The Creeks of Sydney’s west Upper Parramatta River

The Creeks of Sydney

An illustration of the vast number of watercourses that flowed through the Sydney Basin when Sydney was founded in 1788 is that the southern shoreline of the Parramatta River between Parramatta and Sydney is punctuated by many bays and coves into which flow some 27 creeks. It was the precious crystal-clear water of these creeks that attracted early white settlers to this area and led to what today are Sydney’s inner western suburbs becoming the original grazing lands of early Sydney. 



The southern shoreline of the Parramatta River between Parramatta and Sydney is punctuated by many bays and coves into which flow some 27 creeks. It was the precious crystal-clear water of these creeks that attracted early white settlers to this area and led to what today are Sydney’s inner western suburbs becoming the original grazing lands of early Sydney. Named after an early settler and shepherd, Samuel Haslam, who took up land around Homebush Bay in 1797 and in the Lidcombe area in 1804. His Homebush grant was the first made in the area.

Powells Creek

Johnstons and Whites Creeks are two tributaries of the Parramatta River that flow north through the suburbs of Sydney’s inner west and enter the river through Rozelle Bay. Johnstons Creek rose in the vicinity of present-day Newtown station. The Western Railway Line follows the course of the creek towards what in the 1880s had been subdivided and developed as Northaingston estate to the north-west of Newtown station. The creek then turned north, following the east side of Kingston Road and Cardigan Street to follow the present course of the open stormwater drain that becomes Johnstons Creek. Where it crosses Wigram Road, it is joined by its major tributary, Orphans School Creek.
In 1793, the land between the Whites and Johnstons Creeks and the Harbour was granted to George Johnston, a Marine of the NSW Corps who had supervised the transportation of convicts in the First Fleet. George named Annandale after his birthplace Annan, Scotland, in the tradition of another Scot, Col. William H. Fitzhugh, who had named Annandale, Virginia, the USA a century earlier. It was Johnston who leads the soldiers in revolt against the Governor of NSW, William Bligh, in the famous Rum Rebellion of 1808.
UBD Map 235 Ref H 13

Powells Creek flows through the green areas of Mason Park, Bressington Park, and Bicentennial Park. Its name recalls Edward Powell (1762-1814), one of the district’s earliest white settlers who was granted land on the shores of Homebush Bay. Until World War II, the creek was largely untouched and followed a natural meandering course through mangrove forests, delivering fresh water to Homebush Bay. In 1948 the Creek was straightened and transformed into a concrete stormwater canal at its southern end. In 1993, the concrete was removed in the areas around Bicentennial Park and this has provided the Park with a more natural environment, conducive to the regeneration of natural ecosystems and the return of a range of native flora and fauna species. As with many remediated areas, rehabilitation proceeds in stages and will take many years.

Clay Cliff Creek: Governor Arthur Phillip camped beside this creek on April 22, 1788, the day before he discovered good soil at Parramatta, which caused him to found a settlement there. The creek, which flowed through John Macarthur’s property, is immediate to the west of James Ruse Drive.

Whites Creek, which also empties into Rozelle Bay, rose on the hillside to the south of Parramatta Road, Leichhardt. Parramatta Road crossed the creek via a bridge in the vicinity of Catherine Street. Whites Creek Lane follows the path of the watercourse to Booth Street, beyond which it passes through Whites Creek Valley Park. This park contains a rare remnant of native vegetation in Sydney’s inner west. The Lilyfield goods line was built on the creek’s northern bank and follow it until the creek enters Rozelle Bay. In 1793, the land between the Whites and Johnstons Creeks and the Harbour was granted to George Johnston, a Marine who had supervised the transportation of convicts in the First Fleet. The creek and White Bay are named after First Fleeter and surgeon-general John White who was granted land in the vicinity of the bay in 1789.

