On Display

Lost Waterways

Rushcutters Creek, 1870-75 (Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW - ON 4 Box 56 No 253)

Rushcutters Creek, 1870-75 (Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW - ON 4 Box 56 No 253)


The drains that run beneath the tarmac of the inner city used to be natural watercourses that sustained life and industry for the Aboriginal people of coastal Sydney and early colonists. Long before the advent of roads and subdivisions, water sketched the bounds of Darlinghurst on three sides. Early maps show a number of creeks traversing the valleys of Woolloomooloo and Rushcutters Bay: La Croza Creek, West’s Creek, Yurong Creek, Rushcutters Creek, Palmer’s Creek. At different times, diverse groups have used the area’s water resources in multiple ways - from Gadigal tool manufacturers on the banks of Yurong Creek, to ex-convict Thomas West who built the colony’s first watermill at Barcom Glen, to Chinese market gardeners at Rushcutters Bay. By the late 1800s, the natural watercourses had become receptacles for sewage from the area's growing population and were in a foul state. A system of stormwater drains was built to alleviate the problem, banishing the surface flow of water, sending it underground. Certain streets trace the line of Darlinghurst’s buried waterways: Boundary Street, Stream Street, Yurong Street. This audio story goes in search of the streams, creeks and cascades that once flowed freely from the sandstone ridge at the apex of Darlinghurst down to the harbour at Woolloomooloo and Rushcutters Bay in a series of intersecting streams and falls.


This audio story is a production of the Australian Centre for Public History in partnership with the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

Producer: Catherine Freyne

Sound engineer: Judy Rapley

Music: Blue Dot Sessions


  • Saskia Schut, Landscape architect
  • Ray Ingrey, Chair, Gujaga Foundation
  • Mark Dunn, Historian
  • Daphne Lowe-Kelly, Co-deputy Chair, Museum of Chinese in Australia
  • Phil Bennett, Lead Heritage Advisor, Sydney Water
  • An excerpt from E.W. West (ed) The Memoirs of Obed West: A Portrait of Early Sydney (Bowral: Barcom Press 1988), read by Russell Cheek.

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