Sydney Beach Names – North

Below is a list of North Sydney Beach names and their likely origins. Sydney’s Northern Beaches have a rich history, as old as the colony itself. Some of the Sydney Beach Names have clear roots, while others are still argued about today.

Palm Beach from Barrenjoey Headland

Palm Beach is right at the top of Sydney’s Northern Beaches region, near Barrenjoey head. Named for the prevalent Cabbage Tree palms, 1 locals refer to the scenic beach as ‘Palmy’. Governor Arthur Phillip named Barrenjuee, meaning ‘little kangaroo or wallaby’ in 1788. Over the years the spelling changed a few times, finally formalised as Barrenjoey in 1966. Smugglers once frequented the beaches and bays behind Palm Beach, unloading contraband without paying duty. After many suspected breaches by one ship in particular, the Fair Barbarian, a lone customs officer was stationed in area.

The next beach south from Palmy is Whale Beach. How Whale Beach got its name is not clear, it may have been influenced by the whale shaped north headland 2 or by a beached whale. It has carried the name since at least 1867 3 and influenced the exclusive restaurant Jonah’s, that has had a spectacular view overlooking Whale Beach since the 19030’s

Archpriest John Joseph Therry worked tirelessly as a supporter of the Catholic Church in the budding NSW colony. He was a man of big ideas and developed a number of land parcels, including 400 acres south of Whale Beach that became known as Priest’s Flat.
The name stuck for a while, until an allotment sale in 1921 managed by Arthur J Small, when the area was renamed to Avalon Beach, conceivably to increase sales.
Avalon is a mythical ‘paradise on Earth’, and the final resting place of the fictional King Arthur.

A feature of Avalon Beach is St Michaels Cave, closed now due dangerous rockfalls, but a popular attraction many years ago. The cave was named by Therry who planned to build a church on the cliff above, and perhaps hold some services with the cave itself.

Bilgola Beach is probably a deriviation of the aboriginal word meaning ‘steep slopes, studded with cabbage palms’ 4.

It was also known as Dalleys Beach for a few years, when used as a weekend resort by William Dalley, who was one of the first elected NSW Parliamentarian born in Australia.

Father Therry once mined for coal on the Bilgola headland, believing a coal seam ran from Newcastle down to Bulli.

Newport Beach takes its name from the adjacent suburb, which was a ‘New Port’ when steamers supplied passage and goods from Sydney and other ports.

Newport beach was officially opened in 1911, when during a ribbon cutting ceremony it was handed to the Warringah Shire and declared open to the public for all time.

Mona Vale was the name of the 700 acre farm between Newport and Bongin Bongin that was used for cattle grazing.

The name most likely originates from an estate called Mona Vale in Tasmania, named by William Kermode in 1824 after Castle Mona on the Isle of Man where Kermode was born 5.

A residence near Gosford was known as Mona Vale around 1854 and from about 1861 onwards newspaper articles start to refer to Mona Vale in relation to present day area.

The Mona Vale farm had a dark history for 25 years from the 1840’s known as the ‘Mona Vale Outrages’. Neighbours engaged in actions to drive out the current tenants so they could continue to enjoy access to the lush grazing on the farm. Livestock were killed, buildings were torched and other events culminating in the unexplained death of the son of Mr Foley, the occupier up until 1849. The suspected murderer, Collins, was charged with robbery by Foley, but was let out on bail. Shortly after Foley was found shot through the heart, and Collins fled.

Although he was found, he was acquitted of the robbery charge (as Foley was the star witness), and as the only evidence supporting the murder charge was circumstantial, these charges were also dropped.

From 1801 a small river near Narrabeen Beach was recorded as Narrowbine by Lt. Grant, while he was searching the area for a stolen boat. Aborigines living in the area had supplied the name and it appears to be the most likely source. 6

One of the earliest recorded uses of Narrabeen is a land sale in 1829. [7- Sydney Gazette 3/4/1829]

Narrabeen is mentioned in the Beach Boys iconic hit Surfing’ Usa, the only non American beach listed in the song.

The Collaroy Stranded north of Long Reef

Image above courtesy of the State Library of NSW

By comparison the origin of Collaroy Beach‘s name is a lot clearer. During a storm in the early morning of Thursday 20th January, 1881 the Steamship Collaroy, ran aground on the small beach just north of Long Reef. Many Sydney siders visited the site to view the stranded vessel for the few weeks it took to eventually float her. Unfortunately one crew member was drowned during the salvage attempts.

Long Reef Beach

Long Reef was named by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789.

Dee Why Beach gained its name from an entry in a journal by surveyor James Meehan. The entry read “Wednesday, 27th Sept, 1815 Dy Beach – Marked a Honey Suckle Tree near the Beach” 7

Freshwater was the name of the fifty acre land grant given to Thomas Bruin by Governor Macquarie in 1818. The estate gained its name from either a fresh water stream on the property, or the village with the same name on the Isle of Wight.

It was on this beach that surfing was officially introduced to Australia, when on the morning of 10th January 1915, Duke Kahanamoku gave a surfing demonstration to a packed crowd.

Manly Beach

Manly Beach gained its name from Manly Cove, named by Governor Phillip on the 23rd January 1788

While sailing past a point of land in the harbour the Governor’s party was observed by many of the local, some of whom swam out to greet them, unarmed. Phillip was pleased with what he called their ‘Manly’ behaviour, and named the cove in their honour.


  1. Geographical Names Board of NSW
  3. Sydney Mail 29/6/1867
  4. Sydney Suburbs, K Anderson, 1989
  5. Biography W. Kermode
  6. A Geographical Dictionary William Henry Wells 1848
  7. Messent, David (1999). Sydney’s Northern Beaches

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