Print this page


Reclamation and beautification may have taken place around the foreshores of Perth Water but it made little real difference to the quality of the waters of the Swan.

In the early days of the colony, pollution in the river was visual and smelly. Rubbish such as broken glass was found, and a broad range of household and other refuse, including sewage was simply dumped in the shallows or used as ‘fill’ in river reclamation works. In 1880 the City Council Sanitary Committee reported that:

"Firstly, the Recreation Ground and bank of the river generally are used as a usual depositary for filth of every kind. Secondly, that, owing to the wall built in the bed of the river, there had been formed pools of stagnant water, full of decomposing vegetable and other matter. Thirdly, that a drain from the Swan Brewary (sic) empties itself, by an open mouth, on the brink of one of those pools." [50]

Letters to the press complaining about pollution and the resultant smells was constant:

"Walking round by the Mount on Sunday last, the pestilential smells which emanated from the piggeries caused me to hastily return, only to be met with a similar odour near the Stanley Brewery. Yesterday, and on many previous occasions, the drains which empty themselves near the recreation ground have caused passers by to do the same as travellers up the Yarra, vis, stop their olfactory nerves and hurry onwards." [51]

Industry was established along its banks and waste from industrial processes channelled to the River. The Government itself was responsible for the worst and most enduring causes of pollution in its establishment of both the sewerage treatment facilities on the banks of the River on Burswood Island, with the septic tanks at Claisebrook (1912) and the East Perth Power Station (1916). Other major pollution sources in the area under consideration were the Swan Brewery and the major drains that channelled waste from wide areas of Perth into the River – in particular the Spring Street and Mounts Bay drains.

Burswood filter beds, 1935Septic tanks were established at Claisebrook to deal with the city’s wastes which were then siphoned through a pipe under the River to filter beds established on Burswood Island in 1912. There were eventually 10 filter beds about 30 metres in diameter and 1.8 metres deep. These filter beds stored the waste until it was released, through a filter into the river.

The filter beds and the accompanying discharge into the river caused problems for the government and for the River for the next 20 years. Complaints about odour were continuous and the impact the sewerage scheme was having on the rapid build up of algae in the River was soon proven. Councils along the River as well as local citizens kept the issue in the press.

Swan River pollution, 1946. Battye Library [Map 2/5/25]

Complaints about the pollution caused by the filter beds continued unabated until the Government announced in 1929 that the filter beds would be closed and replaced by an ocean outfall over the next few years. From 1934 there was a reduction in complaints about algae and smell, but by this time the River was being polluted by growing industry and low lying riverside land filled in with rubbish to protect health, create new land and to provide room for recreation, both in the River and on its banks for the growing population of Perth.

Share this page   share on Facebook share on Twitter share on stumbleupon

Page last updated: Tuesday 23 November 2010 by Nick Cowie Asset ID 13144
Editors for this page nick 2nd account

Please note: The content on this website is made available for archival purposes and may not meet the State Library of Western Australia's current standards for web accessibility, mobile device compatibility, historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity.