Cooks River Strathfield South 1943 aerial photograph

Cooks River Strathfield – timeline

By Cathy Jones

The Cooks River is a 23 km river that runs from Botany Bay to Yagoona, passing through the Strathfield Council area. The Cooks River is located in the southern end of the Strathfield district.  From the junction of Coronation Parade and Punchbowl Road in Belfield to Water Street Strathfield South, the river is a concrete canal.  The river separates at Water Street, with one section of the River diverted and finishing at Coxs Creek Greenacre with the main river continuing through Strathfield South and then to Freshwater Park.  The Bay to Bay shared pathway is built alongside the river.

The Cooks River at Strathfield is in the upper reaches of the catchment and is located near the end of the open river. The river also deviates around Water Street Strathfield into Coxs Creek flowing towards Greenacre, while the main river continues to travel through Strathfield and Strathfield South.

The river in the Strathfield area was historically was described by C A Henderson in his 1923 recollections of early Strathfield and Homebush as a ‘chain of ponds’ (Henderson, 1923) because the river was located on low lying land and appears as a series of small ponds and land depressions, rather than as an open river.  When it rained, the ponds would rapidly fill and with evaporation, the ponds would empty. The result of these events is that low lying land would fill very quickly from water events which resulted in many drownings of people, especially children, and animals in the River.  The remaining stagnant water left in the ponds would slowly evaporate after the water event finished and attract mosquitos.

The Cooks River is considered one of the most polluted and degraded rivers in Australia.  Most of the River in the Strathfield Area has been concreted with the intention of controlling flooding, a contributing factor to the slow growth of development on land near the River.

Works commenced in the 1930s on the section of the River from Coronation Parade/Punchbowl Road to Water Street and on Coxs Creek (then renamed as Coxs Creek Stormwater Canal from Water Street through to Greenacre).  During this process, the natural alignment of the River was substantially altered and straightened in the process.  The canaling of the river flowing west of Water Street did not commence again until the late 1960s, after significant lobbying by Strathfield Council and the Cooks River Valley Association to the former Metropolitan Water & Sewerage Board (now Sydney Water).

In the early 2000s, a small part of the Cooks River at Freshwater Park was naturalised.

This is a timeline of key events affecting the Cooks River in the Strathfield district.

Pre-1788 -Wangal people occupied land in the Cooks River area for thousands of years.

1770 –Captain James Cook went almost to the head of the inlet of Cooks River. The river presented an idyllic scene to Cook who was quite impressed.

1788 – In January, the first exploration of Cooks River by Phillip Gidley King but no name was given to it.

1788 – In September, John Hunter explored the Cooks River and his description was, “having gone to the head of the river (Georges) and returned to the bay again (Botany), we entered a small river (Cooks). As far as I went up, which was 5 miles, is all shoal water. In short these rivers were with me no objects at this time to throw away time upon. I therefore made no further survey”.

1802 – In what is now known as Belfield a grant of 100 acres was made to John Terry Hughes, a whaler, brewer and flour merchant

1808 – 570 acres of land was granted to James Wilshire (regranted 1810).  In 1824, the land transferred to Samuel Terry was renamed the “Redmire Estate”.  This land is bounded by Redmyre Road Strathfield (north), The Boulevarde Strathfield and Coronation Parade Strathfield South (east), around Wallis Avenue Strathfield (west) and the Cooks River (south).

1810 – 120 acres in Belfield was granted to James Morris, a private in the NSW Corps who arrived on the Second Fleet.   John Alford, an ‘animal doctor’, received a grant of 60 acres. Alford’s grant was bounded by Cooks River, Coronation Parade and Punchbowl Rd. A grant of 30 acres to Harriott Carr.

1812-1814  Liverpool Road built by ex-convict William Roberts. Roberts was also the recipient of a large land grant in Strathfield South, Chullora and Greenacre. Roberts Road is named after him.

c.1814 – Moore’s Bridge was built at the crossing of the Cooks River on Liverpool Road.  Moore’s Bridge was named for Thomas Moore, a Liverpool Innkeeper who petitioned Governor Macquarie to build a road connecting Liverpool with Sydney.

1823 – 450 acres, located to the west of Strathfield located between Parramatta Road and Liverpool Road was granted as a ‘glebe’ to the Chaplain of St James Church Sydney.  The Cooks River runs through this land grant at Strathfield.

