Monthly Archives: July 2019

Exploring Sydney: Watson’s Bay

The Gap, Watson’s Bay, Sydney, Australia

Our Lady Star of the Sea RC Church, Watson’s Bay, Australia

On my previous visits to Sydney, in 2010 and 2011, I made no use whatever of its extensive ferry system, an omission as grievous as my failure, on my first visit to Rome, to visit the Vatican.

At leisure on my 2017 visit, I took the first opportunity to catch a bus to Circular Quay and hop on the first ferry out, which took me to Watson’s Bay, a headland with spectacular views and a long history of maritime and military significance.

There I had a cup of tea at Doyle’s on the Wharf [https://www.doyles.com.au], one half of a celebrated fish restaurant, along with Doyle’s on the Beach (established 1885).  It was too early for fish and chips, but I’d gladly return another time, especially if it was an appropriate occasion for the more formal Doyle’s on the Beach which has tablecloths.

My exploration led me along the cliff-top path known as The Gap.  The Gap was and still is a notorious suicide spot, though the cliff edge is strongly fenced.  There is a memorial to Don Ritchie OAM (1925-2012), a local resident who repeatedly took in and tried to help people in despair at The Gap.

He was a World War II navy veteran who after the war worked as an insurance salesman.  He was adept at spotting distressed individuals on the cliffs and by making a simple approach such as “Can I help you in some way?”, and inviting them home for a cup of tea, he saved the lives of 164 potential suicides.  As he put it, “You can’t just sit there and watch them.”

Another rescuer of more than thirty potential suicides was Rexie, a German Shepherd bitch owned by the proprietor of the Gap Tavern in the 1960s.  She had the ability to recognise potential suicides and would bark to attract assistance.

I tried to locate the former tram-track, where first-generation Sydney trams plunged down hairpin bends to reach their terminus, and though I think I found it in part, it was so overgrown as to be unrecognisable:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLjwCFtqKgc.

When I emerged on to Old South Head Road and headed back downhill towards the bus terminus I came upon St Peter’s Anglican Church, a tiny little cell designed by Edward Blacket in 1864 and the more remarkable Our Lady Star of the Sea RC Church, a 1910 exterior with a much later spire but no tower, and a beautiful 1966 interior, with a five-light east window in the form of the Southern Cross constellation.

Further along the cliffs stand two lighthouses, the Signal Station (1790) [http://www.watsonsbayassociation.org/cms_subpage/5/20]  and the Macquarie Lighthouse (1883) [http://www.watsonsbayassociation.org/cms_subpage/5/21].

The bus that I caught back into town took me a different way, so that I discovered the stunning views to be had of central Sydney, with the Harbour Bridge in the distance, from an area called Dover Heights, before the bus dropped down into Bondi Beach, the classic Australian version of seaside.

Traquair murals

St Peter's Parish Church, Clayworth, Nottinghamshire: Traquair Murals

St Peter’s Parish Church, Clayworth, Nottinghamshire: Traquair murals

When I visited Drakeholes to photograph the canal tunnel my curiosity was piqued by brown tourist road-signs marked ‘Traquair murals’ because I didn’t recognise the name.

That’s because I’m neither Scots nor a fine-art aficionado.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) was Irish by birth, an illustrator, jewellery designer and embroiderer whose mural painting was mostly done in Scotland.  Only two of her mural schemes are in England, and one of them is a couple of miles down the road from Drakeholes, at St Peter’s Church, Clayworth.

The church itself is interesting – built in the twelfth century, restored in 1874-5 by John Oldrid Scott, Grade I listed.

Phoebe Anna Traquair, who married a Scots palaeontologist, was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland, and the first woman to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy,

The Traquair Murals dated from 1904-5, and were restored by Elizabeth Hirst in 1996.  They were given by Lady D’Arcy Godolphin Osborne as a thank-offering for the safe return from the Boer War of her son, Captain Joseph Frederick Laycock DSO (1867-1952), of Wiseton Hall.  As Joe Laycock he competed for Britain in the 1908 Olympics with his friend the 2nd Duke of Westminster.

The murals cover all four walls of the chancel, illustrating in rich colours and gilding a comprehensive figurative scheme and incorporating portraits of local children:  several of the figures on the north wall, bringing gifts to the Christ Child, are members of the Laycock family, and some of the adjacent Angel Choir are actual choristers, including Tony Otter (1896-1986), who was Suffragan Bishop of Grantham from 1949 to 1965, and his cousin Jack Martin.

The murals are claimed, collectively, to be the largest artwork in eastern England.

Size doesn’t matter.  They’re beautiful, and worth seeking out in this gem of a church, set in the countryside between Bawtry and Gainsborough in north Nottinghamshire.

Clayworth stands on the B1403 road south of Gringley-on-the-Hill.  St Peter’s Church is open daily.