Toronto, New South Wales: Travel guide and things to do

Toronto is located 132 km north of Sydney via the Newcastle Freeway.Set at the western end of a long peninsula that protrudes from the north-western shore of Lake Macquarie, it is a town of contrasts. The western side of the settlement is relatively downmarket and bordered by dry, unattractive scrub while the eastern side of the town and the peninsula are green and leafy with more expensive residences along the lake foreshores. Not surprisingly, fishing, sailing and rowing are mainstays of local recreation. There are several boat ramps at the north-western end of the peninsula.

Once inhabited by the Awabakal Aborigines the Toronto area was, for many years, frequented only by convict escapees. The Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, a former actor and businessman turned missionary, set up an Aboriginal mission here in 1829 with government assistance. It was transferred from its original location on the eastern shore of the lake (see entry onĀ Swansea) when Threlkeld was dismissed by the London Missionary Society after bitter disagreements over financial arrangements.

Threlkeld started the first coal mine around the lake at Coal Point (on the tip of the Toronto peninsula), c.1840, and subsequently bought ten acres at Swansea Heads for coal-loading and storage around 1842. The coal was shipped to the entrance channel by barge. He employed seventeen men in the enterprise.

By 1841 there were few Aborigines left on the mission as the tribes had scattered and it closed. In 1844 he sold the mine and moved to Sydney but continued to work for Aboriginal welfare, acting as a translator in court. His work on the Awabakal language was an early landmark of Aboriginal studies. He had high regard for his Aboriginal friends and spoke to them in their own tongue. The mine was subsequently worked until 1850, reopening briefly in the 1850s and 1890s.

The town of Toronto was established by the Excelsior Land Investment and Building Company who purchased the entire Ebenezer estate in 1885 with plans to create a tourist resort on the shores of the lake not too far from the coming railway line. It was named in honour of world-champion sculler Edward Hanlan who hailed from Toronto in Canada and who competed in Australia in the 1880s. The company built the Toronto Hotel in 1887. Visitors initially disembarked at Fassifern train station and travelled by boat from Fennell Bay to Toronto wharf. However Excelsior established a tramway connection in 1891 which was supplanted by a proper branch line in 1911.

It was not really until after World War II that the town took off as a tourist destination.

Things to see

Toronto Foreshore/Sunday in the Park
Victory Parade is the main access route to the Toronto peninsula. It runs in an easterly direction off Carey St (the main north-south through-road). From a point of elevation over Toronto Bay it descends past the Toronto Hotel on the right and Toronto Foreshore park on the left. In the park is a tablet with the following inscription:

"This is the site of Reverend Threlkeld's second mission for Aborigines, established in 1830 on his 1280 acre grant, 'Derambambah'. Purchased by the Excelsior Land Co., together with 9.5 miles of Crown waterfront reserve, the subdivision was named Toronto. Picnic grounds were established and the Toronto Hotel opened 27.12.1887. The suburbs of Carey Bay, Coal Point and Kitchen Bay are also part of the old grant 'Berambambah'. "

It is possible to walk down to the waterline. There is a rock pool to the east and a boat ramp to the west. There are views northwards across to Kooroora Bay and north-east to Bolton Point, both on the next peninsula. Every Sunday there is music in the park from 1.00 p.m. and lake cruises depart hourly from 12.00 - 4.00 p.m.

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Toronto Historical Museum
Toronto Railway Station Heritage Centre is located at the western end of the park. It is the old railway station, now restored. The railway tracks are still there, albeit rusty and unused. It now houses the Lake Macquarie Historical Society's collection of historical photographs and other memorabilia. They are open Sundays, Wednesdays and public holidays from 1.00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m. or by appointment, contact (02) 4958 215 or (02) 4973 4392.

Toronto Hotel
Situated opposite the park and on a hill overlooking the lake, this attractive old building (1887) has ornate iron posts painted federation green and fencing around sections of the verandah and balcony which is distinguished by ornate cast-iron lacework.

The Peninsula
Follow Victory Parade as it becomes Brighton Ave. At its end there is a T-intersection. Turn right into Ambrose St which becomes Excelsior Pde then Skye Point Rd. The latter follows the northern side of the peninsula out to its eastern edge. The road then bends around and heads back westwards along the southern side of the penisula as Coal Point Rd.

There are three very small plots of parkland left at the end of the promontory - Gurranba Park on the northern side, Threlkeld Park on the southern side and Birriban park at the eastern tip. Gurranba looks northwards to Green Point and Rocky Point on the north-eastern shore and to Speers Point at the northernmost tip of the lake; Birriban gazes north-east to the flotilla of Belmont jetty, east to Lake Head, Pelican and Swansea and south to the long, narrow Wanmgi peninsula. Threlkeld looks south directly across to Fishing Point and west to Rathmines, both on the next peninsula to the south.

At the south-western tip of the peninsula is Kilaben Park where there is a wharf and swimming pool and views eastwards out to Skye Point and beyond to Swansea, south-west to the stacks of Eraring Power Station and due south across to Rathmines, less than a kilometre away.

Rathmines
Coal Point Rd eventually becomes Barina Ave then Jarrott St. At the intersection veer left into Excelsior Parade which becomes Mountwaring Rd then Wangi Rd which heads southwards. At the corner of Dorrington Rd and Wangi Rd is the Toronto Golf Club. Turn left into Dorrington Rd which heads eastwards out to Rathmines at the north-eastern tip of the promontory where there is a large, flat, sea-level recreation area on the lake foreshores. There are picnic facilities, a nice playground, boat ramps and views northwards over top the Toronto peninsula. Here too is the Catalina Memorial to the RAAF Sea Plane Base which was situated at Rathmines from World War II until 1960. The bowling club is located in the former barracks.

The Toronto peninsula is separated from the Rathmines peninsula by Kilaben Bay. Edward Hely, reputedly of Rathmines near Dublin, set up a farm of orchards and vineyard here c.1840.

Fishing Point Rd joins Rathmines to Fishing Point, at the south-eastern tip of the peninsula. At 46 Sealand Rd are Lake Macquarie Holiday Cruisers, contact (02) 4973 5770.

Art Gallery and Mining Museum
North of Toronto, at Booragul, is the Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery in Awaba House, First St (on the lake). They are open Thursday to Sunday from 10-4, contact (02) 4965 8733. North again at Teralba (27 James St) is the Westlake Retired Mineworkers Museum, open seven days from 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. by appointment, contact (02) 4958 6876.

Festivals and Events
Toronto's village fair is held in November, Lake Macquarie Heritage Afloat at Easter with vintage vessels, races, entertainment and gourmet food, and Toronto Heritage Week in April. The Powerboat Championships event is held in June and the Toronto markets on the third Sunday of each month (Main Rd).

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