Dirty pavements and disease

Roads, footpaths and sidewalks in our towns and cities are dirty. They are surfaces where dropped food is irretrievable, where grit is picked up on shoes to be tramped indoors, where take-away wrappings blow, and where oily cars leak and spitters spit and canines shit. And because dirtiness is associated with disease the pavement, rightly or wrongly, often takes the blame for spreading infection.

Roads and footways were even dirtier before they were paved. In wet weather pedestrians used to slog their way through mud, and when it was fine carts and carriages threw up clouds of dust and pulverised horse manure.

So it is no wonder that the great British social and public health reformer of the 19th century, Sir Edwin Chadwick, was an admirer of asphalt. In his 1871 article ‘On the sanitary advantages of smooth and impermeable street surfaces’ he wrote how the new ‘asphalte’ roads in the City of London powerfully affected the cleanly habits and health of people and especially of children because they were always playing in the street. He remarked that, compared to macadam pavement, which was made from packed stones, asphalt was quiet, dried quickly, eliminated mud and dust and could be hosed clean.

Since that time hosing down seems to have become an imperative whenever ‘dirty’ pavements have been implicated in the spread of disease, especially during epidemics. Even when the actual mode of transmission of a disease is reasonably well understood, health authorities have made a show of decontaminating the streets.

This happened in 1900 when Sydney experienced a terrifying outbreak of bubonic plague mainly centred around areas close to the docks. Rats were considered to be the carriers of the contagion and householders were instructed to kill rats and prevent them from coming into their houses. They were also ordered to clean and disinfect their properties, so large amounts of rubbish were cleared out and piled in the streets ready to be carted away. The city pavements were part of this vast cleansing operation and crowds gathered to watch the streets being washed using fire hoses.

Another measure to disinfect the pavement was described poetically in a Daily Telegraph article of the time:

“Some men were put on during Thursday night to whitewash part of the streets within the quarantine boundaries. They made the footpaths like a succession of long white sheets.”

Street disinfection continues to be used as a public health measure during epidemics. In 2019 a new and fatal coronavirus disease began to spread around the world. It came to be called COVID-19.  There was (and still is) no cure but it was fairly quickly established that the virus was transmitted through the air by droplets sprayed out when  an infected person sneezed, coughed, or talked, and that it could also be picked up from high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and handrails where it lingered. 

Nevertheless, just as in the past, the pavement was also implicated as a factor in its spread. By 2020 news services were publishing photos from many countries showing trucks or workers in protective clothing hosing down streets and plazas, or spraying them with disinfectants such as bleach. Scientists from other countries, commenting on this phenomenon, concluded that these measures were almost certainly ineffective and may even be harmful to people and the environment.

It would seem that these street cleansing activities were as much about authorities being seen to do something as they were about actually stopping the spread of COVID-19. Some commentators even added that in many countries people like to see large-scale public action by the government and that, since it had been carried out in previous emergencies, this sort of action may be embedded in a country’s culture and tradition. At such times the pavement is co-opted into a show of government effectiveness and dependability.

References

Chadwick, E. (1871) On the sanitary advantages of smooth and impermeable street surfaces. Journal of the Society of Arts, 19, pp. 789-792.

Prevention of Plague: Instructions to Householders, issued by the Department of Public Health, Sydney, 1 March 1900.

Bubonic plague. Fighting the Disease. The Quarantine Area Enlarged. Clarence and Richmond Examiner. Grafton NSW, 27 March 1900, p.8 (quotes the Daily Telegraph).

Bricknell, L. & Trott, D. (2020) Sanitising the city: does spraying the streets work against coronavirus? The Conversation, 5 May 2020.

Bhat,  S. A et al. (2021) Environmental and health impacts of spraying COVID-19 disinfectants with associated challenges. Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, 29, 85648-85657.

Chung, E. (2020) Is spraying disinfectant in public spaces a good way to fight COVID-19? CBC News, 18 April 2020.

Images

1. Street flushing machine on Meagher Street Chippendale, 1928. (City of Sydney Archives)

2. Children playing on Bankside in London, 1893. (Paul Martin photographer. Daily Mail Online, 17 May 2019)

3. Crowds gather to watch the streets being washed using fire hoses in the docks area of Sydney, 1900. On one corner a barrel of whitewash can be seen.

