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Local History – Bondi Beach’s Lagoons

By Kimberley O'Sullivan on September 8, 2011 in Other

Prior to European settlement, the land between Bondi Beach and Rose Bay was a series of freshwater lagoons and sand dunes of varying heights. Some geologists believe that this long, low passage at some time allowed for sea access to Port Jackson at Rose Bay from Bondi – making South Head and the land around it an island.


Bondi’s freshwater lagoons were mainly seasonal, appearing and disappearing quickly depending on the rainfall. However, there were also large permanent lagoons whose banks were lined with Coastal Tea Trees (Leptospermum laevigatum) and Swamp She-oaks (Casuarina glauca).

The first written reference to these Bondi lagoons is on a map dated 1868, however, they would have been well known to the local Indigenous inhabitants as a good supply of fresh water and food much earlier than this.

The trees on the lagoons’ banks, with huge root systems reaching deep down into the sandy soil, turned the water rust brown and provided nutrients and shelter for fish and insects. Larger animals such as goannas, possums and wallabies would have drunk from this fresh water source.

A 1889 Water Board map shows specific locations for the lagoons:

– Near the corner of the present day Lamrock and Jaques Avenue
– Between Simpson Street and Hall Street across Wellington Street
– Between Warners Avenue, Blair Street and Beach Road
– Near Old South Head Road and Warners Avenue
– Between Hastings Parade and Wairoa Avenue

Artist Julian Ashton lived in the Waverley area and in his memoir, Now Came Still Evening On, he recalls the Bondi lagoons:

“Bondi when I came to live here was a great mass of sand hills with deep little pockets between filled with black water in which grew monster tea trees.

“They towered above, making a sort of shadow land, a delightful resting place from which one could look out upon the sun-scorched sand. I have often seen wild duck in these pools. One could walk across the hills and valleys or along the beaches for hours and not meet a soul.”

The lagoons are now long gone, the wild ducks have flown away and the 15 metre tea trees cut down. Sewer labourers began draining two large lagoons in North Bondi in the early 1880s when a trench was built through to Rose Bay. Later other ponds were drained to allow for roads to be built, land to be subdivided and for house construction.

Local historian John Ruffels suggests all is not lost though: “These days, in the area up from the old lagoon around Forest Knoll Avenue, on a still summer day the dappled shade from the Banksia trees and Swamp Oak trees continues to remind us of what it must have been like in the bush by the Bondi lagoon all those many years ago.”