Castlecrag’s Walkways – conflicts of access and privacy

This article (below) first appeared in the CRAG a publication of the Castlecrag Progress Association. I have lived in Castlecrag for ten years. I am only beginning to understand the Griffins and the significance of their lives. I am sure I will return to them, but I hope some of my enthusiasm for them is demonstrated below. Please feel free to express your opinions whatever they may be about Castlecrag and its walkways by using the ‘leave a comment’  link at the bottom.

walkways-5706Walter and Marion Griffin’s Castlecrag is soon to be celebrated with two commemorative walks. These walks will be supported by a map, an app, the way finding posts that you may have noticed popping up around the place and the ongoing upgrade, maintenance and sometimes reclamation of public land. We are fortunate in Castlecrag that public land is plentiful. The abandonment of plans to make Castlecrag an expressway linkage to Seaforth and Griffin’s development regarded by some as arguably the most generous act of property development in Australian history have contributed to our very fortunate situation. 

The Griffins were schooled in the progressive architectural ideas of Chicago of the beginning of the last century. Theirs was a democratic architecture for people that was inspired by nature and philosophy. Walter trained not just as an architect but as a landscape architect and urban planner, so his plan for Castlecrag was mindful of the importance of the rocky contours and its native vegetation. Rather than the typical grid pattern of streets with red roofed houses and paling fences that ran from the shoreline to the ridge and obscured any sense of the sandstone beneath, his plan followed the contours. The walkways, that could also double as service corridors, provided the pedestrian linkages between streets and the shops, shoreline, outdoor theatre or the bushland reserves in between where neighbours could meet and nature could be enjoyed. Castlecrag became known as a cultural and spiritual hub. It thrived but the Griffins’ vision was derailed by the depression and Walter’s untimely death in India in 1937.

Today, after more than fifteen years of progressive improvements, many of the walkways are able to function in something like the way that Griffin envisaged. But, the walkways are sometimes considered to be an intrusion to residents’ privacy or to bring social problems to the backdoor.

As a person who lives on a walkway, I have a perspective that comes from experience. I live on a relatively busy walkway that connects Castlecrag with Warners Park, Northbridge and Sailors Bay. I have lived here for ten years. I view Castlecrag as a quiet place without population pressure. I have never considered the small number of people who walk by an imposition. I like hearing their chatter, women on workouts and young kids being taught by fathers and mothers about the bush. From time to time, they provide an opportunity for a conversation and even a friendship. But usually they simply walk by and the moment is as brief as when anyone passes your house. At times, I have tourists asking for directions. For example there was the Frank Lloyd Wright devotee from England whose interest in Griffin derived from the fact that he and Marion worked for Wright.

All in all, the walkway is a really positive part of my relationship with Castlecrag and our community. Many walkways are yet to be reclaimed and it is important that people view them for what they are, public assets that may provide amenity to the community. It is also important that any discussion about walkways or footpaths considers their benefit to a wider community’s need to access shops, shoreline or the occasional walk in the reserve.

Matthew Keighery, Castlecrag resident, is also a committee member of the Griffin Reserves Advisory Committee (GRAC). GRAC meets with Council representatives eight times a year to discuss and advise on plans and improvements for the Reserves. The Committee is currently looking for new members.


Resources – learn more about the Griffins and Castlecrag

There is currently a web app being developed that I have largely written and provided photographs for that can be used to navigate some of Castlecrag’s walkways. I will post a link when it becomes available. There will also be a link to a physical map. I suggest you do these walks and access the information. it is a fascinating and beautiful part of Sydney.

The Griffin’s story is incredible. They are well worth reading more about and Alasdair McGregor’s book is excellent.

Alasdair McGregor (2009), Grand Obsessions: The life and work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin Penguin/Lantern, Camberwell, 2009

There is a great ABC radio program on the suburb, The idealists: creating Castlecrag (2012) which is informative and entertaining

The University of New South Wales, 2012 Utzon Lecture Series has one by Professor James Weirick entitled “100th Anniversary of Walter Burley Griffin: Griffin and Canberra” which is available online as a video.



I like obsessions, they drive so much of what is interesting and inspired. The Christmas holidays have presented a chance to view some grand obsessions in the art world on show and easily accessible at public and popular places around Sydney.

Song Dong: Waste Not is an exhibition of Chinese artist, Song Dong’s containing literally thousands of objects of his mother’s life following the death of his father. Concerned with his mother’s mourning, the obsession with representation and history is clearly on display.

Anish Kapoor at the Museum of Contemporary Art displays some of the objects created by a contemporary artist who is obsessed by the way things appear and change dependent on perspective. Housed in the new wing of this building the objects don’t feel designed for the space.

A ‘5 storey’ rubber duck parked on the water at Sydney’s Darling Harbour appears as a giant obsession with toys by artist Florentijn Hofman. Perhaps its location in arguably an unsuccessfully fabricated part of the city renders it too kitch to be good and adds to the tack. Where as Song Dong’s at the industrial era Carriageworks feels authentic. Kapoor’s clever and brilliantly executed work like Hofman’s duck is fun, but ultimately the obsessions in both don’t conjure anything like the history of the ordinary, day to day of Dong’s. Ultimately it is this obsession of Dong’s that resonates most.

Haven Amphitheatre, Xmas 2012

Wonderful place, The Haven, an outdoor venue in Castlecrag, a leafy suburb of Sydney. Each year a christmas carol performance is held. It is a really simple and delightful premise, get the local community together to celebrate Xmas in an intimate natural space.

You can read more about The Haven and Castlecrag at