The story of Sydney’s water supply is an epic, now told by Maclaren North in the Dictionary’s new article on Water. From the Tank Stream, and the Botany swamps, through Busby’s bore and Centennial Park, to the Nepean Tunnel and Ryde pumping station, and finally Warragamba Dam and the desalination plant, water has continued to flow in Sydney only because of the derring-do of ambitious engineers and politicians. Yet Sydneysiders take it for granted every time they turn on their taps. The huge infrastructure projects of the nineteenth century seem difficult to credit now, in a period where governments are loathe to borrow, even to secure essential services. But Sydney would not have grown the way it has without water.
Ice, on the other hand, was a luxury item. Nigel Isaacs takes us through the fascinating story of the ‘frozen water trade’, which brought American lake ice by insulated ship to Sydney in 1839. Many native-born Sydneysiders would never have seen ice of any sort, and the coolest drink available would have been a bottle of beer dangled in a river on a rope, so it’s not surprising that it caused a sensation. Read about the ‘sherry cobbler, ice cream, mint juleps and brandy smash’ that was served at Sydney’s best establishments while the ice lasted, and thank your lucky stars for the invention of refrigeration (helped along by Sydney engineer, Norman Selfe).