Mangroves, garbage, fishing: Bringing everyday ecology to Sydney’s industrial Georges River

Heather Goodall
Allison Cadzow
Denis Byrne


Post war problems of rising urban, industrial pollution and intractable waste disposal are usually considered as technical and economic problems only, solutions to which were led by experts at State level, and filtered into Australia from the ferments occurring in the United States and Britain in the 1960s and 70s. This paper investigates the change which arose from the localities in which the impact of those effects of modern city development were occurring. In particular, this study looks at a working class, industrial area, the Georges River near Bankstown Municipality, which was severely affected by Sydney’s post-war expansion. Here, action to address urgent environmental problems was initiated first at the local level, and only later were professional engineers and public health officials involved in seeking remedies. It was even later that these local experts turned from engineering strategies to environmental science, embracing the newly developed ecological analyses to craft changing approaches to local problems. This paper centres on the perspective of one local public health surveyor, employed by a local municipal council to oversee waste disposal, to identify the motives for his decisions to intervene dramatically in river health and waste disposal programs. Rather than being prompted to act by influences from higher political levels or overseas, this officer drew his motivation from careful local data collection, from local political agitation and from his own recreational knowledge of the river. It was his involvement with the living environments of the area – the ways in which he knew the river - through personal and recreational experiences, which prompted him to seek out the new science and investigate emerging waste disposal technologies.

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