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UBD Map 235 Ref E 13

Domain Creek: it flows through Parramatta Park, which was set aside by Gov. Phillip in 1789 as the Governor’s Domain. The creek provided fresh water for use at Government House Parramatta in its early years. Orphans School Creek, which rose in Grose Farm in the vicinity of the No. 2 Oval of the University of Sydney, is one of the casualties of urban development. Once a crystal clear stream, it only has water in it these days after heavy rain. For part of its length, it is an underground drain. Sections above ground remain between Parramatta Road and Pyrmont Bridge Road (above).
The creek was named because it flowed through the land in the locality of Forest Lodge which was allocated for use by an orphan school. In 1800 Governor King established a Female Orphan School to provide shelter for orphaned and abandoned children. He secured William Kent’s house in Sydney as accommodation; established a regular income for it by way of port duties and provided for its long-term needs with a secular equivalent of the glebe – land reserves to support livestock from which the institution could earn an income.


Subiaco & Vineyard Creeks

On the north shore of the river and nearly two kilometres west of the Duck River mouth is a point where Subiaco Creek flows into the Parramatta River. It is hard to distinguish because it flows through a thick stand of mangroves. The Parramatta River frontage between the two creeks is over a kilometre in length. The creeks and the river formed one boundary for an important estate.
Subiaco Creek was originally called Bishops Creek. Thomas Bishop, an ex-marine received a grant of land from Phillip. He later sold it to another settler Thomas Schaeffer. In all, Thomas Schaeffer had acquired 56 hectares of land between the two creeks. On this property, he established a vineyard and so the nearby creek was known as Vineyard Creek. Originally Schaeffer had been granted 16 hectares of land by Governor Phillip in 1792. He was an ex-soldier who had fought for the British in the American War of Independence and had arrived in New South Wales with the Second Fleet in 1790. Thomas Schaeffer’s vineyard was the first vineyard to be established in the colony. In 1798, he sold this property to Captain Henry Waterhouse who had just sold his land on the southern shore on the eastern side of Duck River. In 1800, Captain Waterhouse sailed for England. He never returned to New South Wales but did correspond with Macarthur who was also in England from 1801 to 1805.

The eastern arm at the head of Long Cove is Iron Cove, into which flows Iron Cove Creek (originally known as Ironbark Creek, which gave rise to the name Ironbark Cove, the original name for the bay into which it flows). Iron Cove Creek still follows its original course from its source around Norton Street, Croydon though it is but a shadow of its former self.
UBD Map 234 Ref J 11 and UBD Map 234 Ref L 15

Like Rozelle Bay, the next major bay on the southern banks of the Parramatta River has two tributaries entering it which were significant watercourses to the Aborigines and early colonial settlers. The bay, known today as Iron Cove, was known as Long Cove until well into the 20th century. Long Cove Creek enters the cove through the eastern arm at its head via the Hawthorne Canal. This uncompleted canal was part of a scheme proposed in 1929 connecting Parramatta and the main western railway line with Botany Bay via a series of natural and man-made waterways. Hawthorne Canal is named after John Stuart Hawthorne (1848-1942), member of the Legislative Assembly for Leichhardt from 1894 to 1904.

It was over Long Cove Creek at Lewisham, where the creek passes through a wooded gorge, that Australia’s first railway viaduct was built in 1855 as part of the Sydney to Parramatta Railway. The Rozelle to Botany Goods line follows Long Cove Creek along much of its length between Leichhardt and Dulwich Hill, passing through an industrial centre which sprung up around a flour mill on the western bank of the creek near the viaduct. Long Cove Creek began in the marshy ground at what is now Johnson Park.

Vineyard’ was sold in 1812/13 after Waterhouse’s death in England and was bought by Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur, a nephew of John Macarthur. He planned to use the property as a sheep station and so purchased more of the adjoining land. His estate covered most of the land that is now occupied by the suburbs of Rydalmere and Dundas. In 1836, Hannibal Macarthur built a mansion on the banks of the Parramatta River between the two creeks. He and his wife Maria had come to Australia after buying the property and John Macarthur, again in England, commended Maria to his family and asked that they might look after her. Maria was the daughter of the former Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King.
During the 1830s and 40s, the mansion at ‘Vineyard’ became a focal point for Sydney society. It was famous for its parties and dances and it was the place where ‘the best people arrived in chartered steam launches or private yachts.’ Hannibal Macarthur ran into financial problems after the Bank of Australia failed in 1844 and he sold ‘The Vineyard’ estate. It was bought by Bishop Polding on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church and the house renamed ‘Subiaco’, the place where St Benedict had lived in Italy in the 6th century.
The Church sold or leased the land but retained the house as a convent for the nuns of the Order of St Benedict. The Benedictine Sisters occupied ‘Subiaco’ for the next 108 years until 1957 when they moved to Pennant Hills. ‘Subiaco’ was demolished and is now only commemorated by the name of the creek.

