Shea’s Creek/Alexandra Canal – Mascot, St Peters, Alexandria NSW

Cooks River

You’re looking at Sydney’s most polluted waterway. And I thought Rhodes was bad.

The Botany Bay end of Alexandra Canal

In the late 1880s (it’s always the 80s), someone envisaged a grand canal stretching from Botany Bay to Sydney Harbour. It would start at the Botany Bay end of the Cooks River, and lead all the way through the city before opening up at Circular Quay, thereby giving the Eastern Suburbs the island refuge from the great unwashed they’ve always wanted. To that end, I’m surprised it never happened.

Former Shea’s Creek opening

Shea’s Creek, a small offshoot of the Cooks River, was chosen as ground zero for the new tributary, which was supposed to act as an access route for barges to transport goods between the multitude of factories set up along the creek in the area. Factories including brickworks, tanneries and foundries. Factories that drained their runoff directly into the canal. A canal that is, according to the EPA, “the most severely contaminated canal in the southern hemisphere”. So keen to pollute were the industrial warlords of yesteryear that they had to invent waterways to defile.

At the time the canal was constructed, Sydney’s roads were a terrible mess completely unsuitable for transporting goods, making an aquatic access route more practical. Thankfully, Sydney’s roads today…uh…they…they’re pretty uh…let’s get more canals happening.

So near and yet so far

Between 1887 and 1900, Shea’s Creek was ripped up and turned into the canal. By 1895 it was looking unlikely that it would ever reach Sydney Harbour. The NSW Government had decided that as a sewer, the Shea’s Creek Canal as it was known then was doing a good enough job as a carrier of stormwater and runoff, and that there probably wouldn’t be a need to spend all those pounds carrying on with the project. Tenders were called again to complete the canal in 1905, but there were no takers.

Image courtesy Google Maps

The canal was renamed the Alexandra Canal in 1902, after the then-Queen Consort Alexandra. Coincidentally, the suburb that the canal ended in, Alexandria, was also named for her. I bet she was proud, too.

From a scream to a whimper

This is how it ends. The mighty canal winds down to a stormwater drain, which then continues to wind up through Alexandria before disappearing. Apparently, the cost of the already 4km canal was so prohibitive as to cancel the rest of the project. It might also have been that the powers that be were trying to save lives, for in creating the Alexandra Canal, they had also created…a bloodthirsty monster!

Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Dec 1903

Horsham Times, 13 Jun 1919

Adelaide Advertiser, 6 Nov 1922

Courier Mail, 15 May 1934

There have been several attempts since 1998 to clean up the canal, add cycleways (more cycleways!), cafes and restaurants, and generally make it a nice place to be.

As you can see, it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe when the city’s insane lust for cycleways finally stretches the canal to Sydney Harbour, that fantasy can be realised.

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3 responses

  1. Is this the same canal as the one at St Mary’s ? Boy did that pong severely for years = back then people were willing to put up with it !

  2. Very interesting, considering I and others row here 2-3 times a week

  3. And its about to get some more new large drains from Alexandria going into it

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