A Short History of the City of Botany Bay
On 11 May 1996, before a large crowd gathered at the Sir Joseph Banks Pleasure Gardens at Botany, the Governor of New South Wales, Gordon Samuels, officially declared that the Municipality of Botany had been granted city status. The new name of the City of Botany Bay reflected the growing regional importance of the area.
The City of Botany Bay is situated on the northern shores of Botany Bay in the south eastern suburbs of Sydney, Australia's largest city. Our name also recalls the convict colony established in New South Wales by the British in 1788. Penalties for even the smallest offences were severe, and thousands of English criminals found themselves bound for 'Botany Bay'. Their future looked bleak, but as it turned out, many convicts went on to lead successful lives. After serving their sentences, they were granted land and prospered.
The history of the City of Botany Bay has been shaped by its location, within easy reach of the city of Sydney and near an abundant supply of water. Successive generations of settlers left their mark on the landscape. First came the Aboriginal people, who lived in harmony with their surroundings for thousands of years. Then the British arrived. To them, progress meant industrial development, and exploitation of the Bay's natural resources. Their activities damaged and degraded the land and polluted the waters.
More and more people moved into the area, and these attitudes began to change. Industry still flourishes in the City of Botany Bay, but no longer at the expense of local people. Today, there is a growing awareness of environmental issues and an appreciation of the need to promote the kind of development which will benefit both local residents and business people.
The Aboriginal People
The Aboriginal people were the earliest inhabitants of the Botany area. The Kameygal set up camps along the banks of the Cooks River and on the shores of Botany Bay, hunting, fishing and gathering food. They were economical in their use of natural resources. Nothing went to waste. Trees and plants provided the raw material for food, medicine, implements and weapons. In the mild Sydney climate, the Aboriginal people thrived. Their way of life was undisturbed until the English mariner and explorer, James Cook, sailed into Botany Bay on the Endeavour in April 1770. His arrival set in chain events which eventually culminated in the establishment of a penal colony nearby.
Cook named the bay Stingray Harbour, but this was later changed to Botany Bay because of the many exotic plants botanist Sir Joseph Banks collected there. In his journals, Cook wrote enthusiastically of the well watered fertile meadows he had seen. His descriptions helped to convince the British government that New South Wales would be the ideal place to set up a penal colony. The First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay in 1788, marking the beginning of European settlement in Australia.
Soldiers, ex-convicts and free immigrants were soon granted land in the Botany area. Two of the earliest settlers in the region were Andrew Byrne and Edward Redmond, who had been transported for life for their part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. They cut down trees, sold the timber, and began to raise horses and farm the land. They also collected oyster shells left by the Aboriginal people on the banks of the Cooks River, and burnt them to extract lime for building.
Water was a precious commodity in early Sydney. The sandy soil of the low lying Botany Aquifer acted like a sponge, retaining water for months after heavy rain. Streams were full and free flowing. In 1815, ex-convict Simeon Lord took advantage of the natural landscape, when he dammed a stream close to Botany Bay and established the first privately run woollen mill on its banks. A short distance away, he also built a flour mill. The two ponds he created are now local landmarks, known as the Mill Pond and the Engine Pond.
Lord was not the only one to recognise the value of Botany's water. In the 1830s, market gardeners arrived in the area. They cut trenches in the soft soil to irrigate their crops, and sold fruit and vegetables to the nearby city and suburbs. Fishing villages sprang up to cater for the demands of a growing population.
The Botany Water Supply
In the 1850s, as the colony's streams became clogged and polluted, the government turned to Botany to supply Sydney with water. From 1859 to 1886 pumps carried water from the Botany Swamps to the city and surrounding suburbs. At the same time, more and more industries set up factories in and around the Botany Water Reserve. Tanneries, wool scourers, fellmongers, and boiling down works all drained the natural swamp, till by 1869, the area was no longer considered to be a reliable source of water. The Botany Pumping Station remained in service till 1886. Even after the Nepean scheme took over the job of supplying Sydney's water, the fires at Botany were kept banked in case of emergency. Finally, in 1896, the machinery and boilers of the dismantled pumping station were sold at auction. All that remains today is part of a chimney stack, just inside the gates of Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport.
A Growing Community
As the population grew, so too did the demand for local government . In 1888, the municipalities of Botany and North Botany were incorporated. The councils set to work to provide better facilities for local people.
Housing was a top priority. In 1912, work began on the construction of the garden suburb of Daceyville. The scheme gave working class families affordable housing away from the slums of the inner city. Other garden suburb estates in Sydney were sold on the private market, but Daceyville remained in public hands. The suburb has a close knit village atmosphere. Old style cottages surrounded by trees and well cared for gardens line streets named after World War 1 soldiers, early navigators and their ships.
Industry and housing grew alongside one another. Modern day Botany is a mixture of old and new, with flats and medium density housing interspersed with more traditional brick and wooden cottages. Recent housing developments like the Hancock Estate are taking the place of run down factories. With careful planning and the right balance, commerce and industry can thrive in harmony with residential development.
As more houses and factories were built, roads were upgraded and extended to service scattered communities and to carry products to the growing population of Sydney. In 1925, after more than ten years of planning and maneuvering, the Sydenham to Botany Railway Line was finally opened. The line still carries goods to and from local industrial sites.
