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Notes from a Small Valley A Natural History of Wolli Creek II Vivid and Beautifu

Notes from a Small Valley


A Natural History of Wolli Creek




Vivid and Beautiful


Justin Cahill


Shakespir Edition
Copyright 2017 Justin Cahill

All rights reserved. The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. This ebook may not be reproduced by any means in any form without the copyright holder’s written consent.

All inquiries to Justin Cahill at
PO Box 108, Lindfield, 2070
New South Wales, Australia
or e-mail to [email protected]


To Gavin and Lee,

this part is respectfully dedicated.


Cover: Photograph of the eucalypt and angophora forest at Girrahween Park, Earlwood.




III. After the ice

IV. Kooma and first contact

V. Richard Atkins’ walk

VI. Fragments

VII. Fatal impacts and the Old Ironbark




This is the second part of Notes from a Small Valley, a short introduction to the natural history of the Wolli Creek Valley in Sydney, Australia. Part I, Prehistory, published in 2014, gave an overview of the Valley’s geology and what local fossil and archaeological records tell us of its ancient past. This part describes how the Valley may have appeared to a visitor in the early 1790s – shortly after the First Fleet brought the Europeans to Sydney in 1788 but before they settled along Wolli Creek from 1804. Part III, Survival and Recovery, will detail the Europeans’ impact on the Valley, the native species still found there, the efforts to restore its original ecosystems and the threats they continue to face.


To help show how the Valley may have looked at this point, I have provided a guide – Richard Atkins (1745-1820). Richard arrived in Sydney in 1792. A keen amateur naturalist, he often went on long walks to relieve his hang-overs and occasional bouts of melancholy. Despite an alarming lack of qualifications, Richard became the Colony’s deputy judge advocate – its chief judicial officer. In that capacity he was caught up in many of the social and political controversies that plagued the Colony until his departure in 1810. He, for example, presided over the trial of John Macarthur which sparked the infamous ‘Rum Rebellion’ against Governor Bligh in 1808.


I’ve used the device of a historic figure undertaking imaginary travels as the material for this work was fragmentary and I hoped to avoid the ‘scissors and paste’ effect that bedevilled my earlier attempts at describing the Valley’s natural history. When I saw how Steven Mithen used this approach in his After The Ice, a history of the post-Ice Age world, I thought it would help give these fragments some coherence.


This is not the first attempt to show how the Wolli Creek Valley looked before 1788. Eminent writers, including Doug Benson and Jocelyn Howell, have already published detailed accounts of the original flora of the Cooks River, Wolli Creek and Bardwell Valleys. There have been three such reconstructions. The first was included in the far-sighted report on these districts funded by the Regional Economic Development Scheme and published by the Total Environment Centre in 1976. The second, covering all of Sydney, was Benson and Howell’s Taken for Granted, published in 1990 and easily still one of the most important works on Sydney’s natural history available. The third was the study by Benson and others on the Cooks River, Wolli Creek and Bardwell Valleys, Missing jigsaw pieces, published in 1999.

My approach differs from these earlier works as it is not limited to botany. Instead I try, as far as possible, to populate the landscape with wildlife by reconstructing the original ecosystems found in the Wolli and Bardwell Valleys. In doing so, I have relied on several sources not used by earlier writers. Further, I want to show how reconstructions like this are put together and so have raised the curtains to show you the material I had to work with. Occasionally, I have had to take an artisan-like attitude to these sources: if I have not been able to make a table from them, I have been happy to get a chair, or even a toy. But enough material survives to provide a glimpse of the Wolli Valley before the Europeans wrought their devastation. It truly was a vivid and beautiful place – and, of course, still is.


Sadly, even as I write this, development continues to destroy or threaten parts of the district’s remaining natural heritage. The WestConnex motorway contractors repeatedly told the public that “Wolli Creek bushland will not be impacted” by their work. Then, in September 2016, they completely destroyed the unique shale-based paperbark and wattle scrubland at Beverly Hills for storage space. Once again, an irreplaceable remnant of Sydney’s native vegetation was sacrificed for the promise of a faster car trip – even though international and local experience indicates the WestConnex will become just as clogged as the M5 East is now. The tragedy at Beverly Hills may be just the beginning. The Arncliffe wetlands, already damaged by construction of the M5 East, are threatened by the relocation of Kogarah golf course. Further, the Scarborough Park wetlands, which lie in the road reservation for F6 motorway, may be destroyed if the SouthConnex motorway is built.


There has been some good news. The original plans for the WestConnex involved clearing much of the bushland east of Bexley Road (now known as the ‘Western Gateway bushland’) which includes an extremely rare stand of Sydney gallery rainforest. In December 2016 the Roads and Maritime Service advised it had changed its plans for the motorway and no longer required this land. It is now being transferring it to the Department of Planning and Environment to eventually be incorporated into the Wolli Valley Regional Park.


Even so, there must be some point where we stop destroying the natural world for our own, unsustainable convenience. But we have not reached it yet. Frankly, it’s extraordinary just how much political power the environment movement has lost in the last twenty years. The momentum it gained in the early 1980s is now almost spent. While conservative opponents retreated in the face of mass public protests, such as those to save Gordon River, they regrouped as progressives began to dissipate their energy and resources on less fundamental issues. History will be unkind to us – the generations that let it happen.


As previously confessed, I am not qualified to write the formal academic treatise the Valley deserves. But I have provided detailed references to help anyone planning to do so in the ‘Notes’ section below. My work has benefitted greatly from the researches of the late Dr Lesley Muir and the late Brian Madden. Their Bibliography of historical references relating to the Wolli Creek Valley is now freely available online. Perhaps one day we will have a publication along the lines of Virginia Bear’s beautifully arranged and illustrated account of the ecosystems found at the Kurnell Peninsula. The material for a similar work is available, but meeting the costs is difficult for small volunteer groups such as the Wolli Creek Preservation Society.


During my research for this part, I found some new material on the pre-history of the Aborigines of the Cooks River and Wolli Creek Valleys and their early contact with the Europeans. While I covered that topic in Part I, I have re-visited it below. To avoid cluttering up the text I have listed the scientific names of the species mentioned in an appendix to part III (although I have left them in where they were included in material I have quoted from). The opinions I express and all the errors are my own.


Justin Cahill

Lindfield, 2017



After the ice



It may strike you as odd, given our current preoccupation with global warming, to find that we are living during a lengthy ice age. It began about 2.6 million years ago, at the beginning of what geologists call ‘the Pleistocene Epoch’, and has been marked by alternating periods of global cooling and warming. These changes caused the waxing and waning of the Earth’s glaciers – huge sheets of ice which, at various times, covered Earth wholly or in part. That process, in turn, altered the depths of the oceans as the glaciers alternatively drew water into their existing mass or melted.


We know something about the local landscape during this cooler period thanks to geological investigations in and around Botany Bay during the 1970s. About 2 million years ago, there was a ridge stretching from the Airport to the northern tip of Kurnell Peninsula. This ridge divided two river systems that flowed over what is now Botany Bay. The first, known to geologists as ‘Botany River’, arose near Paddington and Centennial Park and flowed into what became the northern part of the Bay. The second, larger system was associated with the present day Cooks and Georges Rivers and flowed into what became the southern part of the Bay. The proto-Cooks River had at least three tributaries at this point, known as Towra River, Bonna River and Kurnell River. When sea levels rose, currents from the north carried sand down into these rivers and they silted up. A sandbar formed at the mouth of the Cooks-Georges River system, forcing it to change course. Ultimately it spilt over the ridge that separated it from ‘Botany River’ – eventually forming Botany Bay.


During this period, there have been repeated cycles of ‘glacial’ (when the ice advances) and ‘interglacial’ periods (when it melts and retreats) The latest glacial period began around 115,000 years ago and only ended about 10,000 years ago – a time often described as ‘the end of the last Ice Age’ as it’s when the glaciers began to melt and sea levels rose to their current level. It also marks the end of the Pleistocene epoch, and the beginning of the Holocene (meaning ‘whole new’). Future historians will probably record that we lived during a warm, interglacial period. It already has a name, the ‘Flandrian interglacial stage’ of the Holocene epoch – although whether our future plays out as global cooling or warming remains to be seen. Francis Pryor, the English archaeologist, jauntily predicts it will cool in the future. I would only note it has been several years since I’ve had to buy a new jumper.


These periods of climate change had a profound impact on the landscape. As the glaciers advanced, sea levels fell, changing the coastline. Between about 115,000 and 30,000 years ago, sea levels fluctuated between about 80 and 20 metres below their present levels. During the last ‘glacial maximum’, the coldest interval, between about 25,000 and 15,000 years ago, sea levels fell to between 130 and 110 metres lower that now. Sydney’s coastline was somewhere between about 6 and 15 km east of its current position. If we stood where the Opera House is now, things would be very different from how they appear today. What is now Port Jackson was a valley and Botany Bay was a sandy plain with swamps. The earliest archaeological evidence of people living at Botany Bay dates from just after this period, to around 12,000 years ago.


Gradually, as the glaciers melted and sea levels rose, the Port Jackson valley and Botany Bay plain were flooded, creating what is now Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and the Kurnell peninsula. To give some idea of the timing, the geologists Albani and Rickwood comment that until about 11,000 years ago, the residents of Kurnell could have walked across the sandstone ridge to the Airport. The local Aborigines preserve a folk memory of this event, passed down orally over several hundred generations. Frances Bodkin, a Dharawal elder and botanist, recalls the story of Botany Bay as told by her mother. It begins with a clan that split in two – “he elders headed inland, while the younger members remained on the then swampy land near the coast. When the elders returned they found Botany Bay had become an ocean inlet and Georges River and Cooks River were two separate rivers.”


When sea levels stopped rising about 7000 and 6500 years ago, Sydney’s coast looked pretty much as it does now. About 6000 years ago, local sea levels were high enough for the local people to find a dugong and leave its butchered remains beside Shea’s Creek, where they were recovered in 1896. I have not found anything on how the landscape around Wolli Creek may have changed between when this dugong met its untimely end and 1788. But it is safe to assume it was part of a dynamic system of landscapes and waterways regularly altered by floods, erosion, and the build-up of sediment. This is because Wolli Creek has never been an isolated feature. It is part of the Cooks River system, a larger network of shallow valleys and creeks that drains Sydney’s inner south-western suburbs and flows into Botany Bay. As the fate of Cooks River and Wolli Creek are often intertwined, an account of the River and its tributaries sets the scene for some of what follows.




The Cooks River originally rose from a wetland south of Rookwood, near the Chullora Railway Workshops (today, it rises in Graf Park at Yagoona). From there the River passed through what is now Strathfield, Belfield and Enfield: it was tidal as far as Burwood Road at Enfield. It continued roughly south-east past the suburbs of Burwood, Campsie, Ashbury, Canterbury, Earlwood, Dulwich Hill, Marrickville, and to Undercliffe, where Wolli Creek flowed into it. From there, it ran past Tempe and through what is now Sydney Airport into Botany Bay.


In December 1789 William Bradley (c.1757-1833), first lieutenant on HMS Sirius, flagship of the First Fleet, was sent to explore the north-west part of Botany Bay. He found the Cooks River “… to be a Creek of about 8 Miles length to the NW with a winding shoal Channel & end in a drain to a swamp, all saltwater.” A description of the lower part of the River written about a century later indicates little had changed, noting it “wound through extensive mud-flats exposed at low tide, and more or less covered with mangrove scrub.”


Apart from Wolli Creek, the Cooks River had a number of other tributaries. Each of them drained their own catchment and, in doing so, carved a valley down towards the River. Not all of them were named: some were probably ephemeral. By the time the Europeans arrived, the Cooks River had at least five tributaries between Chullora and Botany Bay, other than Wolli Creek.


The first was Cox’s Creek, which ran from Mount Lewis and Wiley Park into the River south of Strathfield. The second, Cup and Saucer Creek, ran from Clemton Park and joined the River at the base of Forest Hill, now north Earlwood (the track that once went down Forest Hill to this Creek is now Woolcott St, Earlwood). It was quite picturesque. The Creek flowed into a small pool on the edge of a sandstone ridge, which overflowed down into a second, wider pool just below it.


Next was Wolli Creek. It, in turn, had its own tributary, Bardwell Creek (also known as ‘Stoney Creek’), which drained what is now Hurstville, Bexley, Bexley North and Bardwell Park. It ran through the Bardwell Valley into Wolli Creek near Coolibah Reserve at Bardwell Park. Bardwell Creek, in turn had at least one tributary of its own, Springy Creek, which flowed from Bexley and joined Bardwell Creek near Pile Street. (Incidentally, Wolli Creek was also known to locals as ‘the Gully’ and Bardwell Creek as ‘First Gully’).


The third was Gumbramorra Creek, which linked the River to Gumbramorra Swamps at Marrickville and Sydenham. The fourth was Shea’s Creek, which rose near Sydney Park where St Peters station now stands and not far from where the labyrinthodont was found. It drained Zetland, Mascot, Erskineville and St Peters and joined the River near Tempe (it later became Alexandra Canal). Finally there was Muddy Creek, also known as Kyeemagh Canal, which joined the River at Kyeemagh. It drained the suburbs that lie below ridge between Hurstville and Arncliffe along which Forest Road now runs, including Carlton, Kogarah, Banksia and Arncliffe. It also drained the Arncliffe Wetlands in what is now Barton Park.


There was, incidentally, another series of wetlands behind the sand dunes along Lady Robinsons Beach between Kyeemagh and Ramsgate, including Pat More’s Swamp. Those wetlands were drained by their own creek, which ran south to Ramsgate, then turned east and flowed into Botany Bay south of Ramsgate Beach. Their remnants survive in what is now Scarborough Park.


Another conspicuous feature of the River is Fatima Island. Originally a small sandbar off what is now Kendrick Park in Tempe, it was enclosed in a sandstone retaining wall in 1901. It has remained in place to date and provides a refugee for water birds.




The Cooks River and its tributaries featured a diverse range of plant associations and ecosystems. This is the joint legacy of the sandstone and shale deposited there by the Triassic floods and millions of years of erosion of the landscape they left behind. In Triassic Sydney, the sandstone was deposited first, with layers of shales being dumped on top later. Gradually waterways such as the Cooks River and Wolli Creek carved valleys into the landscape. The process was much like what happens when you pour a bucket of water on a large sand castle. The water gushes down the sides, washing off the top layers and carving out deep channels in its sides. This disrupted the original geological deposits. As these valleys formed, most of the shale was washed down to the low lands. Ultimately the heights of these valleys were stripped down to bare sandstone. This process formed the local topography and created a variety of different soils that would go on to support different plant communities.


This diversity also comes thanks to some often-overlooked members of the natural world – lichen (an association of algae and fungi) and moss. Rocks don’t break down into soil all by themselves. Heat, cold, wind and rain contribute. But it is lichens that do much of the work – they secret carbonic acid which loosens individual rock particles. These rock particles mix with lichens to form the initial layer of soil. Gradually, decaying vegetation (humus) also accumulates in the soil and it becomes able to retain enough moisture to support mosses. They help the soil retain more moisture, making it capable of supporting larger plants. The roots of these larger plants penetrate deep into the rock, helping to break it up, and, when they decay, further enrich the soil.


The soils left by this process have distinct properties. Sandstone soils are not particularly fertile. They are mostly quartz with some clay and so are low in phosphate and nitrogen and strongly acidic. Shale soils, by contrast, have a slightly higher capacity to retain water than sandstone soils. The properties of these soils, along with their depth, and how much light and water the area they occupy receives dictate the nature of the local flora. The tops of ridges are, for example, usually bare sandstone. So the plants found there are those which tolerate low levels of phosphate and nitrogen, such as banksias, Kunzea (often known as ‘tick bush’) and heath. The sandstone soil further down the ridge may be slightly deeper and able to support forests and open woodlands of eucalypts, including Sydney Peppermint, Blackbutt, Red Bloodwood and Broad-leaved Scribbly bark and angophoras, such as Sydney Red Gum. Sheltered shale gullies may support wet sclerophyll forest of Blackbutt, Blue Gum, Water Gum, Coachwood and Black Wattle.


The shale-based lowlands generally support Turpentine-Ironbark forest. Recent studies indicate the shale-based vegetation is more varied that previously understood. It is now thought the higher parts of the local valleys supported Turpentine Ironbark Forest, while the plains between these forests and the valleys’ waterways supported a distinctive plant association known as ‘Cooks River clay plain scrub forest.’ It occurred on clay soils along the broad shallow valleys of the upper Cooks River and Wolli Creek and so was distinct from the Turpentine-Ironbark forest that occurred on deeper shale. It consisted of woodland mostly of Broad-leaved Ironbark and Woollybutt. In some places, these taller species were absent and they were dominated instead by Ball Honeymyrtle, a small paperbark. Both these shale-based associations, the Turpentine Ironbark forest and scrub forest, are now described as being part of a broader community known as ‘Cooks River-Castlereagh Ironbark Forest’.


The material ultimately washed down towards the local waterways is often designated as ‘alluvial or swamp soil’, but is better known as mud. Its name belies its importance. Mud supports a range of key ecological communities including paperbark and casuarina forest, reed beds and saltmarsh and mangrove forest.


As if to keep us on our toes, the carefully defined ‘types’ of soils and plant associations contrived by geologists and botanists occasionally merge into each other. Sandstone and shale-derived soils combine in some places to form what was known as ‘Hammondville Sandy Loam’. It forms a transition zone between the sandstone and shale-based vegetation and supports open eucalypt woodland. Further complicating matters, scientists have an unfortunate tendency to change the formal names of these ‘types’.


But this much can be said about the Wolli Valley’s ‘soil landscapes’. Imagine you are hovering over the Valley at Beverly Hills and have the benefit of x-ray vision with the capacity to distinguish different types of soil. You would see the western part of the Creek lies on a narrow spine of soil known as ‘Alluvial Birrong’ which is surrounded on both sides by another type of soil known as ‘Residual Blacktown’. Both ‘Alluvial Birrong’ and ‘Residual Bankstown’ are derived from shale, with ‘Residual Bankstown’ not being as well drained ‘Alluvial Birrong’. This spine of ‘Alluvial Birrong’ stretches east to near Kingsgrove railway station, where it gives way to ‘Erosional Gymea’, a soil derived from sandstone (and previously known as ‘Hammondville Sandy Loam’).


The Creek passes east through ‘Erosional Gymea’ up to half-way between Bardwell Park and Turrella. On both sides of the Creek between those two suburbs, there are also parallel ‘spines’ of ‘Colluvial Hawkesbury’, another sandstone-based soil (previously known as ‘Hawkesbury Sandstone Skeletal Soil’). From the point between Bardwell Park and Turrella, the southern side of the Creek passes through bands of ‘Erosional Gymea’ and ‘Alluvial Birrong’ to near the point where it joins the Cooks River. So does the north side of the Creek up to about Earlwood, where it passes through ‘Colluvial Hawkesbury’. From Undercliffe the Creek would have passed through ‘alluvial or swamp soil’, which once supported a large wetland that occupied the U-shaped area where it meets the Cooks River (now occupied by Waterworth and Gough Whitlam Parks).


One interesting point raised by the Valley’s soil landscapes is that they do not precisely ‘mirror’ the underlying geology. The boundary between the shale and sandstone parts of the Valley is said to be Bexley Road – with the shale country lying to the west and the sandstone country to the east. But as noted above the shale soils only reach to near Kingsgrove railway station and east of there are mostly sandstone-based. The Creek flows west to east, so I don’t suppose it carried sandstone west of Bexley Road. I suspect the answer may be that sandstone eroded from the ridges east of Bexley North was washed down the slope west towards Kingsgrove, but will leave this point for future expert research.




We can also tell which plant communities are likely to be found in a given area and how well they are flourishing thanks to the phenomenon of ‘succession’, also known to botanists, with some risqué (perhaps unintended) as ‘climax theory’. Over time, land is progressively occupied by a series of plant communities in a particular order, starting with the ‘pioneer’ species and ending with the ‘climax’ species. Gradually the original, pioneer communities modify the soil, drainage and lighting so much that it becomes more favourable to the succeeding ones. Things reach their maximum when there is a “…sustainable vegetation community that is in equilibrium with its environment.”


