Virginia Simpson-Young, Bulletin 2/2022, April 2022

Fortunately, the weather held out for our Guided Walk, ‘The Blackwattle Foreshore: around to the new Fish Market site’, on Sunday morning, 13 March.

The Walk was led by Asa Wahlquist, who convenes our Bays & Foreshores Subcommittee and is the Glebe Society’s representative on the New Sydney Fish Market Community Consultative Committee. Asa is also a journalist whose work has focused on environmental issues, including climate and water. Much closer to home (Asa has lived a stone’s throw from the Glebe waterfront for 40 years), Asa has paid close attention to the ecology our bays and how it has changed over time – both for better and for worse.

Asa Wahlquist (left) gestures towards the new Sydney Fish Market while discussing its development, during the Glebe Society Guided Walk, ‘The Blackwattle Foreshore: around to the new Fish Market site’, held on Sunday 13 March. (photo: V. Simpson-Young)

Our Walk began at the foreshore at the bottom of Glebe Point Rd and proceeded around to the Walter Burley-Griffin Incinerator. While the plan was to go as far as the Fish Markets, our pit-stop near the Bellevue coffee cart ran overtime due to an animated discussion of the new Sydney Fish Market development and the state government’s ludicrous plans for an (over)development of the old Fish Market, site including towers up to a mind-boggling 43 storeys.

Asa drew our attention to the fact that we were meeting on the country of the Wangal and Gadigal people of the Eora nation. She asked us to contemplate the fact that were standing on very ancient and cared for land and asked whether we could feel that presence. I admit that this was not easy to do, as the area has been substantially modified in the 234 years since colonial settlement. Asa also spoke about how the bays and creeks’ estuaries must have been abundant sources of food (including fish, shellfish and oysters) for the First Nations people who lived here prior to colonisation. When talking about Blackwattle Bay, Asa quoted Shane Phillips from Tribal Warrior who said the bay, mangroves and creeks running into it were his forebears’ ‘Fish Market’.

The Walk largely focused on the natural environment – its marine life, vegetation and water quality and how its industrial use and development has impacted those. Asa seemed able to name every plant, including those we consider weeds, and talked about the abundant birdlife of the area and how the prevalence of bird species has changed since she came to Glebe forty years ago. As we know, small birds have largely been driven out by larger birds such as the Noisy Miner.

Although there appears to have been some improvement in the biodiversity of marine species, our local marine ecosystem is plagued by serious pollution resulting from over two centuries of industrial use. Land reclamation in Blackwattle Bay and Johnstons Bay – as well as for the abutments for the Glebe Island Bridge – has limited water circulation which has resulted in the build-up of dangerous levels of toxins. As their removal is impracticable, leaving them undisturbed provides the best protection for marine life. Unfortunately, pile-driving for the new Sydney Fish Market necessarily disturbs the sediment and the effect of this is not taken seriously enough by the state government and Multiplex who is developing the new Fish Market.

If this Walk is offered again, I recommend attending, especially if you are interested in the ecology, flora and fauna of our bays and foreshores.