by Sharon Beder
first published by Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1989
IN MANY ways, little has changed since Captain Phillip chose Port Jackson as the site for the first white settlement in Australia. A disregard for the environment combined with a reluctance to pay for the most basic of public services has ensured that Sydney city has never been free of pollution. Governments have assumed control of waste disposal but they have sought, firstly, to control the people and their ideas of how this should be done. The technocrats they have employed have also had their own goals and consistently used their expert credibility to establish a system that was half-blind to environmental impacts.
By 1826 the Tank Stream, Sydney’s first water supply, had been so polluted that it had to be abandoned. Fences, prohibitions and orders by the colonial government such as the one illustrated, issued in 1802, all failed to prevent dumping.
Pollution was also caused by poorly constructed and badly sited cesspits that weren’t cleaned out often enough. Little more than holes in people’s back yards, these cesspits often overflowed when it rained, seeping into groundwater wells and draining into low-lying neighbourhoods where the poorest people lived, saturating these areas with sewage and other household waste. Open ditches and other accumulations of foetid matter all added to the pollution problems of early Sydney.