A pair of Williams, a man called Max and Parsley the hermit down Vaucluse way

There’s no swimmers around when I arrive at Parsley Bay, just trim women jogging with their mobiles and doing boxing in the park.

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But when I walk around the path that leads to the deep end of the bay,  I spot a man in blue trunks, or rather he spots me.

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“If you want a good photo there’s an eastern water dragon back there,” he says. I’m not sure what an eastern water dragon is and whether I should be looking in the water or in the bush. “There, near that log,” he calls out.

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I scan the spot but there’s nothing there. “Must have slithered off,” says the blue trunks man as he overarms out to the middle of the bay and floats on his back.

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And then he swims over to a ladder and tells me his name is Max,

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“What do you like about the Parsley Bay Swimming Enclosure,” I ask Max.

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“It’s my pool and I love the bushland setting and the ancient sandstone.”

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When he gets out he tells me he’s a landscape artist and he likes to paint Parsley Bay, the land of the Birrabirragal people before white man came.

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We talk about William Wentworth, whose family acquired the land in 1827 and how for the next 80 years it remained in their private ownership as part of their Vaucluse estate.

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As we sit on a bench and admire the 109-year-old bridge, swimmers wade in to the bay that no one is quite sure how it got its name.

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Some say it was after an edible plant similar to parsley that the early colonists found in the area and First Fleeters ate to ward off scurvy. Others contend it’s named after a hermit called Parsley who lived in one of the caves above the bay.

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No one is quite sure but one thing we do know is that if a chap called William Notting and his Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee hadn’t lobbied the State Government from the early 20th century to secure public access to waterfront areas like Parsley Bay only a few privileged locals would be swimming here today.

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But back to Max and my water-side chat which covered many subjects from painting to writing, his love of the hinterland of Byron Bay and his move from England to Australia nearly 40 years ago to make a documentary film.

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As he tells me he’d like to start a campaign called ‘pick-the-rubbish-up’ so that places like Parsley Bay remain pristine, kayakers paddle into the bay and two women in sun visors, like my mother wore on the tennis court, breaststroke back and forth.

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Others swim by the boom and shark netting that’s removed each winter for maintenance and lap the 95 metres across the bay.

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When Max decides it’s time to head home I follow the sun visor ladies into the high tide water.

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I push under to check there’s no holes in the shark net first installed in 1931 and then swim across to the sandstone rocks on the other side of the bay.

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Silver fish dart past and when I get out a man about to cast his line tells me it’s probably bream; another says this is the best place in Sydney to swim.

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As I walk back along the path where Max spotted the huge eastern water dragon, baby ones scamper over the sandstone and into the bush.

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On the beach, mothers and toddlers paddle in the shallow water and a couple lie on deck chairs in the park.

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I look back towards the deep end and feel grateful for William Notting and his Harbour Foreshore Vigilance Committee for ensuring everyone can enjoy little pieces of paradise like Parsley Bay.

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  • Chuckling as we read about the women doing laps wearing their sunvisors. Must have been a couple of months ago, or is it still warm enough to swim? Oh and a question from Stephen. Is that a pedestrian bridge? We are adding it to our places we must explore. Wonderful photos as always.

    • It was very leisurely, chatting as you go laps by the sun visor ladies in bikinis! But they went back and forth across the bay several times. I went there at the end of March on a very pleasant day but have been delayed in posting the story while trying to resolve problems with the mobile display of my blog. While the weather has cooled a bit in Sydney the water temperature is about 20 C so still fine for swimming but perhaps not warm enough for you Jen. Have you had a dip in Sicily? And about the bridge – it is a cable suspension pedestrian bridge built in 1910 to connect the two sides of the bay. In the information about it on the Woollahra Council website it says: The bridge was built to the design of Edwin Sautelle, then Town Clerk and Engineer of Vaucluse. Sautelle was later an Alderman of the council, serving as Mayor twice. His greatest legacy to Vaucluse, however, is found in the graceful lines of the Parsley Bay Bridge – the distinguishing feature of the bay and the focal point of the reserve. Happy travels.

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