To visualise the succession of communities in the Wolli Valley, imagine you are walking up the side of the Wolli Valley from the Creek. You would first encounter alluvial mud with saltmarsh, then mangrove forest, reedbeds, paperbark and casuarina forest, then shrubland and forests, then heathlands. If you walked up from a Hammondville Sandy Loam/Erosional Gymea ‘transition zone,’ there would be Red Mahogany and Stringybark, then low open woodland and dry sclerophyll forest of Sydney Red Gum, Sydney Peppermint and Red Bloodwood an understory of banksias and tea trees. Up on the exposed sandstone ridges the forest may be interrupted by stands of heath including banksia and stands of Kunzea.


The plant communities found in a given slice (or vertical cross-section) of the Valley tell us something about its ecological history as we can ‘read’ to what extent climax species have been able to establish themselves. Put another way, this ‘slice’ is like a page in the book of the Valley’s ecological development. Reading the book of this quietly ordered Eden would have been much easier but for the arrival of a new species – and not just once, but twice ! Humans have ripped many pages out of this book and scribbled all over others. Yet enough remain to give us some idea how things once were.



Kooma and first contact



I have already described the first people to live in the Cooks River Valley in part I. When they first arrived in Sydney is uncertain as many of the oldest sites of human habitation were most likely flooded when sea levels rose at the end of the last glaciation. Charcoal found during the excavation of an Aboriginal campsite at the corner of George and Charles Streets in Parramatta has been dated to 30,735 years ago. As noted above, they were living at Botany Bay by about 12,000 years ago. The earliest record of them in the Wolli Creek Valley consists of charcoal and stone artefacts dated to between 10,400 and 10,700 years ago found during excavations at Discovery Point on the Cooks River bank near Tempe House in 2005. The oldest human remains found in Sydney were uncovered at Narrabeen in 2005 and date back 3700 years ago. They are of a man who appears to have died from been speared in the back (14 spear barbs were found near his skeleton, including one still lodged in his spine) and massive blows to his head. I detailed what little we know about them prior to colonisation in part I. Beyond that, there is some evidence the local Aborigines traded with those in other parts of Sydney. Flakes of silcrete were found during excavations near Tempe House. Silcrete was used to make sharp stone tools. The closest known local source is near the old Newtown post office.




In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, a second wave of humans arrived. Historians usually recount the landing of Captain James Cook and a party of armed marines from the Endeavour at Botany Bay on 28 April 1770 from their perspective. But they were just visitors – any account should begin with what the local people experienced and thought.


The first people to encounter them were the Gweagal (also spelt ‘Gwiyagal’, meaning ‘Fire Clan’), the Dharawal-speaking people who lived on the southern shore of Botany Bay – a place they knew as ‘Gwea’. As Captain David Collins, who came with the First Fleet and was Richard’s predecessor as deputy judge advocate, noted “ach family has a particular place of residence, from which is derived its distinguishing name. This is formed by adding the monosyllable Gal to the name of the place: thus the southern shore of Botany Bay is called Gwea, and the people who inhabit it style themselves as Gweagal.” Another group lived on the northern side of the Bay from the Cooks River to La Perouse and called themselves ‘Kamegal’, which means ‘Spear Clan’, being derived from the word for ‘kamey, meaning ‘spear’. They called Botany Bay ‘Kamay’ (also spelt ‘Kamey’).


The local people left several accounts of what they saw. In 1882 Obed West, a local historian, recounted what Cruwee (also spelt ‘Crewey’ or ‘Krooi’), who was present, told him of events that day. “I…often conversed with Cruwee” West noted “…and was told by him he was at Kurnell (opposite La Perouse) when Captain Cooks sailed into Botany Bay. It was very amusing to hear him describe the first impression the blacks had of the vessels, and, although very fearful, they were curious, and would, with fear and trembling, get behind some tree and peep out at the monsters which had invaded their shores. He said they thought the vessels were floating islands.”


We have some further insights thanks to Mahroot the Boatswain (c.1796-1850), the last surviving man from the Botany Bay tribe, who I mentioned in part I. He was the son of Carangarang (also known as ‘Grang grang’) and Mahroot the Elder (c.1773-1817), a leader of the Kamegal People. In 1845, recalling Cook’s landing, he said “hey thought they was the devil when they landed first, they did not know what to make of them.” Mahroot the Boatswain may have been the source of another account of events. In 1833, a Botany Bay man recounted what he’d often hear from his father to the Rev John McEnroe, a Catholic priest at St Mary’s in Sydney. “They thought at first” McEnroe wrote “that it was a big bird that came into the bay and they saw something like opposums running up and down about the legs and wings of the bird; but on viewing them closer they thought them to be people something like themselves.”


Finally, I have already told of Kooma, the elderly Aboriginal man who used to sing to Frances Carey when he and his people passed through Bexley on their way from the South Coast in the 1860s. Kooma is likely to be ‘Old Cooman’, also known as ‘King Kooma’ and ‘Goomung’. The name ‘Kooma’ roughly translates as ‘Spearman Junior’. Kooma was the son (or grandson) of ‘Spearman Senior’, also known as ‘Cooman’ or ‘Gooman’, one of two warriors, most likely Gweagal men, who challenged Cook and his landing party when they came ashore.


According to the accounts left by Cook and Joseph Banks, the botanist, and Sydney Parkinson, Bank’s botanical draughtsman, these warriors shouted at them and shook their spears. The Europeans responded by shooting at them. One of the warriors then threw his spears at the invaders (apparently intending to miss – it was most likely a ritual challenge to their arrival). The party then shot at the warriors again, prompting them to retreat and leave some of their weapons behind.


A local version of this encounter was provided by Bi-yar-rung (c.1820 to 1888-9) a Gweagal woman known to the Europeans as ‘Biddy Giles’ or ‘Granny’. Bi-yar-rung is said to have married Kooma (Spearman Junior) in the late 1830s. Kooma went on to become head of the Aborigines who lived at Kogarah. In July 1919 the St George Call, published at Kogarah from 1914 to 1923, reported as follows: “he genial Squire of Moorefield, Mr. Peter Moore, when interviewed lately, gave some very interesting reminiscences of the genesis of Kogarah. Born at Moorefield in 1854, he has resided there continuously ever since. He stated that the aboriginal name for Moorefield is “Mundahmillah,” and for what is now known as Kogarah – “Koograh,” this on the authority of King Kooma, head of the tribe of blacks then inhabiting the locality, and with whom he was on very friendly terms, but he is unable to recall the significance of the words.”


In 1905 Richard Longfield recalled that “… as a boy at Kurnell in the late 1830’s he had learned some local history from a teenaged Aboriginal girl named Biddy [Giles]. In a mixture of “pure Botany bay Turruwul (or Tdthurruwal)” she had related to him that when Captain Cook landed in 1770 her husband was “…a tiny child…” Some Aborigines went down to meet him. “They all run away: two fellows stand: Cook shot them in the legs; and they run away too !


Cook and Banks collected the shield and some of the spears the warriors left behind. Banks took the shield – it is probably the one which ended up in the British Museum and was first brought back to Australia for an exhibition in the National Museum of Australia in November 2015. Four of the spears Cook collected are now held at the Cook Collection of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge.


Eighteen years later, when Arthur Phillip arrived at Botany Bay on the HMS Supply on 18 January 1788, the Europeans received a similar reception. But Phillip managed to avoid any shooting. Philip King, the second lieutenant who accompanied Phillip, recalled “…when abreast of Point Solander, we saw several of the natives running along, brandishing their spears, and making towards the harbour…we observed a Number of Natives had assembled together. The boats were put to ashore near where we saw two Canoes were lying, on which the Natives (who before were sitting down) got up, and called to us in a very menacing and vociferous tone of voice, at the same time poising their Spears or lances as if intending to throw them at is.” As for what happen next, John Stockton, the compiler of The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay, notes “t the very first landing of Governor Phillip on the shore of Botany Bay, an interview with the natives took place. They were all armed, but on seeing the Governor approach with signs of friendship, alone and unarmed, they readily returned his confidence by laying down their weapons.”




European colonisation began with a comedy of errors over the local geology and botany. Cook had been impressed with Botany Bay. “I found in many places” he wrote in his journal “a deep black Soil which we thought was caperable of producing any kind of grain at present it produceth besides Tim[ber] as fine Meadow as ever was seen however we found it not all like this some few places were very rocky, but this I believe to be uncommon.” Three years after Cook’s voyage, John Hawkesworth prepared an edited version of Cook’s Endeavour journal for publication. He changed Cook’s remarks about Botany Bay to make him sound more positive and had him say: “We found also interspersed some of the finest meadows in the world: some places however were rocky, but these were comparatively few.”


Joseph Banks, the botanist who travelled with Cook, was also retrospectively upbeat. In 1785, fifteen years after the Endeavour visited Botany Bay, he gave evidence to the Beauchamp Committee of Inquiry formed by the House of Commons to inquire into the system of transporting convicts. Banks recommended Botany Bay as a suitable place to establish a settlement, noting that he had “…no doubt that the soil of many parts of the eastern coast of New South Wales between the latitudes of 30°S and 40°S is sufficiently fertile to support a considerable number of Europeans who would cultivate it in the ordinary modes used in England” and that Botany Bay was “…in every respect adapted to the purpose.”


Phillip found Botany Bay was not as advertised. The Bay was too exposed, there was not enough fresh water and the soil was too sandy. Instead of “…some of the finest meadows in the world…”, Phillip found “…even in the higher parts, [the ground] was in general damp and spungy. Smaller numbers might indeed in several spots have found a comfortable residence, but no place was found in the whole circuit of Botany Bay which seemed at all calculated for the reception of so large a settlement.” He moved the Fleet to Sydney Cove and established the settlement there instead.


The gap between Cook’s account of Botany Bay and what was actually there prompted a litany of complaints from various First Fleet officers. Watkin Tench, a captain-lieutenant of the marines, was the most scathing. He surveyed the district in September 1790. “We had passed through the country which the discoverers of Botany Bay extol as ‘some of the finest meadows in the world’ ” he observed. “These meadows, instead of grass, are covered with high coarse rushes, growing in a rotten spongy bog, into which we were plunged knee-deep at every step … The words which are quoted may be found in Mr Cook’s first voyage and form part of his description of Botany Bay. It has often fallen to my lot to traverse these fabled plains; and many bitter execration have I heard poured on those travellers, who could so faithlessly relate what they saw.”



Richard Atkins’ walk



It is here that I should further introduce our guide, Richard Atkins. Richard was the son of Lady Anne Stonhouse and Sir William Bowyer, a baronet, of Denham Court in Buckinghamshire. Described by a contemporary as “… a very fine looking man, very prepossessing in appearance, engaging and easy in his manners, and sensible and pleasant in his conversation…”, Richard had a wide range of interests. He enjoyed reading poetry and novels, spoke French and dabbled in philosophy, physics, natural history, astronomy and political science.


In a mixed stroke of good fortune his cousin, Sir Richard Atkins of Clapham in Surrey, left him his estate. But there were two conditions. Firstly, Sir Richard’s sister, Lady Penelope Rivers, would inherit the Clapham estate before Richard. So it would only pass to him on her death and so long as she had no children. Secondly, Richard was required to change his surname from ‘Bowyer’ to ‘Atkins’. Richard changed his surname. But Lady Rivers hung on until about 1796, leaving him with only a prospective inheritance.


A background like this would have secured virtually anyone a privileged place in society. But Richard had a weakness for the bottle and was most likely a high-functioning alcoholic. Nor was he particularly good at dealing with money. He ran up significant debts on his expectation of inheriting the Clapham estate and was besieged by creditors. It appears his family, embarrassed by his indiscretions, packed him off to Botany Bay to try his luck. He arrived in Sydney on board the Pitt in February 1792.


Richard managed to recommend himself to Governor Phillip, who appointed him a magistrate, Acting Registrar of the Court of Vice Admiralty and a Justice of the Peace and granted him three and a half acres of land. Richard, for his part, maintained a deeply felt sense of gratitude and respect for Phillip and helped the Governor put together a collection of insects.


Phillip’s health deteriorated and he left Sydney in December 1792. The caretaker regimes headed by Lieutenant Governor Major Francis Grose and Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) William Paterson dispensed with magistrates at Parramatta and civil magistrates at Sydney, leaving him with little to do. The Colony, at this time, did not have much to offer a man of Richard’s sensitivities. He disapproved of the lack of morality, writing “…vice of almost every kind prevails; Gaming, whoring and drunkenness stalk in broad day without the least check. Religion is laughed at, the Saboth [sic] profaned and I am sorry to say sanctioned: In short neither civil or religious rites are observed.” Richard retreated into himself and took to copying melancholic poems into his journal. He soon slipped back into his old habits and started drinking again. He ran up more debts on the strength of his family name and expectations. Richard was perfectly aware of his excesses – he constantly made sincere resolutions to give up the bottle, only to promptly relapse.


But, when able, Richard pursued his interest in natural history. He liked bushwalking, recording his observations in his journal on 17 April 1792: “his Evening I walked by myself to the Brick fields [between what are now Central and Town Hall Stations] about a mile from the Camp, for so Sydney is call’d, from its having been the Spot they pitch’d their tends on their first landing; A very good road is made the whole way to it through the wood, where trees of an immence size border it on both sides, their lofty and wide spreading Branches look beautiful. The timber is of no value but for burning, almost every tree is rotten at the heart, very hard and heavy and coarse grained, emitting great quantities of Gum like Dragons Blood, but without its properties, and is totally useless. The underwood is mostly flowering shrubs, some of whom are now in blossom of the most vivid and beautifull Colours imaginable, and many of them most delicately formed.” He went on exploring and shooting trips and put together collections of birds, insects and plants. His pets included a mutant Crimson Rosella, which Atkins got from Kissing Point. It was a lutino, having a genetic hiccup that inhibited the pigment for blue feathers. So instead of being crimson and blue, the feathers “… of the neck and breast are of a rich scarlet, with the head, wings, and tail of a clear straw colour.” He also had a Frogmouth.


Richard’s journal contains notes of the birds he saw during these trips and at home in Parramatta, where he’d moved to in May 1792. He notes the “reat qualities of Quailes…” at Parramatta on 22 May 1792. He went “Kangaroo Rat hunting” there two days later, “but was not successful.” He went out shooting again on 2 June 1792, he noted “…[_ shot some beautiful Parraquects & c. of which there are certainly greater variety in this country than in the whole known world besides, Plants, Insects &C are likewise here in the greatest variety ]…” That spring, he was much occupied with getting his collections together. On 11 September 1792 he wrote “[_I am now making a good collection of Insects of which there are great variety, expecially of the Beetle kind].” On 22 October he noted “lmost the whole of this month have been employed in collecting plants, birds, insects & c …”


Richard joined an expedition to the Nepean River and Prospect on 14 November 1792. He records seeing ducks, kangaroos, Emus and making “…some excellent Soup of 1 Duck 1 Pidgeon 1 Crow and 3 Magpies and some salt pork.” The party seems to have discovered a new bird, as Richard notes “e shott two birds never seen before, both of them fly-Catchers as it appeared by the contents of their Craws.” He also saw “White Cocatores” (Sulphur-crested Cockatoos) and “…shot a number of Bronze winged pidgeon…” On 24 November 1792 Richard was busy helping Governor Philip, who was about to return to England, “[_ getting his Insects &C ready _]…” He went out shooting again on 22 April 1793 and got some ducks and “White Cocatores.”




While the Cooks River was seen as an obstacle to settling the south part of the Colony, it was possible for someone to walk or ride from Sydney to the Cooks River’s headwaters in the early 1790s by following the Aborigines’ tracks to the Georges River. If Richard, during his enforced leisure in 1792 and 1793, resolved to set out, he would have left Sydney on the road (track may be a better description) to the Georges River. The road passed through the ‘Kangaroo Ground’, the hunting grounds of the Cadigal and Wangal people located between the Cooks River and north to about where Parramatta Road now runs (and includes the suburbs of Canterbury, Summer Hill, Petersham and Lewishman). The road led to a wide, circular valley by the Cooks River known as ‘the punch bowl’. This is where it was easiest to ford the River. (Incidentally, it was not located in the suburb of Punchbowl, but about 3 km to the north east in Belfield where Coronation Parade Drive meets the Cooks River bridge).


The land south of the Cooks River had significant stands of bush – much of it was still there as late as the 1870s. In August 1875 a visiting clergyman who’d travelled from Arncliffe to Punchbowl noted “e occasionally got on a good road for a while, and passed nice cottages with pretty orange trees loaded with fruit in the gardens. Then we would suddenly dive into the forest again and ride through tall, thick bush, among which the acacia was the most lovely, in full bloom, so rich and golden.”


As a former soldier and experienced ‘tramper’ with a good sense of direction, Richard would have had few difficulties with finding food and sleeping rough. Let’s assume he has already reached the headwaters of the Cooks River and is on his way back east. Walking along the River from Chullora, he would have passed through a succession of ecosystems. Richard would have found freshwater swamps edged with sedges, rushes and reeds, forests of casuarinas (then, and often still, known as ‘Swamp Oak’) and paperbarks, Swamp Mahogany, Red Gum and Ironbark. In some places he may have seen a small blue-flower, Tadgell’s Bluebell – a distinctive, and now endangered, element of the Cooks River clay plain scrub forest. If he rested on the banks of one of these swamps, he would have seen ducks, swamphens, coots, moorhens, grebes, herons, egrets and spoonbills. There would have been plenty of insects for him to collect, including large dragonflies, skaters, butterflies, and the ubiquitous mosquitos. While walking through the reed-beds he may have seen or heard reed-warblers, grass birds and cisticolas.


As Richard passed through the reed-beds, then stands of casuarinas and paperbarks and set out through the forests, he may have noticed the plant associations vary as he walked through areas with slow or quick-draining soils. The wetter areas would have consisted of Broad-leaved Ironbark, Grey Box and paperbark scrub. Where the soil was dryer, the Grey Box was replaced with Woollybutt. If he detoured to between what is now Livingston Street and Woodside Avenue in Burwood, he would have found vegetation change abruptly from eucalypt woodland to denser, rainforest-like growth in the volcanic soil left by the diatreme (small volcano) which erupted there. Continuing along the Valley, Richard would have found, on reaching what is now Marrickville, the River passed through a narrow sandstone valley with steep slopes featuring stands of Blackbutt and Scribble Gum woodland.


As he walked through these forests, Richard would have been able to see many types of birds. At this point, I should point out that reconstructing how Richard experienced Sydney’s natural history is complicated by the fact that in the early 1790s most of its flora and fauna lacked a standard European name. Some had scientific names. Old Man Banksia, for example, has already been formally named Banksia serrata. But there were no field guides and the illustrated literature available to Richard was limited to John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, published in 1790. The next major work, John Lewin’s Birds of New Holland with their Natural History, was not available locally until 1813 (it was first printed in England in 1808, but the stock to be sent to the Colony was lost). While John Latham’s Ornithological Index, first published in 1790, and the Supplement he published to it dated 1801 contained references to Australian birds, they would have been little use to Richard as they were essentially un-illustrated lists of specimens.


The naming of forest birds provides an example of this difficulty. At Marrickville, Richard may have found a shady spot under a large casuarina tree to sit and write up his notes. We can still enjoy this experience today at Steel Park, where Illawarra Road crosses the Cooks River – with the added convenience of a café and chocolatier. As the River flows slowly past large casuarinas and stands of mangroves, it is easy to forget the cares of city life. But I digress. Richard’s jottings may have looked something like this.


While passing thorough the wood-land, saw many birds of varied colours with most being insect eaters and honey suckers from what I could see of their feeding. There were Nuthatches, the Orange-breasted Thrush, Crimson-throated Manakin, the Frontal Shrike and Speckled Manikans and tiny blue Warblers – & some of the Great Brown Kingfisher. At various points, where the trees were in flower, I saw flocks of the Warty-faced Honeysuckers, the Wattled Bee-eater, and the scarlet Creeper and the New Holland Creeper noisily feeding. In the damper wood I saw the Pt. Jackson Thrush and yellow Sthn Motacilla – which followed me with short, sharp reproaches as if to see me off its land. As I came to where the clay gave way to sandy ground I saw less of the Nuthatches and the Warty-faced Honeysucker seem’d to give way to the Wattled Bee-eater. In clearing near some Oaks, I saw a flock of Temporal Finches feeding on the ground.”


