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Morisset, NSW

Railway town on the shores of Lake Macquarie.

Morisset is located on the south-western shore of Lake Macquarie. It is the largest town in the area and acts as the service centre to Cooranbong and Dora Creek and the other small settlements - Balcolyn, Sunshine, Yarrawonga Park, Brightwaters, Windemere Park, Bonnells Bay - which are located on the shoreline of the Morisset peninsula.

Location

Morisset is located on Lake Macquarie, 124 km north of Sydney via the Newcastle Freeway and Pacific Highway. The town is 33 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

In 1823 Major James Thomas Morisset camped on the peninsula on the first overland journey from Sydney to Newcastle. He was the commander of the penal settlement of Newcastle from 1817 to 1823 and later was commander at Norfolk Island. The town only came into existence when the railway from Sydney to Newcastle was completed in 1887.

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Things to See and Do

Morisset Peninsula and Morisset Hospital
The great attraction (and it really is a GREAT attraction) in Morisset is the mobs of kangaroos which inhabit the parkland around the Morisset Hospital, a specialist psychiatric hospital on the shores of Lake Macquarie.
Today the hospital is surrounded by one of the seven areas around the lake that are all part of the Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area. It is a delightful place to go for a bushwalk, to have a picnic or to just enjoy the cooling influence of Lake Macquarie.
But, most of all, the appeal of the area is the kangaroos. This is not a case of a few shy kangaroos in the wild. This is a case of hundreds of the animals munching away on the lawns which surround the hospital.
I have never, even in western New South Wales, seen so many kangaroos in the one place and certainly I have never seen so many which, while wild, were perfectly happy to pose for a “selfie”, show off their joeys (most of them too big for the pouch) and line up for photos.
It is located to the south-east of Morisset township on the shores of Lake Macquarie. To get there head off Macquarie Street into Fishery Point Road. After 2 km, do not take the sharp left into the continuation of Fishery Point Road but continue along what becomes Morisset Park Road then take the first right.

Morisset Hospital's Most Famous Resident
Peter Kocan, who tried to assassinate the leader of the Australia Labor Party, Arthur Calwell, in Mosman was committed to ten years at the asylum in 1966. He turned to a literary career after meeting the poet Roland Robinson who lived at nearby Sunshine on the edge of Lake Macquarie. Kocan wrote poetry and two novels - The Treatment (1980) and The Cure (1983).

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Other Attractions in the Area

Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area
There is an excellent downloadable brochure on all the areas of the Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area which lie on the shores of the lake. It can be downloaded by going to https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Lake-Macquarie-State-Conservation-Area. The download explains the activities available: "Picnic on the lake shore near the quiet hospital grounds and observe the kangaroos (please do not feed the kangaroos as it makes them susceptible to disease and acts of cruelty). Walk to Woods Point through scribbly gum and red gum forest and watch for rare squirrel gliders. Fish in Pourmalong Creek or enjoy a picnic at Woods Point overlooking the lake." It remains the closest and best place to Sydney where large numbers of kangaroos can be seen in the wild.

State Forests
The area west of Morisset contains impressive forests in the beautiful Watagan Mountains. For photographs and details check out the entry on Cooranbong (http://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/cooranbong-nsw) which includes the following information:

The Watagans
Cooranbong is the natural starting point for exploring the forests in the Watagan Mountains which lie to the west of Lake Macquarie and the Tuggerah Lakes. There are some outstanding camping sites, lookouts, walking trails, picnic areas and forest drives.
The history of the mountains is fascinating. The Watagans have been a source of timber since the 1830s. The demand for railway sleepers created by the construction of the Sydney-Newcastle railway caused a major timber boom in the late 1880s and during World War II the forests were almost entirely stripped of their softwoods, particularly coachwood, which was used for the manufacture of the .303 rifle and for the construction of the Mosquito fighter plane. Throughout the twentieth century most of the houses on the Central Coast, around Lake Macquarie and in the Hunter Valley were built with frames made from Watagan hardwoods.
There is an excellent booklet Lake Macquarie City: Walking Trails Guide (available at the Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre in Swansea) which recommends, and describes in great detail, five walks in the Watagans.
1. Boarding House Dam
2. The Gap Creek Falls Trail
3. Muirs Walking Trail
4. The Pines Trail
5. The Watagan Trail

