If you read my entry on Shea’s Creek/Alexandra Canal and found your thirst for knowledge on the subject far from quenched (yeah, right), then I recommend you head over to the Dictionary of Sydney, which has just launched its Cooks River project. From the Dictionary:
It is with great pleasure that we launch our ‘Fine stream, fine meadow’ Cooks River project. Made possible through a Federal Government Your Community Heritage grant, today marks the culmination of a 12 month partnership between the Dictionary of Sydney and Botany Bay City, Marrickville and Canterbury City councils, the Cooks River Alliance, and nine fine writer-historians whose collective works form the heart of this project.
Through 14 essays, our authors trace the history of the Cooks River valley from its days as a pristine natural watercourse and lush hunting ground for the Eora people to the high density inner city suburbs and polluted river we know today.
It’s an impressive, exhaustive undertaking, and one I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to. Plus, if you look hard enough, you might find one of the photographers to be very familiar. What are you still reading this for? Get over there, ya mugs!
IKEA has caused quite a stir in the suburb of Tempe over the last couple of years. Bordered by the Princes Highway and the appealingly named Swamp Road, Australia’s largest IKEA has replaced an itself-enormous Kennards (formerly Millers) Self Storage site, Tempe tip, and a manufacturing facility run by Ateco Automotive. Can I just say, who even knew Millers Storage had been taken over? I’m sorry if this is common knowledge, but I openly admit to not being up on the goings-on within the self storage industry: apparently Kennards acquired Millers’ distinctive orange storage empire in 2004. Wow. Anyway, part of the site IKEA sits upon today was owned by a widow between 1926 and 1940, when it was acquired by the Perpetual Trustee Company. In 1947, the PTC offloaded the site onto now-defunct British tobacco manufacturer W.D. & H.O. Wills.
With 2014’s “Grangegate” claiming the NSW premiership of Barry O’Farrell, what better time to take a closer look at the history of Penfolds Wine Cellars at Tempe?
Penfolds bought the site from Wills in 1953, but it wasn’t until 1959 (a good year, apparently) that the steadily growing company opened its new centre, planned as the most modern of its kind. Forward thinking wasn’t exactly in vogue that year, as in 1970 the site received a major update.
The large wine barrel out the front of this art-deco building was a familiar sight to passers-by during Penfolds’ time at Tempe, which came to a close in 1994.
Ateco Automotive moved in in 1995 and had the good taste to leave the art-deco facade alone, but for a few years prior to 2009 the building sat derelict and abandoned.
Meanwhile, on another part of IKEA’s huge site, a landfill site known as Tempe Tip was doing its part to pollute the area. Much of the tip’s runoff ended up in Alexandra Canal. The tip was closed as a landfill in 1975 and in 1988, it caught fire. Remediation attempts were made in 2005 to turn Tempe Tip into ‘Tempe Lands’ – a wetland paradise adjacent to an existing golf driving range and duck-filled ponds. But the former tip site was found to be too unstable, and the project was put into the ‘too hard’ basket until IKEA came along – then it was their problem.
And what a problem it was; in 2010, construction of the furniture megastore screeched to a halt when tonnes of asbestos from the tip were discovered on the site. Hundreds of workers were exposed and had to be quarantined. In a surprising move, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change investigation found no supporting evidence of related claims that run-off from the site was laced with asbestos, since the existence of such evidence would mean IKEA would pack up and go home, taking their money with them.
Magically, the asbestos problems went away, and IKEA was able to open in 2011, much to the detriment of traffic along the Princes Highway. Especially on weekends, it’s a madhouse (appropriately enough, too, given the history of the neighbouring site…but that’s another story). Above all the chaos stands the art-deco clock tower, which for years bore the Ateco name. IKEA has appropriated the building, returning the clock to working order and affixing the IKEA name beneath it.
It’s a fitting image, really: in IKEA’s world of 9pm weekday closing times, rushed construction efforts and frenzied seizure of unsuitable land, time is money.
The history of the companies emblazoned on this building is as murky as the canal flowing past outside. T.C. Whittle was a construction company responsible, from the 1940s to the 1960s, for New Selborne Chambers on Phillip Street in the CBD, the St Margaret’s Hospital for Women in Surry Hills, and the Cameron office complex in Belconnen Town Centre (demolished 2006) among others. But even that illustrious resume didn’t stop T. C. Whittle from ending up delisted from the ASX in 1980, dodgily changing its name to TCW Investments, and finally, being deregistered completely by ASIC in 2005.
Belmadar, on the other hand, was known mostly for roadworks, and we all know how well done those are in Sydney. It’s no surprise then that Belmadar is gone, and the current tenants are an events production group called Licorice Productions. It’s one of a number of new companies moving into the formerly industrial Mascot/Alexandria area to not feature heavy pollution as an output. This building in particular backs onto the Alexandra Canal, and while there immediately weren’t fish jumping happily from the water and dolphins waving hello with their flippers, there may still be hope for it yet.
You’re looking at Sydney’s most polluted waterway. And I thought Rhodes was bad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.