Lake Macquarie History

Salty Creek Recreation Area

Lake Macquarie has long been a mecca for those pursuing acquatic entertainment. Regattas at Speers Point drew thousands of people to the park in the 1890s and ferries made regular excursions to popular picnic spots at Pulbah Island, Wangi and Belmont. The number of boating, sailing and fishing clubs and marinas dotted around the lake's foreshore is testament to it's ongoing popularity as a recreational destination.

What many may not know is that Lake Macquarie was also popular with swimmers, not only in the lake itself but in the creeks and tributaries which flowed into it. The deep water of Salty Creek saw the development of the Salty Creek Recreation Area, which drew thousands of people to it's banks in it's heyday.

photo: map of salty creek recreation area

Also known as "Sandy Bottom" it was situated on the upper reaches of Cockle Creek between present day Ridley Street and the Hawkins Masonic Village complex. The spot had probably always been known as a good swimming spot, though the area at that time would have been remote and hard to access.


A Newcastle Herald article from 1906, outlines the popularity of the spot despite the lack of good roads and remoteness of the area.

"Sandy Bottom, on Cockle Creek, is a favourite watering resort, and in the hot weather thousands of people from West Wallsend, Holmesville, Killingworth, and elsewhere visit the place, but at present it can be reached only by going through the bush. A road has, however, been surveyed from near Thomas' hotel, and the progress committee is now urging that the road should be made. The Holmesville Progress Committee has been asked to co-operate in the matter, and the hope is entertained that the work will soon be carried out."

Sandy Bottom became the home of the West Wallsend Swimming Club, who built their headquarters there and held swimming carnivals during the summer months, with teams coming from all around the Newcastle area to compete. The club made obvious improvements to the area, as can be seen from this description from the Herald in 1923.

photo: salty creek refreshment rooms

"There Is not a more popular resort, either as a picnic ground or bathing place in the West Wallsend district than the section of Salty Creek known as Sandy Bottom. Crowds gather particularly on a Sunday, when the morning and mid-day trams have standing-room only as the order until Young Wallsend is reached. Then the pleasure seeker Is faced with a walk of a mile. Sandy Bottom dressing sheds have been erected for each sex. Luncheon may be procured at a refreshment room on the grounds. The placid waters afford safe bathing for young and old, as tho bottom is sand, with a gradual decline from a couple of inches deep on one side to over 15 feet on the other side, where a natural high bank affords a high dive. A diving- board and tower have been erected. Swimming races can be conducted under ideal conditions, with a straight swim of 200 yards. Both banks are beautifully shaded with trees and ferns. Dozens of pleasure boat parties wend their way thither from Lake Macquarie."

The depression years of the1930s saw further improvements made to the area, many of which were carried out by local "relief workers". Sporting fields were added and grass replanted.

A Newcastle Herald article from March 1935 recalls:

"Salty Creek Recreation Grounds at Young Wallsend have been cleared and equipped for picnic parties. The creek has been cleared and the foreshores planted with buffalo grass. There is provision for cricket, football, tennis, swimming and other sporting activities. Much of the work has been done by emergency relief workers, and residents contributed in a voluntary capacity. Refreshments are available to visitors."

It is also known that greyhound racing, welter-weight boxing, polo and motorcycle racing were all held there over the years

Rivalry

photo: swimming at salty creek

Sandy Bottom was not the only swimming spot in the vicinity. At nearby Barnsley, a natural waterhole known as Scotchies or Scotchy's also attracted many visitors for swimming and picknicking. This spot was only about half a mile from Sandy Bottom, and was the headquarters of the "Scotchies Swimming and Diving Club".

Like it's counterpart, Scotchies had a gently sloping sandy bottom, which made it ideal for swimmers of all skill levels, and the club had built dressing sheds at the spot.

These sheds were to become a point of contention between the Scotchies group and the Shire council around 1932. In February 1932, council had the dressing sheds at Scotchies moved to Sandy Bottom after they supposedly fell into disrepair. Headlines such as "High Handed: President criticised over removal of sheds" and "Salty Creek sheds: President criticised" graced the newspapers, and heated discussions occurred at council meetings.

The Newcastle Herald of 12th February 1932 reported.

"For more than half an hour last night the atmosphere was electrical at the meeting of the Lake Macqaarie Shire Council, when the President (Cr. J. Jonston) was eriticised in connection with the removal of the dressing sheds from the section of Salty Creek known as "Scotchies" to "Sandy Bottom." A deputation of three residents of Barnsley and Holmesville addressed the meeting, and urged that the sheds be returned. During the discussion, which at times became heated, it was stated that by the removal of the sheds many bathers were compelled to dress in the scrub... Although the sheds were erected on the council's property, the members of the club contended that ownership was vested in them, since the council granted the lumber and the committee advanced about £20. The club members, he said. regarded it a high handed action for anybody to remove the sheds."

Cr Johnson replied that "It was desired. that the sheds he pulled down and stored to prevent them being stolen or eaten by white ants. The door was eaten by white ants. The door was knocked off, and eight rows of flooring boards were pulled up. The iron at the rear of the men's shed was ripped open, and conditions generally were disgraceful. He was requested by the trustees to have the sheds taken away." The sheds were eventually replaced by council.

Decline

Progress, population growth and more readily available transport in the area eventually saw the decline of both spots as bathing areas. Newspaper articles from the 1940s no longer highlight the beauty of Sandy Bottom, but report on pollution caused by ashes from the powerhouse being dumped in the creek, Caledonian Coal Company silting up the creek from it's mine works, and a large number of greyhounds being bred in the adjacent area being allowed to soil the creek.

The final blow probably occurred when the wastewater treatment plant and sewage works was built at Young Wallsend in the 1950s and piped sewage was connected in 1959.

Sources:

Neath Mount Sugarloaf, Book 1. page 76-77

Newcastle Morning Herald 17th September, 1947. Salty Creek "fouled by racing dogs"

Newcastle Morning Herald 3rd February 1923. Sandy Bottom: Young Wallsend resort