The Spit Bridge 1924

The Road to Paradise


It's hard to believe the Northern Beaches was once one of the least desirable places in Sydney to live because it was a long and difficult road trip from Sydney, and few travailed. Before the Spit Bridge was built in 1924, the only way across Middle Harbour was by punt, owned and operated by the Ellery family. The Northern Beaches is now one of the most desirable places to live in Sydney, reflected in the inflated housing prices, forcing many families to leave, causing a sense of 'dispossession' or loss, with many moving away, yet longing to return, if they could.

Manly's European history was the vision of one man, Henry Gilbert Smith, from the 'mother land' of England, who fell in love with the natural beauty of Manly and envisioned an Utopian paradise; an escape from the hustle and bustle of the Industrial Age polluted city life that the fledgling new Sydney town was embracing with such gusto; smoke, noise, pollution, crime and poverty, that he sought to create a utopian paradise reminiscent of his beloved 'Brighton by the Sea' in old England, an escape to a peninsular paradise.

Smith's vision was for a holiday life by the sea, where people could forget all their troubles and cares, and bask in the natural beauty of this undeveloped peninsula paradise, even though daylight swimming was illegal and fifty years away from legalisation. Smith saw Manly as the perfect place to recreate his 'BRIGHTON BY THE SEA' naming it, for a brief period, 'ELLENSVILLE' after his beloved wife. 

He saw its development potential so quickly claimed much of the surrounding land.  However, though undeveloped, the land was not uninhabited.

  • Manly is situated on the land of the Gayemagal people, the traditional owners of this land.
  • The Gayemagal lived in the Manly area and thrived due to the abundance of food resources like fish, shellfish and animals. Evidence of these can be found in the middens all over the coastal area.
  • Aboriginal people are part of the oldest surviving continuous culture in the world.
  • Early relations between the first colonists and the Gayemagal people quickly soured.
  • In 1789 a Smallpox epidemic spread through the local Aboriginal population.
  • By the 1830s, only a few Aboriginal people remained in the Manly area.
  • Recorded Aboriginal sites included shelter, midden sites, rock engravings, open midden sites, shelter cave art and open camp sites. From For more historical information, please visit

Many suburbs were named after Aboriginal names:

  • Akuna Bay – 'place of water'
  • Allambie - 'to remain a while'
  • Barrenjoey – 'young kangaroo'
  • Curl Curl - curial curial meaning 'river of life'
  • Elanora -'camp by the sea'
  • Narraweena - 'a quiet place in the hills' (From


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