In translation, and in order of appearance, Richard’s entry refers to the Varied Sitella (Nuthatch), male Rufous Whistler (Orange-breasted Thrush), Mistletoebird (Crimson-throated Manakin), Crested Shrike-tit (Frontal Shrike), Spotted Pardalote (Speckled Manakins), Superb Fairy Wrens (Warblers), Kookaburra (Great Brown Kingfisher), Regents Honeyeater (unfairly, but accurately, then known as the Warty-faced Honeysucker), Red Wattlebird (Wattled Bee-eater), Scarlet Honeyeater (Creeper), New Holland Honeyeater (New Holland Creeper), Grey Shrike-thrush (Port Jackson Thrush), Eastern Yellow Robin (Southern Motacilla) and Red-browed Finches (Temporal Finch) feeding on fallen casuarina seeds. In the last sentence, Richard perceptively notes that the Valley’s forests held at least two different sets of birds – those that depended on shale-based vegetation and those that preferred the sandstone based associations.


After finishing his notes, Richard continued along the River to Undercliffe. Here, he would have found reed beds bordered by meadows of Water Buttons, stands of Salt Marsh Rush (also known as Sea Rush), Streaked Arrowgrass, Bulrush and Casuarinas. The River’s estuary at Botany Bay featured extensive mangroves, saltmarsh, patches of Sea Rush and Salt Couch Grass. Pausing to watch the birds, he would have seen cormorants, darters, mangrove herons – he may have even flushed out a nankeen night heron. On the saltmarsh, he may have spotted a tiny black and white bird, the White-fronted Chat. Further out on the mudflats there may have been some godwits, sandpipers, stilts and dotterals. It is possible there were also some snipe – a game bird Richard would have been familiar with. There would have also been swallows, circling around in wide arcs in search of insects.




From Undercliffe, Richard makes his way up the Wolli Creek Valley. At the Creek’s junction with the Cooks River, he’d have seen tidal mudflats covered in patches of saltmarsh. At this time, Wolli Creek may have flowed into the Cooks River at a location known as ‘The Bay’ (now Cahill Park). It featured a semi-tidal lagoon with Arncliffe Street on its north side (it was later drained and factories built on the site).


If he looked closely at the saltmarsh and reedlands, he may have noticed three distinct plant communities growing along the Creek: Austral Seablithe with Common Reed, Samphire with Common Reed and Samphire with Streaked Arrow Grass. Further up the banks, he’d find closed forests of mangroves, including Grey Mangroves, beds of Common Reeds, Club Rush and Salt Marsh Rush and Casuarinas. Further back, there would be swamp forest made up of Swamp Mahogany, Casuarina, Paperbark and Lillypillies. There would have also been numerous Cabbage Tree Palms, those tall thin palms you often see growing in paddocks and remnant bush when driving south of Sydney (some stand, for example, near the Princes Highway at the turnoff to Picton).


From Undercliffe, walking along the north side of the Creek, Richard would have come across the outcrop that marks the beginning of the sandstone ridge runs along that side of the Valley, now known as Unwin’s Hill. As the local Aborigines had been passing through the Valley for millennia, I am going to assume there was a track along this ridge, as there is now.


Incidentally, on the south side of the Creek stood Unwin’s Hill opposite number, Vinegar Hill (later re-named ‘The Knoll’). At this time, there were alluvial flats on both sides of the Creek. On the north side, they reached the base of Unwin’s Hill. On the south side, they reached the base of Vinegar Hill. These flats survived until the mid-1900s. Gifford and Eileen Eardley, both active members of the St George Historical Society and amateur naturalists, recalled that “his whole oft-times water-logged area was covered with casuarina , or Swamp Oak, trees – Cabbage-tree palms, the higher and drier terrain being covered with a dense forest of luxuriant brush growth backed by groves of golden wattle and huge Angophora (Sydney Red-Gum) Blackbutt and Ironbark trees, intermixed with “Old Man” Banksias, the upper ridge being crowned by high forest trees …together with a compact undergrowth intermixed with native flowers, such as Dillwynia, Pultanaea, Flannel-flower, Christmas Bush and Native Fuschia…”.


Continuing west from Unwin’s Hill, Richard would have passed through heathland made up of banksias, hakea, wattles, Kunzea and small shrubs and flowering plants, such as Native Fuchsia, Geebug and ‘bacon and egg’ plants and the red-flowering Cranberry Heath. Further on, he would enter open woodland featuring Sydney Red Gums, Blackbutt, Sydney Peppermint, Red Bloodwood and Turpentine. By now the track would have been quite gritty with sandstone, criss-crossed by large tree roots and littered with leaves and strips of bark.


In wetter areas there would be patches of rainforest, containing Water Gums, Lilly Pillys, Turpentines and Five-leaved Water Vine. There were probably also striking orchids, including Greenhood Orchids, with translucent, parrots-beak shaped flowers, Purple Bearded Orchids and others liberally spotted with pink and white. Also, if the extraordinary series of photos David Noble has published lately are any guide, he would have found a colourful array of fungi. Fungi are parasites, so they turn up rather late in the ecosystem formation process. Those found locally include an orange bracket fungus, mushrooms coloured bright yellow, lime green; scarlet and orange others delicately tinted blue or purple and coral fungi coloured red and yellow and odd club-shaped ones coloured blue and black.


If Richard detoured north up to the ridge now marked by Bayview Avenue, he would have been rewarded with a panoramic view of Botany Bay. This view was still clear in 1874, when The Rev Stanley Howard, described it in a letter to his family in England. “The hill” Howard wrote “sloped steeply down to Arncliffe, which looked very pretty; and then the land stretched away in half wooded plain, until in the distance you had a perfect view of Botany Bay which was as blue as it could be; and the heads stood out so clear against the great blue Pacific.”


When Richard arrived at what is now Turrella Reserve, he passed through large reed beds. From here, he had a choice of ways forward. He could continue walking along the Creek. If he did, he would pass a freshwater wetland filling a bend in the waterway. Or he could walk up towards what is now Nannygoat Hill, where he would find more heathland and panoramic views. Either way, he would eventually reach what is now Girrahween Park – a beautiful stretch of open woodland of Red Gums and eucalypts, Turpentines, Grass Trees, Coastal Myall, with an undergrowth of colourful flowering shrubs, such as ‘bacon and eggs’, Native Fuchsia, Guinea Flowers and both Greenhood and Purple-bearded Orchids.


Richard decides to rest here. He leans back against a large tree, only to hear a loud ‘hiss!’ near his head. Jumping up, Richard turns to find a gecko with a thick, leaf-shaped tail staring at him with its mouth agape. He moves to the other side of the tree and munches on some bread and mutton left over from dinner. Some butterflies pass close by. Richard manages to catch one in the net he carries with him. It’s a small, mostly black with pale orange patches and dots on its wings. On closer examination, Richard thinks it may be a moth not a butterfly. What a strange place this is, he muses to himself, where everything is the wrong way around and moths come out during the day. Nearby he finds a cluster of small, cone-shaped holes in the ground. A dark look passes over Richard’s face – they are identical to the holes left by whatever’s been getting into his garden. He’s been told it’s a small rabbit-like animal with a long nose but hasn’t managed to catch one yet as the wretched things only come out at night.


Richard picks up his things and moves on. Large skinks scurry off the track into the undergrowth as he approaches. He passes the entry to a wombat burrow and, in the distance, he see a few short, reddish-coloured wallabies grazing in a clearing. Gradually the ridge flattens out and Richard comes to the area now marked by Bexley Road. From here, he would find the landscape gradually changing from sandstone outcrops to a flat clay-based plain. Richard may have noticed how the change in geology was reflected in the different vegetation found west of this point. The sandstone-dominated area east of Bexley Road contains forests and woodlands dominated by eucalypts and angophoras, heath and patches of Sydney rainforest and Blue Gum-Blackbutt open forest. But the shale-based part of the Valley to the west supports Cooks River clay plain scrub forest, which grew along the Creek, with Turpentine Ironbark Forest growing behind it.


There may have also been stands of Sydney ‘gallery rainforest’, made up of Water Gums and Coachwood, Pearl Vine and Five-leaved Water Vine with an understorey of wattles, Hakea, Kunzea, bracken and small flowering plants, such as Handsome Flat-Pea and Heathy Parrot Pea, Trigger Plants, Purple Flag, Hardenbergia, Yellow Guinea Flower, Wong Wonga Vine, Slender Rice Flower and Sandfly Zieria. There may also have been stands of Lilly Pillies, both Common Lilly Pilly and a much rarer species, Magenta Lilly Pilly.


As Richard walked further west, through what is now Kingsgrove and Beverley Hills, he would have passed stands of Woollybutt and Ball Honey Myrtle scrub with some Turpentines, eucalypts, Downy Wattle at what is now Canterbury Golf Course and Beverly Grove Park at Beverly Hills. By the time he reached the Creek’s headwaters, probably near what is now Narwee, he would have found it rose from a nameless series of ponds and creeks. A map of the district drawn in 1804 by James Meehan (1774-1826), an emancipist who worked for the surveyor general, shows Wolli Creek marked as ‘Run of Ponds’ with four smaller creeks running into it. Other early maps indicate a waterway called Broadarrow Creek rose from a wetland near what is now Narwee Railway Station and flowed into the western end of Wolli Creek. A newspaper advertisement for Bexley Estate published in 1833 notes the estate had “…no less than four main streams (exclusive of several tributary ones) running through it, viz. ‘Cabbage Tree Creek,’ ‘Bexley’ ‘Rayford’ and ‘Dartford’ Brooks, which disembogue themselves into the waters Botany Bay and Cook’s River…” This lead Gifford Eardley to conclude the upper part of Wolli Creek was known as Rayford Brook and Dartford Brook. But that is uncertain.


The first definite reference to the Creek’s name is in 1834, when it was known as either ‘Wollar Creek’ or ‘Woolli Creek’. The name ‘Wollar Creek’ first appears in an old system mortgage dated 2 April 1834 from Arthur Martin to James Norton over 100 acres of land at Cooks River, “…bounded on the south by Wollar Creek.” The name ‘Woolli Creek’ first appears in a survey prepared by J Lamar of vacant land in St George Parish dated November 1834. Alexander Spark, the merchant who owned Tempe House, called it Wollar Creek. On 10 April 1836 he wrote in his diary that he’d “…took a solitary ramble along the banks of the Wolla & thro’ the wood, in a day of great beauty.” This name stuck for a while. In January 1843, Spark noted he “rove out with Mr Duguid to his last purchase on Wolla Creek, part of which he has drained and brought into cultivation, and he advises me to do the same with my swamp.”




If Richard felt particularly energetic, he could walk back east along the south side of the Creek to what is now Turrella then turn west and walk up the Bardwell Valley. It has a similar geology to the Wolli Creek Valley. The upper part of the Valley, from what is now Preddy’s Road, is more shale-based, getting increasingly sandy, with shales ‘lenses’, towards the lower part of the Valley near what is now the Bardwell Valley Golf Course. At some points, the sandstone and shale mix to form Hammondville soil. As for its topography, it is narrower than the Wolli Valley. Walking south-west up the Valley from where Bardwell Creek runs into Wolli Creek, Richard would have passed muddy alluvial flats, then forest of Swamp Mahogany and Swamp Oak. By the time Richard reached what is now the Bexley Swimming Centre, he would have found himself at the bottom of a narrow, steep-sloped valley. On the steeper, more protected southern side of the Valley, where the soil is deeper and there is more moisture, there was closed forest of Turpentine and Lilly Pilly.


As he walked up to the top of the ridge, he would have found the same heathland and open woodland that we saw along Wolli Creek. They would have included woodland dominated by Sydney Red Gum, Blackbutt, Red Mahogany and Sydney Peppermint. Walking north-west back to Wolli Creek, Richard would have passed through what is now Stotts Reserve, an area of clay-based soil with stands of Blue Gums and Turpentines.


By now, it is late in the evening. Richard decides to camp there for the night. Flying foxes shriek and squabble as they roost. In the dusk, Richard feels he is being watched. Hearing something clawing at a large oak tree, he looks up and finds a large brush-tailed possum glaring down at him. The possum lets out a cascade of eucalyptus-scented urine, which Richard manages to avoid. He sets up camp, makes a fire to ward off mosquitos, has some bread and mutton and calls it a night.




Early the next morning, Richard gets ready to walk back to Undercliffe, follow the Cooks River back to the ‘Punch Bowl’, cross over and follow the road through the Kangaroo Ground back to Sydney. He checks his breakfast supplies. The bread is fine, but his left-over mutton is writhing with maggots – reminding him of the weevil-infested ship’s biscuits they’d been served on the voyage to Sydney. Fortunately, there are some Wattled Bee-eaters squabbling in a gum tree covered in flowers nearby. Their flesh is quite sweet as they eat a lot of nectar. Richard shoots several of them. Once gutted and spitted on his ram-rod, he roasts them gently over the embers. Although he never saw active service, thanks to twenty years in the army Richard is an experienced field cook. He collects the dripping from the roasting birds to make some gravy. To give it some flavour, he adds a dash of rum from the bottle he brought along, purely for medicinal purposes. After an appalling hangover several weeks ago, when he felt like his head had split open, Richard swore off the grog. But a few sips to get him on the way back to Sydney, he reasons to himself, should be fine.


Richard notices someone else is breakfasting. A Great Brown Kingfisher has caught a frog and is battering it against a branch, but drops it. Richard investigates. The frog is about half the size of his hand and marbled brown in colour. It leaps off into the undergrowth before he can get a better look.


Richard also may have tried some of the local fruits and berries. Lilly Pillys bear bright purple-crimson fruit in summer, although they have a tart flavour. Another local favourite was Five Corner fruit. If Richard was keen on collecting shell-fish or angling, he had to be willing to get dirty. To reach the Creek, he would have to walk down from the track through the mangrove forests and saltmarsh out to the muddy tidal flats. He would have to dodge small crabs as they scuttled off to their holes in the mud and would he would have been being plagued by mosquitos.


But his efforts may have been well rewarded. Aboriginal middens along Cooks River show the variety of shellfish available. Richard would have found Sydney Rock Oysters, pipis, cockles, welks and mussels. He would have also found Mud Oysters, which grew as far up the Cooks River as Canterbury. They were very popular in early Sydney, but were declared extinct there in 1896. The Creek may not have been great for angling. The advertisement for Bexley Estate notes “…fish may be obtained in large quantities in Cooks River and Botany Bay” but is conspicuously silent about the local creeks. Even so, Long-finned Eels, Yellowfin Bream, Sea Mullet and River Blackfish were probably found in Wolli Creek and Eels and Butterfish were found in Bardwell Creek.


If Richard wanted to go shooting, there were plenty of birds found on the mudflats and reed beds. Game birds attracted the attention of many early settlers and details of those available were included in the advertisements for local estates. The advertisement for Bexley Estate claims that many of these sections were “…very eligible for sporting, as [an] abundance of wild duck, teal, snipe, wood pigeons [and] quail are found …”. Given the many other types of birds around, Richard would have had little trouble making himself a bird soup much like the one he wrote about during his trip to Nepean River and Prospect.




As suggested above, Richard may have encountered other elements of the Valley’s wildlife. The Cooks River district probably once had a wide range of native mammals, but most of them are now locally extinct. There are few records of precisely which ones were found there. Bradley, for example, notes that at Botany Bay in January 1789 “[a] great number of rats were seen & a flying Squirel…” – most likely water rats and a Sugar Glider. Apparently drawing on similar accounts, Flannery notes Grey Kangaroos, Eastern Quolls, Short-nosed Bandicoots (also known as the Southern Brown Bandicoot), White-footed Rabbit-rats and Bettongs once lived around Botany Bay. Grey-headed Flying Foxes may have been common in the Valley: there is a report of them roosting in the Botanic Gardens in the 1850s.


Given the paucity of these records, we are reduced to extrapolating from the species still found locally and in nearby national parks and reserves. While that may seem an arid exercise in listing it is fascinating, albeit vaguely depressing, to consider the variety of species that probably once lived there. Those still found in the district include the Brush-tailed Possum, Grey-headed Flying Fox and Water Rat. Other species once common in Sydney and so likely to have once been found in the Cooks River district include the Swamp Wallaby, Wombat, Ring-tailed Possum, Eastern Pygmy Possum, Long-nosed Bandicoot, Sugar Glider, Echidna and Brown Antechinus. They may have also included the Eastern Quoll, which was still found at Neilson Park in Vaucluse up to the 1960s-70s. Small bats, such as the Bent-wing Bat and Gould’s Wattled Bat, were probably common. A survey conducted by Dr Arthur White in remnant bushland at Scarborough Park, Ramsgate in 1999 found five species of bats, including the Fishing Bat, two species of Long-eared Bats, Striped Mastiff Bat and Little Forest Bat.


Richard may have also spotted Fur Seals fishing in the Cooks River. In June 2012, a Fur Seal observed fishing in the lower part of the Cooks River near Kyeemagh near where Alexandria Canal runs into the River. It then swam off into Botany Bay. Several weeks later, one was observed eating an eel in the River at Hurlstone Park. There was also the possibility of sharks: a juvenile Great White Shark was filmed in Alexandra Canal in February 2017 and there were also sightings at Brighton-le-Sands and La Perouse that month.




During his walk, Richard may have encountered the local Aborigines. He was familiar with the Botany Bay people, and occasionally mentioned them in his journal. On 11 April 1792 he noted “here has been a violent battle between the Natives of Botany Bay and this place [Sydney] in which many were wounded on both sides; the subject of dispute was one of the Natives of Botany Bay having mentioned the name of a person deceased belonging to this Clan. For so trifling a cause do men murder each other, but is it not the same in Europe? Read the history of civilised nations and we shall find it so…”. While there are detailed accounts of the Botany Bay Aborrigies, including those by Cook, Banks, Phillip, Tench and Bradley, two points about them are often downplayed or ignored. Firstly, they actively resisted colonisation. Secondly, they did not all die out.


By 1790 the Colony was running out of food. Phillip sent hunting expeditions to the Kangaroo Ground. In December 1790, a party of hunters crossed the Cooks River and headed into the Kangaroo Ground. It included John McIntyre, the government game keeper. McIntyre was stalked by five Aboriginal men, including Pemulwuy (c 1750-1802), a Bidjigal warrior born on the north side of the George River near Botany Bay. Pemulwuy speared McIntyre, who later died from his wounds. Phillip sent out an unsuccessful retaliatory expedition of marines led by Tench. It is said Pemulwuy crossed the Cooks River near Undercliffe to evade capture. He went on to lead raids on settlers at Brickfield Hill, the Georges River, Parramatta, Hawkesbury River, Toongabbie and Prospect, before he was outlawed by Governor King and shot dead in 1802.


The outbreak of small pox in 1789 killed many of the local people. But the survivors continued their resistance. Tedbury, Pemulwuy’s son, led raids on farms in southern and western Sydney. In October 1809 Tedbury and his men took 43 sheep from Edward Powell’s stockyard at Concord and drove most of them to their camp on the north side of the Cooks River, where they killed and roasted them. Powell had been a settler at Hawkesbury, where he had been implicated in the murder of two Aboriginal boys. It may be that Tedbury’s attack was retribution for these murders.


While they were ultimately defeated, the local people did not fade away as is often believed. A painting by Joseph Lycett in 1825 shows Aboriginal people near the mouth of the Cooks River fishing from canoes and roasting fish on a fire. A painting by John Thompson made in 1830 shows Aboriginal people by the River. A detailed description of their day-to-day lives is provided by James Backhouse and George Walker, who saw Aborigines fishing in the Cooks River in 1835, near what is now Marrickville Golf Course. In his “A Narrative of the Visit to the Australian Colonies”, Backhouse recalled:e walked to Cooks River, which empties itself into Botany Bay, and fell in with a party of Blacks, who were fishing. One of them had a canoe, made of a large sheet of bark, stretched open with sticks, and drawn together in folds at the ends. This process they effect, by first warming the bark in the fire. The man and his wife were seated on their knees in the canoe, in which they had a fire, on a flat stone. The man propelled the canoe by means of a paddle, that he applied first on one side and then on the other. He used a spear in fishing, made of a long stick, with four, long, wooden prongs, attached to it, by means of string and Grasstree Gum. This he brought slowly, almost into contact with the fish, before striking. While fishing, he kept up a noise like the blowing of a Porpoise, and accompanied it by showers of saliva, that disturbed the surface of the water, like small rain. He seldom failed in transfixing his finny prey. Another man, who stood on a log that extended into the river, was equally successful, by a similar process.”


