Cooks River is considered to be one of the most polluted urban river systems in NSW. Leaf litter, drink cans, plastics bags, oil runoff are common sights for the locals. When it rains, the situation gets worse as the rubbish snags on the low hanging branches of the casuarina trees and the roots of the mangroves that grow along the banks. The visual pollution and the associated smell can make walking and running along Cooks River an unpleasant experience.
However, despite the pollution, Cooks River hides a little secret. One even some of the locals are not aware of.
To find it, you need to start at Canterbury train station. From there, make your way south across the bridge until you reach the first set of traffic lights. From there, you need to cross to St Mary McKillop Reserve. Then make your way past the tall trees and very slowly, past the gang of noisy sulfur-crested cockatoos. Past the sails of the children’s playground, the rocking horse and the jungle-gym.
You are almost there. Just a little further.
At the end of the little path, past the tall trees lies the secret. A little green oasis known as Cup and Saucer Creek. It was developed as part of Sydney Water’s ‘bank-naturalisation’ project. Bank-naturalisation aims to replace concrete channels, pavements, storm-water drains and lawns with native trees and plants. The construction of Cup and Saucer Creek began in 2010 and took about three months to complete. Twelve months after the project began, it was handed over to Canterbury Council.
Over the past few years, the 27,000 native plants and 40 species of plants introduced around Cup and Saucer Creek have created a vibrant habitat. It is now home to a number of native birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects. In 2014, the Council and the volunteers (Marrickville Mudcrabs) who look after the area installed a native beehive to support the plants in the area. From the Creek, sandstones, rocks and native plants have been used to continue the naturalisation process and link the wetland to Cooks River.
The oasis comes complete with its own educational space and interpretive signs about indigenous history. These solidifies the Creek as an important, local greenspace. Adjacent to Cup and Saucer Creek are sandstone seats, ideal for those who want to sit and enjoy a snack as they journey along the banks of Cooks River.
But Cup and Saucer Creek hides its very own little secrets. Not only does it provide a refuge for local wildlife, it performs another critical function. The Creek was specifically designed to reduce the amount of sediments and pollutants entering Cooks River. This is achieved through a clever way. The Creek is made up of four ponds of varying depths and sizes.
The first pond is the deepest as it receives the bulk of the incoming stormwater. The deep design helps slows the rate at which the stormwater enters the wetland. By slowing the stormwater, the sediments and pollutants begin to settle to the bottom of the pond. The aquatic plants and reeds, together with the algae and bacteria that grow in the ponds helps to break down the sediments and pollutants. By the time the water reaches the fourth pond, it is much cleaner.
From pond four, the water flows into Cooks River. The natural filtering and cleaning process is so effective, that Sydney Water estimates that 5 tonnes of sediment, 40kg of phosphorus and 130kg of nitrogen are diverted from Cooks River by Cup and Saucer Creek alone.
The Creek is a great example of the positive impacts that bank-naturalisation programs can have on local water catchments. A once grassy lawn that has been transformed into a thriving and vibrant ecosystem. More projects like Cup and Saucer Creek are needed along the banks of the Cooks River. Ultimately, they need to be connected to form a green corridor. One that not only cleans and filters the water but also provide a habitat for the local wildlife. Doing so will go a long way to help the Inner West Council achieve its goal of making parts of the Cooks River swimmable.
Until then, Cup and Saucer Creek will be one of Cooks River’s best kept secrets. One that many of the locals do not know about. And the ones that do, want to keep it a secret. At least a little longer.