4.  In Napoleon Street, rubbish has been cleared from properties and piled on the roadway ready to be carted away. The footpaths have been whitewashed. (This and previous image are from a series of albums in the State Library of NSW containing ‘Views taken during cleansing operations, quarantine area, Sydney, 1900, under the supervision of Mr. George McCredie, F.I.A., NSW’)

5. A worker spraying the street with disinfectant in Moscow, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters, published in Chung 2020)

6. Municipal tankers spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus in Moscow, 2020. (Andrei Nikerichev/Moscow News Agency via Associated Press, published in Chung 2020)

Still life with birds

Krimsone (Janne Birkner), Herons, Rozelle

There has been an irruption of street art birds in Sydney and other cities of the world. For several years now, accumulations of avian fauna have been flattened and pinned to the walls of the open-air urban museum.

But why birds? In this post I canvass some thoughts about birds and humans, and birds and walls. I let Guy Debord have the last word.

Mulga (Joel Moore), Cockie, Marrickville

put a bird on it: Phrase exclaimed when placing an image of an avian creature on any item, especially one that was “handcrafted” or “thrifted” so as to make it totally adorable and artistic.
Urban Dictionary

Birds are everywhere. This prevalence ensures that images of our airborne friends are easy for an audience to connect to, making them as commonplace in artwork as they are in everyday life.
Unimelb, Birds and street art, Street Art de Tours

Thomas Jackson, Owl faced kings, Camperdown

Fascinated by the local animals and landscapes … Thomas Jackson puts a modern take on ‘Natural History Illustration’, painstakingly creating smaller scale works for galleries and translating these into large scale public murals.
Thomas Jackson website

In a culture of globalised brands and neo-liberal ideology, this new one-size fits all style of public mural art is ideal for clone developments & gentrification projects, it’s middle of the road, middle class and middle-brow. It is fast creating a culture that seeks nothing more than your uncritical attention and adoration.
Martyn Reed, nuart journal

Anthony Lister, Parrots, Alexandria

I imagine we’ll always fetishize birds. They fly, for one thing, and for us ground-bound mammals, all gangly limbs and big brains, their flight symbolizes something like freedom.
Erik Anderson, Bird

Freedom is a word closely associated with all forms of graffiti, urban and street art. Painting in the street offers a place to create away from the restraints of the studio and the gallery … Birds are a constant and popular theme to appear in murals. Perhaps street artists just happen to like birds a lot, or perhaps it comes back to this idea of freedom again. Who hasn’t watched a bird take to the air and wondered just how it would feel?
Steve Gray, Ten street artists who love to paint birds, Widewalls

Tracy Emin, The distance of your heart, Sydney

Birds are perched on buildings all around the city, but look carefully and you might find some that don’t fly away. Renowned British artist Tracey Emin has placed more than 60 bronze birds throughout the city centre. The artwork is called The Distance of Your Heart and is a reflection on feeling homesick.
City of Sydney News

Phibs (Tim de Haan), Seed bearers, Newtown

Two birds represents everything from freedom to animals that spread seeds across the world. This encourages new growth and plants, combined with a heart and hand represent the power we have in the world around us. My work signifies the symbolic, engaging the urban with the organic.
Phibs (Tim de Haan), Street Art Cities

Birds have always been small agents charged with carrying the burden of our feelings simply by following the logic of their own existence … Yet for all our emotional investment in them, we’ve never treated birds particularly well.
Delia Falconer, Signs and wonders: dispatches from a time of beauty and loss

Native animals offered a former “colony of miscreants” a powerful and inspiring metaphor for cultural evolution and burgeoning nationalism at a time when Australia was beginning to assert its separate political destiny.
Jazmina Cininas, Antipodean bestiary: reconstructions of native fauna and national identity in the work of eleven contemporary Australian artists, PAN : philosophy activism nature

Scott Marsh, Bin Kingz, Chippendale

No other animal encompasses the nature of Australia like the bin chicken, foraging it’s way into our bins, and our hearts. At the same time, no other artist extracts the essence of Aussie humour like Scott Marsh, with his iconic wall murals piercing the Australian sensibility like a six inch curved beak to a council bin bag.
Scott Marsh, Bin Kingz

Egg Picnic (Camila de Gregorio and Christopher Macaluso), Birds of Australia, Glebe

