“Whatever happened to the spare paddock?” asked William Olson in his nostalgic essay in the Sydney Morning Herald 1st August 1970. “It has gone, suddenly. Buried under Progress. . . . The spare paddock was wholly Australian. A wonderful place where a generation of young Australians grew up”:
In the outer suburbs the spare paddock held hands with the dairy and the unmade roads to provide the short-cuts to station and school. Skinny saplings stood on it, stork-legged among lantanas and blackberries and wonga wonga and clematis. Under the green and prickly ground-cover wound the tunnels of children and rabbits.
There has never been, nor will there ever be, a planned children’s playground with the spare paddock’s mystery: secret trails, cubby houses, rabbit burrows, snake holes, pirate lairs, cricket pitches. . . . The playground is the product of a fenced-in adult mind. It is manufactured. The spare paddock just happened.
In a similar vein, K.G. Allars, of Abbotsford, remembers his own spare-paddock days, not long after the first World War:
To recall Abbotsford and Five Dock in the early twenties is to conjure to one’s memory several homes of earlier vintage, but even more clearly, large expanses of market gardens poised ready for residential development. “Barnstaple Manor” lay in ruins in its acres now occupied by Rodd Point. Market gardens stretched from Great North Road to Hen and Chicken Bay, and Russell Lea was just being subdivided.
Likewise, Abbotsford School, completed in 1924, was built beside Speed’s Gardens, which stretched down to the mangroves at the head of Five Dock Bay. Those who attended the school on its opening day will recall the joy on the faces of the pupils when the agitated teachers could not gain access to the new school and sent the children home for the day. One road through the mangroves provided access to Chiswick, which was, apart from a few houses, covered with native shrubs and flora. Henry Lawson had recently died in a small cottage almost opposite Abbotsford School, and a memorial was erected in the grounds shortly after the school was completed to commemorate this great Australian. Five Dock School was larger and senior, and the Abbotsford boys walked, many in bare feet, to Five Dock for manual work [carpentry and wood work].
Opposite Abbotsford School were the water-filled pits which had contained the gasometers of the Australian Gas Light Company, abandoned when the works at Mortlake were completed. Abbotsford Point was always a place of interest. Here were the Abbotsford Baths where for a small charge could be had a pleasant swim in clean tidal water, and also where were erected on either side of the river two large steel towers to carry electric power across the river. The Abbotsford wharf was always a point of activity, for here the ferry called regularly, plying between Parramatta and the City. Nothing was more pleasant than an early-morning trip on the river, either to Ryde or to the city. For a small charge you could be rowed across the river from Abbotsford to Bedlam Point and by signalling on the other side be rowed back again.
At the corner of Lyons Road and Great North Road was the large quarry now filled in and occupied by the R.S.L. Bowling Club, and immediately adjoining in Lyons Road was the unoccupied but intact first Five Dock Methodist Church (opened 1868). Other quarries remained unfilled in Barnstaple Road. In Erina Avenue stood “Erina House”, now well restored and preserved. This was the former home of Judge Peter Faucett and had previously been used as the homestead of the large vineyard which surrounded it.
(Excerpt from Drummoyne: a Western Suburbs’ History from 1794, Eric Russell. The Municipality of Drummoyne 1971)