The Shirase expedition camp in Parsley Bay
In 1911 there were less than twenty houses in Parsley Bay, as the land had only recently been subdivided from the Wentworth estate.
The earliest residents were ship pilots and sea captains, council aldermen, and other professionals. For years the reserve itself had been a Sunday picnic ground and a favourite swimming and recreation area for Sydneysiders, with fisherman “individualists” camped in rock shelters nearby.
In the scrub on the western side of the small reserve the Japanese erected their prefabricated timber hut, originally intended for Antarctica, and three tents for equipment, food and bathing. Some of the crew stayed on board the Kainan-maru while it underwent repairs in Jubilee Dock Balmain, and Captain Nomura returned to Japan to acquire more sledge dogs and petition for extra funding.
Expedition members described the camp:
“This is where we live… surrounded by dense overgrown old trees… guava, bottlebrush, evergreen oak and pine. They give shelter from the breeze and make this a very peaceful spot. Standing on the rising ground behind the encampment you can gaze up at the hillside or turn to look at the sea below. Far across the water North Harbour, Manly and a number of other places are just visible through the mist and clouds. It is like a landscape painting come alive”. [Expedition Record, p.86]
The local residents had no warning of the expedition’s arrival, but friendships were soon established:
“As time went by and we continued to live in our temporary home, the local people came to understand our true intentions and gave us a great deal of support. They visited us from time to time, bringing all kinds of gifts. There were constant comings and goings between us and our nearest neighbours, who were especially kind, and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons there were always so many visitors that we were very busy receiving them.” [Expedition Record, p.88]
The newspapers reported on activities at the camp, and the local residents’ reactions. In June 1911 the coronation of King George was celebrated by the expedition members, who decorated the campsite with British and Japanese flags, demonstrated martial arts and provided refreshments for a combined audience of locals and members of the Japan Association. [SMH 23 June 1911]
As the expedition was gearing up for the second voyage to Antarctica in October 1911 a Herald reporter commented: “During their wintering in Parsley Bay the Japanese proved themselves estimable neighbours, their camp was always a model of cleanliness, and the people of the district extended to them friendship which was fully reciprocated.”[SMH 10 November 1911]
On 19 November 1911 the Kainan-maru set sail again for Antarctica. As it proceeded out of the harbour it made a brief stop back in Parsley Bay “to enable us to bid a final farewell to the local people”. The Japanese delighted to find the throng on the wharf “Cheering and waving their white handkerchiefs and black hats in the air’ [Expedition Record, p.94]