From the verandah of Seawards, the family’s Palm Beach holiday house, Marie often gazed through a telescope across the wide mouth of the Hawkesbury River to the rugged coastline beyond that she referred to as her ‘faery lands forlorn’.
Intrigued by its wildness, she longed to explore the remote headland where the only footsteps to have previously left impressions were the Aborigines, fishermen who arrived by boat, and shipwreck survivors. While at university Marie managed to convince three of her girl friends to accompany her on an expedition to explore the rugged coastline. To get to this unexplored place, they travelled north by train from Sydney to Woy Woy, then by ferry across to Hardy’s Bay, and up the steep hill behind it. Carrying canvas groundsheets and quilts for overnight camping, they brought just enough food for their survival but weighed themselves down with guns.
The party made their way through the rough terrain with the help of a tomahawk, map and compass. From the top of the hill densely covered with pink-skinned Angophora eucalypts and double Xanthorea grasstrees they made their way down a steep fern gully onto the secluded crescent-shaped beach. Elated at their success, the young women took off their skirts and danced on the sand in their bloomers. Rusting boilers of the shipwrecked paddle steamer Maitland on a nearby reef were tragic reminders of the twenty-four passengers and crew that drowned when the ship floundered helplessly onto the rocks in 1898.
Bouddi (pronounced ‘boodie’) is the local Aboriginal name for the northern headland of the bay where the Maitland was wrecked. On top of the plateau that ends at the cliff-top overlooking the Pacific Ocean are found indicators of ceremonial sites, dozens of Aboriginal rock engravings up to 20m long depicting fish, whales, kangaroos, birds and shields on the flat exposed Hawkesbury sandstone. The middens of discarded shellfish on the beaches confirm that this was a favoured place for the Aborigines. Swimming in the protected bay and looking back at the magical landscape, Marie’s intense emotional connection to Bouddi headland was shaped.
The historic opportunity to protect and preserve the area came following the formation of the Federation of Bushwalking Clubs in 1932. The success of the bushwalker’s first conservation campaign for the Blue Gum Forest in the Blue Mountains generated the motivation to form a pressure group of all the bushwalking clubs to ensure other areas of significance were protected in their natural state. Marie convinced the Federation to issue an invitation to the Lands Department to send a representative to inspect the area.
The Department accepted the invitation and sent the Gosford District Surveyor, Mr Barry, on an inspection tour. Having walked throughout the entire area, they stood on a prominent lookout to view the narrow stretch of coast – Marie told Mr Barry, “All the eye can see, I want kept as a park”. He was easily convinced of its value and even offered to include a wider area than she had originally hoped for. He realized that it was essential that this strip of valuable coastline that skirted the ocean and the Hawkesbury River be left unspoiled. With an additional subdivision arranged for fishermen’s shanties, the whole area was a bushland reserve almost before they knew it. As a result of this expedition, 263 hectares were duly reserved on 5 July 1935.
Thanks to her persistence, Marie was able to save Bouddi headland, her ‘faery lands forlorn’ from becoming as forlorn as much of the over-developed Australian coastline has become. Today, the park protects the only undeveloped strip of coast between the major population centres of Sydney and Newcastle.
As there was no government funding, all the work on tracks, water supply, campsites and so on, had to be done with voluntary labour. Marie took it upon herself to organise the working bees amongst the Federation’s members. To everyone’s surprise, the first one held at Maitland Bay in May 1940, before the Second World War had really started for Australia, was a huge success. Sixty people turned up armed with tools to make paths that provided, “possibly the finest scenic half day’s walk within easy reach of Sydney”.
On subsequent working bees after the war up to one hundred and twenty people came to create tracks and plant trees in an effort to regenerate the forest. By the time the park came under the control of the newly formed National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1967 additions had more than doubled its size to 530 hectares.
Maitland Bay is at the heart of a 300ha marine extension to protect the marine life and shoreline ecosystem.