The Best Way to Experience the Watagans
Drive north from Cooranbong on Freemans Drive and a few kilometres from town take a left hand turn into Mount Faulk Road. Mount Faulk Road was once known as the 'unemployed road' as it was built by unemployed labourers in the Depression of the 1890s which hit the Cooranbong area hard when the railway skirted the town and contracts for railway sleepers dried up.
After a couple of kilometres the road becomes gravel but, unless there has been heavy rain, it is an easy and safe road into the mountains. There are roads off the Mount Faulk Road all of which are clearly signposted.

1. Bangalow Road and Gap Creek Waterfall
The first road, known as the Bangalow Road, is to Bangalow Rest Area (3.8 km over a rough and narrow road) and Gap Creek Rest Area (4.8 km). These are pleasant picnic spots in the bush. Bangalow Road was named after the many Bangalow palms in the area. It follows Monkey Shelf through an area rich in birdlife - lyrebirds, king parrots, crimson rosellas, satin bowerbirds, green catbirds, brush turkeys and whipbirds. There are two camping areas along the road and a car park at the end from where you can take a walking trail which follows an old bullock track which leads to the impressive Gap Creek waterfall which fall more than 40m after heavy rains.

2. Monkey Face Lookout
Further up Mount Faulk Road is a track (it is rough and potholed) to Monkey Face Lookout (1.6 km) and Gap Creek Lookout (1.4 km). They both offer views - Monkey Face looks out across Lake Macquarie but it is hard to get a clear view (ie views through the trees) and Gap Creek has sweeping views east across the Martinsville Valley. They both have good picnic spots under the ancient grass trees and ironbarks. In winter, the air is crisp and clean, refreshing and revitalising. In summer, the sun is hot and bright and casts a magnificent light over the valley.
From Monkey Face Lookout there are fine views south over Martinsville Valley. The homestead below belongs to the Browne family, early settlers and timber cutters who owned a very eccentric bullock they named Monkey who liked to hide on a mountain shelf which was thus named Monkey Shelf.

3. Heaton Lookout - The Highlight
This is the true highlight. I believe it is the best view in Australia with a total coastal view of at least 120 km from Stockton Beach north of Newcastle (a low hill hides the city of Newcastle completely) all the way down the coast, past Lake Macquarie, to The Entrance on the Central Coast. It is amazing. Heaton Lookout is clearly signposted to the right off Mount Faulk Road. The view includes the whole of Lake Macquarie with the stacks of its various power stations scattered about the shore; north to Newcastle and beyond to Stockton Beach stretching north-east towards Port Stephens; south over the entire Central Coast with Tuggerah Lakes in the foreground, Norah Head Lighthouse on the coast and beyond to Broken Bay and the mouth of the Hawkesbury. For bushwalkers this is the starting point for the remarkable Watagan Trail which is 8 km (one way) and is part of the Great North Walk. There are two shorter circular tracks (750 m and 2.5 km) from the lookout.

4. Macleans Lookout and the Watagan Trail
The walk to Macleans Lookout and Hunter Lookout is worth the effort. Both have picnic areas and superb panoramic views. The Hunter Lookout looks westwards and north-west towards Cessnock while the Macleans Lookout offers a view to the north-west (Cessnock) and north-east (over Mulbring and beyond to Kurri Kurri with Maitland in the distance). The two are linked by a 600 metre walking trail.

