Feature

New life for old bones

Green Lifestyle

The Coal Loader is a historic place that was once used to load coal on ships, and is now used as a sustainability hub for the local community.

The Coal Loader

Transformed from an industrial site, there's a range of vertical garden designs in use at The Coal Loader.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

The Coal Loader

Vegies have been grown here since 2007 and visitors are welcome to pop in at any time. The anchor has been at the site from before 1950, providing a stark reminder of the industrial era of the site.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

The Coal Loader

The Coal Loader is a great place for kids to explore and get a dose of nature in the city.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

The Coal Loader

Artisan markets are held at the Coal Loader every three months and feature local, handmade items.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

The Coal Loader

Do your part for the Coal Loader and join the garden group which meets every Wednesday at 10am.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

The Coal Loader

The Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability is a great education tool for leading a greener, more sustainable lifestyle – plus it's a recycling drop-off point for local residents.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

The Coal Loader

Being an organic community garden, the harvest is shared with each participant in the weekly meetings.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

The Coal Loader

Take a walk round the Aboriginal bush food garden to learn about the history of the area and the bushland, and to take in the spectacular harbour views.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

Chooks

The Coal Loader is home to big, beautiful, Heritage-bred free-range chooks.

Credit: Celia Wood

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A thriving community garden and nursery, Aboriginal bush foods, vertical gardens, picnic areas, beautiful walks along the water and a variety of green living workshops – the North Sydney Council have created a bright green haven at the award-winning Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability.

It is a rare find – a place that has smoothly combined elements of Indigenous history, early 20th century coal industry, environmental awareness and education, and a sense of local community in Australia's biggest city.

This little gem is situated on Balls Head in Waverton, North Sydney. In the 1920s this area was an industrial site, working as a transfer depot for coal coming from Wollongong and Newcastle, and stayed in operation until the early 1990s. After the coal operations stopped the site was declared public open space until transferred to North Sydney Council in 2003. Since this time the project of transforming into the Centre of Sustainability has come to life, officially opening in 2011, with financial assistance from all Federal, State and local governments.

"The Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability signals a major milestone in a very long process to save the site for current and future generations," said former North Sydney Mayor, Genia McCaffery at the launch of the hub in 2011. "It will now be a place where the community can come together to learn about sustainable living practices, or to simply enjoy the stunning park land."

Visiting the site, you'll be left in awe of the variety of projects and programs happening at the Coal Loader. Priding themselves on sharing inspiration and knowledge of sustainability and ways to green up your life, it certainly feels like the team live and breathe everything the Coal Loader is about.

Michelle Johnston, coordinator of the Coal Loader, tells us, “I have so many favourite parts of the Coal Loader but if I had to pick it would be hard to choose between our community garden and chooks, the amazing community of people that has evolved with the site, the views across Sydney Harbour, the historic sandstone tunnels, and the Aboriginal engraving once covered by a road.

"The whole site has a very special atmosphere and energy that everyone who comes here feels. Its a pleasure to work here every day,” says Johnston.

With rich Indigenous history of the Cammeraygal people who lived on the peninsula for thousands of years, during the transition of the site a significant rock carving was uncovered and is now protected. There's a large carving of a whale on the surface of a rock as you walk toward the refurbished Caretakers Cottage through the Aboriginal bush food garden. This carving was hidden for years by a road used for the coal industry but is now exposed and open for all visitors to enjoy and learn from.

The community garden was started in 2007 by a group of enthusiastic local residents, who followed sustainability principles to build an all-organic garden irrigated by stored rainwater. There is a volunteer roster for maintaining the gardens, and tending to the chickens, and because of the communal nature of the garden and no individual plots, everything is harvested and shared among those present at the weekly meeting each Wednesday. The chicken run is home to a number of healthy free-range chooks who provide eggs to those at the weekly harvest. Situated next to the re-generated wetland is a community nursery, where native plants are grown and cared for by volunteers and council to use in the regeneration of local bushland and green corridors.

The Coal Loader is a place of hands on learning, offering a broad range of workshops from keeping chickens and creating edible gardens in any size, to worm farming, crocheting with waste or living with brush turkeys. Also home to Artisan markets, where local artists, designers and makers come along and sell original and handmade products.

Showcasing sustainability innovation, the Coal Loader is inspiring in every green aspect possible – including stormwater harvesting, energy and water-saving technology, best-practice architectural refurbishing, use of solar power, low environmental impact materials, and recycled materials throughout the site.

With plans of continuous growth, one of the major parts of the old coal-loading site was the huge elevated platform where the coal was piled, and underneath four tunnels with multiple chutes where it was transferred to skips.

“The Coal Loader site has an exciting future ahead," says Johnston. "We are especially looking forward to our cafe opening in the next few months, as well as completing the 10,000 square metre green roof on the platform roof of the old coal loading tunnels. It will provide even more stunning waterfront parkland for the community to enjoy, as well as a huge extension to our community garden. The four historic coal loading tunnels won't miss out either, with one restored as a heritage art space, one used as water storage to irrigate the green roof, one remaining open to the bushland reserve next door, and one remaining as habitat for a threatened species of microbat."

Click here for more about the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability with links to information about greening up your life. And head along to the Artisan markets this Sunday 31 August from 9am.