Some of the local people were still lived at Botany Bay in the 1890s. The ornithologist Alfred North noted in 1898 that “…in the scrub on the beach, may be seen a few huts, in which live the remnant of the original dusky owners of this soils. They manage to exist, with the help of a small Government grant, and by selling fish, wild flowers, and shell ornaments. How different from the time of Governor Phillip’s arrival, when thirty-nine of their canoes were counted at one place on the beach.”


Aborigines continued to journey along the Wolli Valley until the 1920s. Maria Smithson, an early resident of Kingsgrove, recalled in 1937 that the Aborigines held week-long corroborees about twice a year across the Road from her father’s inn, ‘The Man of Kent’, which stood from about 1850 at the corner of what is now Kingsgrove Road and Morris Avenue. “Tribes of Aborigines came to hold their corroborees about twice a year opposite our home. These were kept up for a week – the little piccaninnies also joining in.”


Isabel Pulsford (later Isabel Voicey) lived at St Elmo in Stoney Creek Road in Kingsgrove from 1914. She recalled “Aborigines were still often seen in the area in the 1920s. She recalled a camp at Salt Pan Creek from which groups would walk to the aboriginal settlement at La Perouse. They would call at St Elmo and other nearby farm house to ask for handouts of money and food to help them on their journey, and she remembered seeing them eating the donated food as they sat around in the shade of trees beside Stoney Creek Road.”


The local people survived at La Perouse and remain there to this day. They are keen to pass on their ancient traditions to the next generation, such as spearing fish and collecting pipis. In March 2016, they were granted a permit by NSW Fisheries to resume their traditional fishing for mullet.




Even if Richard did not see any of the local people during this trip, they indirectly save him from part of the walk back to Sydney. Just as he reaches Undercliffe a pinnace, a small row-boat that can be rigged with a sail, comes up the River. Its crew have been collecting the shells piled up along its banks – the Aborigines’ middens – to cart back to Sydney and use to make mortar. Richard calls out to men, offering them some rum for a lift up the River. After a hard mornings work filling sacks with sharp, dusty shells the men are happy to make room for the deputy judge advocate in exchange for a few drinks.






It is here that we leave Richard Atkins and I keep my promise to show I have not conjured this idyll out of thin air. There are some historical records of the Cooks River and Wolli Creek Valley’s flora and fauna. They include museum specimens, entries in peoples’ journals and surveyors’ note books, sketches, paintings, the recollections of early settlers and their descendents, sub-division plans, newspaper articles and photographs. There are issues with some of this material which make it difficult to reconstruct the Wolli and Bardwell Valleys’ ecosystems as they stood in the 1790s – but not impossible.


There are many sketches and paintings of views along the Cooks River, including around Undercliffe and Tempe. There is, for example, Conrad Marten’s (1801-1878) sketch and water colour of Tempe House and the surrounding landscape. But artists such as Martens were used to painting Europeans parks and forests. When confronted with the scruffy, gnarled trees shedding bark typical of Sydney bushland, they usually ‘tidied them up’ to make them look more like what they and their clients were used to seeing. In 1830, the artist John Thomson painted an accurate view of some casuarinas growing along Muddy Creek. But general this ‘artistic licence’ means these early works have little value in terms of natural history.


We are on safer ground with photographs. While the earliest ones only date back to the 1890s, they show stands of remnant casuarinas, reed-beds and rushes. The best one I know of is a panoramic view of the Cooks River estuary photographed from ‘The Warren’, now Warren Park in South Marrickville. It shows Scribble Gum woodland in the foreground and the extensive saltmarsh and mangrove forests around the mouth of the River. But this is an exception. As the cameras and tripods available at the time were cumbersome and heavy, most photographers limited themselves to taking scenic views along the River’s banks. Many of the surviving photos are views of the River at Undercliffe, a local beauty spot. There are almost no photographs of local forests, which would have been difficult to carry photographic equipment into and had less natural light.


Nor can we rely too much on the specimens collected by early naturalists held by institutions such as the Australian Museum and the National Herbarium of NSW at the Royal Botanic Gardens. There collections do not date back very far. The oldest specimen from the Wolli Valley held by the Australian Museum is the shell of a Chocolate-streaked Pinwheel Snail, collected in 1864. There is nothing else until Alfred North began collecting specimens of local birds and their nests and eggs in the 1880s.


The oldest local specimens held by the Royal Botanic Gardens were collected in 1886. They were contributed by Joseph Maiden (1859-1925), the eminent botanist and William Baeuerlen (1840-1917) who collected material for him. Maiden and Baeuerlen collected three specimens while following the Illawarra railway line, including from between Arncliffe Station and the Canterbury Sugar Mill and from a hill between Arncliffe and Tempe railway stations. A drawing of Arncliffe railway station and its surrounds from the 1880s shows significant bushland remained there. The specimens consist of the Dwarf Apple (Angophora hispida), Velleia lyrata (a small, yellow-flowering plant without a common name) and Kunzea capita (a purple-flowering relative of tick bush). It appears there was no systematic collecting of specimens from the Wolli and Bardwell Valley districts. This is understandable, as these institutions are responsible for compiling national or state collections rather than local ones. Yet it follows that what survives in those collections is not representative of what was once there, but only randomly-collected specimens presumably of things of special interest at the time. It is disappointed to see from Australia’s Virtual Herbarium that institutional plant collections hold only about 20 specimens from the Wolli and Bardwell Valley districts (collected between 1922 and 2014). It’s not much for future generations to work with.


We also have the surviving remnants of the Cooks River Valley’s original vegetation and can extrapolate from it what was once found along Wolli Creek. That is part of their intrinsic value. The whole purpose of the Wolli Creek Preservation Society is to protect surviving remnants of the Valley’s original, pre-European ecology and landscape as its members believe it is wrong to destroy all traces of the original ecosystems as they provide habitats for native species and show what the place looked was like before people, especially the Europeans, arrived. But these remnants only assist us to a limited extent for several reasons. Firstly, the Aborigines extensively modified Sydney’s vegetation through their fire-stick agriculture. They would burn sections of grassland and bush to flush out games, such as kangaroos and wallabies. The tender shoots that regrew after the fire would eventually attract more game. It also cleared the undergrowth, allowing the women to dig up edible roots more easily during winter, when fish was scarce.


Secondly, the weather was slightly cooler in Richard’s time. From the 1300s to about 1850, we passed through a cooler period known as the ‘Little Ice Age’. This would have impacted on the species found locally. Finally, it is often forgotten that the Wolli Valley was largely cleared of native vegetation by the 1940s. Most of what survived then was scrub on the rocky outcrops such as Nannygoat Hill and the ridges on the north side of the Valley. Most of the vegetation we see today regenerated after the Valley was set aside as a road reservation and, purely by coincidence, protected from development. The mangrove forests now growing along the Creek at Undercliffe, for example, were cleared and only began to regenerate from about 1970 after a concrete barrage built across the lower part of the Creek was removed – restoring the Creek’s tidal flow up to the weir near the Turrella footbridge. This does not devalue the importance of remnant vegetation, but is simply a reminder that care must be used in relying on it when reconstruction original ecosystems. As the Clouston management plan for the Bardwell Valley notes, “ue to the almost complete removal of natural vegetation from the region, it is difficult to determine the exact composition and original distribution of plant communities in the valley. However, consideration of the topography, aspect and soil types present, combined with observations of remnant bushland areas, can assist in outlining probable distributions of communities.”




The first person to leave a detailed record of the Valley’s plant life was James Meehan, who worked for George Evans, the acting surveyor general (Meehan was eventually appointed as deputy-surveyor of lands by Governor Macquarie in 1812). Meehan spent most of his time measuring out land grants, with his work taking him out to what is now Canterbury and Kingsgrove. He made notes of the vegetation he found along the Cooks River between 1804 and 1809. Working his way from west to east, he passed stands of “Stringy bark”, muddy swamps, “Oak Trees [Casuarinas]”, “Ironbarks, Red Gum, Blackbutt”, “Ironbark, Small gum trees” and “Bloodwood”. Where Cup and Saucer Creek flowed into the River, he found “Thick Scrub”, swamp and “Oak Trees”. From that point, he passed “Swamp”, then “Red gum trees and brush”, “Mangroves”, “Swamp” and “Oak Trees”.


Meehan also made notes of the vegetation he found along the Wolli Valley while surveying land grants at what is now Kingsgrove in 1804 and 1807. He noted the land at the western end of Wolli Creek had stands of “Stringy bark [and] Tea Tree brush”, “Red mahogany, turpentines and ironbarks”, “Mahogany and oaks”, “Forest, Ironbark, Box, Oaks”, “Forest”, and “Large Ironbark, mahogany”, “Very thick timber”, “Thick Brush”, “Scrub Apple Trees [Angophora]”, “Brush and timber Ironbark and Mahogany” and “Mahogany, Oak Trees, Red gum, Very large Ironbarks.” When Meehan says ‘large,’ he meant it. In his notebook, he mentions that an Ironbark he saw at Kingsgrove was five paces in diameter.


The north bank of the Creek was edged with “Thick Tea Tree Brush.” At points on the north and south sides of the Creek, he passed stands of “Forest Ironbarks and Red Gum” and “Oak Trees Trees.” At the junction of the Cooks River and Wolli Creek, he noted stands of mangroves and “Acacias and Ferns and Oak Trees.”




Later advertisements for local estates and farms, the memoirs of the descendants of early settlers and photographs also indicate what grew there. Forest and woodland similar to that Meehan described grew around Beverly Hills. Ernest Osbourne, who lived there until the 1930s when the district was known as Dumbleton, recalled “…the region was a forest of fine large ironbark, red-gum, blackbutt, she-oak and honeysuckle trees.”


Some details of the trees found in the district were recorded in newspaper advertisements. The Bexley Estate, for example, lay at the western end of the Valley, where the clay-based Ironbark-turpentine woodland predominated. On 18 June 1833, in an advisement for leasing the Estate the Sydney Gazette declared it “…[_ is scarcely necessary to state the numerous and valuable quantities of the timber trees which have been preserved on the Estate, viz: stringy and iron-bark, black-butt, mahogany, shingle-oak, turpentine, red, blue and whitegum, honeysuckle for ship and boat builders, and white wood of a large size, so much used by coach-builders and others. It is well known that this district principally furnishes Sydney with split timber, shingles, firewood, charcoal, &c, &c.” _]


An advertisement for sections of land at Kingsgrove published in 1841 noted that “…some of the farms are well covered with heavy valuable and useful timber, such as oak, iron and stringy bark, blue gum and mahogany (excessively scarce in the cabinet trade,) whilst native shrubs, and luxuriantly growing saplings are interspersed in beautiful variety…” An advertisement for the Hermitage Estate at Kingsgrove printed in 1854 describes the Estate as being “well timbered.”




Details of the vegetation found in the western part of the Valley in the 1890s were also recorded by Alfred John North (1855-1917). Assistant in Ornithology at the Australian Museum from 1891 until his death in 1917, North was the author of the Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia and Tasmania, a four volume epic that remains a standard work today. North collected the nests and eggs of a number of native birds at Kingsgrove between 1892 and 1898 and made incidental notes of the local flora. In 1897, he received two nests of the Crested Shrike-tit collected at Kingsgrove. Both nests, North recorded, were built in “… a Narrow-leaved Ironbark, one at thirty and the other at twenty feet from the ground.” He also recorded finding the nest of an Eastern Spinebill in a Melaleuca and that of a Brown Thornbill in a “…dwarf Melaleuca.” Details of other elements of Kingsgrove’s vegetation can be inferred from the birds North found nesting there. In 1893 he collected the nests and eggs of the White-fronted Chat there. This indicates areas of the Chat’s preferred habitat, such as saltmarsh, low scrub or swamps, survived in the western part of the Creek until the 1890s.




There are few records of the vegetation between Bexley North and Undercliffe. Back in 1995-1996, when I was project director for Brian Madden and Lesley Muir’s History of the Wolli Creek Valley, we located several photographs taken between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that show remnant native vegetation clearly enough to identify which species were present. There are also some descriptions in the writings of Gifford and Eileen Eardley. Ron Hill and Brian Madden reproduce a number of photographs that indicate what survived around Bexley North up until the 1950s in their Kingsgrove: the First Two Hundred Years, but they are only clear enough to show the diminishing extent of local native bushland so I have described them in part III.


I will summarise what these fragments indicate, going from west to east. Some vegetation survived at Bardwell Park up to the early twentieth century. Charles and Agnes King had a pig farm near where the Earlwood-Bardwell Park RSL Club and Bardwell Park railway station now stand. A photograph of their farm, taken around 1914, shows large patches of native bush. Audrey Barnes, their grand-daughter, notes that “…the valley was quite pretty. Wild flowers were prolific, especially flannel flowers and Christmas bells.” Recently-discovered photographs taken in about 1918 near the Burrell family farm, located in the same vicinity between what is now Hartill-Law Ave and Bray Avenue, also show large remnants of native vegetation including stands of Waratah, a species now extinct in the Valley (assuming it occurred there natural).


Gifford Eardley noted that on Darley Road, between Turrella and Bardwell Park, some remnant Stringy-barks survived. At Bardwell Park, some remnant vegetation survived near the intersection of Hartill-Law Avenue and Slade Road until the 1930s. Gifford Eardley recalled that: “n the southern side of Slade Road…was a shallow gully, surrounded at its upper rocky levels by numerous gum-tree saplings, intermixed with somewhat stumpy grotesque banksia trees. The marshy floor of this gully was a mass of assorted colour in the early spring. There were clumps of crimson flowered bottlebrush, banks of the pink Black-eyed Susan, the white and red bell-shaped clusters of Native Fushia, Woody Pears in their delicate green leaves, Nodding Green-hoods, and, even as late as 1930, Christmas Bells.”


A visitor to Earlwood in 1905, when it was known as Forest Hill, recalled “his hill was then a veritable beauty spot, abounding in giant trees, green valleys and wild flowers. In the bushland, Christmas Bush, Flannel Flowers, Rock Lilies and Native Fuchsias grew in profusion …”.


As for the lower part of the Creek, there is a photograph of William Bucknell’s property, Willowdene, located on the south bank of the Creek opposite Turrella Reserve, taken before the East Hills Railway line was built (and now covered by an industrial estate). It shows extensive reed beds and casuarinas. A photograph taken in the 1930s of the Chinese market garden that occupied what is now Turrella Reserve shows several large casuarinas growing along the Creek. High quality photographs taken in about 1896 of the aqueduct for the Southern and Western Ocean Outfall Sewerage aqueduct show heath and scrub growing on the ridge at Undercliffe and rushes and (possibly) reed-beds near the Creek.


A series of photographs taken at Undercliffe published by the Linnean Society of NSW in 1919 shows extensive saltmarshes, beds of Common Reeds and Club Rush and casuarinas. The plans of Wanstead Estate drawn by E. Knapp in 1847, of Tempe Estate by Reuss and Brown in 1859 and of Martin’s Grant by Reuss in 1877 show a large swamp where Wolli Creek flows into Cooks River. An account written in 1868 describes this area as “… a large reedy flat…it is…a stream of considerable size, and after heavy rain, pours an immense body of fresh water into the main river.” A photograph of this area from the early 1920s indicates areas of saltmarsh and Juncus (rushes) survived up to that time. This swamp was later drained and became Wolli Park, but is now known as Waterworth Park and Gough Whitlam Park.


Finally, on 26 January 1837, the Rev Richard Taylor (1805-1873), a CMS missionary who had stopped off at Sydney on his way to New Zealand, was travelling from Sydney to Tempe. After visiting Tempe House, he noted “…there are some of the largest blue gum trees which I have seen in this part of the colony in this part, I found there is a population of upwards of a hundred within 2 or 3 miles of Mr A.B. Spark’s house and a similar number around the Redman’s farm.”




While there are few records of the Bardwell Valley’s flora, the recollections of local residents and visitors indicate it had a wide range of species. Gifford and Eileen Eardley note that after the woodcutters had been through the Bardwell Valley, it was given over the grazing in the early 1900s. By then, there was only a coverage of tea-tree scrub intermingled with native wildflowers, including Flannel Flowers, Christmas Bells, Dillwynia “…and numerous varieties of the heath family, which flourished in the swampy patches of the terrain.” There were some Lilly Pillys and Blue Gums. Higher up on the ridges, the Valley retained some Old Man Banksia and stands of Sydney Wattle and Native Fuschia. Near Pile Street, the Creek opened out into a deep pond. Its banks were lined with reeds, Dog Rose and Sydney Golden Wattle. North of this point, at Lambert Road on Mount Bardwell, there were stands of Dillwynia ericifolia, Native Fuschia and Wedding Bush.


G. Nicholls, who lived in the Valley from 1895 to 1917, recalled “oardering a small creek were Lili Pili (sic) trees, with wild clematis, sarsaparilla and hardenbergia vines … and on each side of the little stream grew bracken, small lavender-pink and blue bush orchids, small purple and while wild violets…along the creek grew maiden hair fern…”


Ron Hunt, who lived at Bexley in the 1930s, recalled that the Bardwell Valley “…had quite a diverse plant-life…including many large gum trees of many varieties. The bushes beneath the large trees were quite thick with grevilleas, banksias and bottlebrush of a wide range of colours from light to deep reds, from pale lemon shades to rich gold and orange. As August approached, the gully would burst into a golden-yellow haze as the many varieties of wattle … [flowered]. Among the smaller plant-lie were flannel-flowers, Christmas bells, native-roses, rock-daisies, bacon & egg plant, as well as many others.”


Jeff Dellow, who was born at Bardwell Park in 1942, recalls: “…from about the age of four I can remember roaming the gully with my kelpie dog. In those days the entire valley was in its native state with Ramusson’s Piggery at one end and the red ochre mine at the bottom of Shaw Street (where the Bardwell Valley Gold Club House now stands). Before the valley was cleared you would often see rabbits, possums and foxes and, along the creek, tortoises, water hens, wild ducks and cranes. In the undergrowth snakes and blue tongued lizards were plentiful. One could find flannel flowers, boronia, banksia, sarsaparilla, bottle brush and in the marsh area Christmas bells would bloom.”


There are few useful photographs. One taken of the Jubilee Bridge at Bexley Road in 1914 shows heath and scrub on the Bardwell Valley’s ridges. Another taken at Smithson’s paddock (now part of Bexley golf course, in around 1910 shows eucalypts, including possibly a Blue Gum.


Another key record of the Valley’s native flora was a collection of photographic slides made by John Saunders Middenway (1855-1931), who was Principal at Bexley Public School from 1895 to 1917. Middenway’s collection was held at the Technological Museum (now the Powerhouse Museum) in Sydney, but is now apparently lost.




Although there are few records of the Valley’s original fauna, reconstructing what was once present is not completely guesswork. We have a fair idea of Sydney’s original birdlife thanks to White and Lewin’s works. There are also occasional records by early settlers, amateur and profession naturalists and visiting scientists. In the early 1840s, Louisa Meredith and her husband Charles, a pastoralist and politician, lived at Homebush. Their garden was visited by Scarlet Robins, Bellbirds and Whipbirds. In 1865 John Gould, the eminent English ornithologist, noted the Emu Wren was “…numerous…” at Botany Bay. Plains Wanderers were found at Newtown in 1863 and a Red-backed Kingfisher at Ashfield in 1873. Dr Edward Ramsay, Curator of the Australian Museum from 1874 to 1894, observed Turquoise Parrots, Red-browed Treecreepers, White-throated Treecreepers, Heath Wrens and Shining Starlings at his home, Dobroyde, in Haberfield.


We know quite a lot about the native birds found in the Cooks River and Wolli Creek Valleys thanks to Alfred North’s field work. North and Clara, his wife, lived with the Ramsays at Dobroyde in the 1880s – North kept records of the native birds he saw there. He often went to Botany Bay, the mouth of the Cooks River and suburbs near the River in search of specimens, including Belmore, Enfield, Ashfield, and Canterbury. North visited Wolli Creek fairly regularly. How it came to his attention is uncertain. While carrying out the field work and research for Nests and Eggs, he relied heavily on a network of amateur ornithologists. They included three members of the aptly-named Swift family – keen nest and egg collectors from Kingsgrove. Between 1892 and 1898 the Swifts provided North with the nests and eggs of several native species which they had collected there. These specimens may have encouraged North to visit Wolli Creek.