1826 – Justice John Stephen consolidated several smaller properties into a country estate, which he named ‘Clareville’ of 250 acres. ‘Clareville’ was located on the north side of Punchbowl Rd, near the Cook’s River crossing.

1837 –Catholic Archpriest Father John Joseph Therry was granted 47 acres in an area called ‘Bark Huts’. FatherTherry offered 4 acre blocks for £25, to fund the construction of the original St Ann’s Church.  A further 134 allotments were offered for sale in 1854.

1840’s – The Bark Huts Hotel built by William Taverner was a half-way house and the  changing station for the coaches between Sydney and Liverpool on the Liverpool Rd  near the crossing of the Cooks River.  The site was later known as the Liverpool Road Hotel and then as the Royal Hotel.  The Royal Hotel was demolished in the 1950s.  The freight firm TNT now uses this site.

1841 – the land previously granted as a ‘glebe’ was divided into two portions of 256 and 283 acres and sold. The two grants are divided by Barker Road Strathfield. The northern 256 acres was purchased by Joseph Hyde Potts (which is part of the Parramatta River catchment).  The southern 283 acres was purchased by Joseph Newton.  The Cooks River is located on the Newton land and this area is part of the Cooks River catchment.

1844 – a boiling-down establishment close to the Cooks River (near Liverpool Road) was opened by John and Hugh Hamilton and closed c.1855.

1852 – Reports published in the Sydney Morning Herald of findings of a goldfield at Bark Huts (now Strathfield South) near Cooks River inspires panic in Sydney, which abates after reports found to be without foundation.

1858 – The Newton Estate was acquired by Judge Josephson.

1867 – Subdivision of the large ‘Redmire Estate’ and commencement of residential development at Strathfield and Strathfield South.

1873 – The Druitt Town Congregational Church was opened nearly opposite Bark Huts near Cooks River.  This was the first Church in the district.

1885 – Municipal District of Strathfield was proclaimed in 1885 incorporating the areas of  Homebush, Redmyre, and part of Druitt Town (Strathfield South) into Strathfield Council.

1889 – Municipal District of Enfield incorporated on January 22 1889 with a population of 1500. The boundaries of Enfield Council, according to the 1890 Sands Sydney Directory, were described as ‘From the corner of Greenhill Street and Liverpool road; thence southerly along the west side of Greenhill Street to the George’s River road; thence westerly along the north side of the George’s River road to the Burwood road; thence southerly along the west side of Burwood road to Cook’s river; thence along the north bank of Cook’s river to the bridge on the Liverpool road to the point of commencement of Greenhill street’.

1895 – Tender accepted to build a bridge at Cook’s River, at Druitt Town, Main Southern-road, from W. J. Woodbury at cost of £419 17s.

1899 – Two large Brickworks were established in Water St and Dean St fronting the Cooks River from 1899.  One of these brickworks was redeveloped into Dunlop Street industrial precinct in the late 1950’s, the other facing Water St is occupied by various industrial developments.


1916 – Enfield Marshalling Yards were established in 1916 on land that was once “Enfield Park”

1916 – The ‘Josephson Estate’ commenced subdivision in 1916.  This is the area of Strathfield south of Barker Rd, taking in parts of Freshwater Park.  The area close to the Cooks River was developed long after most of Strathfield as it was more distant from the Town Centre and transport.  Parts were known locally as ‘Potts Bush’ and used as a dumping grounds for rubbish.  Apparently a notorious murder occurred in the 1930’s in Pott’s Bush.

1924 – Formation of the Cooks River Improvement League.

1924 – Proposal by NSW Government to build a canal through Strathfield between Cooks River and Parramatta River to flush the river and generate electricity through tidal flushing.  The departmental experts had computed the cost of the proposal at £1,750,000. Strathfield Council opposed proposal.

1925 – In July 1925, Strathfield Council publicly denounces proposed canal scheme as “one of the most wild-cat schemes that had over dawned on the public gaze.” and resolved that a letter be written to the Minister for Works informing him that this council is of opinion that the drainage of Cook’s River can be achieved much more cheaply and effectively than by the proposed canal; that the canal will be an unsightly object-cutting through valuable territory, it will be a menace to the district that the drainage from Rookwood would be likely to pollute the waters of the canal; and that this council thinks the promoters are insufficiently informed on the engineering difficulties involved.”

1926 – formation of the Cooks River Canal Construction League.  Public meetings held.

