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Sydney Tank Stream Tour

Home > Sydney > Exhibitions | Places of Interest | Tours | Unusual Things to do
Published June 25th 2013
History buried beneath the city
Tank Stream Sydney
Old Sydney Tank Stream, Picture courtesy of NSW State Library

Everyone is familiar with Sydney CBD but very few actually know about the history buried beneath the city. Still in existence today is the Tank Stream, Sydney's first main source of fresh water supply during the early colonial settlement period.

Once there was a swamp stretching from Hyde Park to Town Hall supplying fresh water into the stream, which flowed 30 metres down a series of waterfalls to modern day Bridge Street before discharging into Sydney Cove (Circular Quay).

You can now appreciate the sloping topography in which the stream once cascaded down towards Circular Quay from Hyde Park.

Sydney Cove Tank Stream Port Jackson
Old Sydney Cove, Port Jackson - Picture courtesy of the NSW State Library

In 1788, Captain Arthur Philip sailed into Sydney Harbour and found a stream flowing out into Sydney Cove. He declared that it was the 'finest spring water' and made settlement for the colony.

The name 'Tank Stream' came from the excavation of storage tanks in the surrounding sandstone (near Australia Square) to supplement the growing demand for water.

By 1826, the Tank Stream became so polluted it was turned into an open sewer causing an outbreak in water borne diseases. In 1958, the authorities diverted the stream and hid it from public view. Eventually, the whole stream got buried underneath the growing city. In 1930, it became part of the city's stormwater drainage system carrying flows from lower CBD to the harbour.

The Tank Stream was recognised for its state and national significance and was registered on the NSW State Heritage Register in 1999.

The Tour
The Tank Stream tour was established soon after and is operated by Sydney Water. On the day of the tour, you will see Sydney Water's vehicles parked on Curtin Street opposite Australia Square.

Curtin Place Australia Square
Sydney Water Tank Stream Tour, Curtin Place (outside Australia Square)

The tour guide will take you inside Australia Square's basement into a small chamber where you will view a short video presentation of the history of the Tank Stream. You will then be given a safety briefing and get fitted with a hard hat, boots and a safety harness to help you down the narrow 3 metres-deep shaft.

Once inside the Tank Stream tunnel, you will notice the sandstone block construction with a low arched ceiling (half an average person's height) so, expect to hunch for most part of the tour.

The tunnel itself has an earthy smell and is surprisingly clean, and if you are lucky you will witness the flowing stream and its crystal clear water.

tank stream water
The clear stream water inside the tunnel

The guide will take you through the different periods of construction though 60 metres of the Tank Stream tunnel, with the most spectacular being the oviform (egg shaped) drain.

There will also be sections of the tunnel where you will be able to straighten up, it is apparently part of the engineering.

oviform tank stream
Me and the Oviform drain inside the Tank Stream tunnel

You will also see along the sandstone walls, there are mason's markings (either a 'triangle' or an 'M') made by the convict labourers, each has a different story.

mason's markings convicts tank stream
Mason's markings on the sandstone blocks

I did this amazing tour in 2010. It is open to the public only twice a year, one in April and either October/November. If you are interested, it is by ballot and it is very popular. Please register your interest via The Historic Houses Trust of NSW

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Why? Discover Sydney's buried history
When: Twice a year, April or October/November
Where: Tank Stream, Curtin place, Wynyard
Cost: By ballot
Your Comment
what a "dirty" history!
by Katy Holliday (score: 3|1133) 2596 days ago
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