History of the CRVA

The CRVA has a long and proud history spanning more than 70 years

In the beginning….  


Near Garnet St Hurlstone Park circa 1905

The CRVA grew from The Cooks River Improvement League, founded in 1925, which had published a book entitled “Our Ocean to Ocean Opportunity”. The League recommended cleaning up the river by developing a canal system and removing of the footings of Tempe Dam, proposals which had been made originally by engineer H B Henson, in 1896.

The League believed these actions and the linking of the Cooks River by canals to the Parramatta River and Homebush Bay would provide a flushing process that would remove the silt and industrial pollutionstarting to degrade the river. Unfortunately, the Improvement League and several local politicians could only achieve limited dredging and cementing of stretches of the river bottom and the tidying of the river bank to make the river more “orderly” and safer in times of flood. Although the CRVA would not have wanted some of these methods to be pursued, they shared the original goal of the Improvement League.

Famous locals swam in the Cooks River….

Just like today, the founding members of the CRVA talked of a desire to return to the days when people swam safely in a Cooks River they believed to be healthy.

In the early 1930s Joyce Waterworth, an early member of the CRVA, and her friend, the famous swimmer Fanny Durack, spoke of swimming in the river near the Illawarra Road Bridge at Undercliffe. There was a boatshed in the park, a meshed swimming enclosure, and the reedy river bottom was covered in pebbles, sand and coral. Despite the fact that industries, especially tanneries, had been polluting the water since the 1850’s, the Cooks River remained a popular swimming and boating destination through to the early twentieth century.

The First Cooks River Festival – renewed community action!

In the early 1990s the Association ran the first Cooks River Valley Festival,to draw attention to the river’s specific problems and to increase community involvement in action to eradicate those problems. Seven local councils helped to fund the activities which included re-enactments of the arrival of the English in the 18th century and their subsequent impact on the ecology of the valley. Government agencies, environmental groups and citizens’ associations put on displays, and there were rides, activities and entertainment . Thousands attended the Festivals and were encouraged to meet with and question the managers of the catchments about the health of the River. They were enlisted to support monthly clean up days and the annual Clean up Australia Day, as well, which the CRVA organised for the length of the river.

CRVA Environmental vision for the Cooks River Valley

By 1995 the aims of the CRVA had expanded beyond cleaning up the river, to take in the preservation of the wider environment. With the stated aims of “Clean air, clean water, quietness, restoration, and beautification of the river and valley”, the Association could also claim a well regarded patron in Ian Kiernan, who supported the Association’s expanding focus to take in the foreshore area along the river. Under the vigorous Presidency of Ron Farrell, tree planting initiatives saw the coming together of the CRVA and the Lebanese Moslem Association to plant out areas on both sides of the river near Boat Harbour at Hurlstone Park and along the banks near Tasker Park.

The Association also participated in official silt and water testing programs with results reported to the relevant authorities and to the local and Sydney press.  In an effort to get government and community groups to work together, and to highlight the need for action to manage the increasing level of visual pollution along the waterway, barges were hired to show local councillors and State MPs the level of siltation and garbage that washed up and down the river as the tides came and went.

Kath King, publicity officer for the Association, was in constant contact with the media, especially on occasions of significant environmental damage such as the fish kill of 1995, caused when a fuel hose from the Enfield Marshalling yards discharged into the river. Kath hounded the press with articles about this and similar events until the refuelling process was changed and a filter system was installed at discharge points along the river.

Around this time the CRVA, with financial support from the Catchment Management Committee, was responsible for having a boom installed near the 5th Avenue Bridge in Campsie. Association members removed litter and Canterbury Council collected it for disposal. Several diesel oil spills and a sewage spill were also captured by the boom, but unfortunately, repeated vandalism of the boom meant that the Association could not maintain it, and eventually control of the boom passed over to Sydney Water before it was finally removed late in 2000.
Recognition of CRVA for Environmental Action

In 1995 the CRVA was recognised for the environmental work it was performing when awarded a Silver Award for Rivercare 2000, a State Government funded initiative to support those groups or individuals aiming to improve water quality by the year 2000. This was followed by a Bronze Award in 1996. Inspired by this recognition, Association members took various MPs, Land and Water Conservation Department bureaucrats and Council members on another barge ride along the river to point out what was becoming an important new focus for the group: the need for bank retention.

Two further years of lobbying finally saw a grant of $21,334 allocated by the Department of Land and Water Conservation to the CRVA to be used for 3 riverside projects to be carried out in partnership with Canterbury and Marrickville Councils. The National Heritage Trust Grant for seed propagation and revegetation was passed largely to Canterbury Council so that the work could be completed at the end of 2000.

In 1997 the organisation and staging of the Cooks River Valley Festival was handed over to Marrickville Council. This event is now known as the Cooks River Eco-Fest and has been hosted by both Marrickville and Canterbury Councils.

