Sunday, 24 February 2008

Seven Shillings Beach, Point Piper

I acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. Along this shore, now mostly destroyed, or, apparently, hidden from view, boarded up under the foundations of the houses are Aboriginal stone engravings and carvings.

There are several stories as to how this harbourside beach in the exclusive suburb of Point Piper got its name:
1. Named as such when a Mrs Busby gave an Aboriginal seven shillings compensation for fishing rights, or for a catch of fish;
2. A nurse, employed by Captain Piper, lost a purse containing 'seven shillings' on the beach.

Seven Shillings Beach is not one of Sydney's most beautiful, but it is certainly one of its most disputed. Private beaches are not meant to exist in Australia, or so we like to believe. However, some of the country's most well-heeled live in this little enclave (ghetto?) of Sydney.

Walking volunteer, Graham Spindler (2007 ) *explains that restrictions limit access to "below mean high water mark during daylight hours", as he calls it "a classic piece of legal compromise".

Spindler continues wryly: "...the beach remains privately owned, although glances across into the private realms are permitted (or inevitable), some of the backyards having long been owned by the fairfax family."

Point Piper
Now here's a classic Sydney story of wealth, harbour views, a beyond-their-means lifestyle, and corruption. But there wasn't an ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) 180 years ago!

Graham Spindler again: " Point Piper's European history began as part of a 76ha land grant by Governor Macquarie to Captain John Piper in 1820. Piper had had control of customs and all harbour matters, a lucrative position which enabled him to vastly increase the size of his land-holding and build the finest house then in Sydney on the point. He named it Henrietta Villa, after the second name of Gov Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth, and it quickly became the most prestigious social venue in town. However, the flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle exceeded even his resources and he was soon deeply in debt. In 1827 it became apparent that he had embezzled 13 000 pounds from the customs revenues which together with other debts amounted to millions in modern value. The mortified Piper made a curiously grand suicide attempt, having himself rowed out into the harbour, and to the strains of his naval band, jumping overboard. He survived to retire to a more modest rural life." (near Bathurst) More here.
More about Captain Piper (and below, a portrait)

* Thanks Graham, with whom I trained as a school teacher-librarian in 1981!


  1. And what, pray tell, did this dishonorable gentleman have going with the wife of the Governor? Was she the Beth Morgan of her time? If I recall correctly, Mrs Macq's Chair is where she used to have assigntions with a naval type. It really is a lovely stretch of the harbour. Such an outrage that we are made to feel in the wrong just for sitting there. And what the hell is the "the mean high water mark"? Grrrr ... ...

    I like your "Welcome to country". I was moved to include mine by a post by Spike in Woy Woy. I checked mine on the City of Sydney site. Is yours just that more accurate? I'm not sure how a "welcome" should be phrased and yearn to get it right.

  2. LOL Julie! I hadn't thought about why he would know the middle name of the Governor's wife. Sally, the photo makes me long to be right there on that beach instead of freezing my tutu off here in my chilly livingroom (your fall is coming soon. . .sigh). Do you think someone would come along and ask me to move my towel if I sat right there? What if I feigned not understanding English? Que senior? No comprende.. . . ;^)
    Seattle Daily Photo

  3. Fascinating history Sally - thanks!

  4. hello all

    well i object to the criticsm of this entrapenarial gent .. ihave been tracing my lieage to him (because of my familys repeated saying of quote..'my family owned all of point piper in sydney'end of quote. .. and finally i found an article about captain (foolhardy piper !! my study has brought me to the conclusion that he was a flamboyant and friendly man who was given many titles among which was 'prince of Australia ' which ,like it or not was not an easy title back in the early colonies !
    so come on give this man credit for much of the european culture we see developed in sydney today .. after all he had more friends in (high places than not. eg wentworth ,gov macquarie
    i would like to much more acknowledgement given for his achievments than his failures ,which it seems were only imposed by an incoming govdarling ..who may have been unsure of pipers dealings anyway ..
    pipers lifestyle in colonial times is yet to be seen as impressive by todays measures
    from michelle