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Hawkesbury River
Origin near Goulburn
Mouth Pacific Ocean
Basin countries Australia
Source elevation 1100m (3600 ft) at highest source (not longest stem)
Avg. discharge 95 m³/s
but can vary from nothing to over 15,000 m³/s
Basin area 21,730 km²
Aerial photograph showing the Hawkesbury River and Sydney's North Shore and Northern Beaches

The Hawkesbury River, also known as Deerubbun, is one of the major rivers of the coastal region of New South Wales, Australia. The Hawkesbury River and its tributaries virtually encircle the metropolitan region of Sydney.



Panorama of Broken Bay, where the Hawkesbury River meets the sea, seen from Barrenjoey Lighthouse


The Hawkesbury River.
Hawkesbury River

The Hawkesbury River has its origin at the confluence of the Nepean River and the Grose River, to the north of Penrith. Both these two tributaries are substantial rivers by the time they join to form the Hawkesbury River.

The headwaters of the Hawkesbury River, the Avon River, the Cataract River, and the Cordeaux River, rise only a few miles from the sea, about 80 kilometres (50 mi) south of Sydney. These streams start on the inland-facing slopes of the plateau which forms the escarpment behind Wollongong. Flowing north-west, away from the sea, these streams combine to form the Nepean River, and flow north past the towns of Camden and Penrith. Near Penrith, the Warragamba River emerges from its canyon through the Blue Mountains and joins the Nepean. The Warragamba, formed by the joining of the Wollondilly River, the Nattai River, the Kowmung River and Cox's River drains a broad region of New South Wales on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range. The other principal component of the upper Hawkesbury river system, the Grose River, rises in the area of Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains.

Once formed, the Hawkesbury River proper flows generally northwards, albeit with a significant number of meanders. Initially the river passes the towns of Richmond and Windsor, which are the largest settlements on the river. As it flows north, it enters a more rural area, with only small settlements on the river. On this stretch it passes Sackville and Lower Portland, where it is joined by the Colo River. The Colo River and its tributaries drain the northern section of the Blue Mountains.

From Lower Portland, the Hawkesbury River continues flowing northwards to the small community of Wisemans Ferry where it is joined by the Macdonald River. Here its course turns eastwards and the surrounding landscape gradually becomes steeper and more rugged. At Spencer, Mangrove Creek joins the river from the north. From here to the river mouth, road access to the river is limited to a few points.

At Milsons Passage, the river is joined by Berowra Creek from the south. In the area around Brooklyn the river is crossed by the major road and rail services that follow the coast north from Sydney. The river finally reaches the ocean at Broken Bay.

From the confluence of the Nepean and Grose Rivers to the sea, the Hawkesbury River has a total length of some 120 kilometres (75 mi).[1]


Islands in the Hawkesbury River include, in order going downstream:


The Railway bridge
The Freeway and Peats Ferry bridges

Despite forming the effective boundary of the metropolitan region of Sydney for its entire length, there are very few fixed crossings of the Hawkesbury River proper. Going downstream, these comprise:

In the lower reaches of the river there are also a few passenger ferries that cross the river. These include the Palm Beach Ferry service from Palm Beach to Ettalong and Wagstaffe, and the Hawkesbury River Ferries service from Brooklyn to Dangar Island and Little Wobby.


Aboriginal History

The Aboriginal name for the river was recorded as Deerubbun. The two main aboringal tribes inhabiting the area were the Dhurag or Darug people to the north and west and Darkinjung peoples on the opposite side of the river covering the area of Gosford north to Lake Mcquarie and west to Wollombi.[2][3]

European History

The Hawkesbury River was named by Governor Phillip in 1789

In 1788 two expeditions explored the Hawkesbury to the northwest of Sydney and the Nepean River to the southwest. It took about three years to realise they had discovered the same river system.

The Hawkesbury River was one of the major transportation routes for transporting food from the surrounding area to Sydney during the 1800s. Boats would wait in the protection of Broken Bay and Pittwater, until favourable weather allowed them to make the ocean journey to Sydney Heads. With the opening of the railway from Sydney to Windsor in 1864, farm produce could be shipped upriver for onward transportation by train. However, by the 1880s the river had become silted up between Sackville and Windsor, and Sackville became the head of navigation for sea-going vessels. Until the end of the 19th century coastal steamers linked Sackville to Sydney.[4][5][6]

The Hawkesbury River was named by Governor Phillip in June 1789, after Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, who at that time was titled Baron Hawkesbury.[1] An obelisk was unveiled in 1939 at Brooklyn to commemorate the naming.

In 1794, 22 families were granted land at Bardenarang, now known as Pitt Town Bottoms, near Windsor. In that same year, confrontations between Aboriginal people and settlers broke out.[7][8]

River Usage

Hawkesbury River Marina
A seaplane on the Hawkesbury River


The Hawkesbury River is navigable from Windsor to the sea. There are no dams or locks on the river, and the effects of the tide are felt as far as Windsor.[9]

Whilst use of the river to carry farm produce and other goods has now largely been superseded by road transport, the river remains the only form of access to a significant number of isolated homes and communities. This is especially true in the lower reaches of the river, where the steep and rugged terrain inhibits road construction. One consequence of this is the operation of Australia's last riverboat postman, a river service that delivers mail to properties on the river between Brooklyn and Spencer.[10]

Sporting activities

The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, a 111km canoe race, is held annually in October or November. The race starts at Windsor and finishes at Brooklyn. The Bridge to Bridge Water Ski Classic is a water ski race that is run in the opposite direction, from Dangar Island to Windsor.[11][12]

Commercial fishing

According to the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority, the Hawkesbury River estuary supports the second largest commercial coastal fishery of estuary prawns, oysters (prior to the outbreak of QX disease ) and fish in NSW with a wholesale value of $6.3 million annually.[13]

Cultural references

Hawkesbury River by William Piguenit (1881)
  • Artist William Piguenit painted the Hawkesbury River in the late 19th century.


  1. ^ a b "Geographical Name Register Extract for Hawkesbury River". Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  2. ^ "Sydney Basin Regional History". National Parks and Wildlife. Retrieved 2007-01-16.  
  3. ^ "Journeys in Time - Australian Aboriginal Tribes". A joint project between Macquarie University and the State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 2007-01-16.  
  4. ^ Macken, James J. Martin Burke The Father of Pittwater. National Library of Australia.  
  5. ^ "Sackville Ferry". New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority. Retrieved 2008-11-18.  
  6. ^ Purtell, Jean (1995). The Mosquito Fleet: Hawkesbury River Trade and Traders 1794-1994.  
  7. ^ "Hawkesbury River". National Museum of Australia.  
  8. ^ "Conflict at the Hawkesbury". National Museum of Australia.  
  9. ^ "Hawkesbury River - Windsor Tide Times". Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  10. ^ "Australia's last Riverboat Postman". Hawkesbury River Tourist Services Pty Ltd. Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  11. ^ "Hawkesbury Canoe Classic". Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  12. ^ "Bridge to Bridge Ski Race". NSW Water Ski Federation. Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  13. ^ "Hawkesbury River Subcatchment". Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority. Retrieved 2007-01-05.  

External links

Coordinates: 33°31′50″S 151°14′31″E / 33.5305°S 151.2419°E / -33.5305; 151.2419


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