First Creek

Colonel William Light –  painting of Adelaide plains being cleared for settlement. Behind the clearing is a line of tall gums and forest leading to the Mount Lofty Ranges in the background. (Image courtesy State Library of South Australia)

First Creek is a small stream in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges that rises on the western side of Mount Lofty and Crafers adjacent Waterfall Gully Recreation Park, and flows in a north-westerly direction where it becomes channelised through the north-eastern suburbs until it discharges into Torrens Lake near the Adelaide Zoo.

First Creek is one of five creeks that flow into the River Torrens across inner metropolitan Adelaide. First to Fifth creeks were once named Greenhill, Hallett, Todd, Anstey and Ormsby Rivulets.

The following is a map of the initial land sub-division from 1853 that clearly shows the First Creek flowing through Kent Town prior to any buildings being erected. The creek enters Kent Town close to the Fullarton Rd- Wakefield St intersection and exits across North Terrace near the Hackney Rd Intersection.

First Creek is still visible in West Norwood at Hutchinson Park, and near the intersection of William St and Elizabeth St, but after it runs under Sydenham Road just north of Willis St it disappears into a concrete tunnel.

When Adelaide was first settled in 1836, the only real water source for Adelaide was the River Torrens. The river became problematic as it was used not only as drinking water, but water-for-all-purposes including waste disposal. Water carting from the river to homes was big business. Disease quickly spread:

dysentery was rife in Adelaide’s early years and clean water was urgently needed. In 1856, the Waterworks & Drainage Commission was set up. The Commission needed to solve the water supply and sewerage problems of the city. By 1860, the first supplies of reticulated water reached Adelaide homes from the Kent Town Valve House (see photo of Valve House which is located on the corner of North Terrace and Hackney Road). In 1862, the first reservoir water was piped from Thorndon Park Reservoir. There is an information board near the Valve House that contains quite a lot of information and is certainly worthwhile reading.

By 1850, the River Torrens, a once rural stream, was a succession of ugly, muddy ponds. Its banks were denuded of the gums and undergrowth that once had made them a beauty spot. Under the strain of up to 500 cart loads of water a day for a burgeoning city of 11,000 inhabitants, the pools shrank alarmingly at the end of rainless summers. Water carting was not so crude at this time for Mr Pybus’s ‘waterworks’, with a strong steam engine, raised 300,000 gallons a day.

The infant city corporation had early control of water supplies by issuing licences to the water carters until 1842 and again from 1849 through the city commission and the reformed Adelaide Council in 1852-60. In 1848, 36 carts were earning an average ₤3 per week for delivering three gallons a day per person.

Some early subdivisions, such as Chichester Gardens in North Adelaide, and hotels had a well. The former Treasury building, now Adina Apartments Hotel in Victoria Square, Adelaide, still has a well from the 1840s.

As the River Torrens was used for watering stock, bathing, disposing rubbish and effluent, health fears grew. John Stephens, editor of the South Australian Register, called a public meeting at the New Queen’s Theatre in 1849 to discuss sanitary reform. While 60 people attended, no immediate action resulted.

Nothing positive was done about a better water supply until South Australian Governor Young (Sir Henry Young) arrived in 1849, and the city commission replaced the first city council. Institutional jealousies between the governor, the Legislative Council and Adelaide council meant that schemes and ideas led nowhere until 1855-6, when a gravitational water supply system using the River Torrens was planned.

The following graphic shows early Adelaide colonists relying on carting from the Torrens – often just holes and billabongs – or wells for their water

Water being carted from the River Torrens in early days of Adelaide’s European settlement. This lithograph showing government house in the background was based on an 1837 sketch by Mary Hindmarsh, a daughter of governor John Hindmarsh and later married to George Milner Stephen.
(Image courtesy State Library of South Australia) 

The creeks now

First, Second and Third creeks have been heavily modified into concrete channels; others run through private gardens or underground pipes. Introduced species including olives, bamboos, boxthorn, watsonia and blackberries have replaced native flora along the creeks.

First Creek begins in Cleland Wildlife Park to Waterfall Gully falls and through Hazelwood and Tusmore parks through Hazelwood and Tusmore parks before discharging into the River Torrens near Adelaide Zoo. Much of its course through the suburbs has turned into canals, some of them underground. About 7.5% of its flow is diverted within the Adelaide Botanic Garden to create the First Creek wetland, to ensure water security and to support the area’s diverse flora and fauna. Botanic Creek runs north-south through the eastern Adelaide city parklands, into the botanic garden before joining First Creek.

Second Creek starts near Summertown in the Adelaide Hills, north of First Creek, and flows through Greenhill and Slape Gully, entering the more populated suburbs as it flows via the Michael Perry Reserve in Burnside and through the eastern suburbs of Erindale, Marryatville and Norwood, most of it as underground canals, down to St Peters where it joins the River Torrens. Stonyfell Creek, from the eastern end of Stonyfell, flows through Kensington Gardens, including an open stretch in the reserve, before again being piped underground at West Terrace, Kensington Park and Beulah Park. It joins Second Creek near Magill-Portrush roads junction.

Sourced near Norton Summit, Third Creek flows most underground through Magill, Tranmere, Trinity Gardens and Payneham suburbs before emptying into the Torrens at Felixstow. Fourth (or Morialta) Creek comes from the other side of Norton Summit, with tributaries flowing into it from Marble Hill and Lobethal. It creates the falls at Morialta Conservation Park. (Moriatta, a Kaurna word for “ever flowing” is now the official name of Fourth Creek. It has been adapted to Morialta.)

Fifth Creek starts in Morialta Conservation Park, runs alongside Montacute Road and discharges into the Torrens at Athelstone.

The Torrens’ largest catchment is Sixth Creek in the Adelaide Hills, joining the Torrens at Castambul on Gorge Road.

First Creek wetland

Situated in what was an under-utilised part of the Adelaide Botanic Garden (ABG), near Hackney Road, First Creek Wetland is a beautiful, accessible, interactive and educational, constructed wetland ecosystem, and an integral part of a stormwater recycling scheme that will eventually supply all of the garden’s irrigation needs. This will ensure that the gardens will be ‘drought-proofed’ and the risk of losing iconic trees during droughts will be minimised. First Creek Wetland was officially opened in November 2013.

First Creek Wetland includes:

  • Three wetland ponds – sedimentation pond, macrophyte pond and balance pond
  • Pre- and post-wetland mechanical screening
  • Two groundwater injection and extraction wells
  • More than 90 species of native aquatic and terrestrial plants
  • Sunken amphitheatre, observation deck, bridge, running water feature with uncommon water plants, ‘cracked earth’ stones, stepping stones and trails around and through the wetland
  • Interpretive features and signs

First Creek is a permanent freshwater creek. It has a moderately diverse macroinvertebrate community with many rare, sensitive and flow-dependent species. It provides important habitat for many species sensitive to pollution and dependent on the near permanent flows that occur in this creek such as a range of mayflies and stoneflies, the dragonfly Austrogomphus and the fish Mountain Galaxias. This creek is one of the most important in the region and one of the few that can be considered to be in a “least disturbed” state due to high native vegetation cover in the catchment, limited development or agriculture and very fresh water.

Following rainfall, a small amount of stormwater – a maximum of 25 litres per second – is diverted from First Creek as it enters the Garden, and it’s treated through the wetland via a series of purification processes. The water is then stored in and subsequently recovered from an underlying aquifer.