The Hawkesbury-Nepean – The River that gave life to Sydney

The main river that feeds in to Sydney Harbour is called Parramatta River. Sydney’s existence is due to this waterway for the fact that the leader of the First Fleet, Arthur Phillip, found a protected deep water cove, with fresh water draining down in to it that was not populated by indigenous tribes-people of the place he would name Sydney, in respect of politician Thomas Townshend aka Lord Sydney.

Desperate endeavours of the ‘starvation years’ (the first few years of convict settlement of the NSW Colony where new arrivals meant more hungry people to feed from scarce resources) led to Parramatta river being explored extensively and farms being established alongside the river 25kms inland from Sydney cove at the place the Governor Phillip named – Rose Hill (modern day Parramatta).The farms that were established by the Parramatta river weren’t enough.

Governor Phillip went and also sent men on missions to find more land to open up for growing crops and grazing live stock. This quest to find new lands would require leaving Sydney Harbour and sailing north up the coast to the next inlet which had been named Broken Bay by James Cook when he visited on his Endeavour expedition of 1770. Draining in to Broken Bay, a wide, navigable tidal and salty water-way was discovered with steep rugged cliffs covered in abundant Eucalyptus trees and native shrubs.

That waterway would be named Hawkesbury river by Arthur Phillip in 1790 in respect of Charles Jenkinson, aka Lord Hawkesbury, whose role was a president of the Board of Trade. The indigenous Aborigines that used the river for fishing, leisure and transport had the name Dee-Rubb-in. This word translated as ‘Yams’ in the local Aboriginal dialect, which was an indicator that the Aboriginal people may have been accessing food grown from the flood plains of the Hawkesbury.

A separate earlier expedition by a man named Watkin Tench overland in a south-westerly direction from his posting at Rose Hill saw the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury river system being discovered but given the name Tench’s river firstly, and later the Nepean river. Then in 1791 Tench led a further expedition on which it was confirmed that the river system given two different names was actually connected together as one.

Today we know it as the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. The river gave life to Sydney for the fact that its flood plains were and still are superbly fertile for farming things like nuts, fruit, vegetables and live-stock. Many free settling families used the river to gain access to lands for farming and would then transport their produce down the river, out through Broken Bay to Sydney Harbour.

Seafood from the river has also been significant to keeping Sydney communities fed and additionally important – up in the narrow reaches of one of the tributaries of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River – a river was damned to store the majority of the water-supply for the bustling metropolis of Sydney.

AEA tour products are graced by the existence of this mighty river in many ways. From the coast at Dover Heights on our Panoramic Sydney sights small group tour we can see all the way to the Blue Mountains on a clear day. Those Blue Mountains are where a great majority of the waters that drain in to the Hawkesbury-Nepean begin. When we visit the Blue Mountains for our small group Deluxe and Wildlife tour, as well as private tours, we cross the river system twice, firstly in the morning at the Nepean crossing at the foot of the Blue Mountains near Penrith and secondly in the afternoon on the way back to Sydney at the foot of the Blue Mountains near the historic township of Richmond, where it is called Hawkesbury.

When visiting wine country on our Tastings in the Hunter Valley small group tour it is hard to miss the grand river as we cross the very broad Hawkesbury River Bridge near Greater Sydney’s northern most township – Brooklyn – where the river is so close to draining out to Broken Bay, and ultimately to the Tasman Sea.

The river crossings we make on these tours allow you to look down to a water-way that reminds us of another time when river transportation was the most efficient and luxurious way to move through the landscape of Greater Sydney.

We welcome you to join us in one of our modern luxurious vehicles to savour importance of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River System as the life-blood of the Greater Sydney region.

 

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Scott Jeffery

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