Some bodies of water you naturally flinch from jumping into, whether it’s crock-infested tidal rivers in the Kimberleys or Canberra’s carp and algae infested Lake Burley Griffin.
On that list – at least until today – has been Sydney’s poor, long-suffering Parramatta River, the involuntary recipient of decades of industrial, polluted urban stormwater run-off and a victim of high population density.
But as property developers and the state government eagerly eye-off the western Sydney district as the so-called second CBD, the suburb that features the eel as its Rugby League mascot could get its landmark waterway restored to a swimable condition. At least that’s the hope.
At one point the water body was deemed so toxic by Parramatta City Council that it carried an official health warning, with the council even cautioning boaters to avoid even being splashed by the river’s waters.
But now the Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG) – a group of 12 Sydney councils – wants to encourage people to do their early morning laps in the river by 2025 under its Our Living River initiative.
With waterside lifestyles commanding steep premiums in terms of real estate values, it’s not hard to see why those invested in west are keen for a major aquatic clean-up.
One million Sydneysiders live within 20 minutes of the Parramatta River, so lure of a clean river, a cappuccino and an ice-cream would encourage many of them to forsake the drive to crowded Bondi and head to the river instead.
In fact, people used to socialise and swim in the river until the 1950s and some parts of Parramatta River are already swimmable (including the Dawn Fraser Baths in Balmain) but for everything west of Cabarita – with the exception of Parramatta Lake (no, we’d never heard of it either) – you’d best keep your kit on and your fishing rod safely stashed.
Chair of the PRCG, Parramatta City Council Mayor Scott Lloyd said the benefits of cleaning up the river and surrounding creeks included healthier living, increased biodiversity, business opportunities, rising property values and better social connection.
“Our Living River will make the entire river an extension of the local community’s backyard – as every Aussie has the right for a cool dip, in a beautiful clean environment without having to drive more than an hour in a hot car to the nearest ocean beach,” Mr Lloyd said.
The PRCG is asking people to choose one of 19 spots along the river where they would most like to swim. Locations include, Henley Baths, Rodd Park, Silverwater Baths or Kissing Point. Centennial Baths, next to Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre, currently leads the poll.
The PRCG wants to scrape together $5 million over three years to ‘establish frameworks and mechanisms to make the river swimmable again and start on-ground activation’ but it is unclear where the money is to come from, exactly what it will be used for or how far it will go.
Executive director of the Total Environment Centre Jeff Ange has been reported as saying that the river clean-up would cost at least $50 million.
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