Hen and Chicken Bay is a bay on the Parramatta River, in the inner-west of Sydney.  It lies approximately 8 kilometres due west of Sydney’s central business district.  It is surrounded by the suburbs of Abbotsford, Drummoyne, Wareenba, Five Dock, Canada Bay, Concord and Cabarita.

It is one of the three big estuarine inlets on the southern shore of the Upper Harbour.   The other two are Iron Cove and Homebush Bay.   All these were originally swamps at the mouths of small freshwater streams draining northwards into the harbour from a peneplain in which shales and clays in places overlaid sandstone beds.  

The swamps were scoured by rainwater floods and by tides to form large, shallow basins with muddy marshes in which mangroves grew.   Such bays were described, in nautical terminology, as “flats”.

No one knows, nowadays, how Hen and Chicken Bay got its name.   It is surmised that Captain Hunter’s chart-making boat party in February 1788 gave it that name as an interim identification because two sandstone boulders, prominent on shore nears its entrance, had a fancied resemblance to the shape of a hen and a chicken.  This would be an analogy with the naming of Sow and Pigs Reef in the Lower Harbour.  

It was not Hunter’s prerogative to bestow place name.   Though his chart of the harbour showed the outline of the shores and surroundings of the channel and in many of the bays, it had very few names on it when it was sent to England, and those names, evidently, had been bestowed, or approved by Governor Phillip.

The bay that became known as Hen and Chicken Bay had no name on Hunter’s chart as published.   We are left then with a surmise that, like Long Nose Point, it was named for identification by a landmark.

Though Captain Hunter supervised the survey some of the detailed information was collected by boat parties under the charge of Lieutenant Bradley and by other parties under Lieutenant Ball.   On some occasions Governor Phillip himself went with boat parties to inspect the Harbour, and made landings at various places, exploring on foot.   It is not known which of these parties bestowed the name Hen and Chicken Bay.

Hen and Chicken Bay is a mile and a half long from north to south, and averages half a mile wide from east to west, but on its western shore there are three bights that increase the width of water there to three-quarters of a mile.   The depth of the water is between 6 feet and 12 feet at low water, and shallower at the edges.   It gave sufficient floatage for barges and lighters to lie alongside the jetties at several large factories that were once established on the western shore;   but on the eastern side, inshore, is a mud flat too shallow for barges, and fringed with mangroves.

Being completely landlocked, the bay, like Iron Cove, is a favourite practicing course for the crews of the rowing clubs in their racing eights, fours, pairs, sculls, and beginner skiffs.  

The eastern shore of Hen and Chicken Bay was in the Municipality of Drummoyne;   the industrial western shore was in the Municipality of Concord.   The boundary between the two municipalities is at the head of the bay.

(Note:  in 2000 the Municipalities of Concord and Drummoyne were amalgamated to become The City of Canada Bay.)

The Municipality of Concord had a lengthy shoreline, indented by many bays, side by side and separated by promontories that are not bluff headlands but low and flat ridges.   (In a large sense the municipality is a peninsula, bounded on the east by Hen and Chicken Bay, on the north by the Parramatta River, end on the west by Homebush Bay;   but on this shoreline (of approximately eight miles) there are bays within bays, and harbour within the harbour, with snug anchorage and berths in profusion.

Five Dock Quarry

In the early days of the colony of New South Wales, it was sometimes known as Stonequarry Cove and Stone Quarry Creek.  This may have been because there was once a nearby quarry in Five Dock.

It is also the home of the Hen & Chicken Bay SLSC, which holds occasional patrols on the waterway.  It is a voluntary organisation that was formed by a number of locals, including Trevor Folsom, to spread the word of water safety locally and abroad.  They have travelled all over the world in the name of good times and have a number of alliance relationships with similar clubs.  Funding for a permanent Clubhouse on the Bay is ongoing.


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Beverley Eley

Nice one! I am 86. I was born roughly 2 blocks from the edges of Hen and Chickens Bay in the closing days of the Great Depression. I grew up there. Those were the days when community and neighbourhood support was important and everyone around ‘the block’ pulled together, grew vegetables and shared their produce with each other. I well recall one of our neighbours had almost her entire back yard under strawberries, she made jam from her produce and shared it with our neighbours because she believed that everyone needed to have a treat in those dark times. Oh dear I have more stories ….Blessed be, Beverley Eley