The true story of Cove
Grosvenor and Cove Lee, the Morning Bay
house where she lived from 1963 to 1969
Recently my elderly mother moved into residential care and
my childhood home, located in the English Midlands, sold.
It was a wistful experience, given my family’s 70-year
connection with the house. But it cannot compare to that
undergone by Robyn Grosvenor, former resident of Morning
Robyn grew up in what locals often refer to as the
‘government house’. Disembark at the wharf on Morning
Bay’s southern shore, walk along Bona Crescent and at its
termination, shortly before the creek, you will find a
derelict house. This was Robyn’s childhood home, known to
her family as Cove Lee.
original fibro cottage as it was in 1962,
when the Grosvenors bought the land on which
Cove Lee now stands. Morea and Alan
Grosvenor stand behind Robyn’s grandmother,
My interest in the house was piqued when I read about its
alleged cold war connections. In the early 1950s Vladimir
Petrov, a KGB officer, had agreed to assist ASIO in return
for political asylum in Australia. The defection of Petrov
and his wife led, according to some, to Prime Minister
Robert Menzies winning the subsequent federal election.
It remains a persistent story that Cove Lee
served as a safe house for the Petrovs. But they defected
in 1954 and Cove Lee wasn’t built until 1963. At the time
of the defection a fibro cottage stood just behind where
the house is situated today. But, according to Robyn, it’s
extremely unlikely that the cottage ever harboured the
‘My parents, Morea and Alan Grosvenor, bought that cottage
in 1962’, explains Robyn. ‘They lived in it while they
built Cove Lee in its grounds. Before they moved into the
cottage it had been derelict for many years. It had always
been privately owned, and the agent who sold it to my
parents assured them that it had no connection with the
Lee in about 1968. The fibro cottage, by
then extended, can be seen in the
I was soon to discover that Cove Lee doesn’t need Soviet
spies to lend it an interesting past. That part of Morning
Bay seems to have connections with every phase of
post-settlement Pittwater history.
A few metres from Cove Lee is a reputed Indigenous burial
ground, and not much further away there is an Aboriginal
carving depicting an early European sailing ship.
Immediately behind the house stood 19th century cottages,
stone from which was taken to build Cove Lee. And in the
1880s hulks moored in the bay were used for the
stockpiling of explosives.
With the advent of tourism on Pittwater, an early
twentieth century guesthouse was built on the hill behind
Cove Lee, not far from the current youth hostel. The
area’s subsequent residential development is represented
by the pre-war fibro cottage initially occupied by the
Grosvenors and the later, much grander home they built in
Lee jetty and boathouse, both now demolished
On the day I visited Cove Lee with Robyn, what captivated
me most was not so much Morning Bay’s history as Robyn’s
reminiscences of growing up there. Robyn’s childhood must
have been truly idyllic.
Cove Lee, it turns out, was far more than a house. In its
heyday it was a magnificent complex of landscaped gardens
and ponds amid manicured lawns. There was a boathouse and
a swimming pool. There was an enclosure for Robyn’s pony
'Muffin’, as well as a cubby house for Robyn to play in.
Robyn’s sense of connection with the place was obvious. At
one point she took me down to the beach to show me ‘Cooee
Rock’. It was while standing on the rock as a little girl
that she discovered that she could make her voice echo
around the bay.
Cove Lee never had vehicular access, so the Grosvenors
constructed a lengthy jetty, used to barge in building
material. But what finally convinced me that Robyn had the
perfect childhood is that the Grosvenors were the owners
of the amphibious car that I wrote about some months ago. What child would
not dream of being driven in a car across Pittwater?
in the front seat of her parents' amphibious
The family’s time in Morning Bay was not without
challenge. In November 1965 the area was ravaged by
bushfire and the flames came so close to the house that
carpenters who were working on the house fled. Robyn
recalls returning home from school and, still in school
uniform, jumping into the water to fill a bucket to save a
But Robyn’s father sounds like a resourceful man. Robyn
showed me the water system he created for the house.
Indeed the swimming pool was intended to double as a
reservoir for fire fighting purposes. And so the house
survived, at least in terms of bushfires.
The dream came to an end in 1969 when the NSW government
compulsorily acquired the property from the Grosvenor
family. The precise reasons for the acquisition are not
clear. Robyn’s belief is that the government realised that
they were liable for providing Cove Lee with road access.
Rather than face that expense they preferred to reacquire
Lee from the rear. The amphibious car is
visible in the garage, alongside the utility
used on the property.
Robyn is suspicious about the process. Apparently a
boulder on the beach used to bear an etching indicating
Crown ownership of the land. But the etching has been
removed. ‘It’s like they are trying to cover up
something’, she says.
Robyn is also angry, pointing out that the family was only
compensated for the value of the block, without taking
into account the house and other improvements to it. ‘We
were devastated’, she says. ‘We had put so much love into
our home on Pittwater.’
After the Grosvenors departed Cove Lee it was used to
accommodate visiting dignitaries as well as members of the
NSW government and its opposition. Apparently Neville Wran
visited so often as Premier that the house became known as
‘Wran’s place’. But over time the building was allowed to
fall into ruin. And so it remains today.
As we explored the remains of her childhood home it was
difficult to read Robyn’s feelings. The pool now lies
empty and there are gaping holes in the roof of the house.
Efforts have been made to board up the premises, but even
so it has been subjected to extensive vandalism, including
obscene graffiti sprawled both inside and out.
outside her former childhood home
‘It makes me so sad to see it like this’, says Robyn. ‘Our
family has lost our home forever. But at least it would be
good to see another family enjoy the house, or for it to
be put to some community use’.