I should note here that, in North’s time, scientists were still working out the basic features of Australia’s avifauna, such as the number and distribution of species, their relationships with one other and their anatomies and diets. Museums and other scientific institutions were pre-occupied with building up collections of specimens so each species could be described. As photographic equipment was cumbersome and had long exposure times, the basic method of identifying birds was shooting them and/or collecting examples of their nests and eggs. The first guide to promote an alternative approach, Florence Merriam’s Birds through an Opera-glass, was not published until 1889. Further, back then collecting nests and eggs was a common hobby. Many native species were not afforded much legal protection until the NSW Parliament passed a series of Bird Protection Acts in the 1880s. They were not rigorously enforced.


While North’s records from Kingsgrove are all of forest birds, he recorded many other species during his trips along the Cooks River and the suburbs through which it passes, especially Canterbury. The water birds he recorded include the Little Black, Little Pied and Pied Cormorants, which were common along the Cooks River. He noted Pelicans and Marsh Terns at the mud flats at the entrance of the Cooks River at Botany Bay. As for salt marsh, mangrove and reed birds, he noted White-fronted Chats nesting at Canterbury and Black-fronted Dotterals, Rufous Night Herons, Marsh Crakes, Lewin’s Rails and Brown Bitterns at the Cooks River, Spotless Crakes in the rush-covered swamp at Tempe and the Little Water Crake at the Cooks River. As for reed birds, North noted that Clamorous Reed-Warblers were common along the Cooks River in spring and summer and nested and recorded the Little Grassbirds at Tempe.


Other water birds included the Azure Kingfisher, which he saw at the Cooks River and Canterbury, the Scared Kingfisher which nested at Canterbury, the Straw-necked Ibis at Ashfield and Belmore, the Painted Button-quail at Enfield, the Marsh Crake at the Cooks River and the Marsh Tern at the Cooks River. There were also some waders, including Black-fronted and Double-banded Dotterals, Bar-tailed Godwit and Greenshank, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Wandering Tattler – all seen at the Cooks River.


As for Wolli Creek, North’s dealings with the Swifts seem to have begun in 1892. In September 1892, Dean Swift gave North two sets of Grey Shrike-thrush eggs that he had collected at Kingsgrove. On 3 October 1892, North and his wife Clara collected eggs and nests of the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and Eastern Yellow Robin there. North also found the nests of some Willie Wagtails and Yellow-rumped Thornbills and heard “a few” White-throated Gerygones whistling. Later that month, the Swifts sent North sets of eggs collected from Yellow-rumped Thornbills and Eastern Yellow Robins. On 8 November, North found the nest of an Eastern Spinebill and that of a Silvereye “…with a young cuckoo in it.”


North next visited Kingsgrove on 26 August 1893 and collected the nests and eggs of some Blue Wrens that had been parasitized by a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo. He also collected those of a Magpie Lark, Eastern Yellow Robin, Grey Shrike-thrush, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and White-fronted Chat. He also found (but did not collect) the nests of some Welcome Swallows, two pairs of Willie Wagtails and a Yellow Thornbill, which had been parasitised by a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo.


Then came a most unusual discovery. On 31 August 1893, Dean Swift found the nest of a Brown Thornbill in “…a dwarf Melaleuca on the Woolli Creek…” at Kingsgrove. This nest was of great interest, as the unfortunate Thornbill had been parasitised by three different cuckoos, with its nest containing one egg each of the Golden Bronze-Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo and Fan-tailed Cuckoo. Dean Swift collected the eggs and gave them to North on 10 September. North recorded the event with some excitement: “°n our arrival home found the Miss Swifts there with two eggs of [a Brown Thornbill] and one egg each of [a Golden Bronze-Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo and Fan-tailed Cuckoo] all taken from the same nest by Master Dean Swift on the 31st of August 1893 near the Woolli Creek Kingsgrove.”


Three days later North went to Kingsgrove and found the Thornbill had constructed a new nest, but that it had already been parasitised by a Fan-tailed Cuckoo. In his private note book, North recorded: “aw the nest of the above on the Woolli Creek today from which the cuckoos were taken, the same bird [a Brown Thornbill], evidentially had built near the same place again. The two birds were there and in their new nest was a single egg of [a Fan-tailed Cuckoo]. Cuckoos are very plentiful this season.” Returning to the nest the next day, 14 September, North found the Fan-tailed Cuckoo’s egg missing and that of a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo in its place. As North later noted “ll species of Cuckoos frequenting the neighbourhood of Sydney were unusually abundant that season.”


North returned to Kingsgrove in September 1893, when he collected the eggs of an Eastern Whipbird. He was back again the next month and found the nest of a Grey Shrike-thrush that had been parasitised by a Pallid Cuckoo. He collected the nest and eggs and exhibited them at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 25 October 1893. He collected the nest and eggs of a Rufous Whistler at Kingsgrove on 9 November 1893 and returned on 26 December 1893, when he watched a pair of Eastern Spinebills building a nest in a Melaleuca. In September 1897, Dean Swift brought him two Crested Shrike-tit nests he had collected at Kingsgrove. North was back two months later, when he found a nest of a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater that had been parasitised by a Pallid Cuckoo.


It was almost a year before North returned to the Valley. On 9 August 1898, he collected a set of Jacky Winter’s eggs at Kingsgrove. He returned four days later, collecting two Eastern Yellow Robin’s nests, along with their eggs. On 31 August 1898, he collected the nests and/or eggs of the Grey Shrike-thrush, Regent Honeyeater, Willie Wagtail, Hooded Robin, Varied Sitella (“nest finished no eggs”), Grey Butcherbird and Australian Raven at Kingsgrove. Other specimens he collected there up until 17 December 1902, his last-recorded trip to Kingsgrove, were of the Red-browed Finch, Yellow-faced Honeyeater and Masked Woodswallow.


Apart from an article printed in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1906 there are no records of the Wolli Valley’s birdlife from North’s last known trip to the Valley in 1902 until 1941. This article, by ‘W.H.B’ (who I’ve not yet identified), described how Kookaburras caught snakes. “It is a well-known fact that the kookaburra kills and eat (sic) snakes, but it rarely falls to the lot of anyone to actually see it done. On two occasions I have been fortunate enough to witness the whole performance. The first was on Kingsgrove-road. Riding past the head of Wolli Creek one Sunday afternoon I observed a jackass [‘Laughing Jackass’ was a contemporary name for the Laughing Kookaburra] flying backwards and forwards across the road, apparently in a high state of excitement. A near approach showed a 3ft whipsnake coiled in a little heap in the middle of the track, his head moving to and fro as the bird swooped over him. So I reined up to watch the fight….the contestants were too much interested in each other to trouble about the spectator: indeed in his flights the kookaburra frequently almost brushed my horse’s nose.


Every time the bird swooped, the snake’s neck shot out towards him fully a foot from the coil…. How long the contest had continued before my arrival it was impossible to tell; it was very brief afterwards. At perhaps the tenth passage I saw the snake’s head dashed violently down, and, wheeling as on a pivot, the bird seized the reptile by his neck, and flew up into a neighbouring sapling, the long, thin body trailing after him like a yard of squirming ribbon. The next few minutes [were] spent in whacking the snake’s head against the branch; then, satisfied apparently that it was incapable of biting, held his victim under one claw, cocked his tail once or twice, threw back his head …and swallowed the snake whole, forcing it into his throat by quick forward jerks that stowed it away a few inches at a time.”




As far as I know, there are no equivalent historical records of the birds originally found in the Bardwell Valley. The earliest come from Ron Hunt, who lived at Bexley in the 1930s. He recalled: “agnificent is the only word that can adequately describe the bird-life…of Bexley Gully. There were finches of many varieties, including the Zebra Finch, the Double-barred Finch, and the Red-browed Finch, there were the Silver-eyes, the Blue-wrens, the Magpies, the Kookaburras, the Bronze-wing Pigeon, and the Clamorous Reed Warbler who liked to frequent the thick foliage growing along the banks of the Bardwell Creek. Other birds common to the Gully were the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, the Crimson Rosella, the Noisy Friarbird, the Galah, the Peregrine Falcon, the Brown Falcon, and sometimes seen near the lower part of the creek, nearer to Turrella, was the Marsh Crake.


When the Banksias and Grevilleas were in bloom, their branches always weighed heavily with …numerous varieties of Honey-eaters, including the New Holland Honeyeater, the White-cheeked Honeyeater, the White-eared Honeyeater, and the Little Wattlebird. There was the Eastern Yellow Robin, and the friendly little Jacky Winter also known as the Brown Flycatcher.”




While there are very few historical records of the reptiles found in the Wolli and Bardwell Valleys (and none at all of the local amphibians) the earliest record of local natural history is of a reptile – although the encounter did not end well for its subject. On 26 January 1837 the Rev Richard Taylor (1805-1873), a CMS missionary who had stopped off at Sydney on his way to New Zealand, was travelling from Sydney to Tempe. On the way to the Cooks River, he found a Blue-tongued Lizard. He later wrote in his diary “…I passed something on the road which I took for a iguana, I turned back and dismounted to examine it, it was so slow in its movements that I fancied a carriage had gone over it, but whilst I was examining it a man ran up and cautioned me to be on my guard for it was off all reptiles the most poisonous. He immediately stomped on its head and killed it. In length it was about 16 inches of which the tail was not much more than 3, tapering very suddenly; the belly was very broad about 3 inches, the tongue is of a beautiful blue colour and the bag of poison lays under the tongue, the back is of a slatish colour, the belly speckled with pale red spots.


Some call it the adder but others with more propriety the Sleeping Lizard for not only are its motions very slow but having legs it is more like a Lizard, the tongue is large being as broad as the mouth and of a vivid blue colour, the body is flabby but the tail is hard as if composed entirely of muscle by which it can elevate its body and dart a yard, the legs are singular both sides being the same…”.


Les Hall, who was born in Campsie in 1924, recalled that local boys used to catch snakes at Nannygoat Hill: “hey’d catch a mouse and place it inside a treacle tin with its tail tied around a hole so it couldn’t get out. This would lure the snake which the boys would catch. They would sell the snakes to a man who made snake-skin belts for ‘two bob.’ ” They also used to catch tortoises: “here used to be a waterfall on Cup and Saucer Creek at Earlwood (which is now a concrete drain). If Les caught a tortoise, he would drill a hole in the back of its shell and tie it up in the garden, where it would eat the slugs and snails.


There are only a few records for the Bardwell Valley. Jeff Dellow, who was born at Bardwell Park in 1942, recalls “… before the Valley was cleared … in the undergrowth snakes and blue tongued lizards were plentiful.” Ron Hunt, who lived at Bexley in the 1930s, recalled that the “…among the commonly sighted animals …” in Bardwell Valley were “… the goanna, diamond-snake, tiger-snake, red-bellied black-snake, green tree-snake, blue-tongued lizard, and the copper-snake.” The late Bob Fenton also noted Long-necked Tortoises were seen in Bardwell Creek.


Mel Skelton recalled that when his family moved to Earlwood in around 1958, a family of four Blue-tonged Lizards was living in the backyard, but disappeared when the family got a dog. Gifford Eardley wrote in 1972 that while walking through Girrahween Park, “°ne may, on occasion, see Tiger snakes, Brown snakes, Black snakes with red bellies, and Green Tree snakes, most of whom readily get out of your way, a feeling that is mutual.”




There are few historic records of the Valley’s native mammals, leaving us to extrapolate from records from other areas. Louisa Meredith, who lived at Homebush in the 1840s, recalled that dingos “…were very numerous around us, and their howling or yelling at night in the neighbouring forests had a most dismal, unearthly kind of tone.” Louisa also noted seeing possums, grey-headed flying foxes, small bats “…very similar to the common little English bat used to flit about the house in an evening…”, a “flying opossum” [Sugar Glider], “Native cats” [Eastern Quolls], which she found to be “…terribly destructive if they can get into the henhouse; not only killing to eat, but continuing to kill as many fowls or turkeys as they have time for, leaving a sad spectacle of mangled corpses behind them.”


The local decline of native mammals had become apparent by the mid-1800s. We have some detail on this thanks to Mahroot the Boatswain. In 1845 he gave evidence before a select committee of the NSW Legislative Assembly charged with inquiring into the Aborigines. In his evidence, Mahroot recalled that the number of possums in the Cooks River area had declined over the previous 40 years. When he was young, Mahroot recalled, he had been able to collect the 20 or 30 possums skins required to make a rug in a week. But now “… you look all day to get one or two.”


As I mentioned before, in the 1790s the part of Sydney between the Cooks River and north to about where Parramatta Road now runs was known as ‘the Kangaroo Ground’. An advertisement for the Bexley Estate published in 1833 noted that kangaroos were “frequently seen” around the Cooks River and Botany Bay. But twelve years later, Mahroot told the select committee that “very few” kangaroos were found in Sydney.


The Australian Museum’s mammal collection indicates some of the other species that may have lived in the Cooks River district. A Southern Brown Bandicoot was collected at the Botany Swamps, now Eastlakes, in 1888 and a Long-nosed Bandicoot at Cooks River in 1897. A Sugar Glider was collected at Canterbury in 1889 and a Common Wallaro at Burwood in 1921. A variety of bats were found. They included the Grey-headed Flying Fox (collected at Earlwood in 1943), Gould’s Wattle Bat (Botany), Gould’s Long-eared Bat (Botany in 1915), Chocolate Wattle Bat (Botany in 1885) and Eastern False Pipistrelle (Burwood in 1898).


Frances Carey recalled seeing dingos at Moorefields. “… I remember we used to drive through the bush over Moorefields way. This was a bit exciting at times, especially if we returned [to Bexley] after dark, because the packs of wild dogs or dingos would come running around from out of the bush. Out Kingsgrove way the wild dogs used to yap at night outside the kitchen doors of the few settlers who lived there.”


Ron Hunt, who lived at Bexley in the 1930s, recalled “…the infrequently sighted wallaby, and wombat as well as the native water-rate and the odd possum.” There is a record of bandicoots (which species is not mentioned) being seen in the Bardwell Valley in the 1960s.



Fatal impacts and the Old Ironbark



Wolli Creek was also once known as ‘Cabbage Tree Creek,’ due to the large numbers of Cabbage Tree Palms (Livistona australis) that grew along it. Many were made into hats – a bit like the poor Truffula Trees, which were made into ‘thneeds’ in Dr Seuss’ The Lorax. Frances Carey, who had lived in Forest Road and then Broadford St, Bexley for about 80 years recalled in 1939 that: “Mother used to make all our school hats from the leaves of the cabbage-tree palms which grew wild in Bardwell Creek gully. These cabbage-tree hats were very popular in those days, and worn by nearly everyone. At times my mother used to make extra ones for the gay young ‘bloods’ of the district. The best hats brought three and four guineas each.”


The last Cabbage Tree Palms are thought to have been cut down in about 1920. Gifford Eardley mentions one that grew near some remnant casuarinas in Arncliffe Street, near the Wolli Creek Tram Depot. It may have survived until the early 1960s. When it was cut down, the species became locally extinct.




Another venerable survivor lasted until the 1930s. An old Ironbark, then already a century old, stood in Parkestown (later called Earlwood). The Parkes family children had played in it for decades. In 1932 Amy Bido, a grand-daughter of John Parks, the early settler after whom Parkestown was named, had the tree photographed. “This old tree” Amy wrote “the only one of its kind left standing on the ‘old estate’, is over one hundred years old.” She wrote some heartfelt verse:

The Old Ironbark of Old Parkes Town


Old Tree, Old Tree,

Tis thus I see thee now,

With wrinkled bark,

And scare a leaf upon thy bough


How oft among thy glossy leaves

Our childish hours we spent,

And swinging from thy drooping bough,

as near the ground it bent …


And brave and bold, Old Tree,

A century you’ve stood

The Sentinel of Old Parkes Town,

And now of New Earlwood…




The loss of native trees had a devastating impact on local fauna. Apart from the Grey-headed Flying Fox, Brush-tailed Possum and (possibly) Long-nosed Bandicoot, the Valley’s native mammal populations are extinct.


Further, at least 11 of the 30 native bird species Alfred North recorded in the Valley have either never been seen since or for a considerable period of time. They are the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Varied Sitella, Hooded Robin, White-fronted Chat, Regent Honeyeater, Jacky Winter, Crested Shrike-tit, Rufous Whistler, White-throated Gerygone, Grey Shrike-thrush and Masked Woodswallow. The available evidence suggests most of these species are locally extinct. The Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and Varied Sitella have not been seen since North recorded them in the 1890s. Nor have the Regent Honeyeaters, although a pair was seen at Padstow, about 8 km west of the Wolli Valley, in 1995. The Hooded Robin was last seen at Arncliffe sometime before 1974. The White-fronted Chat survived up about 1946. The Jacky Winter, once a common resident throughout Sydney, was last seen in 1986. Crested Shrike Tits reappeared in the Valley between 1991 and 1994, nesting at least once, only to vanish again. Rufous Whistlers, White-throated Gerygones and Grey Shrike-thrushes have not been seen since the 1990s. The first and, I think, last time a Masked Woodswallow was seen in the Valley since North recorded it in 1901 was in February 1994 when I found one near Turrella railway station.


How did this happen ? The main reason is habitat loss. North did all his work around Kingsgrove. This part of the Valley had a different type of open forest from the rest of the Valley, shale-based Ironbark Turpentine forest. Many of these birds, especially the Hooded Robin, Regent Honeyeater and Crested Shrike-tit, are all generally restricted to shale-based habitats. But practically all of it is now gone in the Valley, taking those birds with it. North’s observations are the only historical records of the birds found in the shale-based vegetation of the western part of the Valley.


But there is some good news. Many of the other native birds North observed in the Valley are still regularly seen there. They include the Blue Wren, Australian Raven, Magpie Lark, Eastern Yellow Robin, Red-browed Finch, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Welcome Swallow, Willie Wagtail, Silvereye, Yellow-rumped Thornbill and Eastern Spinebill. There has also been one Lazarus. The Eastern Whipbird had not been seen in the Valley since North recorded them in 1893. Then, in 2009, a single male was found in the Valley in late 2009 – the first record in 116 years. It is still occasionally recorded.


How this came to pass – the changes wrought on the Valley by European colonisation, what survived and how its original habitats have been saved and restored – are detailed in the final part of these Notes, Survivors and Recovery.








European settlement in the Wolli Valley began in 1804, when Governor King issued to first land grant in the vicinity of Wolli Creek. It was to Hannah Laycock and consisted of 500 acres of land at Kingsgrove. See Hill and Madden, Kingsgrove, p.3.


I borrowed the idea of having Richard Atkins as a guide from Steven Mithen’s After The Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000BC, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2003. There, Mithen uses the prehistorian John Lubbock (1834-1913) as his interlocutor. I’d considered using Alexander Brodie Spark (1792-1856), the Scottish merchant who lived by the Cooks River and built Tempe House, instead of Richard Atkins. While Spark knew Wolli Creek well, he did not arrive in Tempe until about 1831, almost 40 years after the First Fleet arrived, and the impact of Europeans settlement had already changed the Valley by then. See ‘Alexander Brodie Spark (1792-1856)’ in Pike, D. (ed) Australian Dictionary of Biography: 1788-1850, vol.II, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1967. Another candidate was John White (c.1756-1832), the First Fleet surgeon. He published the first detailed account of the Colony’s natural history, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, in 1790. I borrowed the reflections on literary artisanship from Ted Hughes: see his introduction to Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems, Faber and Faber Ltd, London, 1981 edition, p.13.


For earlier reconstructions of the original plant associations in the Cooks River, Wolli Creek and Bardwell Valleys, see Total Environment Centre, Cooks River Environment Survey and Landscape Design, Regional Employment Development Scheme, Sept 1976, pp.43-48. Also see Benson, D and Howell, J. Taken for Granted: The Bushland of Sydney and its Suburb, Kangaroo Press and the Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 1990, pp.53-54 and 64-66 and Benson, D, Ondinea, D and Bear, V. Missing jigsaw pieces: the bushplants of the Cooks River Valley, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 1999, pp.11-19 (especially the maps on pp.8-9 and 40). I also had the benefit of attending Jocelyn Howell’s lecture, ‘Vegetation of the County of Cumberland – Then and Now’, delivered at the Australian Bird Study Association conference at Macquarie University on 5 Feb 1993.


