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Miss Gladys Carey used to live with her older sister in High Street, North Sydney. This was not far from where my family lived. She had come to Australia from England as a child with her family in the late nineteenth century. When I first met her in the 1950’s she would have been over seventy years old.
Much of the character of North Sydney has changed since my childhood in the 1950’s. The Warringah Freeway and the many highrise buildings are now where houses used to be. But there are still parts of the suburb that have escaped some of the changes. One of these is a little parkland area called the Gladys Carey Reserve.
During the Second World War, people living in North Sydney were asked by their local council to look after the appearance of their street. Miss Carey acted upon this request, keeping not only the footpath in front of her home tidy, but other neighbours’ home fronts as well. Just opposite Miss Carey’s house was a walkway down to Milson Park. Part of this walkway included a steep staircase, beside which there was an area of ground that had been left to run wild. Over the next twenty years Miss Carey changed this area into gardens. At the bottom of the staircase she made a park.
I can still remember Miss Carey quite clearly. Weather didn’t stop her gardening and she could be seen toiling away on the most miserable of days. All the plants she grew came from cuttings from her own garden, her neighbours’ and even those which people had thrown in the street. The stones that formed the rockeries were manoeuvered into place by her.
When I was a child bread was delivered to homes in our district by horse and cart. The baker’s cart would stop each day opposite the flats where I lived. At my mother’s suggestion, I would shovel up the horse manure that was left most days on the side of the road after the baker’s visit. With my bucket of hot manure, I would then walk the short distance to Miss Carey’s park and leave the contents there. She was a very friendly old lady and most thankful for the manure. I remember once, after she had tended her gardens and rockeries, that she went home and returned with some slides and a viewer. Seating herself in Milson Park, she proceeded to show my friends and me slides of far off places she had visited.
In 1967 the local council recognised the work of Miss Carey. They named this area after her. The Gladys Carey Reserve remains today as a reminder of this wonderful old lady who led a useful life. Whenever I return to North Sydney I try to make time to visit her park.