One day in 1970 whilst leading a group of young children to the beach, Harbord Kindergarten teacher Irene Crump spied a tree on the seafront about to be felled by men wielding chainsaws. She rushed to the site and nimbly climbed the tree to save its life.
This area would eventually be spared from development and became Undercliff Reserve. Last week, this green space at the southern end of Freshwater Beach was officially renamed Irene Crump Reserve.
On 23 November, Mayor Sue Heins met with the extended family of the late Irene Crump to officially dedicate the anvil-shaped pocket of terraced bushland.
Ms Heins said, “Mrs Crump wanted to retain public ownership and access to the foreshore reserve by saving it from private development to ensure it could be enjoyed by the community for generations to come.
“Irene Crump’s efforts are remarkable and so it is fitting her story lives on, and this space is enjoyed as she intended.”
Christine Dennis, Irene’s daughter, revealed that her mother protected a path that accessed a merry-go-round at the southern end of Freshwater Beach because it was a sheltered, safe route for the young children in her care. However, the route passed through the site chosen by developers for three apartment blocks on three levels.
Eventually, after months of legal arguments, Warringah Council took ownership of the lower two thirds of the site, which was then preserved for the public, and an apartment block was built on the upper terrace.
“Mum was a passionate person,” Christine affirmed, “but she had a very strong sense of community justice.”
A 2022 article in Freshwater News recalled Irene’s motives: “In the 1970s, a development application was lodged to construct home units on the site and down onto the sand and that, whilst still under assessment, the developer attempted to clear the site.
“Upon hearing this, Mrs Crump went to the site and climbed what is understood to have been a large coral tree and refused to come down until work stopped. She was dubbed ‘Harbord’s bravest woman’ because of what she did.
“Mrs Crump also opposed the proposed development in court for around two months, which helped scale back the development. Part of the land was eventually retained for community use.”
Irene Crump was quoted in a Manly Daily article dated 11 September 1991 recalling the tree choppers’ reaction to her impulsive arboreal clamber.
“They were cutting the branches off the tree from around my legs and told me that if I didn’t move I could get hurt or even killed… So I told them there were more ways to die for your country than going to war!”
Why was this particular pocket of land so important, whilst apartments were springing up all around Freshwater Beach and along the Northern Beaches, some of which obstructed previous public access to the seafront?
The April 2023 newsletter of the Friends of Freshwater, The Duke, explained the site’s importance: “This much traversed reserve forms an important link for the Palm Beach to Bondi Coastal Path. It was previously heavily weed infested such that Warringah Council found it difficult to maintain.”
The path and stairs are part of the pedestrian route linking Freshwater and Queenscliff Beaches.
Reserve revival reveals surprise discovery
In recent years, the nature reserve has been much improved by a dedicated troupe of volunteers labouring under the auspices of the Friends of Freshwater, a non-profit registered organisation managed by a group of Freshwater locals.
The intrepid team removed years of pest plants and rubbish, built stone-walled frog ponds, created an imaginative ‘fairy garden’ for children, and uncovered a cascading waterfall and several stone terraces hidden behind decades of weeds.
In September 2018, during an operation to remove invasive lantana and other weeds smothering a rock escarpment, bush regenerators revealed a hidden carving of an Aboriginal face. It was chiselled by the infamous ‘Phantom Carver’, a local stonemason named Mick Leslie who created several interesting rock engravings around Freshwater in the 1970s. (Manly Observer will feature him soon.)
The Duke article continued, “In 1996 it was, by default, named Undercliff Reserve, but should have been named after the woman, Irene Crump, who did her utmost to successfully save it from a developer’s grasp. Council was of a mind then to name the Reserve after Mrs Crump, who, in the 1970’s, stood in front of tractors that were attempting to clear the site.
“[Warringah] Council applied to the Geographical Names Board, who refused, saying that Crump was still very much alive and it was not its policy to name sites after living persons…”
The Geographical Names Board, the statutory authority of the Department of Customer Service in the NSW Government that oversee the allocation and recording of geographical names across the state, have a policy whereby parks and sites can only honour deceased persons.
Peter Harley OAM, chair of Friends of Freshwater, confirmed the protocol. “It was 1996 when the first submission went to the Geographical Names Board to name that reserve Irene Crump Reserve. There was one unfortunate circumstance, in that Irene was still alive…”
Sadly, Irene Crump passed away on 11 March, 2012, aged 91.
The proposal to rename Undercliff Reserve, ‘Irene Crump Reserve’, was revived by Friends of Freshwater in 2021 and eventually endorsed at a Northern Beaches Council meeting held on 22 November 2022, after public consultation.
The Geographical Names Board announced on 2 June 2023 they would accept the proposal for the new title. Council then confirmed that the new name was officially gazetted – 27 years after the original recommendation.
Although Irene Crump didn’t see the reserve she was so instrumental in preserving, in 1996 a plaque was installed by Warringah Council honouring her community spirit (see photo above).
The plaque, which was recently stolen and its signpost hurled off the cliff by vandals – although it has since been replaced – bore the following words:
“This land was preserved as a public reserve largely due to the efforts of Irene Crump, pre-school director, respected local citizen dedicated to the welfare of children.”