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Scotland Island - Western Shores - Mackerel Beach

June 1, 2022

Newsletter for the Offshore Residents of Pittwater, Australia - Volume 23, Issue 1178

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


A Lost Home

The true story of Cove Lee

Roy Baker

Robyn 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 Bay.

The 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, Doris Willis.
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.

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 Petrovs.  

‘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 Petrovs.’

Cove Lee in about 1968. The fibro cottage, by then extended, can be seen in the background.

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.

Cove Lee jetty and boathouse, both now demolished
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 its grounds.

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.   

Robyn in the front seat of her parents' amphibious car
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?

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 neighbour’s house.

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.

Cove Lee from the rear. The amphibious car is visible in the garage, alongside the utility used on the property.
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 the land.

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.

Robyn outside her former childhood home
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.

‘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 terrible waste.

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 Sydney.
Thanks to Robyn Grosvenor for her help in telling the story of Cove Lee.


The PON Takes a (Partial) Break

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: editor@scotlandisland.org.au.

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 documents.

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.



Update on SIRA Activities

Some of the members of the SIRA Committee, 2021-22

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.


Fire Shed Dinners: Help Needed

The 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 enthusiasm.

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.

If you think you can lend a hand, please contact the brigade social secretary, Lizzie Hazelwood, at socialsecretary@sirfb.org.au.


Table Tennis

Scotland Island Recreation Centre

Most Saturdays throughout the year

2 - 3 pm: Introduction to Table Tennis

3 - 5 pm: Table Tennis practice

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 editor@scotlandisland.org.au. 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 free.


Pittwater Offshore Community Choir

Scotland Island Community Hall

Every Thursday, 4 - 6 pm


Floriana: Photographic Exhibition

Upper Level, 164 Longueville Road, Lane Cove

Ends 11 June 2022


Scotland Island Fire Brigade AGM

Fire Station, Scotland Island

Sunday 5 June, 3 - 5 pm

To register for the AGM, please click here.
To pay your membership fee, please click here.


International Folk Dancing

Scotland Island Community Hall

Saturday 25 June, 7 - 9 pm

From 1 June the Recreation Club will be asking for $5 per person per attendance to defray expenses.


Scotland Island Café

Catherine Park, Scotland Island

Sunday 26 June, 10 - 12 noon


The Tuesday Discussion Group

Scotland Island Recreation Centre

Tuesday 28 June, 11 am - 12.30 pm

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 (janebalmain@hotmail.com) 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 editor@scotlandisland.org.au.


Scotland Island Fire Shed Dinner: Thai Night

Scotland Island Fire Station

Saturday 2 July, 7 pm

For the SIRFB website click here.


Wanted: a mattress

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 me.

Thanks, Nicole 0426 162 843.


Missed out on a previous newsletter?

Past newsletters, beginning May 2000, can be found and read at https://ymlp.com/archive_gesgjgm.php.

To Contribute

If you would like to contribute to this newsletter, please send an e-mail to the editor (editor@scotlandisland.org.au).

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Pittwater Offshore Photo Gallery

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Updated June 2021
  • Festival of Making, April 2021

  • 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