The committee is reviewing the historical and heritage  details of The Haven Amphitheatre.

This draft by Lorraine Cairnes is yet to be completed.

It will be submitted to Willoughby City Council as part of the DA proposal and replacement of the existing stage.

Your input will be appreciated. Please forward referenced document to






1.     Introduction. 2

2.     Terminology and definitions. 2

3.     Process for conservation plan development 2

4.     Heritage Significance. 2

5.     The site and its management 3

6.     Historical chronology of the Haven Amphitheatre site. 4

7.     Notes on the natural and cultural heritage from each phase. 6

Phase 1 – Geodiversity and biodiversity origins. 6

Phase 2. Aboriginal use – Traditional Owners. 7

Phase 3.  Early European settlement 7

Phase 4. Castlecrag land purchased by the Greater Sydney Development Association. 7

Phase 5. Griffin era begins. 7

Phase 6.  Haven Valley Scenic Theatre established by Marion Mahony Griffin. 8

Phase 7. Decline in performances with departure of Griffins and WWII. 9

Phase 8.Title deeds of Haven Amphitheatre gifted to Willoughby City Council 9

Phase 9. Disuse and neglect. 9

Phase 10. Site cleanup and stage construction. 10

Phase 11. Performances resume. 10

Phase 12. Stage enlargement and additional northern seating. 10

Phase 13. “Modern Era” – Haven Amphitheatre Committee expands productions. 11

8.     Heritage significance. 12


Geodiversity. 12

Biodiversity. 12


Aesthetic significance. 12

Historic significance. 13

Scientific significance. 15

Social  significance. 15

9.     Conservation Policy. 16

10.         References. 16


1.            Introduction

This review of the cultural and natural heritage of the Haven Amphitheatre site uses the methodology and criteria in the Australian Natural Heritage Charter for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance (ANHC), and the Burra Charter (The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance) because both cultural and natural heritage values exist in the site.

The purpose of identifying heritage significance is usually to provide the basis for a Conservation Plan for a place. The values identified in a “Statement of Significance” are those deserving conservation.  A conservation plan can then be written showing how the significant heritage values will be conserved.

2.            Terminology and definitions

The terminology and definitions used in this document are those in the Charters mentioned above.

3.            Process for conservation plan development

The process for developing a conservation plan is a logical ten-step process, which is the same for the ANHC and the Burra Charter:

1          Obtain and study evidence about the place

2          Identify / contact people and groups with an interest in the place

3          Determine the heritage significance of the place

4          Assess physical condition and management issues

5          Develop a conservation policy

6          Determine the management strategies and conservation processes which will be used.

7          Decide on responsibilities for decisions, approvals and actions

8          Prepare the conservation plan.

9          Implement the conservation plan.

10         Monitor the results and review the plan


This document focuses on Step 3 – determination of the heritage significance of the Haven Amphitheatre site’s heritage values.

4.            Heritage Significance

The site’s natural and cultural heritage can be analysed and understood using the principles in the two Charters.

The NATURAL HERITAGE of the site relates to

the importance of ecosystems, biodiversity and geodiversity for their existence value or for present or future generations, in terms of their scientific, social, aesthetic and life-support value.” ANHC, Article 1.3)

The CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE of the site relates to:

“Aesthetic, historic, scientific or social value for past, present or future generations”. (Burra Charter Article 2.2)

5.            The site and its management

The Haven Amphitheatre is located on the corner of The Barricade and The Scarp in Castlecrag, New South Wales, Australia, within the Local Government Area of the Willoughby City Council.

The site of the Haven Amphitheatre is part of 30 acres of land purchased by the Griffins in about 1926 and named then “The Haven Estate”.

A map circa 1860 shows that the land’s title was first held by James William Bligh, this parcel running from Edinburgh Road to Sailors Bay. The map is reproduced in A & M Weller 1972, p 6. J. W . Bligh later became the first chairman (or Mayor) of Willoughby. (A & M Weller, 1972 p. 8).

The site was gifted to Willoughby Council by Marion Mahony Griffin in 1943 (October 12th) after she had left Australia and returned to Chicago following the death of Walter Burley Griffin in India. The Haven Amphitheatre today is the property of Willoughby Council, managed as a Council reserve. In 1981 Willoughby Council appointed the Castlehaven Reserve Committee under Section 530A of the Local Government Act [i][ii]  to manage the site and advise on its management. The Committee is now appointed under Section 355 (a) of the Local Government Act 1993, which states:

“ A function of a council may, subject to this Chapter, be exercised:

. . .

