Heritage

As one of the oldest continually operating airports in the world, we recognise the importance of the history and heritage values of our airport.

Our rich history began well before the first flight, from Indigenous habitation to the landing of European settlers in the 18th century. The airport is located on the northern shore of Botany Bay where Australia’s earliest explorers, Captain James Cook and botanist Sir Joseph Banks, navigated past what was then marshland traversed by the Cooks River in 1770.

Ever since colonial times, the airport site has been home to enterprise powering Sydney. A water-powered woollen mill dammed the Mill Stream, and the Botany Swamps supplied Sydney’s third water supply.

Remnants of the airport site’s early history still remain, including part of the water supply, now known as the Sydney Airport Wetlands. An engine house, boiler and lower chimney built to pump water to the Crown Street Reservoir are still on-site adjacent to the wetlands. Next to the helicopter base, 15 fig trees by the original engine pond are still standing. An electric-powered sewerage pumping station constructed in 1916 is also still in use.

The first plane left the airport site on 18 April 1911, piloted by New Zealand aviator Captain J.J. Hammond. Eight years later in 1919, flying enthusiast Nigel B. Love chose cow pastures at Mascot to establish an aircraft manufacturing facility. The ‘Mascot Aerodrome’ was officially declared in 1920 and soon after acquired by the Federal Government to be a national airport. World War II saw more land acquired, and the Cooks River diverted, to construct new runways and a new passenger terminal.

As more people fly and aircraft advance, Sydney Airport has needed to expand over time. The arrival of new long-haul international jets extended the main north-south runway to Botany Bay in 1968. Four years later in 1972 the runway was extended again to its present length of 3,962 metres. Finally, a third runway was opened in 1994, increasing the capacity of the airport.

The 2000 Sydney Olympic Games saw us welcome thousands of international visitors. This spurred a refresh of many airport buildings and a new rail link to the city.

Sydney Airport was privatised in 2002, and since then $3.4 billion has been invested in capital projects such as upgraded terminals, car parks, runway lighting, aircraft parking and runway safety. We're also working with the NSW Government to improve access to and from the airport with a $500 million ground transport plan.

The airport land, first spotted by Australia’s legendary explorers, has played a vital role in the history of Sydney. Our Airport Environment Strategy 2013-2018 outlines the airport’s comprehensive policies to recognise the heritage value of the site.