The guarantee that “Wolli Creek bushland will not be impacted” was contained in the leaflet issued by the WestConnex contractors titled New M5 – Bexley North and Kingsgrove Area and dated Aug 2015, p.2. The full sentence was: “KEY FACT: Wolli Creek bushland will not be impacted”. On the destruction of the scrubland at Beverly Hills, see Hannam, P. ‘Fears for rare city bushland threatened by WestConnex’, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 Aug 16, p.11 and Hannam, P. ‘Protestors halt road works’, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 14 Sept 16, p.8. For the impact of the relocation of Kogarah golf course on the Arncliffe wetlands, see Visentin, L. ‘$100m plan will shift golf course for 5000 homes,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Jan 17, pp.6-7. Also see Visentin, L. ‘$100m golf course relocation should be scrapped says National Trust’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Jan 2017, p.14. On the SouthConnex, see Paterson, I. ‘Sydney’s missing F6 motor link to the south on the road to reality’, Daily Telegraph, 16 Oct 2016. On the decision to save the Bexley North bushland, see the letter from Catherine Cusak, Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, to Deb Little of the Wolli Creek Preservation Society dated 12 Dec 2016, ‘Protect Wolli Creek’ facebook page, 19 Dec 16. On the importance of the campaign to save the Gordon River, see Andrew Darby’s ‘A watershed for green Australia’, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Dec 1992.


For Muir and Madden’s Bibliography of historical references relating to the Wolli Creek Valley, Heritage Assessment Report published by the Wolli Creek Preservation Society in Sept 1992, see: http://www.wollicreek.org.au/wp-content/wolliupload/WCBibliographyFinal.pdf


On the Kurnell Peninsula, see Virginia Bear’s Kurnell Peninsula: a guide to the plants, animals, ecology & landscapes, Sydney Metropolitan Catchment Authority, Parramatta, 2010. I am grateful to Deb Little for a copy of this work.



After the ice



The title of this chapter is inspired by Mithen’s After the Ice. Bill Bryson provides a useful summary of the ‘glacial’ (when the ice advances) and interglacial periods (when it melts and retreats) and their potential causes in his A Short History of Nearly Everything, pp.506-516. Also see Tim Flannery’s The Future Eaters: An ecological history of the Australian lands and people, Reed Books, Chatswood, 1994, pp.182-184 and Campbell, H and Hutchings, G. In Search of Ancient New Zealand, Penguin Books (NZ) and GNS Science New Zealand, Rosedale, 2007, pp.215-217 and 220. Francis Pryor’s bracing prediction is in his Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans, HaperCollinsPublishers, London, 2004, p.16.


On the pre-history of Botany Bay and the Cooks and Georges Rivers, see A.Albani, P.Rickwood, B.Johnson and J.Tayton’s ‘The Ancient River Systems of Botany Bay’, Council of the Shire of Sutherland, Sutherland, 1976 (also published as Sutherland Shire Studies No.8, Oct 1993). Also see Albani and Rickwood’s ‘The Botany Basin; Its Bedrock Topography And Recent Geological History’, in McNally, G and Jancowski, J (eds) Collected Case Studies in Engineering Geology, Hydrology and Environmental Geology, Geological Society of Australia, 1998.


On rising sea levels and their impact on Sydney’s coast, see Val Attenbrow’s ‘The Aboriginal prehistory and archaeology of Royal National Park and environs: a review’, Proceedings and the Linnean Society of New South Wales, 134, 2012, B39-B64Z, p.B39-B40. Also see Attenbrow’s. Sydney’s Aboriginal Past: investigating the archaeological and historical records. University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2002, pp.37-39. Also see Bear, Kurnell Peninsula, p.53. For the story recounted by Frances Bodkin, see Phillips, N. ‘Aboriginal stories of sea levels rise preserved for thousands of years’, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Feb 15.




William Bradley’s description of the Cooks River in 1789 is from his journal, A Voyage to New South Wales, entry for 1 Dec 1789. The text of Bradley’s journal is available on the University of Sydney Library website. Also see the facsimile edition Bradley, W. A voyage to New South Wales: the journal of Lieutenant William Bradley RN of HMS Sirius, 1786-1792, Trustees of the Public Library of NSW and Ure Smith, Sydney, 1969, p.184. The description of the mouth of the Cooks River in the1890s is taken from Henson, H. ‘Cooks River: Its condition and its destiny,’ Minutes of Proceedings of the Engineering Association of NSW, vol.11, Jun 1896, pp.40-41.


Details of the Cooks River’s tributaries are given in an excellent series of articles illustrated with topographical sketches by Steve Ward. They were published in a local newspaper, Regional Infonews and included: ‘The Cooks River Valley Catchment: Facts and Figures’, ‘The Upper Catchment Creeks of the Cooks River’, ‘Bardwell Valley remnant bushland’, Regional Infonews, Jun-Jul 1990, ‘Cup and Saucer Falls Canterbury,’ Regional Infonews, Mar-Apr 1991 and ‘The Upper and Lower Wolli Creek Valley’, Regional Infonews, Aug 1991.


On Cox’s Creek and its associated wetland, see Australian Wetlands Pty Ltd, Cox’s Creek Wetland and Reserve: Plan of Management, Sydney Metropolitan Catchment Authority, Jul 2010. On Cup and Saucer Creek, see Ward, S. ‘Cup and Saucer Falls Canterbury’ and Earlwood News, vol.13, no.2, Dec 1995, p.3. Also see the photographs of Cup and Saucer Creek in its natural state from the Local History Photograph Collection available on the Canterbury Library website, including ‘Two boys standing near the waterfall, Cup and Saucer Creek, Canterbury, 1901’ (020/020034), ‘Cup and Saucer Creek waterfall, Canterbury, c.1920s’ (010/010445) and ‘Cup and Saucer Creek, Canterbury, c.1920s’ (016/016438E).


On Bardwell Creek and its tributaries, see Gifford Eardley, ‘The Valley of Stoney Creek, Bexley, NSW’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, Sept 1979, Gifford and Eileen Eardley, ‘The hamlet known as ‘The Glen’, West Arncliffe,’ St George Historical Society Bulletin, Jun 1974, pp.291-295 and Ward, ‘Bardwell Valley remnant bushland’. On Stoney Creek and Parkes Creeks, see Rathbone’s History of the Bardwell Valley pp.1-2. For a general description of the Bardwell Valley and on the local names for Wolli and Bardwell Creeks, see Clouston’s Bardwell Valley Final Draft Management Plan prepared for Rockdale Council, Leichhardt, Aug 1993, pp.25 and 41.


On Gumbramorra Swamps and Creek, see Meader, C. ‘Sydenham’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008, available on-line, and ‘Draining of Gumbramorra Swamp’ on the Marrickville Council website. .On Shea’s Creek, see Ringer, R. ‘From Sheas Creek to Alexandra Canal’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2013, available on-line.


On Muddy Creek, see Gifford and Eileen Eardley’s article in the St George Historical Society Bulletin, Jun 1971, pp.101-106 and Steve Ward’s ‘Muddy Creek Valley and the Rockdale Wetlands’, Regional InfoNews, Aug 1990, p.7. On Barton Park, see Bowmer, J. ‘Rockdale 70 years ago’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, vol.1, no.5, June 1963. On Scarborough Park, see Gifford and Eileen Eardley, ‘Scarborough Park, Ramsgate NSW’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, Oct 1966, pp.57-61. On Pat Moore’s Swamp, see Gifford Eardley, ‘Pat Moore’s Swamp, West of Botany Bay’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, Mar 1967, pp.13-18 and Gifford Eardley, ‘The Western Verge of Pat Moores Swamp,’ St George Historical Society Bulletin, Jun 1967, pp.2-10.


On the vicinity of where Cooks River flowed into Botany Bay and Brighton-Le-Sands, see Gifford and Eileen Eardley’s article in the St George Historical Society Bulletin, Aug 1971, pp.110-113. On the vegetation originally found along Muddy Creek and the sand ridges and swamps behind Lady Robinsons Beach, see Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, pp.64 and 65. Also see the entry for ‘Patmore Swamp’, 2330166, dated Aug 2011 on the list of heritage places and names maintained by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, available on-line. On Fatima Island, see Hyde, F. ‘Fatima Island’, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 3 Jul 2013.




The terms ‘plant community’, ‘plant association’ and ecosystem require some explanation. A plant ‘community’ (also known as a ‘vegetation community’) is “a dynamic system of plants with their dependent fauna considered in relationship to each other and to the resources of their environment” (ie) it is an abstract concept practically synonymous with ‘ecosystem,’ albeit as seen from a botanical perspective.


A ‘plant association’ (also known as a ‘vegetation association’) a narrower concept, defined as “a stable community with dominant members showing uniform floristic composition and spatial arrangement.” See the definitions in Debenham’s The Language of Botany, Society for Growing Australian Plants, (no place and date of publication), pp.18 and 48.


The difficulty is that terms ‘plant community’ and ‘plant association’ are occasionally used interchangeable as the scope of these definitions has shifted over time. The scope of the term ‘plant association’, for example, remains contested – see Michael Allaby’s A Dictionary of Ecology, Oxford University Press, 2004, available on-line. For an illustrated summary of the controversy see the paper ‘The Plant Community’ available on the Ohio University website.


On how geological variations in the Hawkesbury Sandstone and Wianamatta Shale resulted in variations in plant associations, see Ilma Pigeon’s ‘The Ecology of the Central Coastal Area of New South Wales. IV. Forest Types on Soils from Hawkesbury Sandstone and Wianamatta Shale’, Proceedings of the Linnaen Society of NSW, 1941, vol.66, pp.113-137. On shale-based plant associations, see NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Interpretation Guidelines for the Native Vegetation Maps of the Cumberland Plain, Western Sydney, Final Edition, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville, 2002, pp.1, 8 and 26-27.


On the Valley’s surface geology and soil landscapes, see Total Environment Centre, Cooks River Environment Survey and Landscape Design, p.38 (map 5.1 Surface geology) and p.39 (map 5.2 Soils and reclaimed land); Kinhill Engineers Pty Ltd, Southwestern (F5) Freeway, Alexandria to Beverly Hills, Environmental Impact Statement, Roads and Traffic Authority, Sydney, 1989, fig.61. Hydrology and soils and AECOM, WestConnex The New M5, Technical Working Paper, Surface Water, Roads and Maritime Services, Nov 2015, p. 23-24 and figure 2 Soil landscapes.




On plant succession, see Ilma Pigeon’s ‘The Ecology of the Central Coast Area of NSW. II. Plant Succession on the Hawkesbury Sandstone’, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW, vol.63, 1938, pp.1-26 and her ‘The Ecology of the Central Coast Area of NSW. III. Types of Primary Succession’, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW, vol.65, 1940, pp.221-249.


The definition quoted is from the entry on climax theory in Michael Allaby’s A Dictionary of Ecology, Oxford University Press, 1998, available on-line. On the phenomenon of plant succession in the Cooks River Valley, see Cooks River Environment Survey and Landscape Design, pp.43-48.


For a critique of Pigeon’s model of succession in saline mud flats, see Mitchell, M and Adam, P. ‘The Relationship Between Mangroves and Saltmarsh Communities in the Sydney Region’, Wetlands (Australia), vol.8, no.2, 1989, pp.37-46. They argue, based on observations at north Botany Bay, that saltmarsh and not mangrove, is the initial colonist in that habitat.



Kooma and first contact



On Sydney’s Aborigines before colonisation, see Peter Turbet’s The Aborigines of the Sydney District Before 1788, Kangaroo Press Pty Ltd, Kenthurst, 1989. On the initial impacts of colonisation, see Keith Vincent Smith’s Bennelong: The Coming in of the Eora, Sydney Cover, 1788-1792, Kangaroo Press, Simon & Schuster (Australia) Pty Ltd, East Roseville, 2001. On the date of the charcoal found at Parramatta, see Macey, R. ‘Settlers’ history rewritten: go back 30,000 years’, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Sept 2007.


On the local people, see the overviews written by Lesley Muir, ‘Aboriginal people of the Cooks River valley’, Dictionary of Sydney (accessed 15 Jan 2016) and Paul Irish, ‘First people of the Cooks River’, Dictionary of Sydney (accessed 4 January 2016). For a comparative account, see Heather Goodall and Alison Cadzow’s Rivers and Resilience: Aboriginal People on Sydney’s Georges River, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2009.


On the excavations at Discovery Point, see Jo McDonald, Cultural Heritage Management Pty Ltd, Archaeological Testing and Salvage Excavation at Discovery Point, Site 45-6-2737 in the Former Grounds of Tempe House, NSW, report to Australand Holdings Pty Ltd, 2005 and Archaeological salvage of a stormwater easement and testing within the State Heritage Register Conservation Precinct at the former Tempe House, Discovery Point, report to Australand Holdings Pty Ltd, 2006. Also see Attenbrow, ‘The Aboriginal prehistory and archaeology of Royal National Park’, p.B63. One the reminas of the man found at Narrabeen, see Snow, D. ‘Ill-fated warrior needs some rest’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6-7 Jul 2013.


The Kendrick Park midden dates from 3800 years ago at its current top level to 4700 years ago at its base. The top section of the midden was probably removed after settlement, so the earliest date does not represent the date it was abandoned. On its excavation, see AMBS Consulting, Report on the Salvage Excavation of a Portion of the Kendrick Park Midden, Tempe, NSW, Report to Marrickville Council, 2003. Also see Attenbrow, ‘The Aboriginal prehistory and archaeology of Royal National Park’, p.B62. Another local artefact was an axe head found in 1961 at the midden in Riverside Park, part of Marrickville Golf Course.


There is a useful summary of the archaeological investigations of Aboriginal sites in the Valley in Oakes, G and AECOM Australia Pty Ltd’s WestConnex New M5 Technical Working Paper: Aboriginal Heritage, Sydney, Nov 2015, pp.29-41. The consultants’ work included a re-investigation and literature review of all previously identified sites and, where they could be found, verifying or correcting the details of their location.




On the original names for parts of Botany Bay, see Collin’s An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales…, T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1798, vol. I, which is available on-line on the University of Sydney Library website. Also see Nugent, M. A Contextual History of Botany Bay National Park (Kurnell Section), School of Historical Studies. Monash University, 2005, p.10. On the Kamegal and the spelling of Kamay/Kamey, see Keith Vincent Smith, ‘Maroot the elder’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2016, available on-line (where it is spelt ‘Kamey’) and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s website pages for Botany Bay National Park (where it is spelt ‘Kamay’). Cook initially named it Sting Ray Bay as he was impressed with the number of them he found there. He later changed it to Botany Bay on seeing the excitement of the expedition’s naturalists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, in collecting and drying out plant specimens there – many of which were new species to the Europeans.


For Cruwee’s account, see Obed West, ‘Old and New Sydney xix – Our harbour and Ocean Bays’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Oct 1882, p.9. For Mahroot the Boatswain’s, see evidence of Mahroot alias the Boatswain, given before the Select Committee on the Aborigines, Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Select Committee, 1845, p.5. For the version recalled to the Rev John McEnroe, see McEnroe, J. Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Apr 1863. p.5.


On Kooma, see the interview with Francis Carey, ‘Pioneer Days of Bexley’, The Propeller, 30 Nov 1939, p.8. To date, the song Francis Carey recalls Kooma singing remains untranslated as not enough of the languages of the South Coast people, such as Dharawal and Dhurga, have survived. Illert notes “Cooman, or Goomung … was a tiny child when Captain Cook came. He was alive, an extremely old man, when [the] Dunbar was wrecked [1859]. [He] used to beat his young wife (Granny Giles) so she left him … ”. See Illert, C. ‘Early Ancestors of Illawarra’s Wadi-Wadi People’, Bulletin of the Illawarra Aboriginal History Society, Nov 2003, pp.6 and 16.


On Bi-yar-rung, see the letter from Mary Everitt (a Sydney school teacher and scholar of Aboriginal languages) to A Stephens, editor of The Bulletin, 24 Jun 1910, 2/950a, Hayes Collection, University of Queensland Library. For Bi-yar-rung’s recollections, see the letter from Richard Longfield to William Houston, 1905, Archives of Captain Cook’s Landing Place Trust, Box 12, item 141, 2, 6. The first part of the quote is from Everitt’s letter, the second part is from Longfield’s. For Longfield’s recollections, also see Illert, C. ‘Early Ancestors of Illawarra’s Wadi-Wadi People’, Bulletin of the Illawarra Aboriginal History Society, Nov 2003, p.6. For Moore’s, see ‘Reminiscences’, St George Call, 12 Jul 1919, p.5. The St George Call was published at Kogarah from 1914 to 1923. Also see generally Keith Vincent Smith, ‘Voices on the Beach,’ in Bourke, A (curator) Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, 2008, pp.13-21.A difficulty with Moore’s account is that Moore was born in 1854, but Kooma (Spearman Junior) died in 1856 – see Smith, ‘Voices on the Beach,’ p.16.


For Cook’s account of the 1770 landing, see the entry in his Private Endeavour Log for 29 Apr 1770, transcribed in Bladen, F (ed). Historical Records of New South Wales (‘HRNSW’), Government Printer, Sydney, 1892-1901, vol.1, p.19. Also see the edition of Cook’s Journal edited by J Beaglehole, The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery, volume 1, The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768–1771, published for the Hakluyt Society at Cambridge University Press, 1955. The period the expedition spent at Botany Bay, 29 April to 6 May 1770, is detailed at pp.304-311. There are no apparent references to the Cooks River or Wolli Creek. The rivers Cooks mentions could be either the Cooks or Georges River. One writer thinks they are of the Georges River – see Bertie, C. ‘Captain Cook and Botany Bay’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol.10, 1925, pp.266-274.


Also see the entry in Joseph Bank’s Endeavour journal for 28 Apr 1770. The original manuscript of Bank’s journal is held at the Mitchell Library, Banks Papers, safe 1/13. A scanned copy and transcript are available on the State Library of NSW’s website. Also see Beaglehole, J (ed) The ‘Endeavour’ Journal of Joseph Banks 1768–1771, vol. II, second edition, Trustees of the Public Library of NSW in association with Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1962. Banks notes he went “…ashore on the Nw side of the bay, where we went a good way into the countrey which in this place is very sandy and resembles something our Moors in England, as no trees grow upon it but every thing is coverd with a thin brush of plants about as high as the knees.” See p.60.


For a further account of the landing, see Sydney Parkinson’s Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas in HMS Endeavour, London, 1784, p.134. Smith contends Parkinson, who was nearby, sketched Cooman (Gooman) in the process of throwing his spears. The sketch is catalogued as Australian Aborigines and artefacts, 1770, British Library Add mss 9345 f.14v. See Smith, ‘Voices on the Beach’, pp.14-15.


On the spears and shield Cook and Banks collected, see Neill, R. Taken by Cook’s men, artefacts returning, The Australian, 27 Feb 2015, p.7, Nugent, A Contextual History of Botany Bay National Park, pp.26-28 and 153 and Smith, ‘Voices on the Beach’, p.15. Also see R Neill’s article in R. The Australian, 27 Feb 15, p.7 and Trinca, M. ‘Past and present merge in museum’s encounters, The Australian, 18 Mar 16, p.12. Cook may have also collected a boomerang and two clubs at Botany Bay: they were put up for auction in September 2008. See Gibson, J. ‘Elder wants boomerang bound for Botany Bay’, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Aug 2008, p.5.


For King’s account of the 1788 landing, see King’s Journal, HRNSW, vol.2, p.542. For King’s original manuscript, see his Remarks and journal kept on the Expeditions to form a colony: 1786 – December 1790, fair copy complied 1790, p.113 ML Mss C115, safe 1/246. For an edited version, see Fiddon, P and Ryan, R. The Journal of Philip Gidley King, Lieutenant, RN 1787-1790, Australian Documents Library, 1980, p.33. King explored the Cooks River. He wrote “…the River at the NW side of the bay which we went up for about 6 miles, finding the country low and boggy & no appearance of fresh water…”. See p.33.


Also see John Stockton’s compilation titled The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay…, John Stockdale, London, 1789, p.44. A transcript is available on the University of Sydney Library website. There is also a facsimile edition published by the Libraries Board of South Australia, Adelaide, 1968. It mentions exploration of Botany Bay at pp.45 and 51, but there are no obvious references to the Cooks River or Wolli Creek.


Botany Bay was charted by John Hunter in 1789, see the chart entitled ‘Chart of the Coast between Botany Bay and Broken Bay surveyed in 1788 and 89 by Captain John Hunter’, engraved by B Islington in his An historical journal of the transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, John Stockdale, London, 1793, pp.160-161. A facsimile edition was published by Libraries Board of South Australia, Adelaide, 1968. Hunter’s chart does not show Wolli Creek.