5. Great North Walk
The 250 km Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle is a moderately difficult walk which usually takes between 10-14 days (it has been done in under 60 hours) it includes a wide range of environments and attractions ranging from Aboriginal rock engravings to bridges, waterways, coal mines and beautiful bushland. It was created in 1988 as a Bicentennial Project but includes tracks which had been used by Aborigines for thousands of years. It can be broken down into smaller sections. The section from Heatons Lookout is 8 km one way, and takes in all the dramatically beautiful scenery through to Macleans Lookout. For more information check out http://www.thegreatnorthwalk.com/ and get a downloadable map from http://www.everytrail.com/guide/great-north-walk-australia-s-best-bushwalk. The Crown Lands website has details about the Brooklyn section of the walk. Check out http://www.lpma.nsw.gov.au/about_recreation/walking_tracks/great_north_walk/sections_of_the_great_north_walk.

6. Narrow Place Lookout
Further south on the Great North Walk (it can be accessed by 4WD) is Narrow Place Lookout, an impressive lookout which was named by the local Hall family. The Halls would use the steep narrow track to lead their horses up onto the escarpment from below the lookout. Positioned high amidst dry grassy woodland with prominent rocky outcrops and scree slopes below, the Narrow Place Lookout provides scenic views over Hunter Valley towns including Cessnock and Kurri Kurri. It is home to endangered brush-tailed rock wallabies and birdwatching can include wedge-tailed eagles which soar above the lookout.

Other Attractions in the Watagans
The other major access point into the Watagans is Martinsville Road which lies to the south of Cooranbong. The valley around Cooranbong was originally known as The Brush and the first Europeans in the area were the Martin family who arrived in the 1860s and worked as timber cutters. A village of farmers and sawyers developed. It was known as Deep Creek when a slab school was built in 1878. The post office, which opened in the 1880s, was called Dora Creek, causing conflict with the settlement of that name north of present-day Morisset. It was renamed The Brush and became Martinsville in 1894.
The Martinsville Road route offers access to:

Muir's Lookout
Muirs Lookout and picnic area has views eastwards over Lake Macquarie and beyond to the ocean. Two sets of stacks are visible: those of Vales Point Power Station on the southern shore of the lake and those of Eraring on the western shore. There is a 1.5 km loop walking trail with interpretative signs which passes through blackbutt and bluegum forests as well as gullies dense with rainforest.

Pines Picnic Area
Further along Martinsville Hill Road the road turns north-west and there is a large loop on the Walkers Ridge Forest Road. The Pines Picnic Area, one of the district's highlights, is along a short side-road to the right. Several walking trails, including a wildflower walk (1.1 km) and an 8-km walk to Abbotts Falls, depart from different points along this side-road. The 1.1 km Pines Trail includes in an old Aboriginal axe-grinding groove in the sandstone as well as a delightful rock pool.

Boarding House Dam
Further along the Watagan Forest Road is the access track to the Boarding House Dam picnic area. The original boarding house was home to the largest logging camp in the area. Today the area is known for its rainforest canopy, its lush ferns and moss-covered boulders and moss-covered walls along the Circuit walking track. The area is popular with families, since the picturesque creek and dam nearby are ideal for a paddle. It is around another 14 km to the Boarding House Dam turnoff to the left. Near the carpark and picnic area is a section of dense, subtropical rainforest and a small weir built to ensure a supply of water for bushfires after the ravages of a major fire in 1939-40. The dam is ideal for swimming in summer. Check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkhome.aspx?id=n0133 and http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/watagans-national-park for more information.

Circuit Walking Track
Starting at the Boarding House Dam picnic area, the Circuit walking track is a 600 metre loop which offers a stroll along the Congewoi Creek beneath a rainforest of ferns, blue gums, grey myrtle and turpentine. A rock wall covered entirely in moss makes for a beautiful spectacle on the trail. In summer, the rainforest shades the trail from the sun.

 

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans around the shores of Lake Macquarie the area was occupied by people from the Awabakal Aboriginal language group.

