Where the Wetlands lie

Clearly, if you’re a local, you’ll know this very well, but if you’re a bit of an outsider you might like to know that the Goulburn Wetlands occupies about 13.5 hectares (30 acres in the imperial currency) of a bend of the Mulwarree Chain of Ponds in a south-eastern corner of Australia. This is the second of two rivers that flow through the town of Goulburn and eventually fill up the Sydney’s major dam with clean fresh water, or whatever else we locals happen to throw into it.

Goulburn is Australia’s first inland city (because it has a cathedral) of nearly 22,000 people (in 2013). It is about two hours from Sydney and one from Canberra and about two from the nearest beach. It is situated in and at the gateway to the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

Goulburn lies south of Sydney and controls a large portion of its water resource. It is situated in tablelands country between Sydney and Canberra and not too far from the coast, just on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range.

Goulburn lies south of Sydney and controls a large portion of its water resource. It is situated in tablelands country between Sydney and Canberra and not too far from the coast, just on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range.

It was settled by British settlers in the early nineteenth century because of its assured water supply and its fertile and sometimes treeless plains (probably artefacts of a combination of frost hollows and Aboriginal burning strategies). The larger river, the Wollondilly, flows through hills and gorges with considerably greater force than the more easy going Mulwarree, whose waters ooze languidly into the Wollondilly at a place surrounded by tall ribbon gums, introduced willows, a maximum security jail and poisonous snakes (tiger snakes, eastern brown snakes and highland copperheads, all among the world’s more venomous creatures). The Mulwarree Chain of Ponds is punctuated, oddly enough, by a series of ponds many of which are or were full of water plants. These plants act as very effective water filters and for that reason the Mulwarree was chosen as an ideal spot from which to collect water for steam trains rather than the muddier and harder Wollondilly.

The wetlands lie beside and immediately to the south of the Mulwarree Chain of Ponds in central Goulburn.

The wetlands lie beside and immediately to the south of the Mulwarree Chain of Ponds in central Goulburn.

Prior and shortly after settlement, Goulburn had a collection of upland lagoons and swamps that thronged with bell frogs and waterfowl, including the now locally extinct brolga (a species of dancing crane) but which were ultimately filled in with bricks and rubble, to become the tennis courts, houses and motels along the present Lagoon Street. It is with some irony that at least some of these bricks originated from the factory at May Street, whose excavations of clay along the Mulwarree led to the formation of the current wetlands.

Goulburn is the centre of Goulburn Mulwaree Council’s area. Note that the spelling is inconsistent. Originally the Mulwarree Chain of ponds was spelled with two rs, but, we have been told, due to a decision or mistake made in the remote Sydney Lands Department, one r was dropped and the Mulwarree Chain of Ponds became the Mulwaree Ponds or even the Mulwaree River. Many Australian rivers consisted of this chain of ponds structure at the time of white settlement and many were scoured out by erosion and a major change of land management practices resulting in more linear and more choked up rivers. The Mulwarree, though heavily affected by the introduction of willows, loss of native vegetation, weed infestation and erosion, retains this structure, lately held by some to be a useful means of protecting against pollution, scouring by floods and erosion.

The wetlands from Rocky Hill in autumn of 2011, before reconstruction began. From bottom to top: May Street, a full main pond system, the “old” river, river flat, Goulburn Golf Course (with poplars), the present river, Goulburn City Centre.

The wetlands from Rocky Hill in autumn of 2011, before reconstruction began. From bottom to top: May Street, a full main pond system, the “old” river, river flat, Goulburn Golf Course (with poplars), the present river, Goulburn City Centre.

Originally the area occupied by the current wetlands and golf course included an island. The Mulwarree went to the west and east in two courses. During this time a Methodist manse was placed to face the larger stream, looking east. The Mulwarree, like many other rivers, is now much narrower and its eastern branch was closed off at the golf course. The site of the manse is now occupied by the golf clubhouse, clearly visible in the picture above. The old channel remains, however, with a few good sized pools and runs through the middle of the wetlands site.