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Our local area is home to one of the most innovative and creative hubs in the country – the Coal Loader at Waverton.
And just wait till you hear what they’ve recently opened…

What’s a Council to do with a huge ex-industrial site that holds prime position right on the harbour? Selling it off to the highest bidder would be the obvious answer. But wouldn’t it be incredible if, instead, they kept it for the community and turned it into a place of not only beauty, but one that served to demonstrate and educate on sustainability practices – with community vegie patches, Aboriginal bush food gardens, a chook run, extensive wetlands and parklands, a native bush nursery, and an onsite cafe with a menu designed around locally sourced produce? Believe it or not, this is exactly what North Sydney Council did when they created the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability at Waverton six years ago.

If you want to feel as though you’ve stepped back in time while being shown what’s possible in the future, a visit to this urban sanctuary is a must. At its centre is an historic building that’s been overhauled and fitted out as an example of concepts we should all be incorporating into our homes. These include use of solar power, low environmental impact materials and rainwater harvesting. All the toilets on the site are flushed using recycled rain water, while solar panels on the roof generate the electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly all hot water is generated using solar-boosted heating, while heating of the building itself is done via a hydronic system, which sees water heated by the solar panels and then circulated through the insulated pipes of radiators.

If that’s not enough to fire your imagination and spark a desire for a sustainable lifestyle, the Coal Loader also runs courses and workshops for the community on everything from fermenting foods to making your own natural cleaning products. And they’re all free. There is also a Book Swap Library, and a battery drop-off area where you can recycle batteries, toner cartridges, mobile phones and fluorescent lightbulbs.

Exploring the site is recommended for all ages and, with its natural beauty, educational focus and fascinating history, is a great free outing for families. The Community Garden demonstrates different ways that food can be grown (in the ground, in containers, up the wall, in water gardens), as well as different composting systems and worm farms. There is also an Aboriginal bush foods garden, which has a variety of edible and useful native plants, and celebrates the Cammeraygal people who used to live here. A large Aboriginal rock carving is another interesting feature worth seeking out.

It would have to be what is at the base of the site that remains from the its industrial days, however, when it functioned as a transfer depot for coal, that is arguably the most interesting. Beneath the huge elevated platform, which housed the coal, is a series of tunnels and underground chambers just waiting to be explored. Sensor lighting has even been installed to guide you. Visitors will notice that a few tunnels remain closed to the public – one in particular is off limits because a colony of micro-bats, a species under threat, have found refuge in its alcoves.

The Coal Loader also hosts the famous Artisans Market three times a year. This unique market offers people an opportunity to purchase original and creative handmade products directly from emerging and contemporary designers, artists and makers. Stalls display and sell art, ceramics, sculpture, paper-making, basketry, sustainable design and fashion, jewellery, accessories, wool creations, textiles, food, children’s design and much more. Come along and meet the maker. Each stallholder is selected for their originality, creative design, and fit with the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability’s ethos.

The North Sydney Art Prize exhibition also takes up residence annually offering double the wow factor for visitors to the site. Paintings, sculptures and installations are on display all over, including the caretaker’s cottage, artist studio, workshop, and even the tunnels and throughout the surrounding parklands. The works are from the 88 finalists of the major biennial arts event, which showcases some of the best in contemporary art. Their subject matter draws on the past and contemporary heritage of the Coal Loader, with site-specific installations carefully developed and placed. The use of the chambers and tunnels in particular offers a unique experience for both the selected artists and visitors.

Above: images from past and present North Sydney Art Prize installations

Just as you’d suspect with a hub of innovation, there’s always something new happening – including the recent Green Roof Project completion. It is one of Sydney’s largest publicly accessible green roof spaces, located on the old coal-loading platform. It was a makeover of enormous proportions considering the harbourside concrete and sandstone platform structure is one hectare in size. To give you an idea of scope, you could fit seven olympic-sized swimming pools side by side along its length. It’s now to be used as a multi-purpose recreational space with spectacular views of the harbour. In keeping with the hands-on learning philosophy of the Centre, it will provide opportunities as an ‘outdoor classroom’. It also includes community urban harvest plots for vegetables and fruit trees (which are of course irrigated by recycled stormwater), and a performance space with extensive seating and viewing areas. And just when you couldn’t imagine it getting any better, plans are in place for grape vines to be planted to grow along the colonnade, which will provide summer shade as well as grapes to be harvested for wine-making!

The Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability is located at 2 Balls Head Dr, Waverton. Please like their Facebook page for updates and event information: https://www.facebook.com/CoalLoader

With thanks to the Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability and Arts and Culture North Sydney for the use of their beautiful images.