Barangaroo was the wife of Bennelong, the Eora man who provided a link between the local people and Sydney’s English colonists. Bennelong had Governor Philip build him a hut on what became known as Bennelong Point, now the site of the Opera House, and in 2006 the neighbouring headland was named for his wife.
So what did Barangaroo Point look like when Barangaroo lived in Sydney? This is the question at the heart of our big new park, which opens this winter. I donned hard hat and hi-viz and took a tour recently with horticultural consultant to the project, Stuart Pittendrigh, to see what our new park will deliver.
There’s no going back to the original – the topography of the point known to Barangaroo and her people was irrevocably changed in 1836 when the headland was cut away to make wharves. Instead the landscape architects, led by Sydney’s Peter Walker, are delivering a park that references Sydney’s pre-European landscape, within the constraints of a modern space atop a 300-space car park and a cultural centre.
The car park provided the stone – some 37,000 cubic metres, cut into 10,000 blocks – that dominates the site. On the headland the stone is arranged to form a rocky cliff. Around the corner the stone links the old sea wall to a new cove where the stepped blocks create just the right conditions to allow sea grasses and molluscs to thrive. The idea is that here people will be able to (carefully) put their feet in the harbour.
On land, the sandstone is like scattered seating, each rough-topped slab skirted with untrimmed grass to give it a sense of having weathered there. Behind the stone-littered shore is the ‘bush’, a series of terraces naturalistically planted with species indigenous to the Sydney harbour foreshore.
Research identified 83 different species that were at home on Sydney’s shore before European arrival. Four interlopers were added to the list – gymea lily, spotted gum, Sydney blue gum and water gum – all plants from the wider Sydney region. Pittendrigh worked with soil specialist Simon Leake to develop a new approach to landscape planting. Each plant on the list was investigated to discover the topography, aspect, soil and drainage in which it thrives. These optimum growing conditions were mapped onto a spreadsheet, revealing communities of like-minded plants. Ideal conditions were then created for those communities, dramatically reducing plant losses.
There are other horticultural firsts at Barangaroo. Some of our harbourside natives, for instance, including the geebung and native olive, are getting their commercial premier here.
Also new is Pittendrigh’s counter-intuitive strategy for planting advanced native trees. The trees were water-stressed to induce just the right amount of wilt so that the slightly floppy limbs would be less likely to break when loaded onto the back of a truck. On site the mildly stressed trees were root-pruned before going into wide shallow holes and being drenched with water and Seasol to promote fast new root growth. It’s been a great success.
Developing the park was always going to present challenges; the unexpected one is that the word Barangaroo has become synonymous with a controversial casino, an outcome that drives Pittendrigh crazy. Still, perhaps that’s something that Barangaroo would recognise – our twin impulse to celebrate the natural beauty of Sydney, and to exploit it.