Jan Roberts opened the afternoon with an Acknowledgement of
Country and set the scene for the stories that were to follow about Avalon
Beach and its evolution as a holiday destination for families.
The Members’ Room of the golf club was brimming with locals
who had come to mark these three moments in Avalon’s history at a high tea of
bubbles, sandwiches and birthday cake interwoven with stories from the day. The
Avalonian volunteering spirit, with lots of locals pitching in, was alive and
Grandchildren John Hunt and Jennie Small talked of their
grandfather’s massive drive and contribution to establish Avalon Beach as a
coastal resort-style precinct back in the 1920s in the wake of the First World
War’s end when Australia was starting to emerge as a better place. ‘He wanted
to make a settlement that would last’ Jennie said. And although he was in
today’s terms a ‘developer’ he was also an environmentalist of the day, always being
respectful of the land by planting trees etc.
John reflected on A.J. Small’s first encounter with the area:
Our grandfather first came to Avalon in 1905 at a time when
people would come by boat to the wharf at Clareville then walk up to the
residences that were dotted around. He bought his first 100 acres in Avalon in
1913, then went on to build the ‘Avalon’ residence at 40 Bellevue Avenue in
1920. Although the Californian Bungalow style façade was most engaging, the
structure behind was simple.
It was thought that a priest in the area, Father Therry,
owned 1200 acres of land, the largest parcel known before AJ Small’s purchase.
John described his grandfather’s character as quite
Victorian; he was hard working, honest, capable, foresighted, public spirited,
dynamic, a man of vision and fought (often with the council!) for what he
To realise his vision for Avalon Beach, A.J. Small extended
and widened roads in the area, instigated the building of the rock pool which
was initially designed primarily for women and children. He also designed and
built the dressing sheds and later expanded the size of the pool.
AJ Small’s goal was to provide a solution so that ‘every
child has the chance to play and every citizen the chance to recreate.’
Angophora Reserve, which forms a bushland area off Palmgrove
Road, is one of AJ Small’s greatest legacies for the area. Small sold six acres
of land to the community at half the commercial price and put tracks and trails
into the reserve which are still there and used regularly by keen walkers
today. The feature tree in the reserve was a huge red gum, thought to be the
largest in Sydney with a circumference of 25 feet and was 125 feet high. The
family knew this just as ‘grandpa’s tree’. Although no longer alive, the tree’s
bones are still there today as a reminder of its grandeur.
John’s sharing of a riotous anecdote about his grandfather’s
love for being practical made all in the room erupt with raucous laughter.
Apparently the story goes that when building the golf course A.J. Small finally
got a rid of a troublesome tree by exercising the explosive talents of his son
Bill (John’s father). They put some gelignite and a fuse under the tree, lit
the fuse then moments later heard an almighty bang and the tree jumped in the
air. Right at that moment the 90 bus stopped at the stop nearby and, having
heard the explosion, the driver ran off the bus and said, ‘I think someone is
shooting at us!!’ Seeing no-one as Small and his son were hiding behind a bush,
he then got back onto the bus, returned to his driver’s seat and went on his
John also reflected on another amusing turn of phrase his
grandfather used on Christmas Day when all the family were gathered around the
dinner table at the ‘Avalon’ residence. Everyone would wait for his signal
which was ‘And they’re off!’ then hoe into the Christmas fare.