Boatsheds on the Western Side

by Dangar Island Historical Society

Some of them are gone now, the old boatsheds or the people who built them. Some boatsheds have been revitalised, transformed and given over to new generations. Some have been neglected, some replaced entirely; all of them are part of our Dangar Island history.

Boatsheds and their inhabitants carry stories worth hearing. They’ve been lined with ‘fibro’ and filled with fun, clad with timber and draped with colourful fabric. They’ve stood steadfast as the tides have come and gone. In boatsheds along the sandy foreshores people are dancing still to the rhythms of the river.

On the west side, in the 50s, several waterfronts were already established or holiday abodes. As shown on the 1951 map prepared for the Bush Fire Brigade, only 3 of 25 lots housed permanent residents in 1956, only 6 properties had jetties and 3 had baths out front, for swimming safe from sharks it’s been claimed.

A lot could be purchased in 1959 for £200, yes, before Australia adopted decimal currency in 1966. Dangar was referred to as ‘the poorman’s Scotland Island’ at a time when a fisherman’s weekender might be affordable to Sydney families looking for a retreat. About that time, the List family (lot # 127) was selling some lots they’d acquired, so the foreshore neighbourhood began to stretch southward.

Max and Molly Spence (lot # 126) had been putting up guests in their boatshed for a while. Visitors slept above the lapping water and were only slightly disturbed as a few morning commuters marched through the quarters onto the jetty to wait for Manuel’s ferry pick up. Once lots were secured down the way, the visitors began setting up a tent camp, clearing the beach of rocks and mangroves and preparing a seawall. By the early 1960’s building was underway, with the Hartleys (lot # 205), the Meads (lot # 203), and the Gillams (lot # 202) joining together to transport materials and share carpentry skills. The combined effort, apparently, didn’t result in a single ‘blue’.

Asbestos cement sheets, red lead paint (both Council approved), corrugated iron, timber and a mixer to prepare foundations were moved to the Island by ‘tinny’, a weekend at a time. In the case of 76 Riverview (lot #203), the Mead’s Quintrex with a 9hp Johnson on the back, needed a shed and Hazel Mead needed solid walls and a roof for shade on hot summer days; a tent wouldn’t do. A sand floor would suffice in the ‘lounge room’ that could be raked clean at low tide.

“Charlie’s place” is perhaps the only boatshed with a sandy beach for its flooring. Sitting on benches for a long afternoon party meant the run-in tide would wash your feet, come up to your knees when high, and recede to reveal a perfect dance floor at sunset. A jetty soon seemed a necessity for casting out for bream or deep water dives.

Boatsheds, simple or sophisticated, emerged over the early years. With them stories unfolded of flathead fishing, visiting oystermen bearing hessian bags with river gifts to be shucked, deliberate ferry delays as ‘Mannie' joined the party when (nearly) at the end of the last run on Friday night, and waiting passengers on board adjusting to Dangar time before the final drop-off at the public wharf. Neighbours wandered the foreshore, no doubt following the scent of frying mullet and sounds of sing-alongs - war tunes and ‘Red River Valley’ among the favorites. Everyone knew the lyrics.

Some myths persist in boatshed oral history, but the tenor of the times grew around indisputable facts of hard work, relaxed escape from city life, years of laughs and love of the river.

The boatsheds pictured are of (Lots # 203, Mead and # 204, Metz), on the west side of Dangar, facing the bridge.

We would love to locate more photos and local history, particularly of boatsheds, before all the stories are lost. Please take time to rummage through your memories and family albums to find what’s been passed along to you. If you’ll share your finds with the DIHS, we’ll appreciate and carefully compile an island record.