Sunset at the Greystanes Aqueduct

There’s an hour or so of the day left, and the birds are darting high overhead, calling out, on their way back to their roosts. The sunlight is fading and its low angle against the horizon elongates my shadow along the pathway. The path curves towards a concrete structure that looks like the turret of a castle, marooned among the grass and the trees.

Beyond the turret is the aqueduct, which spans the valley in a succession of brick archways. Built in 1888 as part of the network that conveyed water from the Prospect Reservoir, the aqueduct was only used for a few decades before it was superseded by a syphon system. But the arches remained, and since the 1990s it has been a cycleway, part of the Lower Prospect Canal Reserve. From where I’m standing beside the aqueduct, every so often a helmeted head is visible, as a cyclist speeds along the path on the top of it.

Although the aqueduct crosses a valley, Greystanes is high land, rising up towards Prospect Hill. Greystanes and Prospect are names which maintain its colonial history: Greystanes (Stane is the Scottish word for stone) was the name of a 19th century estate; the name Prospect was given to the area by Watkin Tench. But of all the names given to this area on the map of Sydney, the most resonant is Pemulwuy. A leader of Aboriginal resistance to British settlement, Pemulwuy led raids on settlers from this part of western Sydney, as he fought for his people and country.

I walk underneath the arches, over towards the far side of the park. The aqueduct is within a stretch of bush and parkland between two residential streets. This land was subdivided for housing in the 1960s, and the houses are the solid, brick family homes that make up so much of Sydney suburbia. They have a square, uncomplicated look, solidly inhabiting the blocks of land. At the edge of the park, a patchwork strip of Colorbond fencing seals off the backyards of the adjacent houses. The smell of dinners cooking drifts through the air. I hear the roll of a sliding door being pushed closed. This is a time for returning home, turning in.

On one of the fences is a metal plaque set down low, small as an envelope, but it catches my eye from afar and I go over to read it. Etched into the roughly cut aluminium of the plaque is a memorial: “Here lies Charlie, our first best friend”. I follow the fence-line for a while, passing underneath a pomegranate tree spilling over from a backyard, with fallen pomegranates on the ground beneath it. At the lowest point of the valley is a creek, crowded by the trees that grow around it. I duck under branches and carefully pick my way over the narrow eroded path from which two terracotta pipes poke out, dribbling water.

Walking between the back fences and the aqueduct I am moving between two atmospheres: the suburban world of 6pm dinnertimes, alongside the breathing-space of the urban bushland. The aqueduct, marching through on its concrete legs, has a weathered look, stained by water and weather. Over time, it has softened into the landscape, as much as brick and concrete can. Like the Annandale aqueduct that passes over Johnsons and Whites Creeks, the Greystanes Aqueduct has the look of an architectural puzzle. It expands and diminishes in size, the arches aligning differently with each change of aspect.

From the top of the aqueduct, where the cycle path runs across it, there’s a view across backyards and rooftops. The scene below is animated by small movements, and my eyes move across them. A grey cat sits watching a white cat prowling across a back garden. A cricket team walk off the field at the sportsground, their game over, their white uniforms bright against the green. The lights of the petrol station on Merrylands Road glow. Up here, on this path that leads above the valley, I can see all this with a bird’s eye view. I can almost imagine how it would be to be flying across here, as the light fades, and the shadows lengthen, and a dog’s bark echoes across the valley, and is echoed soon after by another.

12 Comments on “Sunset at the Greystanes Aqueduct”

  1. jim soulios says:

    great post , very scenic and informative

  2. sallykj says:

    Great post, Vanessa. I had no idea this aqueduct ( or the one in Annandale) exisited. I wonder what the dinner smells were. Still the ubiquitous lamb chops of th sixties or a more cosmopolitan twenty-first century mix?

  3. Phillip Leeds says:

    Hi Vanessa, nice post. My wife is from Greystanes and she grew up in one of those houses that backs onto what is now the cycle path, where all the streets were named after great Australian tennis players. I did not know about the suburb until we met and spent time there. A nice place and you are right about the elevation. Remember watching the 2000 NYE fireworks in Sydney from the park up the street. There would be lots of interesting dinner aromas there – a large Maltese population in Greystanes.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Phillip, that’s a lovely connection that your wife grew up in one of those houses! I read about the Maltese connection with Greystanes: it’s not a suburb I know very well so I look forward to investigating further.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Reblogged this on Tasmanian Bibliophile @Large and commented:
    This is one of my favourite blogs.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Jennifer, I’m so happy to hear you enjoy Mirror Sydney.

      • Jennifer says:

        Hi Vanessa, I really, really enjoyed your book and that’s how I discovered your blog. When I’m next in Sydney, I’ll be walking through some of these spaces.

  5. John Low says:

    These viaducts are certainly an overlooked Sydney treasure. But what else intrigued me in your post was the small memorial to what I guess was a loved dog or cat. I enjoy finding these small pet memorials myself and there are a lot around. Without checking, I think I recall you mentioning in your book (which I got for Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed) another near the viaduct in Annandale. Anyway, many thanks for your always interesting posts.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks John and yes you remembered correctly: in the railway viaduct near Johnstons Creek there’s a dog memorial wall, next to the dog park. It’s touching to come across them – and in this case, a nice detail to tie the two places together.

  6. Ash. says:

    I never new this existed. Thanks for sharing – and obviously on the way you spotted the Fairfield gothic house.

    Greystanes has never really been on my radar – other than to think what a terrible name it is – (I would recommend a scoop of oxi action and hot water myself – my clothes are always clean!)

    However it is not too far from my Brother so I will suggest we go and have a look.

    I have an old calendar a long time ago from a stint at Fairfield Library featuring old houses from the area. I will have to hunt them down.

    Excellent as always.

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