(b) by a committee of the council, “


The Committee has no specific Terms of Reference, but operates under Council’s general rules and protocols applying to such Committees. As part of one of the “Griffin Reserves” it is also subject to advice to Council from the Griffin Reserves Advisory Committee[1] and would be subject to the relevant provisions of Council’s Griffin Reserves Plan of Management, currently (2013) under review. The bushland section of the Castlehaven Reserve is also subject to the Council’s Urban Bushland Plan of Management.

The site is bounded to the north by The Scarp and its road reserve; a “Griffin era” stone retaining wall supports the roadway. Although it is within the road reserve and not part of the site, it provides an important visual boundary to the Haven Amphitheatre site. This stone retaining wall is one of the rare engineering structures designed by Walter Burley Griffin.

The private properties neighbouring the site are all residential.

The site’s zoning is [CHECKXXXX].

Developments proposed for the site require the consent of Council as owner, both for the development application to be lodged, and for approval of a DA.

The Amphitheate is listed in SCHEDULE 6 of the Willoughby Local Environmental Plan as a heritage item classified to be of State or Regional significance. Its listing shows:

“Open Air” Theatre

The Barricade, Haven Estate, Castlecrag
Castlehaven Reserve
Part land in DP 431880

As yet, the Castlehaven Reserve, of which the Haven Amphitheatre is a part, does not have a Reserve Action Plan, which is Willoughby Council’s usual standard instrument for managing Council reserves. A Conservation Plan for the Haven Amphitheatre should be developed and incorporated into a future Reserve Action Plan for the whole Castlehaven Reserve, or a Master Plan written for the Haven Amphitheatre and its site.

The Haven Amphitheatre Committee has responsibility for [what? Is there a reference?] and delegated approval for xxxxx [what?? Managing the performance function?? Is this documented somewhere?].How are the members appointed and what are they required to do?

Proposed new developments or works require Council’s approval. Planning and staging of performances at the amphitheatre are the responsibility of the Committee.

The budget for the site is shared by the Council and the Committee – Council, in general, funds maintenance and new works; the Committee funds performances from funds it generates through performances and from donations.



6.            Historical chronology of the Haven Amphitheatre site

The following table summarizes chronologically the history of the site. More detailed notes on each phase follow.

Phase When Phase summary
Phase 1 All past eras until present Natural geodiversity and biodiversity origins
Phase 2 30000 yrs BP, or longer Aboriginal use. Traditional Owners occupy the region.
Phase 3 1780s – early 1900s Early European settlement and first land titles. Auction and sale of land parcels.
Phase 4 1921 Griffin era begins. Land in today’s Castlecrag purchased by the Greater Sydney Development Association lead by W B Griffin.
Phase 5 1926 Griffin era continues. Today’s Haven Amphitheatre is part of a parcel of land purchased by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin which became the Haven Estate
Phase 6 Between 1932 and 1934 Haven Valley Scenic Theatre established by Marion Mahony Griffin.First community performances in the gully, using natural features as the first stage..
Phase 7 1938 – 1945 Performances dwindle. Following Walter Burley Griffin’s death and Marion Mahony Griffin’s return to Chicago in late 1938, performances dwindled and then ceased during World War II with the requirement for complete night-time blackout.
Phase 8 1943 Haven amphitheatre gifted to community. Marion Mahony Griffin gifts the Haven Amphitheatre and the Castlehaven Reserve foreshore to Willoughby Council for the public.
Phase 9 1945  – early 1970s Disuse and neglect. In post-war years, the site became overgrown with weeds, and littered with debris and dumped rubbish.
Phase 10 Late 1975 early 1976 Second performance stage built. Community cleans up the site and designs and builds the first constructed stage. Stone seats on the western side of the gully that had been removed form the site during the decades of non use were replaced to match an early photograph circa 1936.
Phase 11 April1976 Performances recommence. First performance on the new stage held as part of celebrations of the American Bicentenary and the centenary of Walter Burley Griffin’s birth.
Phase 12 1976 to 1981 Haven managed by local committee Chaired by Mr Robert Sheldon
Phase 13 1981 First Local Government Act Committee appointed by Willoughby Council to advise on, manage and operate the amphitheatre; it was chaired by Mr Howard Rubie, who remained Chair until his death in 2011
Phase 14 1991-2 The third performance stage. Stage reconstruction: enlargement and additional northern seating.
Phase 15 1992 – present Haven Amphitheatre Committee expands productions. Enhanced use of technology to meet modern performance needs. Nearly 100 theater productions and performance events held in the 35 year period.




7.            Notes on the natural and cultural heritage from each phase

Phase 1.        Natural geodiversity and biodiversity origins

Phase 1 All past eras until present Evolution of natural geodiversity and biodiversity

Geodiversity and biodiversity including rock formations, native bushland community and ecosystem processes originate from the earliest timeline of the site.

