Heritage Steps, Berowra Valley Regional Park, NSW

Old Mans Valley, Hornsby, on Guringai and Darug land, is a site of early European settlement, and home to a critically endangered ecological community. The valley also contains a tangible link to a period of great social change in the early 20th century.

With the Great Depression of the early 1930’s displacing families, and unemployment rife, itinerant workers were employed to construct a track linking outlying shanty camps, to the township of Hornsby. Today, the track and its extensive network of hand-hewn sandstone steps forms part of the Great North Walk.

The steps provide a unique insight into the humour and indomitable spirit of the workmen, with an enduringly optimistic message carved into the cliff-face ... ‘PROSPERITY AROUND THE CORNER’.

We were initially briefed to provide conventional interpretive signage along the popular track, to inform bushwalkers of the significance of the area. However, recognising track users’ appreciation of unspoilt natural environments, and the valley’s unique history, we proposed a less intrusive, and more evocative approach.

Identifying three distinct ‘stories’, and the opportunity to deliver the information at natural rest points along the at times, arduous route, a series of sculpted cast bronze ‘books’ were proposed to ‘tell the story’.

Hand-crafting the stories of the valley through sculpture, serves as a subtle link to the manual labour of the workmen, thereby making the method of delivery an integral part of the interpretive design. Bronze was selected for its durability and its visually sympathetic compliment to the environment.

As the three books were installed, this ancient valley once again echoed with the sounds of hammer and chisel on sandstone.