Other CRVA actions

The CRVA pursued an interest held for some time: the trapping of garbage where it fell, in the gutters of the local neighbourhoods. This developed into a project to encourage all residents to sweep the gutters outside their homes on the evening before garbage was collected each week. Rubbish from gutters was prevented from being swept into stormwater channels and out into the river.Local shopping centres were encouraged to follow suit, and a “shame file” was listed in local newspapers, naming shopping areas and streets that were particularly dirty. The project was launched under the banner “Garbage and Gutters Night” at Steele Park Marrickville on the 31st August, 1997. The attendance was good but there was no support from local businesses to produce stickers to go on top of garbage bins, as a reminder to residents. Since that time the program has relied on word of mouth to keep it going.
The late 90’s saw the inclusion of several new issues on the CRVA agenda:

  • the increase in the dumping of disposable drink bottles warranted investigation into deposit legislation
  • the increasingly dangerous deterioration of the metal sheet piling used to retain the banks of long stretches of the river was causing major community concern.

Government moneys were allocated to investigate and/or replace the sheet piling, but were not spent. The CRVA’s attempts to get any action on these important issues led to increasing frustration in the Association.

With a dwindling membership and disappointment at government bodies’ “environmental procrastination over issues like decaying sheet piling and toxic sludge”, the CRVA decided to close its doors in 2002. Fortunately, at the same time a small group of residents from the Hurlstone Park area were starting their own local environmental campaign. The Hurlstone Park Community Group held their first meeting in October 2002, and by September the following year had a membership of about 50.

Over the following year they worked in close collaboration with Linda Burney, State Member for Canterbury. Together in 2004 they held the first Cooks River Forum organised by the Hurlstone Park Community Group, gathering strong community support for the issues that had also been important to the CRVA.

Chris Belle, president of the CRVA which was now essentially defunct, approached the Community Group to see if they would consider merging. Given the history of the CRVA and the HPCG’s interest in issues that were relevant to all residents of the Cooks River Valley, it was an inspired decision to merge the two groups and the first meeting of the combined associations took place in December 2004.

The new group continued meeting through 2005 under the combined banner of HPCG/CRVA and restated its aims:

  • to care for the river and its foreshores
  • to improve the safety, attractiveness and amenity of open space along the river
  • to increase the availability of accessible community resources in the local area
  • to increase community activities, especially those that link people across age  groups and social mentioned groupings.

The Association began meeting at Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL Club, starting a relationship that provided the group with both physical and financial support to further its activities.

Eventually the combined title was dropped, and the name CRVA was again adopted as the name of the Association, as the initial focus on the Hurlstone Park area expanded to cover issues along the broader area of the river.
A Community Vision for the Future

The CRVA began working with other community based groups including:

  • the Wolli Creek Preservation Society
  • the Cooks River to Iron Cove Greenway
  • the Friends of Ewen Park
  • the Mudcrabs, a group which had restarted the monthly practice of cleaning up the river.

Most importantly, during 2006, the association’s members attended meetings with the Cooks River Foreshores Working Group and the Sydney Metropolitan Catchment Management Authority, to understand and to influence political strategies and actions in the river valley.

Prior to the State elections in 2004, $2.9 million was promised towards the replacement of steel piling along the river. The deterioration of this metal sheeting was further contributing to the degradation of the water quality and river banks. With no action on this project and another State election looming, February 2007 saw more than 400 local residents attend the 2007 Cooks River Forum to hear from representatives of the major political parties update the community on their parties’ intentions re this money. They also heard from Dr Richard Sheldrake, Director-General of the Department of Natural Resources, who again promised to begin the removal of the sheet steel pilings. Community members also had the opportunity to ask questions about many other issues, including infrastructure plans for the valley and, in particular, the chronic problem of litter in the river.

Since 2007 time the CRVA have been working on the following projects that focus on the four aims agreed to back in 2005.

  • monitoring and reporting on the actions and promises of the State Government, which had committed to significant funding over the next four years, including programs support Councils to work together to restore the health of the Cooks River and its catchment.
  • joining Streamwatch and commencing a testing program for water health in the local area and setting up CooksEye pollution reporting system.
  • working with other community groups to develop the Two Valley Trail project.
  • joining Landcare and Waterkeepers Australia
  • working with other groups to improve local open spaces at Rosedale Reserve, Hurlstone Park, Ewen Park, Foord Ave and Richardson Reserve.
  • representation on the Marrickville Council’s Cooks River Committee, City of Canterbury’s Environment & Sustainibility Committee and reference committee for the Cooks River Urban Water Initiative Project.

Most critically, perhaps is the continued lobbying of Local, State and Federal politicians to demand that the necessary resources are made available to continue the work of restoring the Cooks River to good health.

Updates regarding this process will be posted on the CRVA website, where a detailed description of all the Association’s current projects can be explored. See the About page for Annual Reports of Achievements since 2009.

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