People

Willoughby has areas of natural beauty, places with architectural heritage and a bustling business centre, but it is the people who live here who make the city what it is. Council recognises the commitment and time that individuals put into the area through the Citizen of the Year Awards.

There have been plenty of nationally and internationally recognised people who were born or lived in the area such as Hugh Jackman, Bob Hawke, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Bradley Trevor Greive, Brian Henderson, Mark Hartill, Les Murray, Matthew Reilly and Kenneth Slessor.

You can find out more about other prominent people and the ways they have shaped Willoughby:

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Eric Nicholls was born in Victoria in 1902. He began his architectural career in 1916 and in 1921 began to work with Walter and Marion Griffin. His calm leadership style and conflict resolution skills combined with his architectural talent impressed the Griffins. When they first moved to Castlecrag in 1925 they left Nicholls in charge of the Melbourne office.

In 1929 Nicholls joined an impressed former client in building incinerators that were sympathetic to their surroundings as well as functional. Both alone and together with Griffin, numerous incinerators were designed and built, and Nicholls moved his family to Sydney in 1930. The Willoughby Incinerator began operating in 1934, and is currently one of the best remaining examples of their work.

During this period Griffin was the primary designer of homes in Castlecrag, but following his death in 1937 Nicholls completed more work in the area. His work began to take on a distinctive sandstone pillar style.

As well as designing houses, Nicholls created public buildings. He was appointed Honorary Town Planner for Willoughby City Council in the 1940s. He designed the Albert Chowne Memorial Hall and the Willoughby Park Bowling Club, as well as several other community buildings. He also donated his time as honorary architect to the Castlecrag Community Hall, Kindergarten and Library.

Two of his most well-known designers were office buildings in the Sydney CBD, Caltex House and Local Government House. Later on in life Nicholls devoted his time and money to a venture in Thredbo, as well as building and establishing Glenaeon Schools in Pymble and Middle Cove. Nicholls continued to live in Castlecrag until his death in 1965.

Born in Grenfell, New South Wales in 1867, Henry Lawson is one of Australia’s most well-known and loved writers. Although much of his work was set in the bush, he spent most of his life living in urban areas. He moved around frequently, but spent some time in Naremburn.

He had a hard life – his parents divorced, he struggled with deafness, alcoholism and his own unhappy marriage – but his poetry and prose was published in books, magazines, journals and newspapers during his life and is still popular today.

From June 1906 to January 1907 Lawson lodged with Mrs Isabel Byers in her iron-roofed cottage in Market Street. He described it in a letter to one of his publishers as ‘an unusual little cottage in a little paddock of its own’. He also resided in the area after World War I. Lawson was quite fond of the natural beauties of the area, and in the same letter advised his friend that ‘it would be well worth your time to go to Naremburn about sunset some fine autumn day and wait til the afterglow’.

Because of his alcohol and financial problems he was not very well received by those in the area, though he did quite well ‘singing for his supper’ in the local pubs; he would compose a poem on the spot in return for a drink. After visiting the tavern he would sleep it off in a little cave in Flat Rock Gully, listening to the cascade of the Naremburn Falls. The cave was overrun by noxious weed, but Council staff have now transformed the area from a rubbish dump to a natural space for the whole community. Council frequently organises poetry readings with damper and performances by the local community, held regularly in honour of Lawson and the spirit of the place.

In 1919 the following poem by Henry Lawson was published in Lone Hand magazine:

Twas an old respected settler, in the unrespected days,
Who had land along the North Shore, and - we’ll say his name was Hayes,
And he came there as a young man, when there was great work to do
And his young wife’s name was “Chattie” (and no doubt, she chatted, too).

‘Twas a “small place in the country” – where he went to be carefree – 
Out beyond the pleasant suburb that they now call Willoughby;
And a little wood was on it, and the trees were tall and good,
And his young wife used to dream there, so he called it “Chattie’s Wood”.

“Chattie’s Wood” has long since gone, and shops are standing in a row
Where the young wife went a-dreaming in a the days of long ago,
How the pretty name was altered doesn’t matter, anyhow,
But the wife is still remembered, as they call it “Chatswood” now.


                                                                                - Henry Lawson, 1919

Much of the information below was gathered from the Walter Burley Griffin Society. This is a good page for anyone interested in the architectural history of Castlecrag or environmentally-conscious design.

Born in Chicago in 1871, Marion Mahony was the second woman to graduate in architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was the first registered female architect in Illinois. Her professional career spanned fifty years.

A first-class architect in her own right, she married her colleague Walter Burley Griffin in 1911 and lent her beautiful drawing talent to many of his designs. Their successful design of Canberra was a joint project. They moved to Sydney and developed the Middle Harbour area. As well as working on the development, Marion was involved with the Haven Scenic Theatre.

After living in Sydney and developing the Middle Harbour area, Walter died in India in 1937. Marion eventually returned to Chicago where she continued architectural work and also became an author.

Much of the information below was gathered from the Walter Burley Griffin Society. This is a good website for anyone interested in the architectural history of Castlecrag or environmentally-conscious design.

Walter Burley Griffin was an American-born architect and planner whose career spanned the US, Australia and India. In Australia he is most well-known for the winning design for the city of Canberra (which was not built faithfully to the Griffin’s plan), but after leaving the Canberra project he and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin bought 650 acres of land in Middle Harbour. This area has developed into the suburbs of Castlecrag, Middle Cove and Castle Cove.

The Griffins moved to Castlecrag and lived there for ten years. They designed and developed the area with the goal of creating a suburb in harmony with the natural landscape. The roads followed the contours of the land; they established public natural reserves and the houses were built to take advantage of the setting without disturbing it. More than forty houses were designed but only fifteen were built due to the depression.

In 1929 the Griffins formed a partnership with architect Eric Nicholls in order to design incinerators. Their designs aimed to add an aesthetic aspect to a functional building. One of these is the Willoughby Incinerator, which still stands today.

Walter Burley Griffin died in India in 1937.


Chatswood Library holds a great deal of information about Walter Burley Griffin, who was responsible for naming and planning Castlecrag. There are books, photos, maps and plans of the Castlecrag subdivision as well as material on the Griffin Incinerator. See also the Walter Burley Griffin Society website.

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