The relinquishment of a childhood home is a sad time for
many of us. But we might hope for happier circumstances
than this. Whatever justifications the government had for
reacquiring Cove Lee, it seems, at the very least, a most
Robyn's father died in 2012 at the age of 87. Her mother
is now 94 years old and lives in a nursing home in North
Thanks to Robyn Grosvenor for her help in telling the
story of Cove Lee.
After over a year of running the PON and three years of
barely leaving Pittwater I'm off to discover whether there
is life beyond our verdant shores. I depart for Europe in
a few weeks and shall be gone for some months. While away
I plan to maintain the PON as a monthly noticeboard for
forthcoming offshore activities, but my regular feature
articles will take a break.
I publish about local history less because it's inherently
interesting, more because I believe that a sense of shared
past is something around which a community can cohere.
Many of us come from far away and Pittwater's history
might not feel much like our history. But I hope that we
all have some sense of connection with this place, its
residents, and the stories they have to tell.
Although I shall be taking a break, I welcome (as always)
contributions from readers. I know that there is out there
a wealth of anecdotes, some of which might even be
printable. If you have anything to say that you think
could interest your fellow residents then please email me:
If you wish to advertise forthcoming events in the PON
then please bear in mind that it is published on the first
day of every month, so you need to plan at least one month
ahead. JPG or PNG images are preferred over PDF or Word
Keeping informed about offshore events:
For information on the practicalities of Scotland Island
life, SIRA News is emailed to all SIRA members and
is also available to anyone else who asks. Its archives can be found on the SIRA website. For west Pittwater the
equivalent are the emailed bulletins issued by the WPCA.
In terms of commercial media there is a well-used Facebook site, where many residents
trade news, views and chattels. SIRA operates its own Facebook site.
of the members of the SIRA Committee,
Want to find out what SIRA and its subcommittees have been
doing in the first part of this year?
You can now view a short report on activities in areas
such as communications, road improvements, the
environment, wharves and the emergency water system, as
well as recreation. To download the report, please click here.
three carvers: Peter Lalor, Craig Laslett
and Nick Cross
The 30 April Scotland
Island spit roast dinner was a huge success, raising
well over $2,000. Huge thanks go to everyone involved.
Now we need more like it.
We have a Thai night coming up, thanks to CB Floyd and
her team of volunteers. (See below for details.) But the
Scotland Island brigade wants to offer even more dinners
this winter. To do so we need more teams of willing
supporters to organise and cook them.
If you and your friends
feel that you could design and cook a dinner, or if you
as an individual would like to lend a hand with a
dinner, please let us know. The brigade has considerable
experience in running dinners and will be on hand to
advise and support you. What we really need is your
We are also short on
RSA-qualified helpers to serve at the bar. And, as
always, there are many other ways for you to help out.
Scotland Island Recreation
Most Saturdays throughout
2 - 3 pm: Introduction to
3 - 5 pm: Table Tennis
Groups meet most Saturdays
and anyone over 12 is welcome. Sessions are supported by
the Scotland Island Recreation Club.
Play from 2 - 3 pm is
intended primarily for those new to table tennis. The
session from 3 - 5 pm is open to everyone, regardless of
your standard of play.
Sessions do not run every Saturday. 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
Alternatively, you can just turn up and take your chances.
As from 1 July the Recreation Club will be asking for
$5 per player per attendance to defray expenses.
Players under 18 years of age can continue to play for
Scotland Island Community
Every Thursday, 4 - 6 pm
Upper Level, 164
Longueville Road, Lane Cove
Ends 11 June 2022
Island Fire Brigade AGM
Fire Station, Scotland
Sunday 5 June, 3 - 5 pm
To register for the
AGM, please click here.
To pay your membership
fee, please click here.
Scotland Island Community
Saturday 25 June, 7 - 9 pm
From 1 June the
Recreation Club will be asking for $5 per person per
attendance to defray expenses.
Catherine Park, Scotland
Sunday 26 June, 10 - 12
Scotland Island Recreation
Tuesday 28 June, 11 am -
The Recreation Club has a new discussion group, meeting
on the last 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, choosing
material for discussion. This can consist of essays,
articles or podcasts, or a combination of all three. The
idea is that group members shouldn't be committed to
more than a few hours' preparation in terms of listening
or reading. The idea is to be open to a wide range of
topics and material.
In May Roy Baker led a discussion on the nature and
evolution of morality, drawing on the works of moral
philosopher Tim Dean.
For the June
meeting, Jane Rich will lead a discussion on travel
and tourism. Much has been written about the
environmental and cultural impacts of tourism. But is it
also bad for us, the tourists? Wanderlust is surging
once more post-COVID, but will travel help us find
whatever it is we're looking for?
● Read 'The Big Idea: is Tourism Bad for Us?' by Stuart
Jeffries, The Guardian, 7 Mar 2022, available here;
● Read 'Looking for Transformative Travel? Keep these
Six Stages in Mind' by Jaco J Hamman, The
Conversation, 28 Sep 2021, available here;
● and if you are really keen, Hyperculture: Culture
and Globalisation by Byung-Chul Han, details
available here (costs $21.99 as an eBook).
NB purchased readings are always optional: there's no
expectation that you buy material. Contact Jane Rich (firstname.lastname@example.org)
for more information or to express your interest in
participating. If you would like to join a WhatsApp
group to keep up with discussion group activities, email
Scotland Island Fire
Saturday 2 July, 7 pm
For the SIRFB website
WANTED: a double bed mattress. A frame is not
necessarily required, but I can take it if needed.
If you have a mattress you no longer need, please text
Thanks, Nicole 0426 162 843.
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expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily the
views of the Scotland Island Residents Association
(SIRA), or the Western Pittwater Community