* In 1800 Captain William Reid became the first European to explore the shores of the lake. He had been sent from Sydney to collect coal from the mouth of the Hunter River. He mistook the channel into Lake Macquarie for the river estuary. Members of the Awabakal tribe directed him to some coal in the headland. When he returned to Sydney he realised that he had reached the lake and not the mouth of the Hunter River. The lake became known as Reid's Mistake until 1826 when it was renamed in honour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

* Lieutenant Percy Simpson was probably the first European settler in the Lake Macquarie area. He received a 2000 acre grant in 1826 at Cooranbong, was assigned six convicts who cleared the land, grazed cattle, and built a homestead and stockyards near a ford over Dora Creek.

* Simpson departed in 1828 but one of his convicts, Moses Carroll, stayed on as a stockman and was made constable of the area in 1834.

* In 1835 a police station and lockup were built.

* In the late 1850s swans were hunted for their down which was sold in Sydney.

* The township of Newport (now known as Dora Creek) was established in 1840 on what had been Percy Simpson's Eraring Estate. The developers hoped that a road from Gosford to Maitland would be built and that a punt service across the creek, the largest creek draining into Lake Macquarie, would attract settlers and businesses.

* By 1870 there were only a dozen families living at Dora Creek.

* Timber was the backbone of the local economy and four large steam-driven timber mills were operating in the area in the 1870s. The cedar was loaded onto ketches at the Dora Creek and sent to Lake Macquarie.

* A police station and courthouse were established in 1873.

* In 1874 Robert King's sawmill exported timber from Cooranbong.

* A race course was established in 1875.

* At Sugar Bay a man named Marshall started a fish-curing operation, with the fish canned in tins made on the spot, then he planted 60 acres of sugarcane around the lake. A processing mill with steam-driven crushers was set up but the property was destroyed by bushfire in 1875.

* The first ferry service on the lake was started in 1876.

* The first government school in the district opened in 1879.

* A post office opened in 1885 but it caused confusion with Newport in Sydney so the new office became Doree.

* By the 1880s Cooranbong had become a staging post on the journey between Sydney and Newcastle but the arrival of the railway in 1887 changed that.

* In 1887 the future townsite was surveyed and allotments went on sale. The station was first called Cooranbong but quickly changed to Morisset, named in honour of Major James Thomas Morisset, A post office, school, Anglican church, library and school of arts were established. The line passed 5 km to the east of Cooranbong. The settlement around the station became known as Morisset.

* In 1900 1,300 acres of land east of Morisset was reserved for the purpose of an Asylum for the Insane.

* In 1901 The “Insanity Act” provided approval for the construction of the Morisset Asylum for the Insane.

* By 1906 a staff of 3 male attendants and 6 patients lived side by side in tents. Clearing and construction commenced. First construction was a jetty, then a dam. Building material was transported across the lake by barge.

* By 1909 the township's population reached 147. The first patients at Morisset Hospital arrived on the 9th May 1909. There were 78 male patients.

* By 1911 the cricket oval and gardens at the hospital had been completed.

* As a sign of its increasing importance to the district the police station was transferred from Cooranbong to Morisset in 1920. There were now 512 inmates at the hospital.

* In 1930 a special ward for the criminally insane was established at the hospital.

* Peter Kocan, who tried to assassinate the leader of the Australia Labor Party, Arthur Calwell, was committed to ten years at the asylum in 1966.

* In 1972 the grounds of Morisset Hospital were declared a Wildlife Refuge.

* The electrification of the train line between Sydney and Newcastle, the construction of the F3 Freeway and the completion of the Eraring Power Station in 1984 all contributed to the growth of the local economy.

* In 1985 the special community that was Morisset Hospital underwent major changes with the division of the hospital in to two distinct & separate entities – Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disability.

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Visitor Information

Morisset does not have its own Visitor Centre but there is an excellent Visitor Centre at Swansea. Check out Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre, 228-234 Pacific Highway, Swansea, tel: 1800 802 044. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm

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Useful Websites

There is no dedicated site for Morisset. However there is an interesting history of the town at https://history.lakemac.com.au/page-local-history.aspx?pid=1085&vid=20&tmpt=narrative&narid=62 and the Morisset Hospital Historical Society's website - http://www.morissethospitalhistoricalsociety.websyte.com.au/ - is fascinating.

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