The quote from Cook’s Journal is from Beaglehole’s Journals of Captain James Cook, p.309. This passage does not appear in Cook’s original Private Endeavour Log, transcribed in the HRNSW, indicating he added it when he was preparing a revised version of his Private Endeavour Log with the assistance of clerk, Richard Orton. There are two copies of this revised version. One is held by the Mitchell Library in Manuscript Safe 1/71. The other is held by the National Martime Museum in Greewich.


For Hawkesworth’s version, see his An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere … , W. Strahan & T. Cadell, London, 1773, vol. 3, p. 97. The quote from Bank’s evidence is from Alan Frost’s Botany Bay: The Real Story, Black Ink, Collingwood, 2012, p.117. The quote from Phillip is from his The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay, p.46. A transcript is available on the University of Sydney Library website.


Tench was the author of two works about the early days of the colony, A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay, first published in April 1789, and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, first published in 1793. They are contained in Flannery, T (ed) Watkin Tench 1788, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 1996. This quote is from A Complete Account, p.176. This was Tench’s second expression of his disappointment. Earlier, he had noted that “[a] survey of Botany Bay took place in September. I was of the party, with several other officers. We continued nine days in the bay …We were unanimously of opinion, that had not the nautical part of Mr Cook’s description … been so accurately laid down, there would exist the utmost reason to believe that those who have described the contiguous country had never seen it.” See A Complete Account, p.113.


John White, the surgeon and naturalist, also complained: “The fine meadows talked of in Captain Cook’s Voyage I could never see, though I took some pains to find them out.” See Frost, Botany Bay, p.200.



Richard Atkins’s walk



The most reliable accounts of Richard Atkins are Barbara Brockbank’s ‘Richard Atkins Gentleman: The Life and Times of a Fascinating Black Sheep’, c.1992, National Library of Australia MS 8542, Alan Atkinson’s ‘Richard Atkins: The Women’s Judge’, Journal of Australian Colonial History, 1 (1) 1999, pp.115-142 and Michael Meehan’s ‘The Fallen World of Judge Advocate Atkins’ in Corcoran, S (ed). Law and History in Australia – A Collection of Papers Presented at the 1989 Law and History Conference, vol.5, Adelaide Law Review Association of the Law School of the University of Adelaide, 1991, pp. 35-46. The description of Richard’s appearance was given by Ellis Bent, Atkins’ successor as Deputy Judge Advocate, in a letter to his Mother dated 4 Mar 1810, transcribed in Byrne, P. Judge Advocate Ellis Bent: Letters and Diaries 1809-1811, The Federation Press, Sydney, 2012, p.127.


Richard’s opinions and experiences are detailed in the journal he kept intermittently from 1792 to 1810. The original, titled ‘Atkins’ Voyage to Botany Bay’, is held at the National Library of Australia as MS 4039. The National Library of Australia also holds a typescript of it. A copy of the Journal based on this typescript has been placed on the Internet by Bruce Kercher. See ‘The New South Wales Journal of Richard Atkins,’ at http://www.law.mq.edu.au/scnsw/html/atkins_intro.htm.For Richard’s reflections on Sydney, see his Journal for 16 Jun 1794. For his notes on native plants, see his Journal for 17 Apr 1792. On his pet birds, see Sydney Gazette, 5 Mar 1803, p.2 and 11 Sept 1803, p.3 and Whitley, G. ‘Richard Atkins (1745-1820) – An early Aviculturalist’, Emu, vol.1 33, no.1, 1933, pp.67-68.


The Sydney Gazette noted “[a] Parrot of a species perfectly distinct from any hitherto found, was lately taken at Kissing Point, and is now in the possession of the JUDGE ADVOCATE. Its size differs little from the Lowry [a contemporary name for the Crimson Rosella], but the feather is by no means the same: those of the neck and breast are of a rich scarlet, with the head, wings, and tail of a clear straw colour. Whether this class may be possessed of the powers of SPEECH cannot yet be ascertained, but appearance declares it to be “a bird of promise”. Sydney Gazette, 7 Aug 1803, p.2.


The Sydney Gazette misidentified the Frogmouth as an owl, but the description it gives makes it clear what species Richard had. “A native Owl is in possession of the Judge Advocate, and may be worthy the notice of persons who may not have before seen any of its curious species. It chiefly resembles the European Owl in its inclination for sleep, and a total want of animation during the day. Its appearance is perfectly uncouth and grotesque, the beak sharp pointed, but of an unusual width next the throat, the eye is yellow, large and glaring; but the whole head during its slumbering state, is nearly concealed in the feathers of the neck and breast. Nature seems in the appearance of this bird to have consulted its security, as thousands might pass it as the fragment of decayed bough.” Sydney Gazette, 11 Sept 1803, p.3. Whitley notes that “f as a legal luminary he did not shine very brightly, at least we may remember him as probably the first aviculturist in Australia…”




The quote from the visiting clergyman in 1875 is from Hill and Madden’s Kingsgrove, p.26. On the George River Road, see Lesley Muir’s ‘Bark huts and country estates’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2013, available on-line.


On the plant associations found at Chullora, see Gibson, C and Miller, R. ‘Freshwater Creek Bushland: Upper Cooks River, Chullora, Survey of Remnant Flora and Fauna, Cumberland Flora and Fauna Interpretive Services’ in West, D and Gibson, C. Chullora SRA Lands: A Review of Ecological Studies Undertaken, 1990-1997, Bankstown Bushland Society Inc, Apr 1997, pp.6-19.


A detailed description of the River’s saltmarsh vegetation, including photographs of surviving remnants, are given in A. Hamilton’s ‘Saltmarsh vegetation in the Port Jackson district’, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW, vol.44, 1919, pp.471-472, 482, 486-487, 489-492, 495, 498, 502, 505-506 and 508-509. Also see Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, pp.54, 62, 64 and 94 and Benson, et al. Missing jigsaw pieces, pp.35-39. On the volcanic soil-based vegetation at Burwood, see Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, p.53.


For the bird names given in Richard’s fictitious notes, I have used those given in John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, Debrett, London, 1790. Illustrated transcripts are available on the Adelaide University and Gutenberg Project websites.


I have also used some of those given in the 1808 edition of Lewin’s Birds of New Holland with their Natural History, published by J White and S Bagster, London, 1808. A scanned copy is available on the National Library website. Also see Rienits, W. ‘John White (1756 ?-1832)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.2, Melbourne University Press, 1967, pp.594-595 and Mander-Jones, P. ‘John Lewin (1770-1819)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.2, Melbourne University Press, 1967, pp.111-112.


On John Latham generally, see Calaby, J. ‘John Latham (1740-1837)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.2, pp.88-89. The works referred to are his Index ornithologicus, sive Systema ornithologiae…, Leigh & Sotheby, London, 1790 and his Supplementum Indicis Ornithologici, Leigh & Sotheby, London, 1801. North notes that many of the Australian species Latham describes in his Index Ornithologicus were collected during the Endeavour’s stay in Botany Bay in 1770. See North’s ‘The Birds of the County of Cumberland,’ p.69.




On ‘The Bay’ (now Cahill Park), the flats near Unwin’s Hill and ‘The Knoll’, see Gifford and Eileen Eardley’s ‘The Valley’ A Hamlet of Old-Time Tempe, NSW’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, Nov 1974, p.1.


One the plant associations Richard would have found alongside the tidal section of Wolli Creek, see Allaway, W and Clarke, P. Wolli Creek Estuarine Wetlands, Coast and Wetlands Society Newsletter, no.22, Nov 1987. Also see Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, pp.53-54 and 64-65. On the fungi found in the Wolli and Bardwell Valleys, see David Noble’s Blog at http://www.david-noble.net.


On the view from Undercliffe, see the undated crayon sketch attributed to John Vine Hall titled ‘Tempe – Wolli Creek, Botany’ in his Sketches of Sydney (1854-1873), f.18, ML small picture file ZPXA 4461-2. For Howard’s letter, see his letters to his family in England, 1872-1874, ML Mss 1595, pp.35-36. The sketch is reproduced and Howard’s letter quoted in Madden, B and Muir, L. The Wolli Creek Valley: A History of Survival, Wolli Creek Preservation Society, 1996, p.7. On Girrahween Park, see Gifford Eardley’s ‘The Girrahween Park Reserve, Earlwood’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, May 1972, pp.159-160.


On the dividing line between the western, shale-based part of the Valley and the eastern, sandstone-based part, see Henson, ‘Cooks River’, p.41 and Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, p.53. Branagan and Packham note “the change which occurs below (NE of) Bexley Road. The creek leaves the Ashfield Shale and the broad shallow valley is replaced by a flat-floored valley bordered by walls of Hawkesbury sandstone.” Branagan and Packham, Field Geology, p.57. Branagan and Packham note “the change which occurs below (NE of) Bexley Road [where] [t]he creek leaves the Ashfield Shale and the broad shallow valley is replaced by a flat-floored valley bordered by walls of Hawkesbury sandstone.” See Branagan and Packham, Field Geology of New South Wales, p.57. On the variations in flora, see Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, pp.53 and 66. On the Lilly Pillys found in the Valley, see Deb Little’s ‘Endangered Lilly Pilly Confirmed’, Wolli Valley Update, Feb 2014, p.5.


For Meehan’s 1804 map showing Wolli Creek, which he named ‘Run of Ponds’, with four smaller creeks running into it, see Muir, L. A Wild and Godless Place: Canterbury, 1788-1895, vol.1, MA Thesis, University of Sydney, 1984, p.45 (map 4.1 Grants of 1804 Meehan’s survey base map A.O 1297). On Meehan, see Perry, T. ‘James Meehan’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.2, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1967, pp.219-220.


On Broadarrow Creek, see Steve Ward’s ‘The Upper and Lower Wolli Creek Valley’, Regional Infonews, Aug 1991. For the advertisement for Bexley Estate, see Sydney Gazette, 18 Jun 1833, p.4. For Eardley’s conclusion, see his Early History, p.1.


On the earliest use of ‘Wollar Creek’, see mortgage from Arthur Martin to James Norton, 2 Apr 1834, old system title G/45. On the earliest use of ‘Woolli Creek’, see J Lamar’s Survey of Vacant Land in the Parish of St George, dated 22 Nov 1834, Archive Office Map 2220. See the commentary in Muir and Madden’s Bibliography pp. 28 and 74. Also see Madden and Muir’s The Wolli Creek Valley, pp.3-4. While Lamar’s plan shows the Cooks River, Cup and Saucer Creek and ‘Wooli Creek’, contrary to Muir and Madden’s note at p.28, it does not show details of local vegetation. For the quote from Alexander Brodie Spark’s diary in Apr 1836, see the original manuscript in the Mitchell Library, A4689, entry for 10 Apr 1836. For the quote from Spark’s diary in Jan 1843, see the edited version prepared by Graham Abbott and Geoffrey Little and published as The Respectable Sydney Merchant, A.B. Spark of Tempe, Sydney University Press, University of Sydney, 1976, p.150, entry dated 21 Jan 1843. Leslie Duguid was a friend of Spark’s and purchased land on the north side of Wolli Creek near where it was joined by Bardwell Creek. See Madden and Muir’s The Wolli Creek Valley, p.6.


Muir and Madden caution that the published version of Spark’s diary was edited, removing many local references – including his accounts of walks to ‘St Georges Fountain’, which Muir and Madden identify as Wolli and Bardwell Creeks. See their Bibliography, pp.13 and 24.




On the Bardwell Valley’s geology and native vegetation, see National Trust of Australia (NSW), Rockdale Municipality Bushland Survey, Jun 1989, p.21, Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, p.66 and Clouston’s Bardwell Valley Final Draft Management Plan, p.49.




On Five-corner fruit, see the extract from The Propeller of Feb 1941 reprinted in the St George Historical Society Bulletin, vol.1, no.9, Feb 1964, pp.23-25 and Napper, C. ‘The Native Edible Fruits of the St George District’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, Apr 1967, pp.22-23.


On the Sydney Mud Oyster, Ostrea angasi, see Bear’s Kurnell Peninsula, pp.52 and 55. Branagan and Packham note that “uring dredging [of the Cooks River] oysters … were found as far upstream as Canterbury, indicating a former period of higher sea-level when the river was salty.” See their Field Geology of New South Wales, p.57.


On the fish found in Wolli Creek, see Cooks River Environment Survey and Landscape Design, p.20. On the fish found in Bardwell Creek, see Rathbone, History of Bardwell Park, p.34. The advertisement for the Bexley Estate is from the Sydney Gazette, 18 Jun 1833, p.4. On fishing in Botany Bay, see Joanne Sippel’s ‘Booralee fishing town’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2013, available on-line.




For Bradley’s records, see his A Voyage to New South Wales, entry for 23 Jan 1788. For Flannery’s list, see his The Future Eaters, p.381. On the native mammals common in Sydney and likely to have been found locally, see the section by B. Marlow, former Curator of Mammals at the Australian Museum, in Trustees of the Australian Museum, The Natural History of Sydney, Sydney, second edition, 1972, pp.26-29.


On wombats being seen at Wolli Creek, see Taylor, S. ‘Expressway Threatens Sydney’s Wolli Creek Valley,’ Habitat Australia, no.4, vol.12, Aug 1984, p.35. On Long-nosed Bandicoots being seen at Dulwich Hill, see ‘Evidence bandicoots have returned’, Wolli Creek Update, Mar 2003, p.1. It announced that a small colony of Long-nosed Bandicoots had been found behind shops fronting New Canterbury Rd, Dulwich Hill and that it may be an off-shoot of a colony that had survived in the disused metropolitan goods railway line. It also noted there had been signs of bandicoots digging in the Wolli Valley, with their distinctive cone-shaped holes being found at Jackson Place and Turrella Reserve. Also see ‘Do you have a bandicoot in your backyard ?’, Greeway.org, 11 May 2011 and Herbertson, L. ‘An endangered bandicoot colony….’, Inner West Courier, 16 Feb 16 and at Alexandria, see ‘Bandicoot latte belt’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Jun 2011, p.22. The last colony of the Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus) in Sydney was at Neilson Park in Vaucluse. The ‘native cats’ were still common there in the 1950s. The last one recorded was found at Nielsen Park, Vaucluse in January 1963. It had been run over and is now held at the Australian Museum. See Marlow’s notes in The Natural History of Sydney, pp.26-29.


On Flying Foxes roosting in the Botanic Gardens, see Aflalo, F. A Sketch of the Natural History of Australia, MacMillan and Co Ltd, London, 1896, pp.13-14. On White’s survey of Scarborough Park, see Stokes, J. ‘Bats going to Scarborough’, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 26 Aug 1999 p.3. On seals in the Cooks River, see Carr, K. ‘Seal calls in for a meal’, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 5 Jun 2012 and Clement, J. ‘Seal sighting puts a sparkle in Cooks River’, Daily Telegraph, 3 Jul 2012. In Sept 1997, a Leopard Seal visited Lady Robinsons Beach at Ramsgate. St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 25 Sept 1997, p.1. On the shark, see ‘Large shark spotted in inner Sydney canal’, Nine News website, 13 Feb 2017. Also see Hogg, M. ‘Experts confirm shark sightings in Botany Bay are of a great white’, Daily Telegraph, 14 Feb 2017 and Levy, M. ‘Pet dog take by shark at Kurnell…’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Feb 17.




For Richard’s note on the fight between the Botany Bay and Sydney People, see his Journal, entry for 11 Apr 1792. For overviews of early relations between the Botany Bay people and Europeans, see Madden and Muir, Earlwood’s Past, p.3 and Keith Smith’s Bennelong.


On the location of the Kangaroo Ground, see the map drawn by John Walker titled ‘A map of the hitherto explored country contiguous to Port Jackson …’ in Tench’s A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson. It describes the land north of the Cooks River up to, roughly, Parramatta Road as “Kangaroo Ground good land.” A digital copy is available on the State Library of NSW’s website. Also see Ellmoos, L and Whitaker, M. ‘Sydney Park: kangaroo ground to brickpits’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2016, available on-line. Also see McLaren, A. Convict Geographies of Early Colonial Sydney, BA (Hons) thesis in History, University of Sydney, 2013, pp.18-19. Also see Hill and Madden, Kingsgrove, p.9.


On Pemulwuy, see Kohen, J. ‘Pemulwuy (1750-1802) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography on-line. On Tedbury, see Sydney Gazette, 15 Oct 1809, p.1 and Bob Reece’s, Aborigines and Colonists: Aborigines and Colonial Society in New South Wales in the 1830s and 1840s, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1974, pp.105-106. The trial of Powell and others for the murder of the two Aborigines is reported in the Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899, see R v Powell and Others [1799] NSWKR 7.


On the illustrations mentioned, see Joseph Lycett’s ‘Botany Bay’, plate 10 in his Views in Australia, or, New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land Delineated: In Fifty Views with Descriptive Letter Press, J. Souter, London, 1824-1825 and John Thompson, ‘From Mud Bank Botany Bay – Mouth of Cooks River’, plate 2a in his album Sketches in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1827–1832, Mitchell Library DL PXX 31. On James Backhouses’ visit, see his A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies. Hamilton, Adams and Co, London, 1843, p.288. Also see James Backhouse, ‘Journal of a Visit to the Australian Colonies, 1831–1841’, pp.79-80 in James Backhouse and George Walker’s papers, 1831-1841, Mitchell Library, B730-B732.


For Alfred North’s observations, see his ‘The Birds of the County of Cumberland’, in Hamlet, W (ed) Handbook of Sydney and the County of Cumberland for the use of the members of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, George Robertson & Co, Sydney, 1898, p.71. For the reminiscences of Maria Smithson, see The Propeller, 1 Apr 1937, p.6. Also see Hill and Muir, Kingsgrove, p.39. For those of Isabel Pulsford, see Hill and Madden, Kingsgrove, pp.93-94. On the locals reviving their customary fishing practices, see Williams, S. ‘Traditions revived as kids take to the bay’, Sydney Morning Herald, 17-18 Dec 16, p.16.






On Conrad Marten’s sketch, see his ‘Sketches in Australia’, his sketch book for 1835-1865, held at the Mitchell Library. The sketch of Tempe House is PXC 295 and a digital copy is available on the State Library’s website. Marten’s painting, ‘View of Tempe on Cook’s River, near Sydney, NSW’, 1845, is held by the National Library of Australia, Nan Kivell Collection NK1191. The photograph of the Cooks River taken from The Warren in reproduced in Benson and Howell’s Taken for Granted, p.64.


Other paintings and photographs of Cooks River made or taken when it still had its natural banks and which indicate its original vegetation are as follows. (1) Joseph Lycett’s painting of the mouth of the Cook’s River, ‘View of heads and part of Botany Bay’, c1822. It is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s Earlwood’s Past, p.1. (2) Samuel Elyard’s paintings of the Cooks River at Undercliffe in c1860 and of Bexley House in 1861. They are reproduced in Madden and Muir’s Earlwood’s Past, p.6 and 20. Also see his view of Bexley House with what may be Wolli Creek in the foreground, painted in 1863. It is reproduced in Hill and Madden’s Kingsgrove, p.27. (3) A photograph of the Cooks River at Riverview Road, Undercliffe, taken in 1904, shows some casuarinas on its banks. It is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s Earlwood’s Past, p.29. (4) A photograph of the Cooks River taken at Undercliffe in the early 1900s shows reed-beds along the River and scrub on the sandstone outcrops below Bayview Ave. It is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s Earlwood’s Past, p.29. (5) A photograph of the Cooks River taken at Undercliffe in 1897 shows casuarinas, juncus (rushes) and possibly mangroves. It was originally published in Hoben, E. Glimpses of Australia: An Album of Photographic Gems, Gordon and Gotch Ltd, Melbourne, 1899 and is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s Earlwood’s Past, p.27. (6) A photograph of the River taken at Undercliffe shows casuarinas and reed-beds. It is reproduced in Benson and Howell’s Taken for Granted, p.54.


On Joseph Maiden, see Lyons, M and Pettigrew, C. ‘Joseph Henry Maiden (1859-1925), ADB, vol.10, 1986, available on-line. Maiden was a prolific writer, whose works include the beautifully-illustrated The Flowering Plants and Ferns of New South Wales, NSW Department of Mines and Agriculture (Forest Branch), Government Printer, Sydney, 1895-1898.