Egg Picnic wants to be the Disney of conservation – they create illustrations to make us fall in love with, and feel compelled to protect, our beautiful fauna.
Egg Picnic with City of Sydney Creative Hoardings Program

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth …
King James Bible, Genesis 1:26

Nature is not an accessory, nor is it peripheral to our happiness. It is our happiness – civilization itself – that is an accessory, the four billion year continuum of life on the planet that is primary. But if the best we can do is to care about nature from the position of one equipped to redeem it , I’m not sure it’s worth saving.
Erik Anderson, Bird

Knoswet (Xander Zee), Kookaburra sunrise, Surry Hills

This is one way of bringing the bush to the city. We found this gorgeous kookaburra down the back lanes of Surry Hills today.
The Daily Telegraph Home Magazine

 As urbanism destroys the cities , it recreates a pseudo-countryside devoid both of the natural relations of the traditional countryside and of the direct (and directly challenged) social relations of the historical city.
Guy Debord, The society of the spectacle

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(All photographs taken by Megan Hicks in and around Sydney, Australia)

WATERSHED MOMENTS. EXCURSION 4. FOREBODING.

11 July 2021

I am back at the magnificent Stanmore Sewer Vent. It is going to rain, but I have started out on this episode of my walk around the rim of the Johnstons Creek catchment because I want to photograph the vent under an overcast sky. Last time I was here the dappled shade from street trees obscured the details of its flaking sandstone plaque which, it turns out, reads METROPOLITAN BOARD OF WATER SUPPLY & SEWERAGE 1900.

As I stand back to get a full-height shot of the vent and its accompanying house, a man runs across the road, angrily kicking a piece of wood as he goes, and enters the cottage’s front gate. I call out, ‘I hope you don’t mind’ and he growls, ‘You can take photos of a sewer vent any time’.

Our route takes us round into Percival Road, the main street of Stanmore, flanked by more neat turn-of-the-20th-century houses and leading down to a park, the railway station and a small cluster of shops. The sky to the south is looking ominous.

The rim line runs between houses and emerges in the lane behind, where I find a garage roller-door tribute to the composer Philip Glass complete with sketch portrait.

In an adjacent lane a man is taking his kids and dog for their permitted outdoor exercise in their local government area.  Apart from the cranky sewer vent resident we have, as usual, seen practically no-one on our walk. People are all inside as the Covid situation worsens. In the state of New South Wales there have been 77 new cases today and one death.

(The previous paragraph now seems ridiculous. I need to point out here that, although I took this walk on 11 July 2021, I have not got round to transcribing my notes until six months later. The Covid comparison is staggering.

I am composing this blog post on 1 January 2022, when 22,577 new infections have been recorded in New South Wales and four deaths. The reasons for the differing case number statistics (but reasonably similar death rate) between July and January include the intervening advent of the Delta and Omicron variants of the virus, the lifting of lockdowns and restrictions on movement, and a very high proportion of the adult population fully vaccinated.)

It is spitting now and we have not brought umbrellas, so we loop back around to the car, passing a cute domestic wall decoration on the way. Safely ensconced at home I think I might listen to some favourite music – Philip Glass perhaps.

WATERSHED MOMENTS. EXCURSION 3. REVELATIONS.

4 July 2021

When I began my circumambulation of the Johnstons Creek catchment rim I was prepared for the unexceptional. Unlike last year’s explorations of the creek itself – when I found offbeat backstreets and mini banana jungles – on this series of excursions I expected that only the occasional quirky garden ornament or letterbox would relieve the familiarity of the suburbs I passed through.

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To some extent this is turning out to be the case, but on this third excursion I have a moment of revelation, and I also come across very large infrastructure treasure that somehow I had overlooked in all the years I have lived in the inner west of Sydney.

I started where the imaginary catchment line emerges from between two small, pretty and unremarkable brick houses in a style common to this neighbourhood of Stanmore. Nothing much is going on in the street except for an elderly woman taking in some sun on this cold but bright day.

I stand in the middle of the road and look southeast down the slope. From here I can see across to the other side of Stanmore, and beyond that what must be the telecom tower on the opposite ridge in King Street, Newtown. I am surprised to realise I am looking across the valley of Johnstons Creek. This may seem obvious – I am, after all, standing on the catchment rim – but momentarily I understand the topography of the area without the distractions of urbanisation. There is no way I can properly capture what I am seeing in a mobile phone photograph.

