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Local History – Busby’s Bore

By Dan Hutton on December 15, 2010 in Other

Back when Sydney was first settled, the Lachlan Swamp (eventually to become the site for Centennial Park) was the closest swamp to Sydney in the chain of swamps known as the Botany watershed. Drought in 1820 forced water carters to sell barrelled water from the swamp to supplement Sydney’s water supply from the polluted Tank Stream. An enquiry in 1825 was conducted into the source of a permanent water supply for Sydney. Mineral surveyor and civil engineer John Busby (1765-1857) selected the Lachlan Swamp, reporting on the excellent quality of the water, believing the supply to be sufficient to service the predicted increasing Sydney population.

Busby was commissioned to design a new water system, which involved driving a bore from the Lachlan Swamp in Centennial Park into a reservoir at the Oxford Street end of Hyde Park. The tunnel (to become known as Busby’s Bore) was “2 miles, 8 chains long” through mostly solid rock and constructed using convict labour. Busby’s Bore passed under the Showground, Victoria Barracks and down Oxford Street to Hyde Park. Work commenced late in 1827 but progress was very slow. It was reported that Busby was reluctant to deal with the convict workers and was a generally poor supervisor. From 1830 water was flowing in the tunnel, although it wasn’t finally completed until 1837. In 1833 water was diverted through pipes to Circular Quay to be used in shipping.

Drought in 1838 demonstrated the limitations of the tunnel being the sole source of water for Sydney. The Council of the City of Sydney took control of water supply in 1842, but proved to be poor managers. It was also proving difficult to maintain the quality of the water from the Lachlan Swamp – pollution from dumping and blockages, and the location nearby of industries such as wool scouring, were constant threats.

The Lachlan Swamps remained Sydney’s only water supply until the Botany Bay Swamp Scheme in 1858. The original Botany Swamps were dammed in 1815 by Simeon Lord to run his flour and wool mills. In 1855 after a severe drought the Water Board resumed 75 acres of Simeon Lord’s land to establish the Botany Bay Swamp Scheme, which became operational in 1859. Water was pumped from the engine pond, built by convicts earlier in 1838, to the Crown Street Reservoir and later to Paddington. The Botany Bay Swamp Scheme expanded to meet Sydney’s growing population and supplied fresh water until the late 1880s when the Upper Nepean Scheme was created. Most of the Botany pumping station was dismantled in 1896, although the stump of the chimney-stack still remains.

List of References
Paul Ashton and Kate Blackmore, Centennial Park: a history, UNSW Press, 1988