Sydney's Underground Reservoirs

    See also
  • Road Tunnels
  • Historic Tunnels
  • Military Tunnels and Bunkers
  • Forgotten Tunnels on the City Circle
  • Railway Tunnels
  • Harbour Tunnels
  • Sydney's Lost Tunnels
  • Sydney's Abandoned Railway Tunnels
  • Underground Reservoirs

  • Until the inception of the Botany Swamps in 1859, Sydney had no service reservoirs. The advent of that scheme led to the progressive construction (over a 40 year period) of five underground reservoirs which have since become the oldest in the Sydney water supply system. These are:
    1. Crown Street reservoir, 1859, capacity 15 mega litres.
    2. Paddington Reservoir, 1864, capacity 9 mega litres.
    3. Woollahra Reservoir, 1880, capacity 4.6 mega litres.
    4. Waverley Reservoir No.1, 1887, capacity 4.9 mega litres.
    5. Centennial Park Reservoir No.1, 1899, capacity 81 mega litres.
    Waverley Reservoir was at the "end of the line" and built at the highest elevation. Two of these reservoirs are visited here.

    Centennial Park Reservoir

    16 metres high and almost the size of Sydney Cricket Ground, this reservoir is without doubt the biggest underground space in Sydney. Built in 1899 as part of the third water supply source for Sydney which was the the Upper Nepean scheme, it uses special bricks and cement imported from England. Like all similar underground reservoirs in Sydney, its roof is supported by lines of brick columns. The reservoir's roof was grassed as an anti-fouling device and to provide for an uninterrupted view of the Botany valley and Centennial Lakes in the relatively new Centennial Park. A pavilion was built around the central access tower and ventilating shafts of the reservoir. This had an ornate roof and spires and would have been a landmark at the time of construction.

    This reservoir continues to supply water by gravitation to the higher levels of the city and a large part of the eastern suburbs. Centennial Park also provides suction water for a modern electric pumping station built in 1964, which pumps to Woollahra Reservoir and to another large reservoir at Dover Heights. It currently receives water from Warragamba and the Shoalhaven scheme.

    Balmain Reservoir



    Gladstone Park in the inner west suburb of Balmain covers an old, abandoned water storage reservoir. Rectangular in shape and around the size of a football field, the concrete reservoir, which has been close to empty for many years, about 15m high, given the appearance of a gigantic subterranean cavern according to those who have accessed it. A sealed stairway leads down to a central causeway which has ladders descending to the floor on either side. An overflow, and inlet valve, float operated. The many, regularly spaced concrete columns no doubt were responsible for the exceptional echo characteristics of the empty facility. A matted veil of tree roots drape along the end wall. Rusting pipes, valves and pieces of machinery fill the adjacent pumping machine room.

    Pymble Reservoirs

    The only other totally in-ground water reservoirs in the Sydney metropolitan area are at Pymble. Pymble Reservoir No. 1, a circular brick covered reservoir, was constructed in 1900 to meet local supply. Pymble Reservoir No.2 at Killara is a fine example of a concrete covered reservoir in an earthen embankment, or partly excavated into rock. The roof of the reservoir is grassed over and is now used as bowling greens by Pymble Bowling Club.

    Paddington Reservoir and Tunnel



    Not far from the Centennial Park reservoir in the middle of trendy Paddington on Oxford Street opposite the Paddington Town Hall is landscaped hole alongside Walter Reid Reserve. Originally, this was part of an underground water reservoir that was later taken out of service in 1898. Then for many years one half of the underground space was used by a petrol and service station as a large workshop. Nothing was visible of this from the street except a ramp going downwards behind the petrol pumps, and a large grassy field (the reservoir roof) behind the station. During a heavy rainstorm in 1990, part of the waterlogged earth, brick and steel roof caved in, crushing several cars under hundreds of tons of rubble.

    Fortunately no one was hurt. The remaining areas of the garage were condemned, the site was boarded off, and remained that way for some years util it was landscaped as a sunken garden.

    The Paddington Reservoir is a component of the first reservoir system designed to supply Sydney City and surrounds, being the second of the two reservoirs in the system (the first was the Crown Street Reservoir, completed in 1859. The original reservoir was constructed in 1864 and basically duplicated to the west in 1876. The structure comprises two main chambers which are separated by a division wall to enable either of the chambers to be emptied. The reservoir was replaced in 1898 by the Centennial Park Reservoir which had nine times the capacity and ten metres additional elevation which enabled it to supply more consumers and those at greater elevations.

    During it years as a reservoir, a deep tunnel was dug through the Sydney sandstone, leading north from a corner of the reservoir near the garage ramp. During World War II, it was fitted out as an air raid shelter, with a large staircase shaft to the surface next to Oxford St. This shaft has since been covered over. The grassed area of Walter Reid Reserve has covered the roof of the reservoir since 1953.

    Woolloomooloo Reservoir



    Sited between a substation and the start of the Eastern Distributor Tunnel in Woolloomooloo is a rectangular park elevated above Lincoln Crescent. The grassed area of the park, behind which are the Botanical Gardens, The Domain and The Art Gallery of NSW, covers the roof of two x 280,000 litre capacity oil reservoirs. Now empty, they were built during World War II for oil storage by the Royal Australian Navy, whose Garden Island base is situated nearby on the other side of Woolloomooloo Bay.

    Though the park is rectangular, the reservoirs are tapered towards a point at their outer ends. On Lincoln Crescent the 8m high outer wall of the reservoir, with a low chain link fence on top of its mown roof, is visible. Its roof is supported by row upon row of narrow square pillars with box shaped bases and inverted pyramid tops. A dividing wall with square overflow windows separates the two sections. The end wall has been penetrated by roots of trees on the edge of the park/roof.

    In 1999, the State Government intended to lease the reservoir, which was de-commissioned and left abandoned in the 1980s, using it as a wine cellar to promote New South Wales wines. The project, which was to be called The Admiral's Cellar, never eventuated.




Paddington Reservoir


Cleaning out Crown Street Reservoir



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