The Haven Amphitheatre is located on the mid-slopes of the Haven Creek gully. Its catchment extends north to the ridgeline defined by Edinburgh Road, and it flows into the eastern arm of Sailors Bay.

The Haven Creek is one of only two creeks which have their entire catchment within Castlecrag. The other is The Retreat Creek.

TheHaven Creek flows intermittently, flowing variably after rainfall, but is frequently dry or with a series of pools. Uphill of the site, where it crosses The Scarp, the natural creek is directed into a drainage pipe flowing beneath the roadway. From here, the creek follows its natural watercourse down to the Haven Amphitheatre stage, then flows for a distance beneath the stage, and exits below the stage into the Castle Haven Reserve bushland. The watercourse through the site is in generally natural condition and is part of the gully ecosystem and landscape, The two interventions (the roadway and the stage) appear to make little impact on the natural creek ecology or its flow regime. The creek’s natural flow pattern is undoubtedly affected by the “hardening” of the catchment since settlement by urban construction, roads etc., which allows rainfall runoff to flow rapidly to the creek whereas in the original catchment, soil would have absorbed more of the rainfall, and the creek flow regime would have been more evenly distributed.

The gully is characterized by rocky slopes, with sandstone outcrops and boulders. Sandstone seating rows, constructed in Phases x, xx,, and xxx follow the gully’s contours and, visually, the original natural valley topography remains identifiable.

Some of the stone seating on site appears to have been quarried from the site, but the later seating was constructed from stone brought from Pyrmont for this purpose. Another historic stone structure near the site, the stone retaining wall which supports The Scarp roadway to the north of the site, was probably not constructed using stone from The Haven site; most likely it used stone from further uphill and from roadway cuttings, to avoid uphill carrying for this construction. This wall, although probably of Griffin era, is outside the Haven Amphitheatre site’s boundary.

Sandstone boulders characterize the gully sides and creek bed, and are notable features of the natural landscape. While some would have been removed during the stone seat construction in various phases (and even used to create seats), a group of boulders remains on the eastern side of the gully. In addition to their geodiversity and landscape significance, several of the boulders also have cultural heritage significance.(see below).

The native vegetation which originally covered the site has been altered by clearing for performance activities, probably commencing in the early days of the Griffin era to create audience seating and viewlines. However, some elements of the original plant community remain, and they are significant as indicators of the original native bushland community. The most intact area of native vegetation remaining lies in the eastern part of the site, where there is some regeneration of native species amongst large sandstone boulders. This small area deserves a restoration plan to assist recovery of the native plant community there. There is also a patch of native vegetation remaining in the northeast including a clump of the regionally-rare tall grass Austrostipa ramosissima. Without survey marks, it is not possible to be sure if this is on the site or within the road reserve, but there are some young plants within the site which, with protection, have potentials to form new clumps.

There are few surviving native plants on the rest of the upper site, probably because of the massive disturbance during construction of the stone seating, early clearing for sightlines and to allow lighting, and subsequent wear as  event patrons walking amongst the seating terraces trample any regrowth or germination.

The old growth trees remaining are mainly Sydney Red Gums (Angophora costata). Other large trees on site include Blueberry Ash, also known by an earlier common name “Lily of the Valley Tree” (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) and Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum) but these are probably younger. The photographic record shows that the tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi or C. australis) along the banks of the creek were not there in the 1920s and 1930s but are later arrivals, either naturally established, or more likely they were deliberately planted. While they contribute to the leafy appearance of the landscape, they are not regarded as part of the natural biodiversity, although they have some habitat values for fauna. There are other cultural plantings (see notes below under cultural heritage).

[insert site species list / map of site vegetation here]

Curiously, unlike other similar damp gullies in the locality, there are no coachwood trees (Ceratopetalum gummifera), suggesting that these useful trees might have been felled, if they existed on the site at the time of European settlement, and used by the early community.

Phase 2. Aboriginal use – Traditional Owners

Phase 2 30000 yrs BP, or longer Aboriginal use – Traditional Owners

There is no recorded physical evidence of Aboriginal occupation on the site, although there are many Aboriginal sites in the locality and Aboriginal people would certainly have used the site in their day-to-day life. The creek’s freshwater would have been a valuable resource for the Traditional Owners of this area.

Phase 3.  Early European settlement

Phase 3 1780s – early 1900s Early European settlement

There appear to be no physical remnants or evidence from this phase on the site.

Phase 4. Castlecrag land purchased by the Greater Sydney Development Association

Phase 4 1921 First Castlecrag land purchased by the Greater Sydney Development Association

There appear to be no physical remnants or evidence on the site from this phase.


Phase 5. Griffin era begins

Phase 5 1926 Griffin era begins for the Haven – a parcel of land purchased by the Griffins, which became the Haven Estate, incorporated the site of today’s Haven Amphitheatre.

