Thursday 12 July 2012

Sydney's Hidden Tank Stream

There's nothing I like more than discovering a completely hidden feature of a city, and the Tank Stream in Sydney is a fine example of that.

When the city was founded in 1788, its fresh water came from this stream, which flowed into Sydney Harbour where Circular Quay is today.

In fact the Tank Stream is the very reason for Sydney's location, as Captain Arthur Phillip decided to build the new town here because of the presence of this fresh water source; following in the footsteps of Aboriginal inhabitants who had camped near the creek for the same reason.

At one point, the new settlers carved water storage tanks out of stone next to the stream, giving it its modern name.

Over the centuries the creek was polluted and covered over by the modern city, which drew its water from other sources. However, if you keep an eye out on Sydney's streets, you can still trace its now-subterranean course.

Here's what I saw when I went looking for the Tank Stream last year (ably assisted by this excellent web page by Jens Korff)...

1. Tank Stream Fountain. Just back from Circular Quay off Alfred Street, I found this 1981 fountain commemorating the stream and its crucial role in Sydney's early life. Aptly, it's a watery oasis among the concrete buildings, decked out with sculptures of plant and animal life:

2. Tankstream installation. The fountain was easy to spot, but the Tankstream art installation was not. Created in 1999 by artist Lynne Roberts-Goodwin, it consists of a series of markers set into the pavement through the city centre, following the original course of the creek. Here's the first one I located, near the fountain on the corner of Alfred and Pitt Streets:

On the long arm of each marker is a quote from Captain Watkin Tench, who in 1788 described the "small stream of fresh water" which would sustain the new settlement. The shorter arm was, I believe, originally fitted with a blue light which would simulate running water - but doesn't do so now.

3. Tank Stream Way. Further south I walked along Tank Stream Way, which contains the Tank Stream Bar. This laneway runs off Bridge Street, named after the bridge which once crossed the stream here. I was delighted to discover three double sets of Tankstream markers embedded in the foyer of the office building at 17 Bridge Street:

4. Following the flow. More markers appeared as I walked south, including one outside a sushi bar and a double set pointing to the General Post Office building in Martin Place:


5. Beneath the GPO. Most of the building is now given over to shops and eateries, but tucked away in the basement I entered a small but fascinating museum display about the history of the GPO and the Tank Stream. Exhibits included sections of brick drains which once enclosed the stream, and objects found in its waters:

6. Hidden Swamp. The Tankstream installation ran out after a final double marker in the Pitt Street Mall...

... but I continued on to the area just west of Hyde Park where the Tank Stream once sprang from swamps. I wanted to mark their presence so I took a seat at the rather swish Bambini Trust Bar (found via Kate Armstrong's fine Sydney Travel Guide app) and ordered a long macchiato ($4.50) and the hummus and candied orange dip ($11).

As I sipped coffee and ate my expensive dip, Sydney's first fresh water gurgled unseen far beneath my feet, making its way to the harbour as it had done for millennia.

This post was sponsored by Check out its site for accommodation in Sydney.


  1. brilliant history on the tank stream details Tim. Would you mind if I made a link to this post on my recent blog post featuring the wonderful fountain features of today? With thanks,

  2. No problem Carole, feel free.

    And for the rest of you, here's a link to Carole's photos of the Tank Stream Fountain: