Parramatta River

From Academic Kids

The Parramatta River is the main tributary of Sydney Harbour, along with the smaller Lane Cove and Duck Rivers.


Water quality concerns

Until 1970 the river was an open drain for Sydney's industry and consequently the southern central embayments are contaminated with a range of heavy metals and chemicals. The Northern Bays are less affected as the Sydney Harbour Bridge was not completed until 1932 and so industrial development was already well established on the southern side of the Harbour.

Dr Gavin Birch of the University of Sydney has published a number of papers which show that Sydney Harbour is as contaminated as most other harbours in industrialised cities, that the main sediment contamination is in the southern central embayments (Blackwattle to Homebush Bays), that there are 5 particularly contaminated areas of Sydney Harbour, and that 4 of them are in the Parramatta river system.

The main contaminated areas of the Parramatta River are:

  • Homebush Bay - dioxins, lead, phthalates, DDT, PAH's (coal tars) mainly originating from nearby chemical factories of Berger Paints, CSR Chemicals, ICI/Orica, and Union Carbide
  • Iron Cove - various metals and chemicals with no clearly defined point source
  • Off former AGL (Australian Gas Light) site, now redeveloped as Breakfast Point

Water Quality

Water quality is monitored by the New South Wales EPA for faecal coliforms and e. coli, but only as far west as Cabarita. In spite of the large scale high density development taking place further west on the River, and the use of the river further west for sailing, Sea scouts and rowing the EPA refuses to monitor water quality in those areas. In the areas monitored, the water quality is generally acceptable except after heavy rains.


The Parramatta river is subject to a number of fishing bans because of its contaminated sediments. There is a complete fishing ban in Homebush Bay because of the dioxin contamination. There is a ban on commercial fin fishing west of the Gladesville Bridge. Perhaps because of these bans there is a reasonable variety of fish in the lower reaches of the river, although it would not be advisable to eat fish caught west of the Gladesville Bridge on a regular basis.

Healthy Rivers Commission needed

The Parramatta river is one of the only significant coastal rivers in New South Wales which has not been the subject of a Healthy Rivers Commission Investigation. Even the Cooks River and Botany Bay have been subject to such an investigation. A Healthy Rivers Commission inquiry would bring together all the information on the state of the river and its sediments and fish and assist in Watershed Management.

Sydney Harbour Catchment Management Blueprint

The whole of Sydney Harbour including its tributary rivers is now subject to a long range Catchment Management Plan. While it is largely in the information gathering and policy development stage, it is now a formal New South Wales Government policy. Unfortunately, the Government has almost eliminated local representation by disbanding the former local catchment management boards.

Sharing the Foreshore

The New South Wales Government has a documented policy in relation to access to the harbour and river foreshores, including public access to intertidal lands where landowners have absolute waterfronts, but where the waterfront is exposed at low tide.

Moorings and Jetties

Moorings and Jetties are the responsibility of Waterways, who are also responsible for the management of the Harbour and river seabed. Many bays are choked with swing moorings, mostly privately owned, but some associated with Marinas.

Marinas and Boatsheds

SEPP 56 working harbour (to be completed)

Ferry services and wharves

There are River Cat services along the Parramatta River to Circular Quay. The main wharves are:

  • Parramatta, (Southern side of River)
  • Homebush, (Southern)
  • Meadowbank
  • Kissing Point
  • Cabarita Park, (Southern)
  • Abbotsford, (Southern)
  • Five dock, (Southern)
  • Gladesville


SREP 22 is a planning instrument governing development along the foreshore. It is effectively ignored by the State Government on major developments along the foreshore, even on State Government owned sites such as the Balmain power Station site and Waterways former Union Carbide site. See also the development at Birkenhead Point from the water near Iron Cove Bridge.

Recreational activities


There are a number of sailing and yachting clubs on the River:

Sailing and rowing take place under an aquatic licence granted annually by Waterways.

Sea Scouts

There are Sea Scouts at:

  • Rhodes: First Yaralla
  • Meadowbank: First Epping


The river has a long historical association with rowing. There is a monument in honour of Henry Searle, a champion sculler of his day, in the river at Henley.

Some of the school rowing sheds are:

  • Sydney Women's MLC
  • The King's School Rowing Club

There are also a number of rowing clubs:

  • Drummoyne Rowers in Iron Cove
  • Sydney Rowers at Abbotsford
  • UTS Haberfield at Haberfield
  • Balmain

While a number of regattas are still held on the river each year, mainly in Iron Cove, many of the major regattas are now held at the Penrith International Regatta Centre where rowing was held for the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Most rowing training is done in the middle to upper reaches of the river between Abbotsford and Homebush Bay because there is less water traffic and therefore less waves and more protection from wind. Rowing also takes place in the Lane Cove River and Iron Cove which also have less traffic.

Foreshore Walks and Cycleways

Much of the foreshore is still in the hands of industry and private individuals as residences, however there is an increasing amount of waterfront land available as foreshore reserve with walkways and cycleways. As former industrial sites undergo remediation and redevelopment the foreshores are opened up for public access. Where there is no foreshore access, cycleways are routed through quiet residential streets with clearly marked sections of the road reserved for cyclists.

Major foreshore parks include:

  • Cabarita Park
  • Kissing Point Park, Ryde
  • Meadowbank Park
  • Putney Park
  • Bicentennial Park, Homebush Bay
  • Millennium Parklands, Homebush/Auburn

Heritage items on or near the Foreshore

Major heritage buildings on or near the foreshore include:

  • Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital (now Rivendell unit for Teenagers)
  • Callan Park, a former psychiatric hospital, with fine sandstone buildings
  • Gladesville Psychiatric Hospital, with many sandstone buildings in parklike surroundings on the southern side of Victoria Road. All the buildings on the Northern side were demolished and sold for redevelopment in about 1990.
  • Yaralla, the italianate mansion of Dame Edith Walker, a generous benefactor of the Concord Community, still preserved in magnificent and extensive grounds through a trust structure in favour of a hospital.
  • the Newington armaments depot with its armaments railway and concrete bunkers

Major Wetlands and Environmentally sensitive areas

Major wetlands include:

  • Bicentennial Park Wetlands (nationally significant, JAMBA CAMBA)
  • Newington Wetlands (nationally significant, JAMBA CAMBA)

There are significant stands of mangroves along the river west of Ryde (on the North shore) and Mortlake (on the southern shore) and in the Lane Cove river.

The mangroves have actually colonised areas that were previously salt marsh. Research into historical drawings and writings indicates that the mangroves were far fewer at English colonisation.


Many areas of the river, particularly the swampy heads of bays, have been reclaimed, often being used as rubbish dumps before being converted into playing fields. Large sections of Meadowbank Park were created in this manner. Some industrial sites were also reclaimed heavily from the river, particularly in Homebush Bay. Most creeks leading into the bays have been channelised (lined with concrete walls and floor).


While some areas of the river with heavily contaminated sediments have not been remediated, there is significant remediation of sediments about to start in Homebush Bay. These include the dioxin contaminated sediments near the former Union Carbide plant and the lead contaminated sediments near the former Berger Paints plant. Unfortunately, the EPA has allowed the sediments to get out of synch with the land based sites on which the polluters operated. The former AGL site has been analysed, a remediation plan developed and approved, remediation completed and construction commenced on medium to high density residential development, but the sediments, which independent research shows to be contaminated with pollutants from the AGL operations, have not yet had the investigation stage finalised (as of 2000). Other areas have had sediments covered with concrete to prevent the fish eating the benthos. The argument that the contamination is best left alone should be critically examined with a degree of scepticism because it ignores that the benthos are eating the contaminants and then passing the contamination up the food chain. The polluters face costs of tens of millions of dollars and so their protestations should be very critically examined.

For information on proposed remediation at Homebush Bay and the Rhodes peninsula see:


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