A parcel of land purchased by the Griffins, which became the Haven Estate, incorporated the site of today’s Haven Amphitheatre. The Haven Estate adjoined the Castlecrag Estate which was purchased five years earlier in 1921 by the Greater Sydney Development Association (GSDA). Today the Castlecrag Estate and the Haven Estate (including the Haven Amphitheatre) comprise the Griffin Conservation Area., protected by planning controls under a local planning instrument.

The Griffins came to live in Castlecrag in 1924, and encouraged community activities in the small close-knit community. A “Community Circle” was formed, meeting monthly in the Griffin home, “one of its main aims being to promote social and cultural activities. The open-air theatre was its most spectacular project.” (Leslie, 1988)

During this phase, the roadway of “The Scarp” and its rock retaining wall to the north of the Haven Amphitheatre site were constructed. [or was this earlier?  THERE IS A LISTING FOR THE STONE WALL.

These constructions remain, but are not within the Haven Amphitheatre site. However, they form part of the visual cultural landscape curtilage for the amphitheatre, and have associations with early performances.


Phase 6.  Haven Valley Scenic Theatre established by Marion Mahony Griffin

Phase 6 Early 1930s Haven Valley Scenic Theatre established by Marion Mahony Griffin

In the early 1930s, Marion Mahony Griffin initiated an open-air theatre for the community in a small valley beside the foreshore reserve and within sight of the waters of Middle Harbour; this became the Haven Valley Scenic Theatre[2]. Local sculptor / stonemason Bim Hilder joined the Griffins and other members of the community and built the amphitheatre, creating seating from sandstone blocks on the western side of the gully, or from stone obtained from road cuttings of The Scarp and the Bulwark and the Barricade.

The area used as the stage on the eastern side of the creek (Marion described as “The rest of the valley is the stage”) incorporated three large rocks described by Marion in The Magic of America. M. M Griffin 1949

As Marion describes the building of the amphitheatre in The Magic of America (Griffin, M. M., 1949, page 430):

“…. So the valley was astir for weeks with Castlecrag “Bees”, Griffin working like a navvy along with the others, to his great delight, for if he had not been destined for architectural realms his choice of occupation would certainly have been digging ditches and breaking stones. A stretch of the west side of the valley was terraced and faced with great stones to form seats for the audience; the other side and the head of the valley, a hundred feet above and down a hundred feet and more to the harbor, was the stage the loveliest ever seen. There were coastal Angophoras great and small with their ever-changing colored bark, one of the eight pillars of heaven in the Australian Natives’ lovely lore and a magical succession of blossoming trees, shrubs and climbers through the year. No man-made imitation of indoor theatre here but every fairy creation carefully, religiously safeguarded; wattles, different kinds, so golden blossoms for each month in the year. …

Page 460

” Let us first glimpse the valley itself, over 200 feet of its height in view – the water of the harbor below with often the wake of the moon, and sometimes the whole play illuminated by the full moon.

The West slope of the valley – the audience seated on terraces faced with the local stone, no backs, the audience sitting through two hours unconscious of that fact, entranced by the plays. Sometimes a shooting star in the Eastern sky timed, it seemed, to fit some dramatic point.

The rest of the valley is the stage, trees and bush and blossoms and rocks to meet any dramatic requirement. To the North a steep rock wall with a long terrace – a road in fact above the eye running East and West. Above it terrace on terrace of spectacular rocks and shrubbery and grand trees. To the East a flat terrace above the eye so scenes can appear and disappear across it, mysterious or spectacular. Then the little stream flowing down to the sea, its head and its further bank offering a rich range of settings – terraces, huge boulders, exquisite varied shrubbery – dainty Lily of the Valley trees and majestic Angophoras and so on. It fitted the aboriginal lore perfectly, completely.”

Dramatic works were performed in the Haven Valley directed by Marion Mahony Griffin including Greek tragedies and medieval plays. The Magic of America (Griffin, M. M., 1949, page 446) lists ten, including Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides, and Everyman.

The Griffins named three rock outcrops on the eastern side of the gully as staging points and sets.  These are the Iphegenia rock, under what is now the driveway to an adjoining property, the Demeter Rock on the rock terrace the next level down from the Iphegenia Rock and the Prometheus Rock on the next terrace down again.

Photograph in WBGS letter 12/12: Performers on the Prometheus rock, from The Magic of America (Griffin, Marion Mahony 1949.)

