Category Archives: infrastructure

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.

Western Distributor On-Ramp/Road Hammock – Sydney, NSW

Here’s something completely stupid: this carriageway is the Western Distributor passing over Kent, Day and Margaret Streets near Wynyard. Below it is…a bit of road that…goes nowhere, and does nothing.

The Western Distributor began life in the early 1960s as a way to relieve traffic on the Harbour Bridge. Sydney’s extensive underground rail system meant that the Distributor couldn’t be built as a series of tunnels, so viaducts were the sensible alternative. That’s where the sense stopped.

The only reason the Western Distributor existed was because the designers of the Harbour Bridge and existing road system didn’t use enough foresight. You’d think that planners of the WD would employ twice as much foresight to make sure that further modifications weren’t necessary. Well, two times nothing is still nothing.

The original plan for the Western Distributor had westbound traffic exiting the city via the Glebe Island Bridge. For those who aren’t familiar with the bridge in question, here’s a picture:

That’s it there, below that huge, multi-lane bridge. If you can’t see it, squint. The two-lane Glebe Island Bridge had been built in 1903 to provide access to the Glebe Abattoir, and it includes a swing bridge to allow boats through. Surprisingly, this bridge proved to be unable to handle the traffic spewing forth from the Western Distributor, and in 1984 the NSW Government proposed another bridge. Good thinking! The Anzac Bridge was completed by 1995 (!), and opened in December of that year. It features a great height to allow boats through.

Of course, when the Distributor had been designed, it was flowing towards a small bridge. Now that it had a giant, capable bridge to lead into, the one-lane road itself suddenly seemed a bit lacklustre. In 2002 (!!), work commenced to widen the Western Distributor throughout the city, which brings us back to our original ridiculousness.

Here’s the other end, just in case you were thinking it went somewhere.

This bit of suspended road was originally an on-ramp for the Western Distributor, with access from Margaret Street. When the road above our piece here was widened, it claimed the on-ramp’s space and ended Margaret Street’s usefulness in the scheme of things. For a time it was used as a parking bay (illustrating the lengths the City of Sydney Council is willing to go to to make a buck out of parking). The ramp was then severed at both ends, and now sits hanging above the street, useless and surreal.

The happy ending to this story is that after the implementation of each of these emergency patches to the highways of Sydney, traffic in the city was never a problem ever again.