Duck River

Duck River runs into the Parramatta River west of the Silverwater Bridge. On its western shore stands the Shell Oil Refinery. The refinery was established in the 1920s and was taken over by Shell in 1927. Initially, 22 barges brought the crude oil from the Gore Cove Terminal to the refinery. These barges were a familiar sight on the for 40 years. Eventually, the oil was transported by pipeline from Gore Cove to the refinery.
The wharf area where the barges berthed was known as Redbank and it was here also that the paddlewheel ferries ended their part of the journey from Sydney to Parramatta. From the Redbank wharf, light rail took passengers into Parramatta. The steam-driven paddle wheelers began operating in the 1890s and stopped in 1928. The Duck River was named by Captain Hunter on the original journey up the Parramatta River. The party saw many ducks in the vicinity as well as other abundant wildlife. In time, the area from Duck River to Parramatta became part of the land owned by John Macarthur.

Tarban Creek: a very short watercourse which starts near Earnshaw Parade in Gladesville and runs along a concrete base through Tarban Creek Reserve before entering Parramatta River via Huntleys Cove. It is said to be named after the Turabian Aboriginal clan, which occupied the lands to the west of where the Lane Cove River enters the Parramatta River. Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, designed by Mortimer Lewis, was opened in 1838.


The creeks that make up the Duck and the Lower Parramatta River Catchments also eventually flow into Parramatta River. This includes Vineyard, Subiaco, Clay Cliff and Brickfield Creeks. The only exception is the Lane Cove Catchment, comprising Terrys Creek and Devlins Creek, which make their way to Lane Cover River. In total there is approximately 65km of natural creeks or 13.4km of the open channel that form the lifeblood of our catchment.
Parramatta River and its associated creeks have been a significant landmark since early Aboriginal inhabitance, through the early periods of European settlement, to the present day. Over this time the waterways have been impacted by many factors including pollution, introduced weeds, erosion, changes to water flow and many other physical disturbances.
The Upper Parramatta River catchment was originally home to the Dharug Aboriginal people who had inhabited the area for more than forty thousand years before British settlement in 1788. The local clan in the catchment was the Burramatta, from which the name Parramatta came, (Burra meaning place and matta meaning eels). Many significant items of Aboriginal cultural heritage can be seen in the catchment, specifically in Lake Parramatta and Parramatta Parks, including such things as middens, tree scars, cave paintings and stone flakes.

Of the creeks in Sydney’s west, the following have been provided with good public access. Many having walking paths and picnic facilities (see notes under individual entries):

Toongabbie Creek: 3rd Settlement Reserve, Edison Parade, Old Toongabbie

Blacktown Creek: Timbertop Reserve, Norman Crescent, Prospect; William Lawson Wetlands, Lancelot Street, Prospect; McCoy Park, McCoy Street, Toongabbie; International Peace Park, Jean Street, Blacktown