In this phase, the valley’s natural attributes were substantially modified to allow performance use. Stone tiers of seats were made and descriptions from the time tell us that performance lighting was by magnesium and coloured flares, and the lights of car headlights projected across the valley from the Barricade. To achieve the lighting, considerable vegetation clearing would have occurred, as the density and height of the local vegetation in other similar locations indicates that vegetation would have been quite dense on the western side of the valley and along the creek banks, and blocked effective lighting of the stage area on the eastern side of the valley. Today, there is barely a native plant remaining amongst the stone seating on the western side of the valley.

A history of Castlecrag published in 1988 (Leslie, 1988) describes some associates of Griffin, including Edgar William Herbert (1884-1948), a resident of Castlecrag: “Over the last three years of his life he was also associated with open-air theatre productions at the Haven Theatre, Castlecrag. He is remembered as the voice of God issuing from behind a gum tree. He possessed a fine tenor voice . . .”

This reference to the particular years of Herbert’s “voice of God” might be inaccurate as in the years 1945-1948 the amphitheatre was in disuse following the World War II, and records indicate that at this time performances were suspended and the site became a dumping ground. Possibly Edgar Herbert’s “voice of God” contributions were in the earlier era. Leslie 1988 (p.112) states that the Herberts came to live in Sydney in 1923 and made their home in Castlecrag.

Phase 7. Decline in performances with departure of Griffins and WWII.

Phase 7 1938 – 1945 Decline in performances with departure of Griffins and WWII.

Following Walter Burley Griffin’s death in India in 1937, and Marion Mahony Griffin’s return to Chicago in late 1938, performances dwindled and then ceased during World War II because of the requirement for complete blackout at night.

Phase 8.Title deeds of Haven Amphitheatre gifted to Willoughby City Council

Phase 8 1943 Marion Mahony Griffin gifted the title deeds of the Haven Amphitheatre and the Castlehaven Reserve foreshore to Willoughby Council for the public.

Phase 9. Disuse and neglect.

Phase 9 Late 1930s till 1975 Disuse and neglect.The site was disused and became overgrown and used as a local dumping ground and a source of stone blocks.

In the years following WWII, the site became overgrown and used as a local dumping ground.

The site’s condition in 1965 has been described as “This steep rocky gully is now a haven only for lantana, funnelwebs and the like but from the road bend, the amphitheatre can easily be visualized. Rough stone seats were arranged in tiers on the right hand slope down to the creek bed. On the left the land rose again in two or three wide ledges used as stages.” (A. and M. Weller 1972, p. 21)

It is said that during this time, local people raided the Amphitheatre of seating stone for other uses on private property.

Phase 10. Site cleanup and stage construction

Phase 10 1975 / 1976 Site cleanup and stage construction

In late 1975 the Castlecrag Bush Regenerators under the leadership of Beverley Blacklock, “rediscovered” the Haven and restored the site with a complete clean-up of accumulated rubbish. A local architect, Robert Sheldon, designed a timber stage straddling the creek. A local building company NAME  together with volunteers from the local community built the entire structure – the first constructed stage – in just 11 days. Extremely wet weather delayed delivery of the timbers for the structure and construction was rushed to meet the deadline for the opening night of the first performance in nearly 40 years. A small number of stone terrace seats was built on the northern slope.


Phase 11. Performances resume

Phase 11 April1976 – 1981 Performances resume and site managed by a local committee headed by Robert Sheldon

The first performance using the new facilities was held in April 1976 (the first performance there in nearly 40 years) as part of the American Bicentennial celebrations and the centenary of Walter Burley Griffin’s birth celebrations. It was a three week season of Oscar Wilde’s Salome starring Patricia Sheldon and directed by Howard Rubie.

Council appointed a Committee to manage and advise on the site in 1981???.

In the 37 years since 1976, the Committee has staged more than one hundred events, many one nighters and some seasons of up to 9 performances.  The Committee encouraged other uses such as yoga/meditation classes, weddings and other community events.

DID HOWARD RUBIE CHAIR THE COMMITTEE FROMMITS INCEPTION? Maybe from the official inception as a WCC committee but Robert Chaired the Management of the site until that formalisation.

Phase 12  Performances Continue

Phase 12 April1981 – 1990s?? Formal Haven Amphitheatre Committee established as a Willoughby Council subcommittee under the Chairmanship of Howard Rubie, Performances Continue

Robert Sheldon reports that while the Salome production at the Haven was a resounding success, there was a very slow uptake of use of the performance space.  For a “few years” many locals would ask about forthcoming performances but few were able to produce any.  By the nearly 1980s Howard Rubie, through his extensive contacts in the acting and entertainment communities, was able to bring a variety of shows to the Haven and led the next phase of its theatre life as Chairman of the Committee.

In the xxx years, the Committee staged xxx events, and encouraged other uses such as yoga classes, weddings and other community events.

Phase 13. Stage enlargement and additional northern seating

Phase 13 1991-2 Stage enlargement and additional northern seating.

