By Cathy Jones
Mason Park Wetlands are about seven hectares in size and made up of a wetland consisting 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 South 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.
Homebush Bay was first explored soon after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. The area was first settled in 1793 when land grants were made to the first immigrant free settlers which included Thomas Rose, Frederick Meredith, Thomas Webb, Edward Powell and Joseph Webb. As land grants were made to free men, the area became known as ‘Liberty Plains’.
The area where the current Mason Park and Mason Park Wetlands are situated is located between Powells Creek and Haslams Creek. Powell 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 Rd, 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 also received a grant of 920 acres at the head of the present Homebush Bay, located between Powell’s and Haslam’s Creek. .
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. Therefore, 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 establishment of the Homebush railway station in 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.
During 1839-1840, ‘Homebush’ was leased to Louisa Meredith, an illustrator and writer. 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 transfer of ownership of the ‘Homebush’ Estate to William’s son Fitzwilliam, subdivision of the estate commenced. In 1883, part of the land near Parramatta Road was sold but most of the estate remained unoccupied by 1890 as sales were slow. John Pomeroy, a partner of David Jones & Co, lived at ‘Homebush’ at this time. The land remained owned by the Wentworths until 1907, when 367 hectares was sold to the NSW Department of Public Works for the State Abattoirs .
Homebush saleyards were opened in 1882 by John Harris, then Mayor of Sydney, amid much protest from Strathfield Council. The saleyards operated until 1969 and were replaced by Sydney Markets. Following the establishment of the Homebush Saleyards, the State Government resumed land at Homebush Bay for the State Abattoirs. The Abattoirs were opened in 1915 at Homebush Bay, transferring from Glebe.
Landfilling operations and the reclamation of marsh and wetlands in the Homebush Bay area began in 1826 by D’Arcy Wentworth. 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.
The wetlands, later named Mason Park wetlands, was under control of the former Homebush Council, that operated from 1906-1947, when it was amalgamated with Strathfield Council in 1947. Mason Park is named after Albert Mason, Mayor of Homebush and head engineer of Arnott’s Biscuits. Mason apparently had the idea of dumping disused biscuit tins from Arnott’s to fill into the swamp land and reclaim it as usable land. Later both Mason Park and Bressington Park (also named for a former Mayor, George Bressington) were used as tip sites. The Council raised revenue by charging other Councils fees for tipping fees at these sites.
The Metropolitan Water & Sewerage Board (now Sydney Water) undertook a number of projects in Mason Park over the years. Saleyards and Powells Creeks, which feed the wetland, were canalised in 1937. Major construction work on Saleyards Creek in 1987 involved raising the bund wall, which effectively cut the wetland off from tidal flow. A small drop log weir was constructed at the northern end of the wetland to allow tidal water to reach the wetland but was insufficient.
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, gaining 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 substantial 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 sites importance is also 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, The River, Brush Farm Historical Society, 2004
NSW Racing History, AJC Racing Calender, February 1992
Homebush Bird Park Study, Western Suburbs Courier, 2 June 1976
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, Book of Sydney Suburbs, 1988