By Cathy Jones
Mason Park and Mason Park Wetlands are over twelve hectares in size. The wetland consists of a saltmarsh, mangrove forest and small freshwater pond. The park lies in an irregular triangle formed by the arms of two canalised creeks, Saleyards and Powells Creeks, which drain north into Homebush Bay. Directly to the north is Bicentennial Park and Olympic Park, site of the year 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Long established residential and industrial land occupies most of the surrounding land in North Strathfield, Concord and Homebush.
The Homebush Bay area was originally inhabited by the Dharug and Eora tribes, who fished and gathered food on the creeks and along the shores of the Bay and Parramatta River. Some disputes exist whether Homebush Bay is Dharug or Eora land but it appears that the location was large enough to allow both groups to camp and find food.
Early land grants
Homebush Bay was first explored soon after the arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney in 1788. In 1793, land grants were made to the first immigrant free settlers in the Homebush area which included Thomas Rose, Frederick Meredith, Thomas Webb, Edward Powell and Joseph Webb. As land grants were made to free settlers for farming purposes. This area became known as ‘Liberty Plains’. It is well documented that the early farms failed.
Mason Park and Mason Park Wetlands are situated between Powells Creek and Haslams Creek. Powells Creek is named for Edward Powell, who later established a Halfway House on Parramatta Road. Haslems Creek is named after Samuel Haslam, an innkeeper on Parramatta Road, who received a land grant near this creek.
Another early settler was D’Arcy Wentworth (1762? – 1827), who arrived with the Second Fleet in 1790 as ship’s surgeon on the ship ‘Neptune’. After Macquarie became governor, Wentworth was made principal surgeon and chief magistrate in the colony. He received a grant of 920 acres at the head of the present Homebush Bay, located between Powells and Haslams Creek. In 1819, an additional grant of 60 acres adjoining this property was made to Wentworth.
The Echo newspaper dated September 18, 1890, stated:
“North of Parramatta Road and running along that road from Powells Creek to Haslems Creek and by those Creeks to the Parramatta River was the Homebush Estate, of 920 acres, the property of Mr D’Arcy Wentworth……..The Estate gave the name to a considerable portion of land on each side of the Parramatta Road”.
“Homebush (which although properly the name of Mr Wentworth’s Estate) was applied to the little settlement on both sides of the Road, and came in time to include a considerable portion of what is now included in the Municipality of Strathfield and Druitt Town and Bark Huts.”
Wentworth called his grant ‘Home Bush’, some claim this was his ‘home in the bush”. This name was later adopted in the 1878 subdivision of the Underwood Estate called the ‘Village of Homebush’, which is actually located south of the railway line and is not part of the original Wentworth grant. Wentworth developed an interest in horsebreeding, importing horses from India and South Africa. Wentworth’s son, William Charles Wentworth (of one of the three Blue Mountains explorers) shared his father’s interest in turf racing that continued after D’Arcy Wentworth’s death in 1827.
The estate remained in the Wentworth family until it was subdivided in 1885 by Fitzwilliam, son of William Charles, eldest son of D’arcy Wentworth. During 1839-1894, the house was rented for a time to the Meredith family. Mrs Louisa Meredith was one of Australia’s first conservationist, an illustrator and writer and while living in Tasmania become a member of Parliament. She migrated from England with her husband Charles. She published her observations in Notes and Sketches of New South Wales – during a residence in the Colony from 1839 to 1844. At Homebush, she described many of the animals on the estate including dingoes, flying foxes, native cats and birds such as robins, swallows, whip birds, bellbirds, larks, quail, ducks and snipe . She discussed the fish and crabs of the Homebush wetlands and the mangroves, which held great appeal ‘the mangrove….grew very luxuriantly on the brink of the salt-water all along the embankments’.
After subdivision in 1885, part of the estate was sold to John Pomeroy, merchant of Petersham, and remained in the possession of the Pomeroy family until 1919, when it was bought by the McAree family. Further subdivision occurred in the 1920s when most of the present houses were built in Homebush (note this is the area north of Parramatta Road).
