During the 1920s, Fairfield was widely known as a picturesque destination for tourists. During the late 19th century, the area near Fairfield town centre at the headwaters of Prospect Creek had been transformed by the landscaped gardens and country residences of wealthy Sydney businessmen. With willow and pine trees as well as mansions such as Cambridge House looming over the water’s edge, boat trips along Prosect Creek from Fairfield were excursions through a very romantic English-style landscape. This setting attracted Joseph Anthony De Freitas from British Guiana (Guyana) to establish a ‘garden nursery’ on the banks of Prospect Creek.
It is unclear precisely when the area began to attract ‘leisure seekers’, but by 1900 Prospect Creek had a wide reputation for being ‘popular with boating parties’. Many creek-based activities such as picnicking developed around the boat-hire sheds that were set among the old mansions and gardens. Indeed, Fairfield was touted on postcards at the time as ‘the loveliest spot in the Southern Districts’.
The area around the boatsheds was also the scene of regular swimming carnivals and boat races. All sorts of ‘pleasure boats’ were available for hire, and the area was crowded with fishers and picnickers every weekend. A suspension bridge, locally called the ‘swinging bridge’ or the ‘swingy bridge’—constructed for pedestrian access across Prospect Creek at Fairfield Park—added to the setting and kept the children entertained. Older Fairfield residents fondly recall waiting for someone to get halfway across before jumping on the bridge and making it sway.
According to long-term residents, one of the highlights of a boating trip down Prospect Creek was passing under the archway of the Lansdowne Bridge. Another was seeing the picturesque von Heiden residence opposite Lattys’ Boatsheds on the Carramar side of Prospect Creek. The residence, on a small established estate that was initially part of the Mark Lodge estate, took in the large loop of the Prospect Creek, or ‘Fairfield’s River’ as a land sale advertisement from 1885 had described it. The series of buildings on the von Heiden estate included an unusual federation-style tower (variously described as a pigeon loft or a grain store) that was a prominent landmark for many years.
Other well-remembered recreation areas that developed during the 1920s were Hollywood Park and the Lansdowne Bridge. The Howard family hired rowing boats and ran a ‘refreshment rooms’ from their nearby property, which they turned into the grandly titled Garden of Eden Picnic Grounds. For those with a little money, on the Sydney side of the Lansdowne Bridge was a ‘classy restaurant’ called Romano’s (later called Skelsey’s) which offered ‘dining, dancing and private rooms’.
Many older residents of the wider Fairfield district fondly recall their favourite swimming spots on the creeks and the Georges River. They all had unofficial names such as the ‘Pirate’s Hole.’ ‘Rocky’ and ‘Sandy’ waterholes were on ‘Horseshoe bend’ on Prospect Creek while ‘Rocky Bottom’, ‘Gales Creek’ and ‘Lukey’s Hole’ were on Orphan School Creek. ‘Lehmanns’ and ‘Swinging Bridge’ waterholes were among others on Prospect Creek, and were also known as good fishing spots. At ‘Swinging Bridge’, according to one resident, it was possible to catch a ‘jam tin full of prawns’ by just using a chaff bag. Some of the more adventurous Fairfield residents also recall jumping from the heights of the Carramar Rail Bridge into the Georges River.
[Excerpts taken from “Cabrogal to Fairfield City: a history of a multicultural community” by Stephen Gapps. Copies of this publication can be loaned or purchased from our library, for further enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org ]