Sybil Jack’s selection of newspaper extracts on the reclamation of Blackwattle Swamp during the 1870s shows community concern about alienation of public land and a push to retain land for recreational purposes. Blackwattle Swamp was filled in between 1876 and 1880, after the passing of the ‘Blackwattle Swamp Land Reclamation Act’ in 1873. While some wished to retain the land for public use, parliamentarians tasked with guarding the colonial coffers sought to recoup reclamation costs by selling reclaimed land. Wentworth Park was established on the site in 1880. Below are the extracts chosen by Sybil Jack – Plus ça Change!

The Evening News, 28 November: report on meeting of the Sydney City Council
The Town Clerk read a communication from Mr. James Hart, M.L.A., drawing attention to the provisions of the bill introduced by the Government for the reclamation of Blackwattle Bay. The bill provided that the land reclaimed should be sold by the Government for the erection of shops, warehouses, dwelling-houses and other tenements; and Mr Hart suggested that the worshipful body of councillors would bring their influence to bear upon the Government so as to get the land dedicated to the public for recreation, there being no reserve of that character in the vicinity. Alderman Woods announced that he intended to move in this matter at the first fitting opportunity. There was scarcely a bit of land available for recreation in that ward. The letter was referred to the improvement committee.

The Evening News, December 1871: report on the Legislative Assembly
The Blackwattle Bay Land Reclamation Bill, on the resumption of the adjourned debate on Mr. Wilson’s motion, was read a second time. …  Mr. Farnell wished to know what the Government intended to do with this land when reclaimed. Mr. Wilson said the Government had not come to a conclusion as to what should be done with the land. The present object to improve the sanitary condition of the city. Mr. Farnell said it would be better to reserve some of the land for recreation. Mr. Lucas said it would cost a good deal to reclaim this land. And the Government ought to sell as much as would reimburse the Treasury. What remained might be reserved for public recreation.

The Evening News, 23 August 1876: News of the Day
For some time past the Government have reclaimed the head of the Blackwattle Swamp down to the embankment made by the Pyrmont Bridge Company, well-known as the half-penny bridge. The work has been actively carried out by gangs of labourers, and what has in many sanitary reports been termed a ‘dismal swamp’, is now a level block of land much larger than Belmore Park. On Monday night, in pursuance of an influential requisition, the Mayor of the Glebe (the Hon G. W. Allen); convened a public meeting of the inhabitants at the Glebe Council Chambers, for the purpose of petitioning the Government to set apart and dedicate the reclaimed land as a public park or recreation ground. The Mayor, who presided, explained that in the Act authorising the reclamation of the land there was a clause providing for the reservation of at least one-fourth of the land as a public recreation ground. As the land was totally unfit for the erection of habitable buildings, it is thought that the best thing that the Government could do is to make the land a park for the use of the populous neighbourhood around it, which had no public reserve for recreation. Alderman G. A. Mansfield then moved the first resolution,  ‘That in the opinion of this meeting it is highly important in the sanitary interest of the City of Sydney and the borough of the Glebe, that the whole of the space reclaimed at Blackwattle Swamp be reserved as a public park or recreation ground’. He contended that to establish a population on the reclaimed land would create a perfect focus of fever and pestilence, but to make it a park would make the locality more healthy and salubrious.

The Evening News, 23 November 1876: News of the Day
The Mayor and Aldermen of the Sydney Municipal Council have got the municipality into a serious difficulty in connection with the Blackwattle Swamp sewer. About twelve months ago, Messrs. Allen, Macafee, and others induced the Attorney-General to file an information in the Equity Court, calling on the Corporation to abate the noxious gases and smells (which are prejudicial to the health of the residents of the Glebe and Pyrmont) arising from the Blackwattle swamp. On the 8th of October, last year, Mr. Justice Hargrave granted an injunction order to compel the Corporation to abate the nuisance by stopping the flow of sewage matter, &c, to down the swamp unless it was deodorised so as not to cause a nuisance. An affidavit made by Mr. G. A. Mansfield, was read by Mr. Owen in opposition. Mr. Mansfield alleged that the defendants had only performed a small part of the work which could easily have been done in six weeks, and that the sewage still flowed across the reclaimed ground at the Glebe side of the swamp just as when the suit was instituted. His honor, in delivering judgment, said the Corporation had done next to nothing, and neglected their eight months work: Therefore they were clearly in contempt.

The Evening News 1 February 1877: News of the Day
It is notified for public information in the Gazette that his Excellency the Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to approve of the undermentioned gentlemen as trustees of the fourth part of the land of Blackwattle Bay, to be dedicated  under the ‘Blackwattle Bay and Reclamation Act of 1873’. for a park or place for public recreation, viz:  The Mayor of Sydney, for the time being; the Mayor of the Glebe for the time being; and the Director of the Botanic Gardens.

The Evening News 17 July 1877
A deputation from the Health Society of New South Wales … waited upon the Minister for Lands yesterday morning in pursuance of a resolution passed by the society to urge upon the Government the desirability of vesting Blackwattle Swamp in trustees who should make a public recreation ground of it. … The necessity of having the land reserved and dedicated as a public recreation ground was urged upon the Minister in view of the public health.

Edith Blacket’s 1864 sketch of the bridge and causeway over Blackwattle Swamp. (image: Max Solling’s Grandeur and Grit, p.79.)
Sources: Max Solling, Grandeur & Grit: History of Glebe, 2007.;