Sydney and Nepean

(long but hopefully interesting) The Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers circle the Sydney metropolitan area and surrounding countryside to the south-west, west, north-west and north. I live in a suburb on the banks of the Nepean and last weekend went photo-hiking to four lookouts about 20 minutes’ drive south of here, in the small part of the greater Blue Mountains National Park east of the river. An online friend from Canada commented “Your Nepean is a lot more photogenic than ours” – “ours” being a major suburban centre of Ottawa, Ontario.

The former British colonies, big and small, are strewn with names commemorating places and people from Great Britain and Ireland, alongside names from other colonial powers (most notably Spain, France and the Netherlands) and indigenous names. Canada and Australia both have a Sydney and a Nepean. (And a Toronto – Australia’s Toronto has a population of about 5000; Canada’s Toronto … doesn’t.)

Thomas Townshend was born in 1733 into a well-connected family. He was a member of the House of Commons from 1754 to 1783, then entered the House of Lords as Baron Sydney of Chislehurst (also, and usually, referred to as ‘Lord Sydney’). He held a number of important positions, most notably “His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, normally referred to as the Home Secretary” from 1782 to 1789. As such, he was responsible for the planning of a convict settlement at Botany Bay, New South Wales, and the transportation of the first several hundred convicts there. Among other things, he chose navy captain Arthur Phillip as commander of the First Fleet and first governor of the colony of New South Wales.

Much of the planning was actually done by Evan Nepean, the “Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department”. He was from more humble circumstances, being born in 1752 to a Cornish innkeeper and serving in Navy as a clerk, purser and secretary to an admiral. He was Under-Secretary from 1782 to 1791, then held other positions up to and including Governor Bombay from 1812 to 1819, by which time he was “Sir Evan Nepean”. His descendants include the actors Hugh Grant and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, was settled by the British in 1785 and was at one time the capital of the separate province of Cape Breton Island before it merged with the colony of Nova Scotia. It now has a population of about 32,000, including a small number of the Membertou First Nation, a sub-group of the Mi’kmaq Nation, and is part of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which has a population of about 95,000. It is a major maritime centre (centred on Sydney Harbour), had a large steel mill until 2001 and its major industries are now customer support call centres and tourism. It experiences cool summer, and windy, wet and stormy winters, with a record highest temperature of 36.7 °C (98 °F) and a lowest of −31.7 °C (−25 °F).

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia was founded in 1788 after Lord Sydney’s first choice of location for the new convict colony, Botany Bay, 13 kilometres to the south, proved to be unsuitable. Phillip originally applied the name “Sydney” only to a small cove on the south shore of the harbour (then inhabited by the Cadigal (or Gadigal) people), but later came to be used for the whole harbour and the town, city and metropolitan area on its shores. The City of Sydney is just one local government area and covers the central business district and surrounding inner city, with a population of about 200,000, while the greater metropolitan area has a population of about 5,000,000, with about 55,000 people identifying as indigenous. Sydney is Australia’s largest and best known city, but is not, as some tourists and overseas students assume, the national capital (which is Canberra). Its major industries include finance, manufacturing, education and tourism. It experiences warm summers, cool winters and uniform rainfall throughout the year, with a highest recorded temperature of 45.8 °C (114.4 °F) and a lowest of 2.1 °C (35.8 °F) (though most of the metropolitan area gets hotter and colder).

There are occasional stories about people ending up in Sydney, Canada, when they really wanted to go to Sydney, Australia. About eight years ago, when I was living in another suburb of Sydney, a sister, brother-in-law and nieces visited from another city. They needed to get to Sydney Airport, so I typed my then suburb and ‘Sydney Airport’ into Google Maps. It responded with a very long list of directions which included driving halfway across Australia, kayaking to Japan, Hawaii and Seattle, and driving via Chicago and Toronto to Cape Breton Island. They didn’t take that route.

Nepean, Ontario, Canada was established in 1792, making it older that Ottawa, which was founded in 1826 and selected as the national capital in 1855. It was incorporated as a city in 1978, but amalgamated into an enlarged Ottawa in 2001. Nepean has a population of about 180,000, while the City of Ottawa has about 935,000 and the Ottawa-Gatineau (Quebec) metropolitan area about 1,350,000. It is most famous for … not much, apparently; even my online friend from Canada didn’t seem to show much enthusiasm for it. Wikipedia doesn’t have detailed data on its weather, but nearby Ottawa International Airport’s highest recorded temperature is 37.8 °C (100 °F) and its lowest -36.1 °C (-33 °F). It also receives an average of 224 cm (88 in) of snow each winter.

Nepean, Australia … doesn’t exist. There is no suburb, town or city named Nepean, but a river, a valley and several official institutions (Nepean Hospital and Nepean College of Technical and Further Education) in Sydney, and a highway and a strategic point at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne. The largest suburb on the Nepean River is routinely hotter than the Sydney CBD in the summer (record 46.9 °C (116.4 °F) – I went bushwalking!) and colder in the winter (record -1.4 °C (29.5 °F)) (other locations to the south and north just pip it at both ends of the scale). South of here, the Nepean River lies in mainly inaccessible bushland, with some narrow sections and steep cliffs, but to the north is wider and surrounded by low-lying, agricultural land, which is prone to flooding, and was even more so before major dams and smaller weirs were built.

As I was standing at one of the lookouts, I saw a tourist paddlesteamer (the Nepean Belle), which I’ll have to check out. (a few minutes later) Indeed, I have just found that it has a six-hour Nepean Gorge discovery tour on Sunday, which I can’t go on, which means I don’t have to agonise about whether it is worth paying $125 to go on. There are also morning tea, lunch and dinner cruises for cheaper prices, which looks a better bet. (I have lived in this suburb for six years and known about that boat for most of that time, but that’s the first time I’ve ever searched for specific information about it.)

IMG_4579 (1) lowresIMG_4556 (1) lowres

(information about the people and Canadian locations from Wikipedia, and information about Australian locations from Wikipedia and personal knowledge)


3 thoughts on “Sydney and Nepean

  1. All very interesting, thank you. It good to hear some Australian history that’s not taught in schools. Just as well we didn’t take Google Maps suggestion, otherwise we’d still be kayaking!


  2. Pingback: Yarramundi | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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