In 1991-2 the stage was rebuilt, and a changing room, toilet and storage facilities built underneath, designed and constructed by volunteer community members. The stage was enlarged to100 sq. metres, and there was seating for over 300 people. Compressed cement sheeting with a waterproof membrane formed the new stage surface.

The northern slope’s stone seating was expanded, using some stone from the Walter Burley Griffin-designed incinerator at  Pyrmont.  At the time the incinerator was being demolished.

The Haven Amphitheatre celebrated the partial completion of the upgrading of the stage with a Community Tea Dance featuring the Willoughby City Brass Band on 1 December 1991. The band and puppets of Walter and Marion Griffin led a parade from the shops to the Amphitheatre. [iii]


Phase 14. “Modern Era” – Haven Amphitheatre Committee expands productions

Phase 14 1992 – 2013 “Modern Era” – Haven Amphitheatre Committee expands productions and maintains amphitheatre. Increasing use of technology to meet modern performance needs.

Over this 20-year period there have been improvements to the amphitheatre’s technology – lighting, amplification equipment and an operations desk. Green room and storage were improved. Underground power, audio cables and lighting. Connection to the sewer, collection of audio and lighting equipment.

In this period a wide variety over 100 theatrical productions and functions were staged.

The damp environment under the stage contributed to extensive and increasing requirements for maintenance of the stage and the facilities beneath.

8.            Heritage significance



The natural topography of the gully of the amphitheatre is significant as it provides the landscape setting which has characterized the amphitheatre since it was first conceived. The creek course, the rock outcrops and several large boulders express the geological and geomorphological history of the site.

Although the drainage (flow regime) characteristics have changed with catchment development and “hardening”, the original drainage lines remain.


Native vegetation remnants on the site are important both as an extension of the native ecological community, and as an ecological linkage with neighbouring bushland areas.

Although most of the site has been cleared of its native vegetation over the years as the site was adapted for performance, there is still a good quality patch of native vegetation remaining on the eastern side, and remnant plants along the creek above the stage. These all deserve an ongoing program of bushcare to ensure that they are conserved. Restoration of the bushland will be possible in this area.

While many elements of fauna habitat have been lost, it would be a simple matter to reinstate some of these habitat elements which will be used by the native fauna still found in Castlecrag, e.g. nest boxes could be installed.

The mature native trees on the site are all significant and some old growth trees possibly pre-date European settlement.

The values of the native vegetation community may be summarized as:

  • Remnants of native bushland community.
  • Old growth trees. Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata) trees are the oldest on the site.
  • Ecological connectivity; the site is linked to other surrounding bushland and contributes to prevention of some surrounding areas becoming isolated ecologically. This includes the creek as an aquatic ecological linkage.
  • Fauna habitat, The rock formations and the native plant community of the site contributes to the fauna habitat of Castlecrag. The creek provides aquatic habitat for freshwater organisms.

One large Eucalyptus robusta (Swamp mahogany) adjacent to The Barricade might have been planted in the Griffin era – (reference needed – possibly a pers.comm?)


Aesthetic significance

The aesthetic significance of the site is mainly derived from the origins of its use as a performance place for the community, an open-air theatre in native bushland gully.

The early descriptions and photographs show a place which visually has changed remarkably little from those early times (the 1920s) until the present, The sights, sounds and even smells of the bushland remain and the orientation of the stone seating facing the downstream section of the Castlehaven Reserve’s dark bushland provides views beyond the site for the seated audience. Visually, the bushland beyond the site is perhaps more important than that remaining on the site itself.

Few artificial lights from outside the site penetrate the performance space at night, and by day the bushland setting is the dominant impression, recalling the history of the site.

The viewlines downhill through native bushland to Middle Harbour are appealing to audiences past and present, although these viewlines have become obscured with tree growth in recent years, particularly of the species Pittosporum undulatum which has probably flourished with reduced frequency of bushfires. Reinstatement of these viewlines might be considered, as even narrow “keyhole” sightlines will provide an indication of the close visual connection with the harbour waters..

The darkness of the site at night is partly a result of the consideration of neighbours who limit their exterior lighting and prevent lightspill pollution of the site. The darkness allows moon and stars to be viewed, a rare urban experience.

The sounds and sights of nocturnal fauna (most commonly, the two local possum species and various owls including the Powerful Owl) also present audiences with a special experience, and enhances their perception of the natural setting.

The ability to view and interpret the original “stage” location on the eastern slope of the valley is important, and some of the trees and rocks which appear in early photographs (1920-30s) remain and can be compared with those of the past.