The remaining land was owned by the Wentworths until 1907, when 367 hectares was sold to the NSW Department of Public Works for the State Abattoirs .
In 1841 William Wentworth agreed to lay down a course, fence enclosures and build a stand for a new racecourse on the cleared land of the Homebush Estate. The opening of the Homebush railway station in September 1855 provided access to the racecourse. A special ferry was established for racedays along the Sydney to Parramatta route. The services were advertised as:
‘THE STEAM PACK RAPID….will start from the Commercial Wharf at Ten O’Clock precisely on each day of the Races – land Passengers at the Course and return with them to Sydney each night. FARES – four shillings each.’
The river transport depended on the tides for Homebush Bay, which were fringed with mangroves along the shore and mud flats around the Powell Creek entrance prevented a wharf or jetty being built. At low tide ferry boats had to stop at a distance from the shore and racegoers had to wade through a stretch of mud to get to the racecourse.
Cattleyards were erected at Homebush Railway Station in 1870 and were progressively expanded. (Fox 1986: 43). The Flemington saleyards and resting paddocks became the central saleyards for Sydney (Jones, 1985: 147). The saleyards were opened in 1882 by John Harris, then Mayor of Sydney, amid much protest from Strathfield Council. Flemington Station opened in 1884 with a footbridge connected to the saleyards (Fox 1986: 43). The saleyards operated until 1967 when they were transferred to the Homebush Abbatoir site (Fox 1986: 43). The State Abattoirs were transferred from Glebe and opened in 1915 at Homebush Bay.
The former Homebush saleyards site was replaced by Sydney Markets. Sydney Markets were opened in 1975.
Reclamation of marsh and wetlands
Landfilling operations and the reclamation of marsh and wetlands in the Homebush Bay area began in 1826 (Urban Bush Management 1994: 8). In 1891, a survey was conducted to investigate the possible re-positioning of the shoreline, and a seawall was erected on the western part of Homebush Bay (Urban Bush Management 1994: 8).
The wetlands, later named Mason Park wetlands, was under control of the former Homebush Council, that operated from 1906-1947. The former Homebush Council amalgamated with Strathfield Council in 1947.
Prior to the naming of the land as Mason Park, this area was locally known as ‘The Mangroves’ and was low lying and subject to tidal inundation. Waters were discharged into the area by Powell’s Creek, which is the boundary between Strathfield and Canada Bay Councils. The boundaries of Powell’s Creek continually changed depending on the level of rainfall.
To assist in disposal of water from the Homebush Cattle Sales Yards (located on Parramatta Road, now the site of Sydney Markets), a concrete channel known as Saleyards Stormwater Channel was constructed in 1934 from Parramatta Road to Powells Creek. The channel cut through the swamp lands at a point roughly in the middle of the swamp.
In 1934 Powells Creek were canalised by the Metropolitan Water and Swereage Board and as part of these operations, Powells Creek was realigned and moved to its present location of its old channel (Urban Bushland Management 1994: 10). The new channels with further amplified in 1987. Three sewer lines were laid in Mason Park; one in 1915, and overflow line from the pumping station in 1926 and rising main in 1965 (Urban Bushland Management 1994: 10).
The large concrete channel reduced but did not eliminate tidal flooding of the land. The concreting of the new channel caused some alteration to the boundaries, which made identifying land lots difficult. However, most land along the creek is Crown Land.
Both Homebush Council and later Strathfield Council supported land reclamation of areas they referred to as ‘swamp’ land. Both Mason Park and Bressington Park have been used as tip sites. Mason Park was described by the Strathfield Council Town Clerk James Mathews in 1963 as ‘approximately half of this Park has been filled with garbage and the level raised to that as we now know it. The remainder is the original mud flat covered with swamp grass’.
‘The lands ie the area between the Underwood Road extension and Powell’s Creek were apart from the luxurious growth of mangroves, virtually featureless but for the State Brick Work’s tram line. This tram line was laid on an embankment constructed in the main brick-bats and brickyard wastes and was the track used by the small engine and trucks to convey bricks from the brickyard to Bedford Street where they were loaded onto carts and wagons to their destinations.’
