If you haven’t been here before, Castlecrag seems like a strange little village full of bushland and creepy old sandstone houses, perching on a cliff next to Middle Harbour. Compared to the more modern-looking suburbs around us, we seem stuck in time.
The street names don’t help much. The Rampart, The Parapet, Sortie Port, The Barbette. Whose bright idea was it to name the streets after parts of a castle?
Our streets are full of stories, but I don’t think there are any castles involved. And not all of them have happy endings.
We’ve been doing a lot more exploring since the second lockdown started. Everyone visits here for the bushwalking, but the water is way more interesting. There are secret coves, tiny beaches and muddy flats. Around the other side of the bay there are even old shellfish middens, signs of fishing by the Cammeraygal people long ago.
We thread our way through the trees, following the shoreline back to the marina. There is a short road leading back up to the houses. It’s sealed but windy and incredibly steep. Luckily for Spotty Dog, it’s the one time she’s allowed to pull on her leash and drag me up the hill.
Turning back to gaze down, it all looks so calm and peaceful. Can this really be the place of last shark attack in the Harbour nearly 60 years ago?
I imagine the young woman paddling across Sailors Bay, her arms and feet splashing wildly. No one sees it happen, just the froth and blood in the churning water.
Desperate screams for help. A crowd starts to form and she is pulled out of the water. Someone rips up a sheet to tie around her leg to help stop the bleeding.
After an agonising wait, the ambulance finally arrives and the victim is loaded onto the canvas stretcher and placed into the back of the van.
The bystanders collapse with relief and exhaustion in the burning midday heat, she is in good hands now.
But halfway up the hill black smoke appears and the stench of burnt rubber hangs in the air.
Rockley Road lives up to its name. But back then it’s more of a track. Jagged stones and boulders make it impossible for the ambulance to make its way up. The weary crowd stagger towards the van, straining to push it.
There are more people now. Locals from the houses nearby. The crowd pull her out and carry her stretcher up the hill to where a second ambulance waits…
Spotty Dog and I are both panting by the time we get to the top. I wonder how much harder it would have been stumbling on the bare rocks, helping to carry the stretcher, willing her to just hang on.
Marcia Hathaway would be 90 now. Each time I walk down here I think about that day and wonder what would have happened if the ambulance had made it up the road.
Her story lives here, like me.