I do not walk down the slope, but keep following the ridge as best I can as it winds between houses, across streets, down back lanes. I am getting closer to the less respectable surrounds of Parramatta Road; graffiti and garage-door murals are starting to appear.

Then, beyond the Seventh Day Adventist Church, I spot another surprise. It is the top of a tall, brick sewer vent.                                                  

My route takes me through more twists and turns until I come to the entrance of Percival Lane. And there, on the next corner, is the magnificent sewer vent standing in the front yard of a little house. White wisps of condensation float from the chimney into the cold blue sky.

Just half an hour ago I had a flash of insight into this area’s geomorphology. But now I have reverted to admiring the monumental accoutrements of civilisation.  Later I will read that this is a ‘classicist late Victorian sewer vent’ with Sydney Water heritage number 4572732.

I have had enough excitement for the day and resolve to resume my walk on an overcast day when I can get photos of the vent and its house without the dappled shadows cast by street trees. I return to the car via a lane beside the Seventh Day Adventist Church, where earlier I noticed a rustic little table in a throwout pile. I will use it as a plant stand in my backyard.

Watershed moments. Excursion 2. Tin bird territory.

There’s a man up a ladder picking inedible figs as his dog watches on. Eye-catching in its simplicity, this back-lane mural will turn out to be today’s most interesting find as I resume my tracing of the Johnstons Creek catchment rim.

I am in the staid north-western corner of Stanmore, which is characterised by rows of neat, late 19th century houses. Yaz, the Completing Sydney blogger, visiting this suburb for the first time not so long ago, decided that ‘here is that combination of historic and adorable that we come to expect from the Inner West’, making it ‘the kind of place you might want to live in if you’re after that quiet suburban life, not too far from the city – perfect for small families who also happen to be multi-millionaires’.

As I emerge from a knot of neat, rubbish-less back lanes there is an imposing house opposite with bird cowls on its chimney. Spot the real bird on the television aerial! I’ve had to look up ‘bird cowl’, the correct term for these covers that apparently increase the draft of a chimney. In this neighbourhood there are flocks of them. Perhaps the original builders of these houses did not foresee that ridge-top winds would blow smoke back down the chimneys. Original features, such as mantelpieces and fireplaces, are a real estate selling point in Sydney’s older suburbs, but I wonder how many owners persist with wood fires for their heating in winter?

After turning a few street corners I come to a place where the ridge line ducks between two houses. Detouring round the block to get to the spot where the line emerges in a rear lane, I will use the tall palm tree as a marker.

I find the palm tree, but I have been out for the allotted Covid-safe outdoor exercise hour so it’s time to head back to the car.

In any case the clouds are louring and it’s going to rain again. I turn my back on another flock of bird cowls bracing themselves for the worst.

29 June 2021

Walking and Listening

An almost unnoticeable incident while I was on my first Watershed Moments lockdown walk. A small inner west street on the rim of the Johnstons Creek catchment area sandwiched between the railway line and the north-south runway flight path. As I stand and take in the ambient noises, another sound catches my attention. Later I write a poem about it and submit it to a competition run by Walk Listen Create for their Sound Walk September celebration. It’s been long-listed and published on their website!

Compass by Megan Hicks – walk · listen · create (walklistencreate.org)

Watershed Moments. Excursion 1. The water tower.

Another lockdown. A new walking project. I’m still fixated on Johnstons Creek, but this time I’m following the rim of its catchment area, a route that will take me along the ridges of Petersham, Stanmore and Annandale. And that is as far as I will get while restricted to my local government area.

I begin at the highest point west of the Sydney CBD before the Blue Mountains. You might call it Sydney’s upper inner west. It’s right where the landmark Petersham Water Tower is poised – this heritage-listed, concrete engineering marvel. This afternoon a group of currawongs is enjoying the rim of the tower and its updrafts.

Using Sydney Water’s stormwater catchment map, detailed down to individual blocks of land and house numbers, I head north along Crystal Street, stopping to turn around and photograph a relic of traffic signs past. It’s a ‘SLOW’ warning written in metal studs on the concrete. I manage to photograph it (not for the first time) during a traffic light-induced gap between vehicles.

