The sad fate of the Fish from the F3: an Aboriginal engraving site that was relocated from the Sydney to Newcastle freeway to St Ives, in Sydney’s north

A quick acknowledgement and disclaimer: I came across this fascinating story on the Rock Art of the Sydney Basin Facebook page, which documents some of the rich Aboriginal history in and around Sydney. Follow their page to discover more about the Aboriginal sites that are often hidden not far from “civilisation”. (Many more engravings in Ku-ring-gai are also documented on my Aboriginal Engravings – Ku-ring-gai Chase page.)

Sadly, the construction of the F3 (now the M1 or Pacific Motorway) entailed the destruction of a number of Aboriginal engraving sites along the route. The 10-mile section of the motorway between the Hawkesbury River and Calga, constructed from 1961 to 1966, was featured in a video released by the NSW Roads and Maritime in 1968 in which the voiceover matter-of-factly states (at about 7:02min): “At one time these sandstone ridges were used by Aborigines for ceremonial purposes, and their rock engravings were frequently encountered during construction. The engravings were carefully recorded before blasting” . (While the recordings of these sites may have been careful, they were less carefully filed, as it’s impossible to find much evidence of these records today.)

A small number of engravings were “cut out and removed” for preservation (with one site that survived being left in the middle of the freeway, sandwiched between three lanes of traffic in each direction). One of the sites that was moved had been documented by Ian Sim, who recorded hundreds of sites around Sydney. Three figures (marked by squares, below) from the site were cut into smaller slabs for transportation.

A clip from the NSW Roads and Maritime video depicts one of the slabs split from the larger rock platform, showing the engraving of a man. 

Rock Art of the Sydney Basin managed to track down one of these re-located sites. Which was no easy task: “We contacted the Culture & Heritage manager within the RMS (formerly the RTA) and they had no idea. We contacted the NPWS and they too had no idea. We tried the local-to-that-area indigenous community and they also had no idea. We even tried the local Council but no luck there either. Fortunately Ian Sim is still alive and we were in touch with him. So, seeing as how he was the original recorder, we thought he might know what happened to the slabs… He told us that the slabs were shipped to a flower farm somewhere near Pymble.” The “flower farm” was in fact the St Ives Wildflower Garden, which was originally a a flower farm owned by the Gibb family, before being gazetted as a botanic garden in 1968. The engravings still lie here, unmarked and forgotten next to one of the roads.

The fish sits on one side of the road, on a small piece of rock.

On the other side of the road is one of the figures, also quite weathered and split down the middle after the slab of rock cracked in transit.

Unfortunately, more engravings were lost in the later construction stages of the F3/M1: in the Wahroonga to Berowra section (built 1984 to 1989), 20 Aboriginal heritage sites were identified along or adjacent to the proposed roadworks, with some of these being destroyed during construction. The Mount White to Ourimbah section (opened in 1986) was re-routed from the original alignment favoured by the Department of Main Roads, which would have gone through the middle of Brisbane Water National Park. As a result, while the motorway planning process still had to take into account a large number of engraving sites, the Environmental Impact Assessment claimed “it has been found possible to avoid all significant sites”.

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1 Comment

Destinations Journey – We are forty somethings who love to travel. Now that the kids have flown the coop we are expanding our horizons and exploring the world one small place at a time.

Destinations Journey · February 2, 2021 at 4:17 am

Very interesting and sad at the same time. I’ve driven that section of the M1 many times, but didn’t realise how much had been lost during its construction. Once gone, it’s lost forever.

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