The legacy of the Griffins’ vision in Castlecrag can be experienced in the physical environment of the streetscapes and landscapes, in the reserves and walkways, and in the buildings and the amphitheatre. It is evidenced also in the community’s memorials to Walter Burley Griffin — the planting of trees along Edinburgh road by the Progress Association after Griffin’s death, the Bim Hilder fountain at the intersection of Edinburgh Road and Sortie Port and the bronze sculpture of Griffin outside the Griffin Centre shops. It can still be spoken of by those who knew the Griffins; the now ageing residents who remember that time when the Griffins were central to a group of activists and thinkers who formed within Castlecrag a truly unique community.
The 15 houses built to Griffin’s designs are important parts of the Griffin legacy at Castlecrag, along with the shops (now called the Griffin Centre) and the two houses approved by, but not designed by, Griffin.
To preserve his vision for the future of Castlecrag, Griffin instigated a system of covenants over the residential allotments within the estate. These covenants were to control building so as to prevent unsympathetic development as well as to protect the native flora and fauna.
The characteristic narrow roadways follow the contours of the rugged landscape in beautiful sweeping curves. The continuous and extensive foreshore reserves and numerous bushland reserves connected by their network of meandering walkways remain intact and are used and enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. Mostly the absence of fences still predominates and this allows a shared landscape as the Griffins intended, with the merging of public and private spaces to create the unique effect of houses nestling within the landscape. In Griffin’s words this was ‘so that each individual can feel the whole landscape is his’.
The numerous reserves provide a range of environments. They are mainly beautiful bushland retreats. Many have dramatic rock outcrops, views and vistas, and a couple have playgrounds. Cortile Reserve has tennis courts and Haven Reserve has the unique open-air amphitheatre.
At Castlecrag the Griffins were able to implement their community ideas and an important aspect of their legacy there, although less tangible but still palpable today, is its community spirit. This is evidenced in the numerous community groups and activities in the peninsular suburb. Music, playreading and discussion groups, treeplanting and bushland conservation activities, and also very significantly the open-air Haven Valley Scenic Theatre, were established by the Griffins and their associates in the 1920s and 1930s.
Today the Castlecrag Progress Association, the Castlecrag Conservation Society, the Castlecrag Playreading Group, the Haven Theatre Committee and the Walter Burley Griffin Society continue that community spirit initiated and inspired by the Griffins.
Conserving the legacy
To assist in the conservation of the Griffin legacy at Castlecrag the local government council, Willoughby City Council, has undertaken a lengthy process of study and community consultation to produce its own heritage conservation policy. The result is Development Control Plan No. 19, Heritage and Conservation (DCP19 pages 54 to 60). This plan applies to all buildings and places of heritage significance in what is known as the Griffin Conservation Area at Castlecrag. The controls within the Plan are designed to ensure that heritage significance and amenity of views, vistas and landscape are retained.
The Griffin Conservation Area, which is also classified as an Urban Conservation Area by the National Trust of Australia, is one of the twelve conservation areas of Willoughby City Council. Within the Conservation Area, the most significant objective of the heritage controls is to ensure the subordination of buildings to the landscape.
In addition to the controls, the Griffin houses at Castlecrag are listed in Local Environment Plan 1995 (LEP1995) as heritage items classified to be of state and regional significance.
In 1997 a Plan of Management for the Griffin Reserves at Castlecrag was prepared and is now being implemented by Willoughby City Council. This seeks to regenerate and maintain the network of reserves and the surviving canopy of the urban forest that gives a bushland atmosphere to the suburb, despite past depredations and neglect. Council officers and a resident advisory group are preparing detailed Management Plans for each reserve, to document their condition and set out the actions required for their rejuvenation.
Castlecrag continues therefore to demonstrate the Griffins’ deep respect for the natural landscape and their ideal of a community living in harmony with its beautiful setting.
Martin O’Donoghue is a senior architect in mid sized practice working on projects throughout New South Wales. He is interested in all forms of art and architecture including painting, dance, theatre and cinema. He has been a committee member of the Walter Burley Griffin Society from 2001 to the present and a resident of Castlecrag since 1989.
Leslie, Esther (comp), The Suburb of Castlecrag: a community history. Sydney, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1988
Walker, Meredith, Kabos, Adrienne and Weirick, James, Building for Nature: Walter Burley Griffin and Castlecrag. Sydney, Walter Burley Griffin Society, 1994.
Walker, Meredith, ‘The Development at Castlecrag’, in Turnbull, Jeff and Navaretti, Peter Y (eds), The Griffins in Australia and India: the complete works and projects of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Melbourne, Miegunyah Press (Melbourne University Press), 1998: 74-85.
Walker, Meredith and Lehaney, Michael, Griffin Reserves Plan of Management Willoughby City Council, 1997, 3 vols.
Walter Burley Griffin Society, The Griffin Legacy: Castlecrag Heritage, (brochure pdf 752kb). Sydney, Walter Burley Griffin Society & NSW Heritage Office, 2004.