In 1929, Homebush Council signed a 21 year legal agreement with William Arnott Ltd to deposit ‘certain refuse resulting from Manufacture namely useless metal containers and other metal refuse’. Mason was also chief electrician of Arnott’s Biscuits Factory in George St, Homebush and through his position, developed a novel approach in turning the swamp into useable land. Arnott’s Biscuits were originally sold in tins and empty tins from the shops were returned to the tin recycling department at the Homebush factory. Tins that could not be recycled were either crushed and buried in the company’s bowling green and car park in George St and others were combined with ash from the biscuit factory’s engine room and used to fill Mason Park.
In 1956, Council renamed the section of Mason Park, north of Saleyards Creek, Bressington Park. Bressington Park is named for former Mayor and Council overseer, George Bressington.
According to the Mason Park Plan of Management 1994 (Urban Bushland Management 1994: 10):
“By 1949 Maritime Services Board commenced filling the western side of Homebush Bay to provide land friends for purposes. They then proceeded to fill the southern part of the bay. The reclamation started to provide wharves to service industry expected to grow in the area, but this project was never completed. Wentworth Bay disappeared completely and the original channel of Powells Creek was a obilerated by the fill of Bicentennial Park. The estuarine wetlands and mangrove forests on the creeks feeding into the Bay were destroyed.
Landfill operations continued until the mid 1970s. Many parts of the Homebush Bay area were used as tip sites: Mason Park, Bressington Park and what is now Bicentennial Park received waste from a variety of industrial and commercial sources. Mason Park was used a Council tip until the 1970s. It was then developed as a recreational area.”
Preservation of Mason Park Wetlands
By the 1970s, Mason Park was under control of Strathfield Council. After protest from many sources regarding dumping of rubbish in Mason Park swamps, Strathfield Council considered using the area as a tip and gained the agreement of the Metropolitan Waste Disposal Authority . However, at the same time, Council received a letter from a Mr Allen Davis urging the Council to preserve this area as a feeding and resting area for birds . Professor Talbot of Environmental Studies Program Macquarie University also petitioned Strathfield Council to preserve the marshland and its rich fauna. Senator Mulvihill raised the preservation of the Mason Park Wetlands in the Commonwealth Senate on 23 May 1976 stating that Australia was signatory to the International Wet Lands Convention  and Migratory Bird Treaty  with Japan and as the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was visiting Japan, he needed to demonstrate that the Treaty was being observed. Macquarie University and Sydney University provided assistance in formulating studies to preserve and improve the wetlands .
After considerable community and political agitation, Strathfield Council resolved to preserve the Mason Park Wetlands and work has been done to reverse the damage and restore the habitat of the Wetlands
Today Mason Park Wetlands is surrounded on all sides by the landfill (now converted to parklands). Despite its degraded state the wetland is a valuable habitat for local and migratory bird species and is subject to the provisions of the China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA) and Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA). Some birds fly from as far as China, Japan and Siberia to arrive at Mason Park Wetlands during spring and summer. The site’s importance was recognised by its listing on the Register of the National Estate. In terms of vegetation the area is also important, as saltmarshes are now very rare in the Sydney region.
Blaxall, Gregory, 2004, The River, Brush Farm Historical Society
Fox & Associates, 1986, Strathfield Heritage Study
NSW Racing History, AJC Racing Calender, February 1992
Homebush Bird Park Study, Western Suburbs Courier, 2 June 1976
Howe, G., 1999, Heart of the City, p32
Jones, M., 1985, Oasis in the West, Allen and Unwin
Letter to Strathfield Council Town Clerk from Director of Metropolitan Waste Disposal Authority 26 February 1976. Strathfield Council file G7/270.
Letter from A. Davis 11 May 1976. Strathfield Council file G7/270.
Pollon F, 1988, Book of Sydney Suburbs
The Echo, 1890
Urban Bushland Management Pty Ltd, 1994, Mason Park Plan of Management.