While spending time in Botany yesterday, I walked past the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel on Botany Road, turned down Waratah Road, and found myself staring at…the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel? What?!
This bigger hotel stood in front of a large park, so I’ll fill you in as we explore the park. It turned out that this hotel was the original Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, built in 1844. In 1920, the second Sir Joe was built on Botany Road, and the pub license was transferred to it, leaving the original free to become private units, which is how it is today.
That’s the dull part out of the way. The interesting part of this place is the garden, which has provided Sydney with a few major firsts since 1850. Here, at the garden’s running track, foot racing events were *yawn* held throughout the 1880s during the… professional running boom…I know, I know. We’ll get there.
Also held at this running track was Australia’s first game of representative rugby league, in which the South Sydney Probables clashed with the Possibles. I’m guessing the Likelies played against the Maybes the week after.
Okay, now, the most interesting thing about this park is that it was home to Australia’s first zoo. The site’s owner at the time, a timber merchant named William Beaumont, improved the hotel and created the ‘Pleasure Gardens’, which is a more scandalous and giggle-inducing name today than it would have been back then. The gardens included the private zoo.
It’s hard to imagine tigers and elephants wandering around the grounds these days, so to assist you, the City of Botany Bay has erected a series of life size animal statues. In a way it helps, but in another way it’s kind of creepy. Judge for yourself.
It’s interesting to note just how few of these brand names are widely visible today. Ampol and Esso were both absorbed by their parent companies, proving once again that no one is safe from the Big Oil Killuminati. Maxwell Chemical Corporation, which is just the kind of name you want to see emblazoned on your pleasure garden, has moved offshore. Seagram seems to have disappeared from the corporate environment in New South Wales, at least. Even Pascol Paints has been absorbed by Wattyl, going against all advice you were ever given about mixing paints.
The most striking thing about this place is how secluded it feels. It’s off the main road, but the whole suburb of Botany feels a world away from Sydney as it is. I suppose in that regard, it was the perfect environment for a zoo. The most important feature of the garden today are the series of ponds that form protected wetlands. The whole park sits on land reclaimed from Botany Bay, so some attempt at looking after the marine life there is better than none at all.
Meanwhile, up at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel Pub Edition, you’d never know any of it was there. Here, they just sit, and drink, and smoke, and bet, and watch the millionth game of rugby league played since the days of probability vs possibility.
I think about it this way: the goings-on of the Sir Joseph Banks Pub on Botany Road are indicative of all that’s probable, but the Victorian wonderland and colourful history of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel and Pleasure Gardens are all about what’s possible.
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.