Where Crystal Street crosses the railway line I am still on high ground. From the bridge you are supposed to be able to tell if it is snowing in Oberon, on the other side of the Blue Mountains. My friend who lives there says I should look for a green cloud. Today there is no faraway green cloud but I do catch late afternoon shafts of light.

The perimeter of the Johnstons Creek catchment area, as it is indicated on the Sydney Water map, is sometimes curved in places where old roads have followed natural ridges. But more often it becomes a series of straight lines at angles to each other, where streets have been laid out in a grid that disregards topography. In those places the map outline fudges the lie of the land in order to conform to the alignment of streets, lanes, buildings or water pipes.

I turn east off Crystal Street but come to a point where the map line darts between two houses. Since I can’t walk through people’s property (nor am I physically able to climb over back fences) I must backtrack and walk all the way round to meet the imaginary line in the next street parallel. I can see that this is going to happen over and over again on my series of excursions.

The last part of today’s trip takes me through some disappointing back lanes. In this neat part of Petersham there are wheelie bins in the lanes but no piles of discarded junk for me to cast my eye over, only the occasional mystery abandonment. It is starting to rain and I turn back.

Monday 28 June 2021

Bill posters won’t be prosecuted

Despite galloping gentrification, the Newtown-Enmore ‘destination precinct’ of Sydney’s inner west retains remnants of its former underground student activism, most notably in the form of fly-posters promoting leftist and anarchist causes.

Bill posting is illegal, with the local Inner West Council defining posters as ‘visual pollution’, along with other forms of ‘unwanted graffiti’. However, unlike the City of Sydney, which administers the north-eastern end of Newtown, the Inner West Council does not carry out an aggressive program of graffiti and poster removal. This might mean the Inner West has a smaller budget for street beautification, but over the years I have come to realise that it also indicates an uneasy tolerance on the part of Council, and that this tolerance is based on ambivalence. 

Inner West Council trades on the image of Newtown-Enmore as a ‘vibrant’ and edgy area where there is always something to see and do. Its arts program, tellingly named EDGE, seeks to reinforce the area’s position as ‘the cultural engine of global Sydney’. It is noteworthy that the 2019 EDGE program was themed Art and Activism and that it included works of pseudo-graffiti, such as a series of giant paste-up illustrations celebrating the Reclaim the Streets activist movement, and trails of animal stencils on footpaths described as a ‘guerrilla pavement art project bearing witness to The Sixth Mass Extinction’.

With this kind of endorsement of graffiti and paste-ups it’s not surprising that unauthorised fly-posters have become an intrinsic element of Newtown-Enmore’s cultural capital. Political posters draw attention to the locality’s history as a seat of activism and this history is encouraged by Council’s arts programs to be regarded as an element of cultural ‘heritage’.

This blog post is an edited excerpt from:

HICKS, M. (2021) Flyposter graffiti and the change in a Sydney streetscape during the time of COVID-19. Visual Studies, 36, 141-146.

Concrete Creeks. Excursion 11. The valley.

Monday 22 June 2020

For this last journey along Johnstons Creek we take a path not far from Tramsheds, but on the opposite side of the canal. To follow the concrete line of the canal towards Rozelle Bay, we begin beside a skate ramp and an assembly of earth movers standing by to work on Sydney Water’s ‘naturalisation’ project.

Not far along the sandy path I am surprised to see a reed-fringed pond with a signboard, ‘Federal Park Wetland’. The sky to the north is threatening, but above us there are blue patches and their reflections match the colour of the pet supplies barn beyond the trees. Overflow from the pond empties into two basins and, on the other side of the path, we see that it has run underneath us to the canal.

The tide is out, or perhaps it was prevented from coming in. The canal is dishevelled, strewn with pipes, barricades and building site paraphernalia. Water pumped from somewhere upstream pours from a large black hose. This scene is so different from the almost-idyllic autumnal waterway that we looked back on from the sunny Glebe foreshore in April.

The rail viaduct is the next landmark. Built to carry steam trains taking goods to and from Darling Harbour, it has since been modified with overhead electric wires for the Metro light rail. From where Federal Park has widened out into a grassy but soggy playing field we can look back and admire its elegant curve and graceful brick arches.

