Under the Terrace Houses: Glebe before European Settlement

By Charlotte Simpson-Young and Asa Wahlquist

Many parts of Sydney have been altered so completely since European Settlement, that it is very hard to imagine what they would have once looked like. Here is a brief portrait of pre-settlement Glebe and Forest Lodge in Sydney’s inner west.

By the Bay

The Glebe and Forest Lodge region was long occupied by the Gadigal and Wangal people. Back then Blackwattle Bay and Rozelle Bay had meandering shorelines. There were extensive mudflats, with mangrove forests, saltmarshes and brackish swamps fed by freshwater streams where Wentworth Park and Harold Park are today. The Bays provided a plentiful supply of fish and shellfish. The women fished from bark canoes called nowies using shellfish hooks and lines from the inner bark of trees, while the men speared fish from the shore. The Bays provided bream, flathead, mud and rock oysters, mussels, cockles, crabs, octopus and turtles.

Up the Hill

Glebe lies on a ridge of Hawkesbury sandstone shale. The great Turpentine-Ironbark forest of pre-settlement Sydney grew along that ridge. The grey ironbark (Eucalyptus paniculata) on the grounds of St Johns Anglican Church, on the corner of Glebe Point and St Johns Roads, is arguably the only remnant of the old forest in Glebe.

Botanists Doug Benson and Jocelyn Howell wrote: “On the more rugged Hawkesbury sandstone landforms – the harbourside suburbs of Glebe and Balmain – would have been typical Sydney sandstone open forest, with trees of smooth-barked apple (Angophora costata) and Sydney peppermint (E. piperita). The species present would have been similar to bushland found today on the nearby northern side of the harbour, such as at Balls Head and Berry Island”.

Morning at Badangi Reserve, Wollstonecraft (C.Simpson-Young)

A lovely morning at Badangi Reserve, Wollstonecraft. This Angophora costata dominated bushland is similar to what would have occurred on the sandstone ridges of Glebe (C.Simpson-Young)

Benson and Howell write that the below 1859 pencil sketch by Conrad Martens “captures the nature of the steep wooded slopes and overhanging sandstone rock ledges that were to disappear during the next 40 years under the terrace houses of Glebe”.

1859 pencil sketch by Conrad Martens showing what the bushland would have looked like before colonisation (From book Taken for Granted)

1859 pencil sketch by Conrad Martens showing what the bushland would have looked like before colonisation (From book Taken for Granted)

Beside the Creek

Swamp oaks or casuarinas grew near the water, grey mangroves grew in the intertidal zones and Blackwattles grew along Blackwattle Creek. (The Blackwattle, Callicoma serratifolia, is not a true wattle or acacia. It was called a wattle because it was the first tree used in early Sydney to build wattle and daub huts.) Blackwattle Creek, which flowed from swampy lands that are now in the grounds of the University of  Sydney, was a source of freshwater for Sydney’s Aboriginal people, and a place for fishing and other activities.

For the original articles go to Asa Wahlquist’s website.

For more posts on the Glebe Foreshore:

Biodiversity in Urban Sydney: the Glebe Foreshore Walk

A Concrete Creek: Glebe’s Johnstons Creek

The Last Mangroves in the City: Jubilee Park Mangroves

Where the River Meets the Sea: Glebe’s Coastal Saltmarsh

Historical Palms at Jubilee Park



Benson, D., Howell, J., (1995) Taken for Granted: The Bushland of Sydney and its Suburbs. Kangaroo Press.

Buckingham, J., (2008) Glebe’s waterfront History, the last 40 years <https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/offtrack/flowerpots-tackle-sydney-harbours-aquatic-housing-crisis/6148966>

Christie, Judy (2019) personal communication

City of Sydney (2006) East Glebe Foreshore Plan of Management <https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/138756/GlebeForeshoreEastPoM_adopted.pdf>

City of Sydney (2016) Glebe Foreshore <https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/vision/better-infrastructure/parks-and-playgrounds/completed-projects/glebe-foreshore>

City of Sydney (2014) Urban Ecology Strategic Action Plan <https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/198821/2014-109885-Plan-Urban-Ecology-Strategic-Action-Plan_FINAL-_adopted.pdf>

City of Sydney (2019) Johnstons Creek <https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/facilities/parks/plans-of-management/johnston-creek-parklands>

City of Sydney (2013) Johnstons Creek Master Plan Report <https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/154803/Johnstons-Creek-Parklands-Master-Plan-August-2013_Part-1_Vision-and-Analysis.pdf>

City of Sydney (2016) Avifauna Surveys: City of Sydney <https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/306651/Avifauna-survey-spring-2016autumn-2017.pdf>

City of Sydney (2019) The City of Sydney Significant Trees Register <https://trees.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au>

Department of Primary Industries (2019) Fishing in Sydney Harbour <https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/recreational/fishing-skills/fishing-in-sydney-harbour>

Eckstein, D., (2001) Inner City Environmental Revitalisation <https://ramin.com.au/annandale/wetlands.shtml>

Irish, P., Goward, P. (2013) Blackwattle Creek, Barani: Sydney’s Aboriginal History <https://www.sydneybarani.com.au/sites/blackwattle-creek/>

Larkum, T., (2007) The Mangrove plantings on Rozelle Bay, Glebe Society Bulletin <https://www.glebesociety.org.au/wp-content/uploads/bulletins/2007_03.pdf>

Larkum, T., (2017) Damage to Mangroves in the Mangrove Area of Bicentennial Park, Glebe Society Bulletin <https://www.glebesociety.org.au/wp-content/uploads/bulletins/2017_07.pdf>

Marsden S., Solling, M., (2016) Harold Park: A History. Mirvac Group Limited. Sydney

Montoya, D., (2015) Pollution in Sydney Harbour, NSW Parliamentary Research Service <https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/pollution-in-sydney-harbour-sewage-toxic-chemica/Pollution%20in%20Sydney%20Harbour.pdf>

Schwartzkoff, L., (2018) Oyster Research Aims to Clean the Water of Sydney Harbour <https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2018/09/27/oyster-research-aims-to-clean-the-water-of-sydney-harbour.html>

Solling, M. (2007) Grandeur and Grit, Halstead Press.

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