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The middle Lane Cove River: a history and a future

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posted on 2023-11-28, 04:09 authored by Lynne McLoughlin


This study uses a small, defined geographical area to investigate patterns and processes of environmental change and the implications they have for future planning. The aims of the study are fourfold:

1. To investigate the degree to which the historical process, that is, past events and environmental changes, can or should be taken into account in planning management of an area.

2. To examine the way a multiplicity of interrelated issues, problems and events have impinged on, and shaped, this single study area.

3. To contribute a synthesised body of historical knowledge and understanding of this area.

4. To develop directions and proposals for future management of that area.

Too often the current state of the natural environment is taken as an absolute from which we only look forward in planning or assessing environmental impact while assuming its past nature. This is understandable in view of the recent nature of environmental interest and research and the paucity, or fragmented nature, of historical data. Yet, in Australia, white history is relatively short and it is thus often possible to trace the environmental changes caused by the impact of white settlement. This knowledge can give a far broader perspective to the process of developing goals and guidelines for future management than occurs when the present state of the environment is taken as the baseline.

This study will also challenge commonly held assumptions about the past nature of the physical environment and the changes which have taken place, by examining the environmental history of a relatively small study area. For example, the study will examine assumptions regarding the pre-white fire regime and post-settlement changes in the incidence and nature of fire, the pre-settlement extent of mangroves in the Sydney estuary, post-settlement changes in mangrove extent and their present role and importance, and the past nature of, and changes in, vegetation in the Lane Cove catchment. It will show these assumptions are far from correct and are based on inadequate, or no, research into the past nature of, and changes in, our specific Australian, or Sydney, environment.

The study will also show how, on a range of issues, from the purely physical to administration and management, an adequate understanding of past changes and events should play an important role in forward planning and decision making.

In the process of tracing the threads of environmental change the study aims to demonstrate the variety of interrelated problems, issues, events, people and governmental interests which have interwoven to produce the characteristics of this remnant natural area today - the agents of devastating change, the opportunities grasped and lost, the effect of political whim, environmental ignorance and recent environmental consciousness.

However, the final result of the study must be the creation of a framework for the future in the light of the lessons, perspectives and recommendations provided by the exploration of the area's past.

Scope of the Study

Geographically, the study area is defined as the Lane Cove River, its foreshores and adjacent bushland between Figtree Bridge at Hunters Hill and Fullers Bridge, Chatswood (Map 1) and Photo 1. This area could be termed the middle Lane Cove River as the areas above and below it are now distinctly different. However, over much of its history, the river above Figtree was called the Upper Lane Cove River while today the division between upper and lower valleys is often made at the limit of tidal influence, the weir in the State Recreation Area upstream from Fullers Bridge.

The area selected is an excellent example of a remnant natural area including a waterway, an important resource in an urban context. This is a waterway with a settlement history dating back prior to 1800 and an area in which considerable environmental change can be traced, yet today retains a narrow but significant vegetated area of natural appearance (Photos 1 and 2).

The area also amply demonstrates the problems of a multiplicity of interests operating within a small area and of drawing boundaries along rivers. This relatively small area is part of four local government areas, ten state government departments and authorities own or control land or installations or otherwise have a direct interest in the valley, seven conservation groups and three progress associations have a direct interest in at least segments of the area. These organisations, councils and government departments are listed in Appendix I.

Historically, the study covers the period from first white settlement in the Sydney region to the present, and thence projects into the future.

Further, in the process of examining the study area and the forces which have affected it, the area must also be placed within its context at various levels - as part of the rest of the river and its catchment, the Sydney region or even wider and within various administrative contexts.

A discussion of the approach taken in the study and the data sources is found in Appendix II.

Structure of the Study

The objective of PART I of the study is to investigate exactly what environmental changes have taken place in the study area over the period of white settlement. Thus it is largely a descriptive environmental history of the study area. It synthesises much data from many sources to, firstly, propose a picture of the study area prior to the impact of white man, taking 1788, the year of the foundation of the colony, as a convenient point of time. Secondly, it details, as accurately as possible, the changes which have taken place since that time with analysis of reasons for those changes. Chapter 2 deals with the first century (the late 1780's to the late 1880's) while Chapter 3 deals with the second century on a range of changes affecting the river, its foreshores and bushland as a whole. Chapter 4 then takes a number of individual parts of the river in a case study approach, to illustrate how these changes took place in particular areas. Thus it is also able to enlarge on some issues only touched on in other parts of the study such as the roles played by local conservation groups and their relationships with local councils.

Apart from laying the foundation for the remainder of this study, Part I also makes the important contribution of a synthesised body of historical knowledge about this area, hitherto largely ignored as the outer edge of various local histories (Anon 1938, Levy 1945, Russell 1966, Geeves 1970).

The objective of PART II is to explore a range of issues which have strong impact in the study area. These encompass a range of fields - biological (mangroves, fire in the bushland), legal (alienation of urban parkland), political and urban (the freeway) and recreational and administrative (the park concept). They are examined in terms of their historical development, the present situation and the implications or recommendations for future development.

PART III seeks to build upon the conclusions and perspectives developed in Parts I and II to develop proposals for the future of the study area. Chapter 10 examines the resource particularly in terms of recreation - its value, the need for it and its possibilities and constraints for various activities. Chapter 11 proposes overall guiding concepts for planning as well as specific physical development. It details difficulties of implementation and explores the possible ways of administering such plans and proposals.

The Physical Resource

An adequate, detailed study of the bushland resource of the whole Lane Cove Valley has not yet been done although the upper part of the valley is better served than the lower. There have been some overview studies (Bradstock & Fitzhardinge 1979, National Parks and Wildlife Service 1983) and some studies of individual areas, for example in the lower valley, Mowbray Park (Buchanan, April 1979), Field of Mars Reserve (Ryde - Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society, 1976), Stringybark Creek (Howard and Associates, 1981) and areas in Ryde Municipality (Shearer and Jenkins, 1979) (Map 2 shows the areas and municipalities mentioned). There have been bushland surveys by the National Trust for Willoughby Municipality (1981) and Ryde Municipality (1982) and studies of specific aspects eg. mammals and birds (Stephens, 1978), waterbirds (Eskell, 1981), pollution (SPCC, 1980), fish (Pulley, 1977, 1980) and sedimentation (Carey, in prep.).

A general description of the study area is an obvious prior requirement for this study. However, it is not part of the purpose of this study to undertake a detailed physical resource appraisal.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- 1. In 1788 -- 2. The first hundred years -- 3. A century of change -- 4. Case studies of change in segments of the river -- 5. Aboriginal use of fire and the bushland -- 6. The role of mangroves on the Lane Cove River -- 7. Recreation and a park for the valley -- 8. The process of alienation of public reserves - an example -- 9. The freeway reservation -- 10. The role and possibilities of the middle Lane Cove Valley for recreation -- 11. Planning for the valley -- Conclusions -- Appendices -- Bibliography


This work was originally submitted for the degree of Master of Environmental Studies, Macquarie University, June 1984. Published by the Centre for Environmental and Urban Studies, Macquarie University, June 1985. ISBN : 0858375648

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis masters coursework


Degree of Master

Department, Centre or School

Centre for Environmental and Urban Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Leonie Sandercock

Additional Supervisor 1

Allan Rundle


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer: This thesis was digitised for the purposes of InterLibrary Loan. Macquarie University attempted to locate the author but where this has not been possible; we are making available, open access, the thesis which may be used for the purposes of private research and study. If you have any enquiries or issues regarding this work being made available please contact




Australia New South Wales


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