Cooper Park

Summer school holidays in Australia are a blessing for our family. During the school terms, our weekends are dictated by sport – and this season has been quite full with four kids playing in five cricket teams (not to mention Mr Dahlia deciding he might like to play seniors cricket). Our weekend schedule goes something like: eat breakfast early while figuring out who needs to be where with three games happening simultaneously between eight am and noon, then the scramble to get everyone to where they need to be. Being at the game is fine; usually I take my laptop and manage to get a few words done (unless it’s my turn to supervise the U9s team, in which case all my attention is needed for the game). On Saturday afternoons, Mr Dahlia plays seniors; and on Sundays the representative teams have their turn for a full day of cricket. Fortunately the rep season is short (nine or ten games), however, the different ages and grades are offset, so with two kids qualifying, we’ve had Sunday games on every weekend since the end of September!

Our holiday weekends are precious family time without commitments. After a few weekends of lazing about the house, we suddenly decided we needed to get out and do something. I guess the habits built up over the cricket season and school term have remained with us. What is the point of this ramble? Well, we decided to go for a bush walk. An easy one – just to get out of the house.

Cooper Park in Double Bay is described as “a city park with bush land pleasure grounds”. The beauty, for us, of this slice of bush in the Eastern Suburbs is that we could take the train to it. We exited at Bondi Junction station, and walked down the rather steep hill to the bush. Note: This park is not accessible if find navigating stairs difficult. The park is a long oval shape, a narrow steep-sided gully, with quaint pathways reminiscent of England. And no wonder. The park was purchased by the Council in 1917, and during the 1920s and 1930s, the park was landscaped “in accordance with its vision for creating an appealing pleasure ground in the popular gardenesque style of the early 20th century.” Or so says the sign at the edge of the park outlining Cooper Park’s history. There are sections of ‘true’ bushwalk with leaf litter covered dirt paths, interspersed with stone pathways and little man-made grottoes to shelter from the rain inside. It’s such an English concept – the requirement of a shelter in case of a light rain shower. A typical Sydney summer comes with steamy humidity, hot days, and the occasional thunderstorm that will arrive almost exactly at the time predicted by the weather people.

One of the delights of the walk was the Moon Bridge – a sandstone arch bridge created in the 1930s depression years as part of a public works program for the unemployed. We also discovered an eel in the waterway, and a little carving of a house on top of a wooden post.

The walk around the park is quite short, approximately a 2km circuit, and we probably could have done it twice. Instead, we spent some time playing cricket (yeah – those kids are a bit obsessed!) on the field at the western end of the park. Once everyone was nice and hungry, we ventured back up the hill to find some lunch. Going back up hill towards the Bondi Junction station was probably the most tiring part of the walk; past all the old Victorian style semis that have been renovated into gorgeous residences.

For lunch, we dropped by the Nelson Hotel. We chose this place for a little bit of historical symmetry; it’s a 1930s pub, and the park has a 1930s sandstone bridge. If you’ve read my other travel posts, you’ll know that Mr Dahlia, aka Bismark, is an engineer and we often end up doing engineering tourism on our travels.

The Nelson Hotel is a lovely old building with much of the original decor inside, nicely restored. We sat out the back near the kitchen, in a child friendly section of the pub. They have an extensive menu, and plenty of craft beer selections. After our exertions, we decided on a pint of Young Henrys Newtowner to wash away the dust in our throats. The kids had their usual jug of pub squash, and tap water. As for food, Kid1 had a beef burger, Kid2 had a pulled pork burger, Kid3 had the kid’s cheeseburger, and Kid4 had the same meal she always orders every single time we eat out; spaghetti bolognaise. I ate the lamb cutlets, which came with a massive side salad, and Bismark had the Sicilian chili spaghetti. All the meals were delicious, and we’ll definitely try to come back.  My lamb cutlets were done to perfection, with gravy and the side salad is worthy of mention. Rather than the usual throwaway few lettuce leaves and a cherry tomato cut in half, like too many pubs, the salad was plentiful with a nice aioli dressing. The Sicilian chili spaghetti was full of flavour with crispy prosciutto pieces on top, and lots of chili and a high heat level. Just like an erotic romance – you want you chili pasta to be delicious and hot enough to make your eyes water!

On our walk we discussed the idea of doing a different bush walk each weekend over winter instead of signing up for more kids sport. The cycle of doing more things all the time has become heavy, and we need a season where we focus on hanging out together. No to soccer, and yes to bushwalks and eating in pubs! It sounds like a plan.

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