Monday, June 28, 2010

Some snippets of history - lime, mills, dams, silting and sewage : the Cooks River, Sydney

I've previously mentioned that the Riley Street (Surry Hills) indoor board velodrome was shifted holus-bolus to Canterbury - splinters and all - which is remarkable enough, but there's more to Canterbury than just an old velodrome site, a station, a bus terminus and a horse racetrack. There's also a river - the Cooks River - that runs from Botany Bay to Canterbury and further westward. It was of course once a working natural river with meanders but dams, industry and concrete culverts put an end to much of the "natural-ness".

I'll post a map of the Tempe dam soon, but the article quoted below makes the location clear enough. The river was dammed to poor effect at Tempe and at Canterbury. The flood of the late 19th century wiped out much of the market gardening and led to grand schemes of tunnels and canals, of which only Alexandra Canal really came to pass. The river's mouth was also moved to accommodate an enlargement of Sydney's Mascot airport. You can find maps of that elsewhere on this blog.   

City of Canterbury - History of Cooks River
Descriptions of the country along Cooks River by the early explorers were not optimistic about the land's potential for food production. Captain John Hunter and Lieutenant Bradley both mentioned the shallowness of the water and the large swamps, in place of Cook's 'fine meadow', so it was to the alluvial terraces of the Parramatta and Hawkesbury Rivers that the farmers of the colony went. The Reverend Richard Johnson, however, took time out from his chief mission - first pastor to the settlements in New South Wales - to cultivate his properties, among them being a grant of 250 acres at Canterbury (stretching along the river from present Garnet Street, Hurlstone Park to Croydon Avenue, Ashbury). There is no evidence that he ever lived on his 'Canterbury Vale' farm. But with the help of an overseer, several convicts, and labourers paid by himself, he cleared and planted several acres. Yields were high enough from his estates for him to be described by Watkin Tench as 'the best farmer in the colony'. When the property was sold to William Cox in 1800, it included livestock, two acres of vineyard, and another acre of orchard with orange trees, nectarines, peaches and apricots.

City of Canterbury - History of Cooks River
Major industries of the area were fishing and lime burning, especially around the mouth of the river and in Botany Bay. In a new settlement, three basic needs had to be satisfied: the need for food, the need for water, and the need for shelter for the inhabitants. Although brick-making clay was abundant, nothing could be found for a long time to hold these bricks permanently together. Lime, essential in making mortar, was in such a short supply that most brick buildings collapsed in a heap of rubble as soon as the walls were leant on, and Governor Phillip constantly appealed for limestone to be sent out as ballast in the ships from home. Shell middens left by the aborigines on the shores of the Cooks River and Botany Bay proved to be a vital source of lime, and many colonists managed to make a living gathering the remnants from thousands of years of aboriginal meals to supply their kilns.
City of Canterbury - History of Cooks River
Cornelius Prout built a punt to give him access to his property, Belle Ombre (along the river from today's Canterbury Road to Clissold Parade, Campsie); a punt also operated somewhere about the same time at Undercliffe, known as Thorpe's Punt. This was a link on one of the roads to the Illawarra district. Fords existed at Tempe and further up the river, but with the spread of settlement and eventually industry, permanent bridges were needed.
City of Canterbury - History of Cooks River
A B Spark, Leslie Duguid, and F W Unwin all built country houses beside Cooks River in the late 1830's, and by 1840, three bridge crossings were in use; Unwin's Bridge at Tempe, (to give access from Sydney to his house, Wanstead); Prout's Bridge, replacing the punt, at Canterbury; and the dam at Tempe, continuing the line of Cook's River Road (Princes Highway) past the house of Alexander Brodie Spark.
City of Canterbury - History of Cooks River
A second dam was built to serve the river's first manufacturing industry: the Australian Sugar Company's refinery at Canterbury; this location was selected because of the need for ample supplies of water in processing.

The Sugar House is placed within one hundred feet on Cook's River which is shortly expected to be fresh water, the Dam being quite close and is built of beautiful white sandstone. (Sydney Herald, 4 October, 1841)
Cooks River - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Cooks River is a 23 kilometre long urban waterway of south-western Sydney, New South Wales, Australia emptying into Botany Bay. The course of the river has been altered to accommodate various developments along its shore. It serves as part of a stormwater system for the 100 square kilometres of its watershed, and many of the original streams running into it have been turned into concrete lined channels. The tidal sections support significant areas of mangroves, bird, and fish life, and are used for recreational activities.
Geological Sites - Especially around Sydney
The river was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770 but it was not until 1793 that any permanent settlement began to occur along it. The first bridge was erected here in 1810, give access to the southern bank of the river for timber getting. It was then a limit of recreational excursions from Sydney.

With the degradation and growing inadequacy of Sydney's Tank Stream water suppy by 1826 the Cooks River was considered as a possibly fresh water supply. A dam was built across it here for that purpose, in the 1830s. The work was mainly completed in 1839-1841 using convict labour. It was considered that floods might flush out the saline water and give allow a fresh supply behind the dam (cf. in a flood of 1889 the river flowed 10 above the dam at Tempe). However, the dam was unsuccessful, as the water remained saline and the main effect of the dam, because of the increase of upstream polluting industries, was to generate a cesspool. Most of the fresh water remained dammed behind the later dam at the Sugar House at Canterbury, but that dam water too was often in a very offensive condition. There was an outbreak of typhoid fever affecting swimmers in 1896. The Tempe dam was lowered to improve flushing, and eventually demolished entirely.


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