Christmas Market

Scotland Island Catherine Park

Sunday 26 November, 10 am - 1 pm


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