1928 – The questions of dredging, reclaiming and improving the Cooks River referred to the Public Works Department (PWD). This led to a government agreement to undertake the concreting of the upper reaches of the river as “depression relief” work.

1929 – The Cooks River Improvement League released details of a Cooks River Canal proposal that would link the Parramatta River and Cooks River.

1930’s – Concreting of the Cooks River channel commenced

1931 – Ford Park at Strathfield South, on banks of Cooks River, partly acquired.  The land acquisition coincided with canaling of Cooks River.  Additional land was acquired in 1933 and 1935 through NSW Government subsidised loan schemes.

1931 – In October, Strathfield Private Golf Club established at Strathfield, partly located on 37 acres of Freshwater Park.  Additional land was acquired from NSW Government Railways in 1933 and the course extended to 18 holes. The Cooks River runs through this park and golf course.

c.1935 – Establishment of N B Love Flour Millers, Braidwood Street Strathfield South. This site has continuously been used for flour milling since 1935.  Now part of the larger Weston group of companies.

c.1930s – established of industries in Strathfield South (then Enfield). Large areas of Enfield were used for industrial developments eg Cosgrove Rd precinct.  Most adjoined the Cooks River.  Industrial development seemed to substantially increase after 1932, when Enfield Council zoned large parts of the Council as residential.  Areas around Cosgrove Rd, Madeline Street etc were zoned to allow industry.

1935 –  The wooden bridge at Water St washed away and replaced with current bridge

1946  –Cooks River Improvement Act was gazetted with its primary aim being to control flows  and prevent degradation of the Cooks River banks

1948 – Expressway easements are recommended in the Cumberland Plan along Cooks River (now known as the County Road) for future Motorway plans.

The “Rivers and Foreshores Improvement Act” is passed by the State Government, to be administered by the Public Works Department.

1949 – Enfield Council was amalgamated with the west ward joining Strathfield Council and the central and east wards joining Burwood Council.

1954 – Freshwater Park was established as a children’s playground by directive of Minister for Lands as condition for approval of use of Thew Reserve for a bowling club.

1960 – Cave Road Strathfield residential precinct with small shopping centre was developed c.1960 on the site was formerly the Northcote Private Golf Course.

1970’s – Enfield Marshalling Yards closed in the early 1970’s

1976 – Southend Tennis Centre, Chisholm Street Strathfield South on banks of the Cooks River was opened.  This site was once occupied by a dairy according to early maps.

1985 – Centenary of Strathfield Council. Cave Road Reserve was renamed ‘Chain of Ponds Reserve’.  The name is from the Journal of C A Henderson in a paper provided to the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1923 describing the Cooks River ending in a ‘chain of ponds’.

1985 – Centenary of Strathfield Council. Elliott Street Reserve was renamed Bark Huts Reserve.  Bark Huts was a former locality name in the southern Strathfield area.

1985 – Opening of Centenary Drive, a major regional road which links the north and south of Sydney.  Centenary Drive crosses Cooks River.

1990’s – Dean Reserve created from former brick pit and tip

1990 –  Strathfield Council and community groups ongoing commenced re-vegetation of Cooks River foreshore

1990s – the plan to build a motorway along the Cooks River in Strathfield LGA was abandoned and the ‘county road’ reservations were formerly dedicated as parks including Bark Huts Reserve and Elliot Reserve.

1997 – In April, a “Foreshores Strategic Plan” was launched by the Environment Minister. It was funded by the State Government, Greening Australia and Canterbury, Strathfield and Marrickville Councils.

2001-2008 – renaturalisation of a small area of the Cooks River at Freshwater Park

2010 – Redevelopment of the former Enfield Marshalling Yards into the Enfield Intermodal Terminal, a large rail/road transport interchange.

2011 – Cooks River Alliance formed.  An Alliance of Councils in the Cooks River Catchment – Strathfield, Ashfield, Marrickville, Rockdale, Hurstville, Canterbury, Bankstown and City of Sydney.


Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), Thursday 14 February 1935, page 3

Henderson C A, 1923, ‘Sydney to Homebush 1855’, Royal Australian Historical Society Journal and proceedings Vol. VIII, Supplement.

Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), Saturday 23 January 1897, page 161

Author: Cathy Jones 2013.  This is work is protected under copyright.  Please seek permission if you wish to reproduce this article.

One comment

  1. Excellent coverage of the history of the area, It filled in the missing gaps that I didn’t know.


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