In 1844, Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General and also Australian explorer, ordered surveyor Darke to construct a road between Bottle Forest (Heathcote) and Chippendale’s grant which was behind Bulli. The road was constructed using convict gangs, but was a fairly rough and ready track which got hardly any use.
In opening up the area, the rich soils of “The Forest” were discovered and settlers soon moved in to establish small farms. The area was named after surveyor Darke.
By the time Helensburgh was opened up in the 1880s, Darkes Forest had about 30 families growing fruit and vegetables, poultry and one vineyard. The country was said to be very favorable toward the growth of vines and the vineyard established by the Reverces (a French family who settled in the Forest) was soon distributing wines to Sydney. Some of the other early settlers were the Short and Luck families as well as the Jolliffe family.
Although access to the Forest could be gained from Darkes Road, and to the coast along Bottle Forest Road down to Little Bulli (Stanwell Park) via Mount Mitchell, the main road to the Forest ran out the back of the Forest to Liverpool. The “Appin track” still exists, although access is restricted due to being in the catchment area. This road was used to take produce to Liverpool.
With the establishment of Helensburgh, Darkes Forest gained a postal service, although it was some years before a School was established. This small two roomed building was later closed and is presently used as a community centre. On Sundays the building was used for Church services and Sunday School.
The population was reduced after the building of the Woronora Dam when the Water Board resumed many of the properties whose run-off was part of the catchment that drained to the dam. Some properties remain and as we all well know, some fine produce still comes from the Forest.
The area abounds in Aboriginal carvings indicating its prehistory.