On William Baeuerlen, see ‘William Baeuerlen (1840-1917), Biographical Notes, Council of the heads of Australian Herbaria, Australian National Herbarium, Dec 2015, available on-line. There was a recent exhibition of his work at the Museum of Sydney. See Allen, C. ‘Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden celebrated at Sydney Museum exhibitions’, The Australian, 1 Oct 2016.


The drawing of Arncliffe railway station and its surrounds from the 1880s is reproduced in Benson and Howell’s Taken for Granted, p.65. The specimen catalogue numbers are Dwarf Apple (NSW 355532), Velleia lyrata (NSW 786155) and Kunzea capita (642362). The next oldest specimen is of Common Aotus (Aotus ericoides) collected at Bexley in 1901, held by the State Herbarium of South Australia (catalogue number AD220585). For details of these specimens, see Australia’s Virtual Herbarium, The Atlas of Living Australia, available on-line. Recent specimens include one of Juncus capillaceus collected by Deb Little in Girrahween Park Earlwood in 2013.


On Aboriginal firestick agriculture, see Peter Turbet’s The Aborigines of the Sydney District Before 1788, Kangaroo Press Pty Ltd, Kenthurst, 1989, p.65 and Grace Karsekn’s The Colony, A History of Early Sydney, Allen & Unwin, Crows nest, 2009, pp.46 and 59. On the ‘Little Ice Age’, see Ian Plimer’s A Short History of Planet Earth, ABC Books, Sydney, 2001, pp.204-209. For the extent of native vegetation in the Wolli Valley in 1943, see the aerial photographs available on the NSW Department of Land’s website at https://maps.six.nsw.nsw.gov.au/ and select ‘Looking for 1943’ on the Basemaps options. On Wolli Creek’s mangroves, see Brown, K, Krassoi, F, Angus, C and Underwood, P. ‘The Mangroves of Wolli Creek, Sydney’, Wetland (Australia), 8 (1), pp.27-28. They note the re-appearance of the mangroves coincided with the removal of a concrete barrage built across the lower part of the Creek sometime before 1951. It was removed sometime before 1955, with the first mangroves noted in 1970. On the difficulties in reconstructing original local plant communities, see Clouston’s Bardwell Valley Final Draft Management Plan, p.49.




For details of Meehan’s observations, see Muir, L. A Wild and Godless Place: Canterbury, 1788-1895, vol.1, MA Thesis, University of Sydney, 1984, p.25 (map 1.4) and p.45 (map 4.1 Grants of 1804 Meehan’s survey base map A.O 1297). Also see Madden and Muir, Earlwood’s Past, p. 4 and Hill and Madden, Kingsgrove, pp.3-4. The primary sources are Meehan’s field books, no. 23 and 61, which are included in NSW Surveyor General, Surveyors’ field books, 1794-1831, State Records NSW. Microfilm copies are held by the Mitchell Library.




For Ernest Osbourne’s recollections, see his Days of Yore: Dumbleton-Beverly Hills, 6 Aug 1942, p. 1, Mitchell Library (Q994.41/261). For the advertisement about Bexley Estate, see Sydney Gazette, 18 Jun 1833, p.4. For the advertisement of land at Kingsgrove, see The Australian, 12 Aug 1841, p.3. For the advertisement of the Hermitage Estate, see Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Mar 1854, p.8.




On North, see Cahill, J. ‘Alfred John North: Portrait of an Ornithologist’, Australian Birds: Journal of the NSW Field Ornithologists Club, vol.31, no.3, Aug 1998, pp.57-83. A revised version was published on Shakespir on 1 Nov 2013 and is available at https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/373251. North used his Private Notebook between 1887 and 1902 to record his field notes and as a scrapbook into which he occasionally pasted newspaper articles. It is Mitchell Library manuscript B 1123.


For North’s references to native plants, see his Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia and Tasmania, Australian Museum Special Catalogue No.1, FW White, Sydney , 1901-1914, vol. 2, p.37 (Crested Shrike-tits), vol. 2, p.102 (Eastern Spinebill) and vol.1, p.270 (Brown Thornbill). For his reference to the White-fronted Chat, see his Private Notebook, entry for 26 Sept 1893. The Narrow-leaved Ironbark he mentions may have been Eucalyptus crebra. See Robinson, Trees of Wolli Creek, p.47.



I am grateful to Audrey Barnes, the grand-daughter of Charles and Agnes King, for a copy of this photograph and for a copy of her paper on the King Family: Barnes, A. Down the Gully or life along that section of the Wolli Creek Valley between the present Bardwell Park and Bexley North railway stations from 1900 to 1930 with special reference to the King Family, May 1980 (typescript). On the King Family pig farm, see Barnes, A. Down the Gully, p.14. The photograph is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s The Wolli Creek Valley, p.12. On the Burrell family farm, see Keys, M. ‘The Burrells of Wolli Creek’, Wolli Creek Preservation Society, 2011. Copies of the Burrell family photographs are held by Marrickville Library and available on its website. The photographs showing Waratahs are nos. DP0001.011 and DP0001.012. I am grateful to Judy Finlason for providing me with copies of this material.


For Gifford Eardley’s record of Stringy Barks, see his Early History, p.21.For his description of the remnant vegetation at Bardwell Park, see his Early History, p.23. The description of Forest Hill/Earlwood is from Madden and Muir, Earlwood’s Past, p.35.


The photograph of Willowdene is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s The Wolli Creek Valley, p.8. Its provenance is unknown: copies were on sale at the ‘Yesterdays Images’ stall The Rocks weekend market in the 1990s. The photograph of the market garden was taken in the early 1930s by Roy Dunkley, a keen amateur photographer who lived in Clemton Park. It is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s The Wolli Creek Valley, p.13. I am grateful to Dorothy Powell, Mr Dunkley’s daughter, for allowing me to copy the original.


The photographs of the Southern and Western Ocean Outfall Sewerage aqueduct taken in about 1896 are from the collection of the Historical Research Unit of the then Water Board (now Sydney Water). They are taken from negatives 540-5 (which is a view from Arncliffe to Undercliffe showing heath and scrub growing on the ridge at Undercliffe) and 541-12 (which rushes and possibly reed-beds near the Creek). A print of 540-5 is reproduced in Madden and Muir’s The Wolli Creek Valley, p.11.


For the photos of Undercliffe published by the Linnean Society of NSW, see A. Hamilton’s ‘Saltmarsh vegetation in the Port Jackson district’. For Knapp’s plan, see E. Knapp, Surveyor, ‘Wanstead Estate, Cooks River’, Mitchell Library Map M2 811.1851/1847/1. Also see Reuss and Brown, Surveyors, ‘Plan of the Tempe Estate’ Sydney, 1859, State Library of NSW, Sub-division Plans, Arncliffe, card 130, A5/30. It shows swamps on both sides of Wolli Creek where it flows into the Cooks River. Also see Reuss, ‘Plan of Martin’s Grant, Cooks River’, 1877, Mitchell Library, Canterbury, C8/161. The 1868 description of where the Cooks River flows into Wolli Creek from 1868 is from ‘A Day on Cooks River’, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Aug 1868, p.5. For the photograph taken in the 1920s, see Sawkins, H. Our Ocean to Ocean Opportunity via Campsie, Canterbury and Marrickville, Cooks River Improvement League, Sydney, Apr 1925.


For Taylor’s description of the blue gums around Tempe House, see transcript of the diary of the Rev Richard Taylor, entry dated 26 Jan 1837, p.55, Mitchell Library A3816. On Taylor generally, see Foster, B. ‘Richard Taylor’, in McLintock, A (ed) An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 1966, also available on-line.




See Nicholls, G. ‘Bexley As I Knew It’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, vol.1, no.9, Feb 1964, p.10. For Gifford and Eileen Eardley’s recollections, see ‘The hamlet known as ‘The Glen’, West Arncliffe,’ St George Historical Society Bulletin, Jun 1974, pp.291-295 and Eardley, G. ‘The Valley of Stoney Creek, Bexley, NSW’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, Sept 1979.


On John Middenway, see his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jan 1931, p.17 and Rathbone, History of Bardwell Park, p.25. A search of the Powerhouse Museum’s collection database and correspondence files failed to locate the slides. Personal communication, Helen Yoxall and Jill Chapman of the Museum, 23 Jun 2010 and 25 Jun 2010.


The photograph of the Jubilee Bridge in 1914 is reproduced in Benson et al’s, Missing jigsaw pieces, p.27. The photograph of Smithson’s paddock is reproduced in Hill and Madden’s Kingsgrove, p.68.




For an example of a list of some of the native fauna species likely to have been found in the Valley, see the list of land and marine mammals, reptiles and birds from selected excavated Aboriginal sites in Royal national park and southern Sydney in Val Attenbrow’s ‘The Aboriginal prehistory and archaeology of Royal National Park,’ pp.B50-B52.


For the early records described, see Meredith, L. Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, Penguin Colonial Facsimiles, Ringwood, 1973, pp.136-137 (originally printed by John Murray in 1844), Gould, J. Handbook to the Birds of Australia, London, 1865, vol.1, p.339, Hindwood, K and McGill, A. The Birds of Sydney (County of Cumberland) New South Wales, Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Sydney, 1958, pp.15, 65 and 98 and Hindwood, K. ‘The “Dobroyde” ornithological collection’, Australian Zoologist, no.3, vol. 15, 1970, pp.231-232.


For North’s records of the Little Black, Little Pied and Pied Cormorants, see Nests and Eggs, vol.III, pp.327, 331 and 333, on Pelicans and Marsh Terns, see vol.III, p.359 and vol.IV, p.302. For his records of White-fronted Chats, see vol.I, p.346 and for those of Black-fronted Dotterals, Rufous Night Herons, Marsh Crakes, Lewin’s Rail and Brown Bitterns, Spotless Crakes and the Little Water Crake, see vol.IV, pp.34, 41, 46, 201, 214 and 216-217. For his records of Clamorous Reed-Warblers, see vol.1, pp.239-240 and for those of Little Grassbirds, see vol.I, p.257. For his records of Azure Kingfishers, see vol.II, p.354 and for those of the Scared Kingfisher nesting at Canterbury in December 1892, see vol.II, p. 375.


For North’s records from Kingsgrove, see North, Private Note Book, 26 Sept and 30 Sept 1892, North, Private Note Book, 3 Oct 1892, North, Private Note Book, 7 Oct 1892, North, Private Note Book, 8 Nov 1892, North, Private Note Book, 26 Aug 1893, North, Private Note Book, 10 Sept 1893 and North, Private Note Book, 13 Sept 1893. On the unfortunate Brown Thornbill, see North, Nests and Eggs, vol.1, p.270 and Proceedings of the NSW Linnean Society (second series) vol.8, Mar 1894, p.327. The Whipbird’s eggs are still in the Museum’s collection (reg. O24737). Sladek, J. ‘List of specimens held at the Australian Museum collected by Alfred North from in and near Wolli Creek’, Birds Department, Australian Museum, 2011. North, Nests and Eggs, vol.1, p.94 and Proceedings of the NSW Linnean Society (second series) vol.8, Apr 1894, p.436.


The Grey Shrike Thrush nest and Pallid Cuckoo eggs are still in the Australian Museum’s collection (reg. O25709). Sladek, ‘List of specimens’. The Rufous Whistler’s eggs are still in the Museum’s collection (reg. O24588). Sladek, ‘List of specimens’. North also recorded Rufous Whistlers nesting at Canterbury in Oct 1899. North, Nests and Eggs, vol. 2, p.30. North, Nests and Eggs, vol. 2, p.102. North, Nests and Eggs, vol. 2, p.37. The Pallid Cuckoo’s eggs are still in the Museum’s collection (reg. O25714). Sladek, ‘List of specimens’. North, Private Note Book, 9 Aug and 13 Aug 1898. North, Private Note Book, 31 Aug 1898.


As for North’s other local records published in Nests and Eggs, they included the Pied Currawong, White-winged Triller, New Holland, White-cheeked and Yellow-faced honeyeaters, Mistletoebird, Dusky, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows, Pipit and Singing Bush Lark at Canterbury, see vol.I, pp.9 and 118 and vol.II, p.60-62, 65-66, 215, 250, 254, 305 and 306. He also recorded the White-eared Honeyeater in the scrub along the Cooks River, see vol.II, p.146, the Scarlet Honeyeater around Botany Bay, see vol.II, p.92, and a female Masked Owl at Campbell’s Hill, Cooks River, in June 1905, see vol.III, p.315. He noted Regent Honeyeaters, now an endangered species, were “very common” at Canterbury, see vol.II, p.155.


Apart from the records in Nests and Eggs, North published many local records in his paper ‘The Birds of the County of Cumberland’. They include the Australian Magpie at Ashfield, p.72, Pied Currawong at Ashfield and Canterbury and Australian Raven at Belmore and Enfield (p.72), Mudlark at Ashfield (p.73), Grey Shrike-thrush at Ashfield and Belmore (p.74), Restless Flycatcher at Belmore, (p.75) Rose Robin at Ashfield and Weebill at Enfield and Rookwood, (p.76), Clamorous Reed Warbler at the Cooks River (p.78), Speckled Warbler at Enfield (p.79), Whipbird at the Cooks River and Belmore (p.80) and Grey Butcherbird at Belmore (p.81), Rufous Whistler at Canterbury and Pallid Cuckoo at Canterbury (p.82), Crested Shrike-tit at Ashfield and Belmore and Brown Treecreeper at Canterbury (p.82), Varied Sitella at Ashfield (p.83), Brown Honeyeater at Ashfield and Burwood, White-eared Honeyeater at Enfield and Yellow-tufted Honeyeater at Ashfield (p.84), Regent Honeyeater at Canterbury, Noisy Friarbird at Ashfield and Brown-headed Honeyeater at Ashfield and Burwood (p.84), Mistetoebird at Enfield (p.86), Striated Pardalote at Ashfield and Canterbury (p.87), Fairy Martin at Ashfield and Canterbury, Dusky Woodswallow at Canterbury, White-browed Woodswallow at the Cooks River, Ashfield and Belmore and Masked Woodswallow at Belmore (p.88), Diamond Firetail and Zebra Finch at Belmore and Singing Bush Lark at Canterbury and Belmore (p.89), Fork-tailed Swift at Ashfield and Marrickville (p.90), Tawney Frogmouth at Belmore (p.91), Dollarbird at Canterbury (p.92), Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo at Ashfield (p.95), Grey Goshawk at Ashfield and Australian Goshawk at Belmore (p.98), Square-tailed Kite at Ashfield (p.99) and Rufous-rumped Song Lark (p.81), Black-faced Monarch, Leaden Flycatcher and Rufous Fantails at Dobroyde, pp.74-76.


Also see the following records: Marsh Crake at the Cooks River (p.102), Straw-necked Ibis at Ashfield and Belmore (pp.102-103), Painted Button-quail at Enfield (p.107), Black-fronted and Double-banded Dotterals at the Cooks River (p.110), Bar-tailed Godwit and Greenshank at the Cooks River (p.111), Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Wandering Tattler at the Cooks River (p.112), and Marsh Tern at the Cooks River (pp.112-113).


On the Kookaburra and Whip Snake seen at Kingsgrove, see Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Oct 1906, p.8.




For Ron Hunt’s recollections, see Letter from Ron Hunt to Justin Cahill 17 June 1997.




For Taylor’s encounter with the Blue-tonged Lizard, see transcript of the Diary of the Rev Richard Taylor, entry dated 26 Jan 1837, p.51.


For Les Hall’s recollections, see ‘Les Hall, Canterbury’s People oral history project’, website of the Migration Heritage Centre, Powerhouse Museum, 2005 (accessed 13 Jan 2010). For those of Mel Skelton, see Skelton, M. ‘Our friend George’ Earlwood Community News, vol.10, no.3, Dec 1992-Jan 1993, p.11. For Gifford Eardley’s notes, see his ‘The Girrahween Park Reserve, Earlwood’, St George Historical Society Bulletin, May 1972, p.158. For Jeff Dellows’ recollections, see Dellow, J.’ Bardwell Park School Anniversary: A former pupil remembers’, Earlwood News, Oct-Nov 1993. For Ron Hunt’s recollections, see his letter to me dated 17 June 1997. On records of bandicoots in the Bardwell Valley, see Rathbone, The Bardwell Valley, p.57. On Long-necked Tortoises in Bardwell Creek, see O’Brien, A. ‘The eels and tortoises have called it a day down in Bardwell Valley’, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 5 Oct 1999, p.13.




On the decline of the local possum population, see the evidence of Mahroot alias the Boatswain, given before the Select Committee on the Aborigines, Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Select Committee, 1845, pp.2-3. Also see Smith’s, ‘Maroot the elder’.


Since part 1 of Notes from a Small Valley was published in 2014, I have located a portrait of Mahroot the Boatswain. He was sketched along with another man, called Salmander, by Pavel Nikolaevich Mikhailov in 1820. The original sketch, on which Mahroot is named ‘Movat’ and Salamander is named ‘Salmanda’ is held at the Russian State Museum, Leningrad, R29209/207. A copy is held at the National Library of Australia, 1585522. It was reproduced in the State Library of NSW’s publication SL Magazine, Spring 201, p.10. Mikhailov (1786-1840) was the official artist on board the Russian vessel Vostok, which was part of the Russian Antarctica expedition led by Admiral Fabian von Bellingshausen from 1819 to 1821. See the short biography of Mikhailov on the Design and Art Australia On-line website (accessed 14 Jan 2016).


For the advertisement of Bexley Estate, see Sydney Gazette, 18 Jun 1833, p.4. For Mahroot’s evidence on kangaroos, see Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Select Committee, pp.2-3. Also see, generally, Muir, A Wild and Godless Place, pp.29-31. For the interview with Francis Carey, see ‘Pioneer Days of Bexley’, The Propeller, 30 Nov 1939, p.8. For Ron Hunt’s recollections, see his letter to me dated 17 June 1997. For Louisa Meredith’s records, see Meredith, L. Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, Penguin Colonial Facsimiles, Ringwood, 1973 (originally printed by John Murray in 1844), p.133 (dingos), p.135 (possums and bats) and pp.135-136 (flying opossum and native cats).


For the Australian Museum’s records, see ‘Australian Museum Mammals’, catalogue on the Australian Museum website (accessed 23 Jan 2009 and no longer available). Also see St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 26 Oct 1999, p.14. ‘Botany Swamps’ is now Eastlakes, see Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, pp.91-92.



Fatal impacts and the Old Ironbark



On Wolli Creek being known as ‘Cabbage Tree Creek’, see Benson and Howell, Taken for Granted, p.65. Also Les Robison, Trees of Wolli Creek, Wolli Creek Preservation Society, 1987, p.16. The reference for the interview with Francis Carey is given above. Robinson notes the last Cabbage Tree Palms in the Valley were cut down in about 1920. Robinson, Trees of Wolli Creek, p.16. Eardley notes the casuarinas mentioned were cut down in 1961 and that the Cabbage Tree Palm was also cut down, but not when. See his The Early History: The Wolli Creek Valley, p.3.




Details of Amy Bido, the Old Ironbark and her poem provided by Ron Hunt are posted on the Canterbury Library website. The photograph of the Old Ironbark is image 200283 in the Library’s collections.




On the native birds now extinct in the Valley, see my Birds of Western Wolli Creek: A case study in local extinction, published on Shakespir in 2013.



Notes from a Small Valley A Natural History of Wolli Creek II Vivid and Beautifu

This is the second part of my short introduction to the natural history of the Wolli Creek Valley in Sydney, Australia. The Valley contains the last substantial remnants of the natural environment in Sydney’s inner south-west. Even though it is quite small it contains a variety of habitats, ranging from tidal mudflats, saltmarsh and mangroves to reed-lands, open woodland and even fragments of rainforest. They, in turn, provide refuge for an impressive range of native wildlife, especially birds and reptiles. Part I, Prehistory, published in 2014, gave an overview of the Valley’s geology and what local fossil and archaeological records tell us of its ancient past. This part, Vivid and Beautiful, describes how the Valley may have appeared to a visitor in the early 1790s - shortly after the First Fleet brought the Europeans to Sydney in 1788 but before they settled along Wolli Creek from 1804.

  • ISBN: 9781370387595
  • Author: Justin Cahill
  • Published: 2017-05-17 03:35:10
  • Words: 29659
Notes from a Small Valley A Natural History of Wolli Creek II Vivid and Beautifu Notes from a Small Valley A Natural History of Wolli Creek II Vivid and Beautifu