Arthur Bolger's Refreshment Salon, Great North Road, Abbotsford c1910. Canada Bay Local Studies Collection


Abbotsford was known as Bigi Bigi by the Wangal, the traditional owners of much of the land along the southern bank of the Burramattagal (Parramatta) River and its adjacent estuarine wetlands. 

It was a traditional meeting place for the Wangal providing an abundance of fish, eels and shellfish, as evidenced by the eroded middens of discarded shells along the shoreline. Nearby, Hen and Chicken Bay was an important breeding ground for migratory birds as well as another source of food for the Wangal people.

For the colonists, Abbotsford was significant as the closest point to the river’s north shore, before it was joined by the Lane Cove River and opened up to form the much broader Sydney Harbour. It offered the prospect of easier access to the area between the Parramatta and Hawkesbury Rivers.

As settlement expanded the need for a road between Parramatta and the fertile pasture land in the upper Hunter area became increasingly apparent.  Known as the Great North Road, it was begun in 1825 and completed in 1836. In 1828 Surveyor General, Thomas Mitchell proposed adding a branch to the Western Road between Sydney and Parramatta, to link up with the Great North Road via a shorter route across the Parramatta River.

Starting at Five Dock, the road was little more than a rough track. It pushed through the dense scrub and the thickly wooded peninsula along a sandstone escarpment to what is now Abbotsford Point. At that time, it was known as Bedlam Point, a reference to a mental hospital that had been established at Gladesville on the opposite shore. The remains of a wharf, seawall and road cutting are still evident at the lower end of Punt Road in Banjo Paterson Park.

Bailey’s Refreshment Rooms, Great North Road, Abbotsford in 1918. From the left: Eliza Bailey, Percy Munday with his son on his shoulders, Daisy Bailey and Cecelia Munday (nee Bailey). (City of Canada Bay Council.)

The first reference to a wharf at Abbotsford dates from about 1832. There was already a manually operated punt that conveyed passengers and horses across the river to where the as-yet-unfinished Great North Road, continued its journey north. The punt could carry one horse and cart and a few passengers. A chain was laid across the Parramatta River, and the ferry would then be pulled across using a hand-wound winch.

Passengers were warned the service was at best unreliable as the ferryman might be unwilling to haul the punt across the river in the evening or was likely to have disappeared into the bush to sleep off the effects of the rum with which he was regularly bribed. There were stories of illicit rum being taken across the river to avoid taxes, but there is little evidence of this in court records.

“The ferryman is not to be depended upon, for no later than Thursday last he lay dead drunk on the South Shore of the River, within less than his own length of the water’s edge, in consequence of which several persons lost their package to Sydney, and two of them, a lady and gentleman, were, we believe, compelled to remain all night at the “Red House” public house of Bedlam Point.”
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Saturday 27 February 1841

In May 1832, entrepreneur James Bibb, his wife and family arrived in Sydney aboard the immigrant ship “Marianne”. James’ occupation on the passenger list was shown as Iron Monger, however, he soon developed a range of other enterprises, including becoming the licensee of the “Red House” pub, also known as the “Red Cow” and later the “Kings Arms”, which occupied a prominent position on the point, close to where the Sydney Rowing Club is now situated. It was a natural stopping point on the road north, a place where the horses were rested and passengers might take refreshment.

The “Red Cow” was built about 1825.  The walls were constructed of split hardwood slabs supported by stone foundations quarried on site. The slate roof was lined with an old canvas sail, the floorboards secured by handmade nails. Beneath this was a cellar hewn by hand. The building was destroyed by fire sometime in the nineteenth century but was replaced and added to with brick and timber extensions. A plaque on a wall of the Sydney Rowing Club references the old building by including elements of the original cottage in the wall.

Andrew West

(NOTE: The main photograph is of Arthur Bolger’s Refreshment Salon, Great North Road, Abbotsford. c1910. Canada Bay Local Studies Collection.)


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