Further on, after stepping along a temporary plastic path between safety fences, we arrive at the feted and recreated Allan Truss Bridge. This is the spot where we abandoned our foreshore outing in April, which means we have completed our piecemeal exploration of Johnstons Creek proper, from drain to bay. Over the weeks we have encountered twelve bridges across the canal, passed under two mighty viaducts, and walked over countless hidden feeder pipes and drains.

The characteristic salty-muddy smell of a tidal flat accompanies us as we cross the truss bridge. On the other side a large section of Bicentennial Park has also become a reconstruction site, where hard hats must be worn and 1.5 metre distancing observed.

We now return to where we started today, this time taking a route along the eastern side of the canal between more wire safety fences and the trim white picket fence of Jubilee Oval.

Back at the two bridges that cross from The Crescent in Annandale to Harold Park and the Tramsheds food mall in Forest Lodge, I look upstream towards the vast residential development that has replaced the Harold Park Paceway. Before embarking on this last Johnstons Creek excursion I have done some reading and I now realise that this whole area is a broad, flat valley. Although there are acres of open space, nothing is orginal. Not the concrete-confined creek, nor the planted reed beds and grassy slopes in front of me. Behind me, not the little wetland, the tidy playing fields and parks, the Indian mynahs splashing in the canal, nor the neatly walled edges of Rozelle Bay.  Not even the trees.

In this valley Johnstons Creek once stretched out as a wide estuarine wetland with tidal mudflats and mangrove thickets, but in the 19th century the valley was filled with spoil from elsewhere in the curiously misnamed process of reclamation.

Over the generations since then, various organisations and departments have argued and compromised and acted to shape the land to their various needs and wants – grassy parklands and avenues of trees, factory sites, warehouses, timberyards, tramyards and a racecourse. Similar wrangling has characterised more recent efforts to restore fragments of the ‘reclaimed’ valley to a semblance of its former self.

So we have reed beds adjacent to a high-rise development, an artificial wetland fed by real runoff, newly planted patches of native vegetation (some already infiltrated by exotic weeds), and a corner of  mangroves in an area small enough that it doesn’t encroach on open space. The latest change is Sydney Water’s grand naturalisation project which includes, among other things, replacing the concrete banks of the canal with sandstone and native plants, and expanding the salt marsh around it. The City of Sydney’s concurrent scheme to improve The Crescent and Federal Park will feature less natural works, like a skate plaza and picnic areas with barbecues. 

During my walking and reading explorations I have been disappointed not to find specific references to pre-20th century Aboriginal people who might have frequented the immediate environs of Johnstons Creek. Recently written descriptions and histories of the surrounding suburbs usually begin with the obligatory generalised nod to the Cadigal and Wangal people of this area before getting on with the ‘real’ history. But even in serious accounts I have found no mentions of these people that can be pinned specifically to Johnstons Creek, nor can I find any stories handed down through generations, or contemporaneous mentions of Aboriginal people being seen here, or any records of archaeological discoveries.

It stands to reason. The region now covered by the suburbs of Stanmore, Camperdown, Annandale and Forest Lodge was very close to the original colonial settlement of Sydney, so even before the very early land grants were made here, most Aboriginal people had probably gone. During the subsequent periods of farming, subdivision and urbanisation, any traces of the original people would have been dug up, buried, built over or wilfully ignored.

Still, there is enough evidence from nearby or similar areas to suggest how these people lived. They might have hunted in what the colonists called the ‘Kangaroo Ground’ where Johnstons Creek rose. The might have accessed its fresh water. They would have probably frequented the sandstone ridges of now-suburban Glebe overlooking the estuarine valley, staying in overhangs like the rock shelters with associated middens that have been found not so far away in Lilyfield and Birchgrove.  

They would not have lived in the watery valley but almost certainly foraged there, just as people did in the long-ago ‘reclaimed’ Blackwattle Bay on the other side of Glebe Point, where archaeologists have recently uncovered several deposits of stone artefacts. Glebe historian Max Solling says there is ‘some evidence of Aboriginal middens – the remains of shellfish – in the narrow strip of remnant salt marsh fringing the lower parts of Johnstons Creek. The ark cockle, scallop and Sydney rock oyster and mud whelk found there indicate that this was a fertile swamp and a rich source of food for the first inhabitants’.