Laws were lax in the early days. Factories often let their drains full of slops and soupy chemical mixtures overflow into the nearby Cooks River and Botany Bay. Both became severely polluted. Local residents protested about the foul smelling air which was part of life in Botany at the time. Successive councils formed action groups and wrote letters of complaint to the authorities, demanding a clean up of the waterways.
Business grew and expanded, with some of the biggest and best known international corporations setting up factories in the area. Some, like General Motors Holden, flourished in the post World War 2 era but have since moved elsewhere. Others, like Kellogg's, ICI, Johnson & Johnson and Westfield Eastgardens Shoppingtown are part of the modern industrial environment. Together they bring a large working population into the Botany Bay region every day.
Of all the industries established in the area, two stand out as having a lasting impact on the history of the City of Botany Bay. In 1921, Mascot was chosen as the site of what was to become Australia's largest international airport. Less than ten years later, a port was established on the shores of Botany Bay. Both events were greeted as a sign that Botany had come of age. These developments now dominate the landscape, bringing both economic growth, and at times, protest and controversy.
Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport
Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport began as the tiny Mascot Aerodrome. After being taken over by the government, it grew quickly, and is now the focus of intense economic activity. Thousands of people pass through the terminals each day. Many more are employed in service industries catering for a continuous flow of travellers. Tourism has flourished. Today, the City of Botany Bay is the gateway to Sydney.
Not all the changes have been welcomed. As the airport grew, small communities living on its outskirts disappeared. An immense infrastructure of industrial sites linked by busy roads now surrounds the airport. The recent construction of a third runway jutting out into Botany Bay has fuelled protests in the local community. Damage to the Bay, erosion of the foreshore and an increase in aircraft noise are of greatest concern. Council and local residents are pushing for the urgent construction of a second Sydney airport.
Botany Bay was first used as a port in 1930 and was expanded in the 1970s, with the addition of bulk liquid berths and storage and container terminals. More developments are planned. Almost all of Sydney's commercial shipping passes through Port Botany, which earns millions of dollars in trade for Australia. But the siting of the country's largest port near its busiest international airport has meant that thousands of trucks and cars converge on the area daily.
A Rich Cultural Heritage
It is not only Botany's industrial landscape which is changing. The area has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in Sydney. Over forty percent of local residents come from a non English speaking background. Everyone has benefited from increased contact with different cultures and ideas. The influence of the post war generation is evident in the daily life of the community. Books in languages other than English are in demand in Council libraries. Restaurants and businesses catering for wide multicultural tastes are attracting a growing number of customers. And perhaps most importantly, the makeup of the Council is changing. For sixteen years, Mayor Ron Hoenig has led the Council. His Deputy, Councillor George Glinatsis, and colleague, Councillor Stan Kondilios, have also added their names to a long list of elected representatives which only twenty years ago contained predominantly English sounding names. Council's policies and activities now reflect the needs and views of people from many different backgrounds.
Sport and Entertainment
Australia is well known as a sporting nation. In a city so close to the water, fishing, swimming and sailing have always been popular. In the nineteenth century, the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, on the shores of the Bay, was a popular meeting place for sports enthusiasts and holiday makers. By 1850, a zoo had been established there. Visitors danced, picnicked, went horse riding, and played cricket and football. But most of all, they came to see international athletes challenge the locals in the Sir Joseph Banks Handicap, first run over 100 yards on a cinder track. The winners collected cash prizes, and competition and betting were fierce. In 1988, as a Bicentenary project, Council refurbished the Sir Joseph Banks Pleasure Gardens, restored the racing track, and brought back the running race under the new name of the Botany Bay Gift. This annual athletics carnival is now the richest in Australia and attracts top athletes such as England's Linford Christie, and Australia's Robert De Castella, Nova Peris-Kneebone and Melinda Gainsford-Taylor.
The local love of racing extended to horses and greyhounds. The district was well served by racetracks. Ponies went through their paces at the Ascot and Rosebery Racecourses, while the Shepherd's Bush Coursing Ground held greyhound races. Later, motor bikes and planes took over from the horses and dogs. In the 1930s, bike riders, barnstormers and races organised by New South Wales Aero Club got top billing.
Parks, golf courses, bowling greens, football grounds and tennis and squash courts cater for those who have other sporting tastes. Whatever game they choose, the sports lovers of the City of Botany Bay are well looked after. With the added advantage of a warm and sunny climate, it is little wonder that the local passion for sport endures.
The Botany region has other attractions. Movies have always been popular. A visit to the city's modern cinema complex revives memories of the Pagewood Film Studio. Built in 1935, the imposing red brick building was a part of Australia's film industry for nearly thirty years. Famous actors such as Peter Finch, Rod Taylor, Michael Pate and Chips Rafferty worked there before Australian films became internationally popular.
Over the years, much of the work of successive councils has been directed towards improving the environment. At first, attention was focused on improving basic services such as roads, bridges sewerage and transport. There were also campaigns over particular issues, such as sand mining and the construction of a second runway at the airport.
Council's current activities are based on the premise that to plan effectively for the future, one must understand the past. The early tendency to allow the so-called noxious trades' to spread unchecked must be taken into account by modern planners. New ideas have transformed the old industrial landscape. Land use and industrial development are now strictly controlled. Air and water quality are carefully monitored, and energy efficiency and recycling programs are a top priority. Flowers and trees have been planted where once the landscape was bare and lifeless. New high tech industries have been attracted to the area, replacing the hazardous industries which predominated years ago. There is a sense of pride amongst local people that so much has been achieved in a relatively short time.