When talking about urban biodiversity, a particular passion of mine, one’s mind usually turns to birds, bats, possums and the other tough critters we see crawling and flitting around in our backyards and parks. One rarely considers the aquatic environments that in Sydney we are lucky to have so close to our homes. While the harbour is a very well known ecosystem we mustn’t forget the plight of smaller river environments, the most significant near the City of Sydney being Cooks River.
The waters of Cooks River provided fish and molluscs for the local Cadigal people for thousands of years and when Captain Cook arrived at Botany Bay in 1770 he commented in his journal on how fine a stream the river that would one day bear his name was. However a few short decades after European invasion the waterway’s health started to go downhill with dams and a sugar mill, which discharged waste straight into the river, being built in the 1830s.
This degradation has continued up to this day with growing industrial use around the river, which now has the entirety of it’s catchment covered in urban landscapes.
There has been a significant effort by many councils and community groups to do something to improve the river’s health and it is showing some small signs of recovery. However as a result of the river taking in 13 different council areas in it’s 100 square kilometres of catchment any effort must be part of a coordinated response in order to have a meaningful effect.
It is for this reason that I was happy to move a recommendation last week at Council’s Environment and Heritage Committee (of which I am now Deputy Chair) that Council join up and contribute to the funding of the Cooks River Alliance. The Alliance will provide staff to work with all 13 councils in the catchment on coordinated projects to improve the river’s water quality and overall health through measures such as stormwater pollution control, habitat restoration and community education programs.
It may be a long time before the Cooks River is back to a point where it is a popular swimming spot as it was in 19th century but hopefully by working together we will be able to see some positive changes over the next few years to inner Sydney’s most significant river system.