Toongabbie Creek

Toongabbie Creek at Third Settlement Reserve

Toongabbie Creek is one of the two main creeks, (the other being Darling Mills Creek) into which most of the creeks enter before they join the Parramatta River. Toongabbie Creek corridor begins at Crestwood Reserve, Baulkham Hills and continues south through a large industrial area where it is narrow and severely degraded until it is joined by Greystanes Creek in McCoy Park. From there it travels east in a bushland corridor until its confluence with the Parramatta River at Cumberland Hospital.
The Toongabbie Creek corridor is used for passive recreation, mainly walking and as a natural adventure playground for children. An informal trail follows the creek from Hammers Road to Oakes Road and is beautiful if somewhat weed overgrown walk through Blue Gum River-flat Forest. Sue Savage Reserve, Palestine Park and Third Settlement Reserve provide open space for ball games, however, the area is not conducive to the organised sport due to its undulating nature.
The name is of Aboriginal origin, said to be derived from “tuga” meaning “thick wood”. Another source suggests it means “meeting of the waters” referring to the confluence of Toongabbie Creek and Quarry Creek where the Toongabbie Convict Farm was established in 1791.
In early colonial days, Toongabbie Creek and Darling Mills Creek, tributaries of the Parramatta River, were an import source of water for the settlements established in the Parramatta region. Third Settlement Reserve at Old Toongabbie, which adjoins Toongabbie Creek and Quarry Branch Creek, marks the site of the 3rd settlement established by the early British colonists. Needing to find a land more arable than that around Sydney Cove, the Government established farms at Rose Hill (present-day Parramatta) in 1789 and the third settlement at this location in 1791.
Known as the Toongabbie Convict Farm, it used convict labour to grow crops of barley, maize and wheat. There were two main areas of settlement, one at Johnston’s Creek crossing, the other 3 km further north along Old Windsor Rd. The Johnston’s Creek settlement comprised of 13 wattle and daub convict huts, stockyards and other outbuildings. A brick threshing barn was located at the northern settlement while the sites of the other documented buildings such as the church and dairy are unknown.
By April 1791, the settlement’s 500 convicts had cleared 640 acres. The convicts were worked so hard, it developed a reputation as a place to be avoided at all costs. Within 5 years, soil quality had declined and better land had been found in the Hawkesbury region. Government stock was then grazed here until 1807 when the farm was abandoned and the land sold off to private farmers.
Toongabbie Creek is fed by numerous tributaries including Lalor Creek (Bella Vista), 
Finlaysons Creek (Wentworthville), Coopers Creek (South Wentworthville), Quarry Branch Creek(Northmead), Greystanes Creek (Prospect and Girraween) and Blacktown Creek (Blacktown).

Darling Mills Creek

Darling Mills Creek is one of the two main tributaries of the Upper Parramatta River draining the north and northeast parts of the catchment, the other being Hunts Creek. Darling Mills creek is mainly in natural condition running along the bottom of a long steep sandstone valley lined with sandstone boulders and riparian vegetation. The creek corridor contains the most substantial and intact bushland in the Upper Parramatta River catchment. Darling Mills Creek flows from West Pennant Hills, through North Rocks and Northmead to join the Parramatta River near Cumberland Hospital.
Darling Mills Creek was named after a steam-driven flour mill established in 1823 by John Raine at North Rocks where the creek and Hunts Creek met. The creek was named after Raine’s mill, which he named Darling Mill in honour of Gov. Ralph Darling who had granted the land on which it was built.

Bellbird Creek, Bidjigal Reserve

The junction of Darling Mills Creek and Toongabbie Creek at North Parramatta marks the beginning of the Parramatta River. Darling Mills Creek is fed by numerous smaller creeks, among them are Excelsior CreekSawmill Creek and Christmas Bush Creek, which rise in Castle Hill. Darling Mills Creek and it’s tributary, Bellbird Creek, both rise in the suburb of West Pennant Hills. BidjigalBlue Gum and Bellamy Farm Creeks are also tributaries. Steep valleys lined by Sandstone walls are typical in the Darling Mills Sub-catchment.
The Darling Mills Creek corridor has fared better than most in the Parramatta region as it contains the most substantial and intact bushland corridor in the Upper Parramatta River catchment. This is in part due to the steepness of the terrain which resulted in much later development of residential and industrial areas. However recent developments, upstream in Baulkham Hills are impacting severely on the lower reaches of the creek.
Darling Mills Creek was named after a steam-driven flour mill established in 1823 by John Raine at North Rocks where Darling Mills Creek and Hunts Creek meet. The creek was named after Raine’s mill, which he named Darling Mill in honour of Gov. Ralph Darling who had granted the land on which it was built.

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