As this stage of my Covid-19 isolation project comes to an end social restrictions in New South Wales have been eased. I am not sure that I could muster the number of friends I am allowed to mingle with, but later in the week we are having lunch with two friends. They are volunteers with the State Emergency Service and so are interested in previous waterways and potential flood zones. Perhaps we will talk about the buried tributaries of Johnstons Creek that I have yet to explore. I want to hear more of their stories about local streets that turn into torrents, and basement pumps, and flooded police cells.

References:

Attenbrow, Val, Sydney’s Aboriginal past: investigating the archaeological and historical records, UNSW Press, 2010.

City of Sydney, Improving Federal Park and The Crescent,
https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/vision/better-infrastructure/parks-and-playgrounds/current-works/improving-crescent-federal-park

Irish, Paul, Hidden in plain view: the Aboriginal people of coastal Sydney, NewSouth Publishing , 2017.

Irish, Paul and Tamika Goward, Barani: Sydney’s Aboriginal history/ Blackwattle Creek,
https://www.sydneybarani.com.au/sites/blackwattle-creek/

Office of Environment & Heritage, Glebe viaducts (Jubilee Park/Wentworth Park),
https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=4801104

Sydney Motorway Corporation, The People’s M4/M5 EIS, Chapter 21: Aboriginal heritage, 21.2 Existing environment,
https://thepeopleseis.wordpress.com/chapter-21-aboriginal-heritage-2/

Sydney Water, Johnstons Creek naturalisation,
https://www.sydneywatertalk.com.au/johnstonscreek

Wahlquist, Asa, The foreshores of Glebe,
http://asawahlquist.com/?p=341

Concrete Creeks. Excursion 10. The shark park.

Wednesday 10 June 2020

At the northern end of Smith & Spindler Park in Annandale there is a quaint arched footbridge across to AV Henry Reserve. After passing beneath this footbridge Johnstons Creek flows under a road bridge where vehicles swoop around the arc of The Crescent. The canalside pathway has a separate underpass below the road. I have chosen to follow this section of the canal on a rainy weekday in the hope of avoiding encounters with speeding cyclists on the shared path. I am the kind of pedestrian they hate – slow, meandering, crossing unpredictably from one side of the path to the other to take photographs.

The Man Who Walks Ahead drops me at Smith & Spindler Park and will this time drive ahead to meet me at Tramsheds. Before I set off I am drawn to a cluster of small brick building in the corner of the park. It is another Sewage Pumping Station, SPS 4. I am surprised to find the high chain wire gate ajar and I walk right into the compound, as have many graffitists before me. There is an outdoor dunny attached to the main building and inevitable jokes spring to mind. Is it connected to the sewer, I wonder. When I tell him about it later The Man suggests it might house a relief valve.

There is a steep dip in the claustrophobic tunnel under The Crescent. A friend later tells me that when she used to cycle home from Glebe she would have to take a long detour whenever Johnstons Creek flooded because the water in the underpass was too deep to ride through.

When I emerge I’m disappointed to find the creek blocked from view by safety fencing and Sydney Water banners. ‘Johnstons Creek naturalisation’, they read, ‘We’re improving the health of this waterway, creating a better place for the community to enjoy’.  I peer through a gap in the screens and conclude that things have got a lot worse before getting better.  It was in this stretch of the canal that a confused bull shark, said to be 1.8 metres long, was stranded in a pool when the tide went out one day in September 2009. Happily it escaped back to Rozelle Bay when the tide came in.

I am now in Federal Park. Larger than all the other parks and reserves that edge the western  side of Johnstons Creek, narrow Federal Park runs all the way from here to the bay.  At a place where two separate bridges cross the canal (one for vehicles, one for pedestrians) two men in high-vis jackets are earnestly discussing ground water and surface water. Beyond them I can see the rail viaduct.

When I walk under the viaduct I will have completed the whole length of Johnstons Creek proper. But that walk must wait for another day. Right now The Man is waiting in the carpark of Tramsheds, where the former Rozelle Tram Depot has been transformed into an eating emporium.  Erected in 1904 and preserved by repurposing, the depot was one of several imposing infrastructure projects built near Johnstons Creek around that time including, of course, the canal itself.

If there aren’t too many people we will be allowed to sit at a café for a cup of coffee rather than having to buy takeaway.  It’s still raining but a rainbow has come out.

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