This paper explores the history, archaeology and environment of Old Castlereagh and the Penrith Lakes Scheme on the banks of the Nepean River in Sydney's west. Conceived in the late 1960s, this Scheme aims to 'rehabilitate' vast open-cut gravel and sand quarries by creating a series of huge lakes the size of Sydney Harbour. But the many research reports carried out over the decades for Environmental Impact Statements gradually revealed the rich palimpsest of earlier cultural and natural landscapes which the project will destroy.
The history of the Scheme offers a good case-study in Sydney's constantly reforming landscapes, the environmental impacts of its constant expansion, the relationship with the hinterland and its obsession with water. This paper explores the Scheme as a window onto the uncompromising demands and costs of urban growth, the vulnerability of local cultural landscapes and knowledge, as well as human attachment to place on the rural fringes of Sydney. Finally it discusses how historical perspectives can enhance the future planning of the site, and demonstrate the uses and limits of the notion of urban sustainability.