If a train passes in Woollahra, does it make a sound? And more importantly, will there be anyone around to hear it?
If you’re waiting for a train in the affluent east Sydney suburb of Woollahra, be thankful for this bench. You’ll be waiting awhile.
This park provides a view of what would have been the only open-air station on Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs train line. In fact, the park itself should at this point be a flight of stairs carrying the townsfolk of Woollahra down to the station, that gateway to the world. So what happened?
It could be that tired old story: greedy developers, community action, triumph of the little people over big business and nasty ol’ gubment etc. Let’s find a different way to tell it.
A train line for Sydney’s eastern suburbs had been on the cards from the turn of the 20th century. John Job Crew Bradfield, in his infinite public transport wisdom, knew that the people out there trapped between the leviathan and the Tasman would need a cheap, easy escape.
The eastern suburbs don’t do cheap, don’t you know, and they certainly have no reason to escape.
By the time the line was just about complete in the late 1970s (after several subterranean attempts), opposition to a train station in Woollahra had congealed into a hardened crust. There would be no breaking it.
The red rattlers would ferry in all the scum of the west, they said, not to mention all those other undesirables. Crime would increase, and why should they have to have any crime? Then there was the noise: the ambience in their pool rooms might be disturbed.
People power won out, and the government of the day relented, but not before a final act of appeasement: the line was fitted with futuristic sleeper technology that made Woollahra’s stretch of track the quietest in the country. It’s true; I missed three trains going past while I was waiting to get a good picture just because I hadn’t heard them.
I could hear the screams of bratty rich kids from the school up the road, and the late-70s NSW Government’s timid tones of appeasement echoed by wealthy parents. There’s no tech to block that out.
In the years since the station was completed, abandoned and forgotten, Woollahra has – through the character of its residents – transformed itself into a suburb you wouldn’t want to catch a train to anyway. I mean, unless you wanted to see the uh…well, there’s the…er, you, uh…wait, what’s so great about Woollahra again?
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.