One of the first acts of the Glebe Society was to identify suitable areas for new public open space. It is thanks to this survey, and the Society’s vigorous pursuit of its goals, that we now enjoy, among other things, Bicentennial Park and the immensely popular Waterfront Walk. Fifty years ago the bays’ foreshores, and all the watercourses that drained into them, were lined with industrial uses, most of them in terminal decline, and many already defunct and derelict.
The biggest drain was the concreted Johnstons Creek. At the Children’s Hospital, Camperdown, it was joined by a tributary, Orphan School Creek.
Where was the Creek? It was in a pipe at the bottom of a gully. The Children’s Hospital sat on a triangular promontory where the two creeks met. This site had been considered larger and more salubrious when, in 1904, the decision was made to move the Hospital from its old site at the corner of Glebe Point Rd and Wigram Rd.
Where were the Orphans? The early governors handed out grants for worthy and charitable purposes. Glebe’s was for a church and school. Where the University of Sydney’s St Andrews College now stands was for orphans. However, the trustees had their eyes on better land at Cabramatta, so that is where the orphans went. The name, however, remained, and water still flows from that south-western corner through St Johns College, under Parramatta Rd, and underneath Larkin St. Most of the time you can’t see it, but after heavy rain it runs on the surface.
By now you have probably worked out that the Creek forms a link between the University and the Glebe Waterfront. The Society set out to form this link into an attractive pedestrian route. This was easier said than done. Gradually over the next twenty years all the land along Johnstons Creek became accessible to the public as industrial sites were redeveloped.
The section between Bridge Rd and Johnstons Creek, Orphan School Creek was particularly interesting.
Running between the Hospital and Forest Lodge it formed a deep, steep sided, gully. As the businesses on the Forest Lodge side faded and died, the Hospital bought them or inherited them for parking, which had not been necessary when the Hospital first moved. Some worthy souls planted trees on the Hospital bank to stabilise it. Less worthy souls dumped industrial waste on the Forest Lodge side. With a cavalier disregard for human merit, weed species sprang up everywhere. Thus a bushy area, much wider than the original watercourse, formed with a path running down the centre.
It was on this gully I fixed my eye when I first became President in 1984. With the aid of the Architect Planner at Leichhardt Council we drew up plans to secure as much of the surplus Hospital land as possible to create significant parkland for Forest Lodge. Eventually, despite having to deal with two municipalities and an institution determined to maximise its assets for its impending move to Westmead, we succeeded in swapping land surrounded by houses for land adjacent to the gully, and in having the entire area remediated and replanted with natives. Fortuitously, at that point a Hereford St resident, Roberta Johnson, joined forces and formed Friends of the Gully, and the rest of the story can be read in the July 2017 Bulletin (Issue 5, p.11). The next stage is to expand the parkland on the other side of Bridge Rd, and there the Draft Planning Changes will make an important contribution. The Society will also lobby for a Masterplan so the remaining industrial sites will contribute further open space as and when they are redeveloped. The original Society vision is becoming a reality.