Historical Hawkesbury with Bernadette Flynn

Historical Hawkesbury with Bernadette Flynn

From engaging walking tours to colourful burlesque shows, on the Central Coast you can delve into the region’s rich history while having a whole lot of fun
Bernadette Flynn
CEO, Heritage Ventures

After growing up in Cheshire Bernadette Flynn left England behind when she fell in love with the Australian bush. Bernadette worked as a lecturer at Griffith University, for the Griffith Pioneer Park Museum and for the National Trust. As GM of the Historic Houses Association she created events including History High Tales in Sydney before the Hawkesbury River drew her to the Central Coast full time. Now Bernadette works with expert historians, storytellers and guides to curate events including Voices from the Secret River that share real history while exploring sites along the river.

We speak to Bernadette about what she loves about living on the Central Coast.

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The Hawkesbury River, it drew me to Coast because it's so rich in history. Being able to walk along Aboriginal walking tracks and explore natural landscapes helps me connect to the place. I love sharing historical information and showing evidence of the past such as Aboriginal engravings - it reminds us of significant events that happened here and that fascinates me.


What do you love most about the coast?

The Hawkesbury River, Mangrove Creek and the sandstone escarpment. It's the sense of prehistory and deep time that has entrapped me and the longer I'm here the more my spirit is embedded in the area. Spencer is beautifully situated at the meeting of Mangrove Creek and the Hawkesbury River and surrounded by National Parks. In Spencer, we're on the edge of the Central Coast but it's a unique hub in its own community.

How did Heritage Ventures come about?

During COVID I noticed there was a shopfront available in Spencer and took the opportunity to start up Heritage Ventures launching the business and a program of events for 2022 and 2023. We’ve held history talks, walking tours, river cruises, kayaking and bird watercolour workshops – along with music and historically themed performances by the waterfront.

Why do you think it’s important for locals and visitors to hear stories from the past?

It’s a way for them to connect to place. To what makes this part of the Central Coast unique. Stories from the past can enable people to experience when the river was the highway and the landscape was navigated by watercraft, or on foot on Aboriginal walking tracks or bridle paths. Approaching places through historical interpretation, walking the landscape and storytelling enables people in the present to connect to the past, and contributes to a sense of wellbeing.

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What do you like to do in your downtime around the Coast?

I love walking and exploring the natural landscapes around the Coast, Boudii and Brisbane Water National Parks. Sounds a bit nerdy but I read river histories, colonial and Aboriginal accounts in my downtime and run The Hawkesbury Duck in Spencer as a small museum, workshop and local history research space. 

If you only had time to take a friend to one of the Central Coast’s sites of archaeological significance, which one would it be and why?

Flat Rocks Ridge is an extensive gallery on the plateau at the headwaters of Mill and Gunderman Creek. Thirteen sites of significance were mapped in the 1950s by McCarthy and the Central Coast is one of the richest areas for hands stencils, grinding grooves, and rock engravings across the landscape. Around here there are engravings and drawings of early sailing ships showing how the local indigenous people recorded the arrival of white people along the Hawkesbury River.  

Who are some of your favourite artisans on the Central Coast? And can you explain a little bit about what makes them so special?

The Lower Mangrove Bodging Woodworkers create old school wood crafts using traditional tools; and a wonderful local ceramicist and textile artist Trudi Nisbett has a deep connection to traditional arts and crafts.

Michaela Zouroudis of Foxey Studio’s pottery incorporates local flora, fauna and endangered species and Spencer based ceramicist Geoff Hawkins works with clay from Mangrove creek that’s pitch black, cattle trampled and very smelly, which bisque fires to a light pink terracotta.

Do you have a favourite museum or historic house on the Central Coast?

It's the history hidden in the landscape that most inspires me. I appreciate all of our local historical societies including the work of Brisbane Water Historical Society work in maintaining Henry Kendall Cottage

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Where’s your favourite spot for coffee?

The Bamboo Buddha in Holgate is a lovely place for coffee. It's a charming setting, peaceful and serene with Balinese style garden layout complete with carp and goldfish. Love the day bed.

What’s your next big project?

This year’s Voices from the Secret River, was in held in April and bought together a curated program of leading historians, local experts and storytellers with the indigenous astronomy group. It was all out on the water and at water only access locations around the Lower Hawkesbury. Next year we plan to grow and extend the theme and draw on a wider range of performers, diverse voices, and other lesser-known histories. 

In May we'll be rolling out the Women Up the Creeks celebration with music and roving storytellers bringing alive the forgotten histories of the women of Ironbark, Mangrove and Popran Creeks.

Mid year we're hosting walking tours to Dubbo Gully, Dangar Island and exploring lesser-known parts of Dharug National Park with our Red Hands and Birds Eye Creeks Tour. Specials towards the end of the year are a butterfly and moths watercolours workshop with Central Coast artist Leonie Lowe and a Mexican Day of the Dead themed extravaganza.

For more see www.heritageventures.com.au/tours

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Heritage Ventures
Credit: Susan O'Leary
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Dubbo Gully
Credit Burnsy_and_Fam
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Bouddi National Park
Credit: skymaster_productions
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Bamboo Buddha
Credit: okaybek_

This article was originally authored by Amanda Woods, with photography by James Horan, as part of a Love Central Coast grant project brought to you by Destination Central Coast, jointly funded by the Australian and NSW governments under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund. To maintain accuracy, some editorial changes may have been made since publication.