There are only a few tell-tale signs left that hint at there once being a string of freshwater lakes and swamps to the north of the Perth city centre. In fact it was these lakes that led to the city of Perth being established where it was back in 1829, as they were the only year-round supply of abundant fresh water in the whole of the Swan River basin apart from the Swan River itself. The lakes formed a natural interconnected drainage system which found its way into the Swan River at East Perth through Claise Brook.
Walters Brook flows into the Swan River at Banks Reserve
Though seen as a blessing at first, the lakes and swamps were soon looked upon as a nuisance as they formed a natural barrier to the north of Perth which had the effect of blocking development in the town's north. It wasn't long before first one swamp, then another, were reclaimed, to allow easier access to the land on Perth's northern perimeter.
It is thought that between 49% and 80% of the wetlands have been drained, filled or cleared since 1832. From 1850 to 1868, the arrival of convicts swelled the population and market gardening on the northern side of the city expanded to meet the greater demand for food. To enable this to happen, many of the lakes and swamps north of Perth had to be drained. This was catastophic for the Aboriginal population who relied on the lakes for their drinking water. This forced them to eventually assimilate into the white community.
The water table was never too far below the surface, but this was not a problem to the market gardeners. It was, however, when the land was subdivided into housing lots. many of the deeper lakesThe reclaimed land where the deeper lakes were could not be built on as the water table was just below the surface, so this land was set aside for sports grounds, parks or gardens.
The Northern Lakes
There were in fact three strings of lakes and swamps to the north of Perth, from which water flowed from one into another, until eventually finding its way to the Swan River. Brigatti Gardens on Broome Street, Highgate, was created from a drained swamp on the most northerly string of swamps. Walters Brook, which flows into the Swan River at Banks Reserve, originally floswed from a swamp on the site of Forrest Park on Walcott Street, Highgate. The brook still flows today, but is mostly underground until it reaches Banks Reserve.
The Middle Lakes
The central string of swamps and lakes began at a swamp at what is now Charles Veryard Reserve in North Perth. The swamp has more recently been formed into two lakes - Three Island Lake and Smith's Lake.
Water from Smith's Lake flowed into marshy ground at what is now Beatty Park in North Perth. Dorrien Gardens marks the beginning of Lake Henderson (Goongarulnyarreenup to the local Aborigines), which extended to where Robertson Park is today. Dorrien Gardens was developed as a soccer ground for the Azzurri (now Perth) Soccer Club in the 1950s.
To the Nyoongar people, Lake Henderson was known as either Boojormelup. Besides being a source of fish, turtles, frogs, reeds, etc as well as fresh water, it was an important place for gatherings.
Robertson Park, site of Lake Henderson
By the early 1880s, the fertile lake bed of Lake Henderson was used as market gardens, becoming a food bowl for the town of Perth. The majority of gardens were leased by Chinese gardeners from European owners. Most of the market gardeners lived in timbver shacks. From Lake Henderson, the stream flowed into Lake Thomson (also known as Mews Swamp), which was between Lake and Beaufort Streets.
Forbes Street, near the corner of Lake and Forbes Street, was built on land reclaimed from Lake Thomson (Mews Swamp)
To the north of Lake Thomson was the first in a sub-string of three swamps which joined the main watercourse further downstream. They were appropriately known as First, Second and Third Swamp.
Third Swamp was a regularly used campsite for local aborigines when the first white settlers established the Swan River Colony in 1829. Third Swamp was formed into the Hyde Park Lakes in 1899. Water from Third Swamp flowed into Second Swamp, which was between Bulwer Street and Brisbane Street to the east of Lake Street (Lake Street was named because it ran between First Swamp and Lake Kingsford). First Swamp, part of which is now Birdwood Square, was also known as Lake Poullet.
The two branches of the string of lakes and swamps met at Lake Poullet. The stream flowed into Stone's Lake where Perth Oval is today. Swampy ground extended south from Stone's Lake to what is now Weld Square. This area was a favoured meeting place for the Nyoongar people.
After passing through Stone's Lake, the stream joined Claise Brook, which still flows into the Swan River where it did when the colony was established in 1829. The path of Claise Brook is marked by Brook Street, one of East Perth's earliest streets, so named because it followed Claise Brook on its north bank.