History and Heritage Reports

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Authors: Beverley Johnson and Sue Rosen 

Words: 4500

This historical overview is part of a European and Indigenous Heritage Assessment prepared for Sydney Water in 1995 by Sue Rosen Pty. Ltd. 


Until the advent of the Upper Nepean Scheme, the two recurring themes in any discussion of Sydney's water supply were drought and the tension between the need to be near water and the pollution which resulted. In Aird’s words:

. . . Sydney . . . has a highly erratic annual rainfall and the city is subject to sudden and severe, and sometimes lengthy, heatwaves. The first makes it necessary to store more water per head of population than any other major city in the world; the second calls for a distribution system to meet a daily demand which can vary from an average of 200 million gallons to 390 million gallons within a few days.[1]

Pollution by the domestic user and industry occurred from when the Tank Stream was the major source of supply and continued when water was drawn from the Botany Swamps. In the latter instance the western section of the Botany Bay catchment was used by industry, the eastern section was for Sydney's water supply.[2] The Botany situation was later aggravated by closer settlement, the establishment of the Randwick racecourse, the proximity of a cemetery, the contamination by pigs and the dumping of night soil.[3]

The Upper Nepean Scheme addressed both these issues and was the sole source of Sydney’s water from the 1880s until the development of the Woronora Scheme. Construction of the Woronora Scheme commenced in 1927, but was not completed until 1941 because of funding shortages. While a scheme, constructed by relief workers was completed in 1931, the Woronora project which was to supply the southern suburbs was not completed until October 194

[1]      W. V. Aird, compiler, The Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage of Sydney, p.xiii.

[2]      Shirley Fitzgerald, Rising Damp, Sydney 1870-1890, p.18.

[3]      David Clark, ‘Worse than Physic: Sydney's Water Supply 1788-1888', in Max Kelly, (ed.), Nineteenth Century Sydney, p.60.

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