Historic significance

The Amphitheatre’s association with Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin is the most important aspect of its historical significance, expressing and recalling the philosophy and community spirit which the Griffins brought as their vision for the new “model” suburb of Castlecrag in the 1920s, and which endures today in many respects. The historical importance of the Griffins is extensively documented elsewhere and will not be expanded here.

The particular historic physical elements which have been retained on the site include:

1              The gully setting,

The gully which forms the amphitheatre has its original topography intact. The shape of the gully was said to have been one of its main attractions to Marion Mahony Griffin when she selected the site for performances, as it provided suitable acoustics in the days before any electronic amplification was available The gully setting also provided a means of lighting, with car lights illuminating the .performance from across the gully – the west side – towards the eastern performance area. Although electric lighting has long replaced the need for the car lights, the valley topography still allows the viewer to understand how this was achieved.

The bushland setting, although identified as having biodiversity significance, also has cultural significance, as it provides the unique ambience for the outdoor theatre, retaining that which existed in the days of first establishment. The bushland visible beyond the formal site boundaries is as important as that within the site itself, which has suffered loss from the development of the amphitheatre for use as a performance space. Thus, the bushland views outwards for the site contribute in a major way to its significance. Conservation of this value is beyond the control of the Haven Amphitheatre Committee, and its retention depends on the decisions of neighbouring landholders and Council’s management of the adjacent Castlehaven Reserve bushland and responses to future development applications.

2              Sandstone seating

There are two groups of tiered sandstone seats: the original 1930s seating on the western side and the 1970s seating tiers on the northern slope stone which were augmented in 1992. It is thought that the earlier seating was made from stone quarried on-site or nearby, while the later seating was made from stone imported to the site from  the demolished Griffin incinerator

3              Sandstone boulders

While the large sandstone boulders are part of the site’s natural geodiversity significance, those on the eastern slope also have cultural significance, having been mentioned in writings of Marion Mahony Griffin and shown in photographs of the time as being used as stage features in performances in the 1920s and 1930s; Marion gave some of these rocks names. They can be identified in early photographs as being the same rocks as those remaining on site. Their use in performances illustrates the ongoing tradition of using the site’s natural attributes opportunistically to enhance and provide the necessary requirements for imaginative performances.

4              The stages

The present stage is the third generation of “stages”.

The first “stage” was simply opportunistic use for the natural site features – rocks, slopes and trees; mainly on the eastern side of the valley and along the creek gully. These features remain largely unchanged except where today’s stage covers the creek.

The second stage (constructed early 1970s] was more formally constructed to replace the use of the bushland features of the valley side. It was designed by Robert Sheldon, a timber stage straddling the creek with a timber deck which allowed rain to fall through to the creek. This stage was in use until 1992. Elements of its structure were incorporated in supports for the third stage, but no other evidence of its fabric remains.

The third stage [1992 to present 2013] was a new construction and enlargement of the second stage. This enlargement allowed a changing room, toilet and storage facilities to be built underneath. It has a timber support structure, with the stage surface being compressed cement sheeting with a waterproof membrane cover.

Its unusual footprint reflects the limitations and opportunities provided by the site’s natural topography, and the community’s ability to adapt to these constraints and the site’s other difficulties to meet their desire for a better performance space.  It straddles the natural creek, which flows beneath it, and the narrowing of the valley here has allowed the construction of the storage room and other facilities. It was designed and constructed by the community volunteers with a high degree of skill and commitment.

This stage is said to be nearing the end of its life.


The history of the performance stages reflects the increasing sophistication of the community and the changing expectations and needs of modern performances throughout the life of the amphitheatre.

6              The timber bridge

The timber bridge over the upper part of the creek appears to have been built at the same time as the 1990s stage. It is not assigned any heritage significance.

6              Cultural plantings

A number of plants grow on the site, which are not local native species. Some appear to have been deliberately planted to enhance the setting of the amphitheatre, or might be self-sown.

The recent plantings of local native species along the Barricade streetfront area is part of the biodiversity restoration and reinstatement process.

Other plantings include:

  • A small Water Gum (Tristaniopsis laurina) grows through the stage and another of this species, of about the same age, is nearby – Water Gums have commonly been planted as a street tree in Sydney and these might have been planted at the amphitheatre site in the 1970s or after that time in an effort to restore some of the bushiness of the site following early clearing and post-war weed removal.
  • a small conifer [Pinus sp (radiata? CHECK THE SPECIES] tree also next to The Barricade;
  • a group of tree ferns along the central part of the creek including Cyathea sp., (which is quite widespread in Castlecrag bushland and gardens) but also a Dicksonia antarctica, not native of the area. They might have been planted to increase the native bushland “look” of the site following clearing of weeds. The tree fern group does provide a reference to some of the illustrations by Marion Mahony Griffin [give reference], who was obviously attracted to tree ferns; a number of her paintings featured tree ferns. The history of these plantings might be difficult to ascertain, and so their contribution to the heritage significance to the site cannot be specifically stated as yet.
  • a large Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) next to The Barricade was reputedly planted by the Griffins (reference??)

