This ride came about through wanting to join two of Sydney’s biggest stretches of green cycleway. These follow Cooks River and Georges River through the western suburbs of Sydney. Between the two is a suburban nightmare for cyclists – the rolling hills and unfriendly roads of Canterbury. Short of taking a train there is no particularly good way to get between the two. This is a re-occurring problem with cycling in Sydney (and perhaps most other cities), the recent popularity of building cycleways has generally been addressed by converting existing pedestrian and roadways into shared zones. While not ideal, this isn’t in itself the problem and usually works quite well. But modern cities free of the confines of historic Europe (tight cobbled roads, medieval walls, public squares etc) have adapted to the needs of the motor car. So any route between two unconnected cycleways inevitably means avoiding the most efficient one because one has to keep to convoluted residential roads which never quite head in the right direction for long. It isn’t that the major roads are themselves dangerous, but certain cultural expectations in highly urbanised and motorised areas means that a cyclist is not only an object in the way (at least until the next red traffic lighte or during peak hours), but frequently in deserve of moral reprimand for defiling the motorways with meat-based propulsion systems.
As so frequently is the case, the ride begins with a trip to the Cook River. For anything other than North (over the habour) or East (to the beaches) the Cook River is a perfect starting point for a ride in inner Sydney. Ride the full length and it’ll pop you out close to Olympic park and the many kilometres of dedicated path there (including riverside path all the way to Parramatta), or take a left at Hughes Park and you’ll get a good start into the South West towards the M5, or follow it east and you can get all the way to Cronulla more or less without having to get on a road. This time I used it as a launching point towards Canterbury-Bankstown. Unfortunately, I completely missed the proper turn-off and had to do some intuitive navigation until I found my way back on my intended route. Eventually I got to Georges Hall, which overlook Georges River. George named everything after himself, because he was a massively egotistical cunt.
I arrived at the intersection of Prospect Creek (which is at this stage more a river than a creek) and Georges River. The first place you come to is an Austrian White Ibis colony. The Ibis is probably the most hated species in Sydney, reviled even more than the deadly funnel-web spider. The funnel-web is the most deadly spider in Australia, and among the most deadly in the world. The Ibis is just a bird with thick white plumage. The reason why the ibis is hated is because; a) the white feathers are often stained brown because when not nesting at the colony the bird is a filthy scavenger, spending most of its time in or around garbage bins and b) it has a longscary curved beak which it uses to spread rubbish around.
I had no idea what to expect on this ride and perhaps the last thing I expected was an ibis colony. Knowing how much the animal is hated, I quickly set about enacted a scorched earth policy, burning the surroundings until nothing was left, nothing at all, except a field of hot, wet ash.
Apart from the horrendous sound of these squawking monsters, the area features a huge and well kept parklands with reclaim wetland habitats.
The track leads north west along the Prospect Creek and takes you past some interesting and often neglected historic sites in Sydney. The first is the Lansdowne Bridge which crosses the Prospect Creek.
The bridge was completed using convict (i.e slave) labour in 1836 with the first sandstone block laid in 1834. There are a number of historical records of the bridge, including this at the National Library of Australia. It was designed by David Lennox who also is responsible for the earlier Lennox Bridge in the Blue Mountains.
The second site of historic significance is this 1891 viaduct which crosses Orphan School Creek.
While it doesn’t look like much, and arguably it isn’t, the rail bridge is heritage listed in NSW. One of the interesting things that came out of this ride is that after finding these places and then looking them up on the net I discovered an entire industry of government and community workers who go about documenting all this, so eager cyclists such as myself can put some history in the places we woosh past. I think this is really valuable because cities like Sydney which are relatively young can often exist without a sense of being places with history.
The final of these three places is right next to the Lansdowne Bridge. It represents one of a few sites of its kind left in Sydney. The Sizzler.
Once rumoured to be extinct the Sizzler battles on despite the better judgement of society and the economy. When I was in my early teens (early 1990’s) Sizzler was new to the scene. It seemed for a while to be everywhere and then it seemed to be no where. The last Sizzler I went to was in Campbelltown in the outer south-western suburbs of Sydney sometime in the early 21st Century, believing this to be the last of the Sizzlers of Sydney. So finding this second Sizzler was a revelation of sorts. But the kind of revelation that does not entail needing to go there and partake of their all-you-can-eat “salad” bar.
The bike path followed Prospect Creek for sometime and was very enjoyable. It was a green belt on one side and light suburbia on the far side with an almost semi-rural feel. Houses were larger but also set on much, much larger blocks of land. Houses that backed onto the far side of the creek often had boats, sheds and jetties and other river infrastructure. There was even a ramshackle riverside fuel station, with petrol pump and corrugated iron and wooden plank buildings. It had a pleasant post-apocalyptic aesthetic.
Prospect Creek eventually turns north and heads towards the Prospect Resevoir. The bike path follows a tributary creek called Orphan School Creek. The path would meander along the creek, sometimes losing it to suburbia, sometimes the creek would disappear into concrete pipes or turn into open concrete causeways.
Finding the new waterway had the name “Orphan School Creek” lead me to believe it was named after something of significance, perhaps, an Orphan School. So I followed the path and found myself, eventually, in Canley Vale. My intention had at this time been to ride up to the Prospect Reservoir through the Western Sydney Parkland, but light and legs were fading, and while I could recharge my legs, with the light gone the ride to the train station would have been along busy, cyclist unfriendly, roads. So, as in the map, at the head of the creek, I hooked back east.
When I got home it turns out my suspicion was well founded. People don’t just call a creek “Orphan School Creek” because it sounds nice. They do it because of the Orphan School that used to be along side it. In this case it was the first boys orphan school in New South Wales. The first orphan school was the girls school built in Parramatta. NSW Government heritage notes say:
The Orphan School Estate (12,300 acres/4,980 hectares) was granted in 1803 by Governor King for the support of female orphans. In 1806 tenders were called for the construction of a timber building which was used as a farmhouse until 1819 when the Male Orphan School Farm was opened by Governor Macquarie. The building was ordered by Governor Macquarie under the School and Clergy Lands Corporation Act.
A brick dormitory (attrib. To Greenway, approx. 80 feet (24.5 m) by 30 feet (9.2 m)) was built at this time (later demolished leaving only the foundation). Some of the original bricks, made on the site, were later recovered and are housed at the Fairfield Council Chambers. In 1883 the Male Orphan School was moved to the southern portion of the Orphans School grant at Cabramatta. The existing homestead has been attributed to Francis Greenway, as well as Alexander Kinghorne with construction beginning in 1826 (although the Greenway connection has not been substantiated and the building has also been attributed to John Verge).
Only part of the original school still stands, the main (and original) farm house. In 1996 an archaeological assessment of the historical significance of the site was undertaken by Wendy Thorp. That outcome of the assessment is available here.
I finished my ride at Fairfield train station and had a kebab. It was probably one of the worst kebabs I’ve ever had, and, as bad kebabs so often are, after a day riding in the sun it was one of the most welcome! Even if I couldn’t stomach to finish it.