Words | Jodie Ramodien
If you could distil the North Shore into one suburb it would be Wahroonga. It is the spawn-point for North Shore fuckboys, who typically enjoy sailing, Ralph Lauren polo shirts, and RM Williams’ boots. Obnoxiously wealthy and elitist, this suburb is populated by socially active housewives, future lawyers, and basic bitches perpetually sporting activewear – I fit into the latter category.
The name ‘Wahroonga,’ is an Aboriginal word that translates to “our home.” The state of the suburb as we know it today begins, like most of colonial Australia, with a convict. This particular convict, one Thomas Hyndes, became a timber-getter and wealthy landowner, holding the lease on 2000 acres of land in 1822, and receiving a grant for a further 640 acres of land in 1838. This land included Eastern Road, later renamed ‘Turramurra’ meaning “high hill,” just north of the land held by Robert Pymble, an early settler. Pymble received a land grant in 1823 after petitioning Governor Macquarie for one. Together Pymble and Hyndes formed a partnership, employing hundreds of convicts for their timber-business and establishing the North Shore as a key supplier of timber in the years following. Native trees such as blue gum, ironbark, stringybark, and blackbutt were cut down and used as housing materials.
The Sawmill, a pizzeria owned by two very hot Italian twin brothers, sits on Duneba Avenue just a little ways away off Ryde road in West Pymble. The logging history of the area is reflected in the conceptualisation of this restaurant from its exposed wood-beam ceilings to its tastefully framed miniature tools. Suffice to say timber was damn important to early Northshorians and it was another timber-getter, John Brown, who later acquired Hyndes’ land and named the Wahroonga avenues Ada, Lucinda, and Roland, after his children.
‘Only In Sydney’s North Shore,’ a self-congratulatory Facebook page that humorously reflects Northshorian values and opinions, ranks Wahroonga as being in the “Godly Tier” of suburbs alongside Mosman and Neutral Bay. A large aspect of this superiority complex may be attributed to a private school upbringing most likely at Abbotsleigh or Knox Grammar. If you’ve ever driven past Abbotsleigh you may have noticed that it is always under construction. That’s because the “Sports Hall, Aquatic Centre, flood-lit all weather hockey/soccer pitch, Gymnasium, fully equipped strength and conditioning centre, dance studios, Plexicushion tennis courts, and indoor and outdoor basketball and netball courts,” just aren’t quite enough, the school clearly needs more government funding. That was only a small fraction of the list of facilities named on Abbotsleigh’s website. “Plexicushion,” by the way, is the same acrylic-based hardcourt tennis surface that is used in the Australian Open tennis courts including Rod Laver Arena where the top tennis players in the world play. It’s all very sickening I know.
Knox Grammar is unfortunately its own can-of-worms. Despite various famous alumni including Hugh Jackson and Hugo Weaving, Knox Grammar’s reputation has greatly been tainted by reports of decades worth of pedophilia and sexual abuse. In 2015, The Guardian reported on one of the cases, “John Rentoul, whose son David was abused at the school, wept as he recounted his son’s death, which he said was a direct result of the abuse.” Rentoul noted that: “Private schools are more susceptible to instances of sexual abuse because of more opportunities for the development of close relationships between teachers and students during extra-curricular activities, and because of the prevalence of boarding establishments.” In April 2019 The Sydney Morning Herald reported on another case in which former Knox Grammar student Greg Dubler “is suing Knox for more than $1 million compensation for damaging his life, his schooling, his career and his mental health and wellbeing.”
With no easy segue from that topic I will say there is still a lot that’s good about Wahroonga. While stopping at a crossing you will notice that always, without fail, Knox boys will tip their hats to you in a display of gentlemanly pride. Early morning at either Wahroonga or Warrawee station you’ll often hear the wailing of bagpipes like it’s the beginning of Dead Poets Society.
Beside Wahroonga station sits Wahroonga Village, a boutiquey collection of shops and cafes. In October, Wahroonga holds a Food and Wine Festival while every year on the first Sunday of December the streets are filled with market stalls for the Wahroonga Village Fair. This suburb has neither a Coles or Woolworths, let alone an Aldi. Instead it has a well placed IGA. You can have coffee Wahroonga-style i.e. overpriced, at the famous Butcher’s Block, can buy unique decor at the hidden gem Grosgrain or at The Road Not Taken, or can visit Novella in all its book and scented candle glory. Nearby is Wahroonga Park which has its own Great Gatsby gazebo.
The places I’ve run into other Wahroonganites include Europe – go figure, Melbourne – go figure, and at any event run by MULS (Macquarie University Law Society). This is ironic given that within Sydney itself I’ve never seen a 2076er venture past Hornsby, let alone Berowra. Though Northshorians may visit Melbourne it’s important to note that they don’t typically like Melbournians who have a grandiose sense of self importance that rivals our own.
Wahroonga is a suburb with a reputation, and that reputation is largely accurate. It is affluent, hypocritical, and beautiful, very much a contradiction. Wahroonga epitomises a lot of the criticism directed at the North Shore, even more so than some of its neighbouring suburbs. If anyone asks, I tell them I’m from Turramurra.