An annotated vegetation map of the site should now be prepared so that the information known about the native and introduced species and plantings can be collated and recorded.

Scientific significance

There are no known items or evidence which could be interpreted as being of “scientific significance” to the cultural heritage of the site.

Social  significance

The social significance of the Haven Amphitheatre for past, present and future generations underlies all of the cultural heritage aspects of the site and the amphitheatre.

In the “Griffin Era” the new community embraced the concept of having their own place to stage performances and events, and was willing to join the Griffins to realize this vision. Then, as now, everything that happened on the site was a result of community involvement in the planning and community effort in construction, and staging performances.

Following transfer of the ownership of the site from the Griffin’s company to Willoughby Council in 1943 the Council formed a Committee with strong resident representation to continue to oversee the amphitheatre’s management.

The Haven Amphitheatre is now on the itinerary of most of the specialist tours of Castlecrag, which are increasing in frequency as interest in the Griffins’ philosophy and achievements widens. The amphitheatre provides a visual reference and one of the most significant physical representations of the Griffin promotion of a strong community fabric as a foundation of their “model suburb”.

As well as the Haven Amphitheatre Committee, other local groups take an interest in the site because of its natural and cultural values, but perhaps mainly because of its social significance as a continuing centre for the community.

The annual Carols by Candlelight celebration on Christmas Eve, which commenced in [1981??] attracts hundreds of residents and friends. With the support of the Committee, other events there have included end of year street parties, weddings, bushcare gatherings and yoga classes.

Although there is also a Community Centre (which is also the local kindergarten and library) available for community events, the role of the amphitheatre at the heart of community life has changed little from that in its earliest days.

The social significance of the Haven Amphitheatre for future generations depends on its retaining the features which have claimed the affection of present and past generations. These include:

  • A natural setting and outdoor theatre which is like no other, unique to Castlecrag and of national significance;
  • Performance facilities and events which have been created by the efforts of the community, working and cooperating together;
  • Recording and passing on the memories and history of the place from one generation to the next.
  • OTHER???

9.            Conservation Policy

The Conservation Policy, part of the future Conservation Plan, should state the desired conservation outcomes and future condition of the site and should require that:

  • The significant natural and cultural heritage values will be conserved;
  • Only developments and activities that are compatible with the natural and cultural significance will be undertaken;
  • Developments and activities that degrade significant values will not be introduced;
  • Some values which have been degraded or lost might be restored or reinstated;
  • Some of the significant values have links beyond the boundaries of the site that contribute to the heritage values, and although conservation of these values might be beyond the direct power of the Haven Amphitheatre’s management, they should be identified and their conservation secured. These include the The Scarp’s stone retaining wall on the Council road reserve to the north of the site, the surrounding bushland in Council’s Castlehaven reserve and on neighbouring residential properties, and traditional viewlines from the amphitheatre to Middle Harbour.
  • Conservation processes which should be undertaken to conserve each of the identified significant values should be identified and included in the Conservation Plan. These processes, defined in the “charters”, may include protection, maintenance, regeneration, restoration, reinstatement, enhancement, preservation, modification, presentation and monitoring.

10.      References


Australian Committee for IUCN and Australian Heritage Commission. Australian Natural Heritage Charter for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance. (2nd Ed) 2002

Griffin, Marion Mahony. ‘The Magic of America ‘ four volumes manuscript held at the New York Historical Society Library and the Burnham Library, Art Institute of Chicago, 1949.

ICOMOS Australia, Burra Charter (The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance).

Leslie, E., The Suburb of Castlecrag A Community History. Published for the Bicentennial Committee of Willoughby Municipal Council, Sydney, 1988.

Weller, A and M, published on behalf of the Castlecrag Infants School Club, Castlecrag, 1972

[1] Council website states (at ) “Griffin Reserves Advisory Group – A committee made up of six Castlecrag residents and a Councillor from the Sailors Bay Ward. The purpose of the committee is to advise Council on the aspects of the use, control and management of the Griffin Reserves in Castlecrag. The Group reviews Reserve Action Plans and the Griffin Reserves Plan of Management as these documents relate to the ongoing maintenance, management, and restoration of the Griffin Reserves.”

[2] Referred to in Weller A & M c.1965 “as labeled on early maps as the New Haven Scenic Theatre” (p.21)

[i][i] Section 530 was repealed with the making of the new Local Government Act 1993 and the present Committee is established under Section xxxx of the Act.


[iii] Castlecrag Progress Association website 26 January 2013