Great Drain and two house sites | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Great Drain and two house sites

Item details

Name of item: Great Drain and two house sites
Type of item: Archaeological-Terrestrial
Group/Collection: Utilities - Water
Category: Irrigation Channel/Canal
Location: Lat: -33.5110508122 Long: 150.9272823140
Primary address: Wisemans Ferry Road, Maroota South, NSW 2756
Local govt. area: The Hills
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Deerubbin
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT10 DP752039
LOT8 DP752039


Refer HC Plan (to be completed)
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Wisemans Ferry RoadMaroota SouthThe Hills  Primary Address
Charcoal RoadMaroota SouthThe Hills  Alternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
The Hills Shire CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The three items in the group, dating between 1795 and 1830, are historically extremely rare and associated with a series of early Hawkesbury settlers (Williams, Carr, Cox, Johnston) predating official settlement down river. They are aesthetically valuable because of the siting in bushland of the house foundations and the dramatic vistas within the cutting of the Great Drain. They are scientifically extremely significant because they provide unique information about drainage and house building techniques.
Date significance updated: 19 Dec 97
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Builder/Maker: Probably William Barren and William Harvey, stonemasons
Construction years: 1795-1820
Physical description: (a) Great Drain is cut into sandstone for 70 metres, 6.5 metres deep and at the top 2.3 metres wide, connecting swampy farmland with the Hawkesbury River. Excavated by pick and by gunpowder (some drill holes). Rock cutting for sluice gates at deepest point, with joist holes. To the east of cutting an earthwork channel goes into a paddock.

(b) Rock cut foundations for slab house. The rock outcrop artificially drilled creating three rooms and verandah in an L-shape. Stone thresholds flanked by square post holes gave access and a fireplace and oven bases are carved into rock. Verandah supported by stone embankment.

(c) Stone house foundations on flood free slope above the farmland facing north from course of well arranged rubble stone: North wall 10 stones 2.9 metres; East wall 4 stones (one in common) 1.7 metres and a south extension wall of 6 stones (one in common) 1.8 metres. Accessible only by water until c1960s.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition: (a) drain is good; (b) rock cut foundations is fair; (c) stone house foundations is fair. Archaelogical potential for all items is high.
Date condition updated:30 Jan 98
Modifications and dates: Great Drain - concrete sluice gates (extant) inserted just west of original sluice gates.
Rock cut foundations - slab cottage built on the foundations was demolished in the 1930s.
Current use: Overnight accomodation, motor-cycle track, reserve
Former use: Farming, farm cottage


Historical notes: Charles Williams, a first fleeter, came to the Hawkesbury in 1794 after the death of his wife near his earlier Parramatta farm. He left his farm near Windsor c1795 and at some time before 1810 occupied (without a grant) the land where the Great Drain was later constructed. The property was known as Williams' Farm and it is likely that he built the house with the stone foundations (c), on the rocky slope to the south of the farmland, above the level of the floods of the early 19th century.

In 1810 the land (excluding the house site with stone foundations (c)) was granted to Samuel Carr, who leased it to George Cox from 1813 to 1815 who ran pigs and grew grain. At this time (1810s) the rock cut foundations (b) for a slab house known as Collingwood Cottage was cut, probably by stonemasons supplied through Andrew Johnston to freesettlers whose Portland Head Farm lay opposite.

Johnstons son and daughter-in-law William and Mary Johnston acquired the farm in 1819 and occupied the cottage known as Collingwood Cottage (b) and probably constructed the Great Drain (a), again using Andrew Johnstons stonemasons.

The house constructed with stone house foundations (c) remained on a riverside reserved strip although the intrusion of Crescent reserve (portion 8) was granted to the Johnstons.

A couple still lived in the slab cottage (b), until the 1930s when it was demolished. The swamp was stablised by used tyres under George Johnston in the 1960s and portion 10 became first a water-ski lodge in 1980s and a motor cycle track on the 1990s. (Jack 1990)(Jack 1993)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Agriculture-Activities relating to the cultivation and rearing of plant and animal species, usually for commercial purposes, can include aquaculture (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Pastoralism-Activities associated with the breeding, raising, processing and distribution of livestock for human use (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Aaron Muron Bolot, architect-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Great Drain is a unique early work of magnitude to control drainage on the Lower Hawkesbury with a sophisticated sluice to repel tidal or flood water from the river. The rock cut foundations are unique in slab buildings and belongs to the Macquarie period. The stone house foundations are extremely early (1795-1810) and are associated with an interesting first fleet convict, Charles Williams.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Great Drain cuts a swathe through solid rock and can be entered from below as well as viewed from above. The stone house foundations are in a fine situation above the river in bushland.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Great Drain is the only evidence for elaborate drainage works in so early a period outside Sydney. The rock cut foundations give unique evidence of a vernacular slab building technique.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions ORDER UNDER SECTION 57(2) OF THE HERITAGE ACT 1977

Standard exemptions for engaging in or carrying out activities / works otherwise prohibited by section 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977.

I, Donald Harwin, the Special Minister of State pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales do by this Order, effective 1 December 2020:

1. revoke the order made on 11 July 2008 and published on pages 91177 to 9182 of Government Gazette Number 110 of 5 September 2008 and varied by notice published in the Government Gazette on 5 March 2015; and

2. grant the exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977 that are described in the attached Schedule.

Donald Harwin
Special Minister of State
Signed this 9th Day of November 2020.

To view the standard exemptions for engaging in or carrying out activities / works otherwise prohibited by section 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977 click on the link below.
Nov 13 2020

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage RegisterSHR Listing0140214 Jul 00 886404
Heritage Act - Interim Conservation Order - former 0094413 Nov 98 1628882
Heritage study A019, A02001 Jan 94   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Baulkham Hills Heritage Study1994A019, A020Graham Edds & Associates, with Pike, P. & Jack, I.  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenR. Ian Jack1993Historical Archaeology and the Historian in 'Australasian Historical Archaeology No.11'
WrittenR. Ian Jack1990Exploring the Hawkesbury - 2nd Edition

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage NSW
Database number: 5001230
File number: H98/00028

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