Centennial Park - A Park like no other

Nestled in Australia’s densley populated eastern suburbs of Sydney, lies 220 hectares of green oasis – a haven and sanctuary of natural environment for millions of people and wildlife. This public park is Centennial Park or affectionately known by the locals as the ”People’s Park”. 
When you look at Centennial Park today and all of its pristine formal and decorative gardens, wild open spaces, wide avenues, statues, ponds and majestic tree collection, it is hard to believe that it once was a swamp and an important ceremonial site for many of the Sydney Aboriginal Nations before it was set aside as the water source for Sydney. 
It was designed as a Victorian-era park and hundreds of unemployed men were enlisted in the 1800s with a monumental task of converting a bleak, though dramatic and inherently picteresque landscape into a parkland. 

Centennial Park was dedicated by Sir Henry Parkes on Australia Day, 26 January 1888, as a public open space and was officially opened as part of the week-long centenary celebrations of European settlement in Australia.
Although officially open, Centennial Park was far from finished. More than 450 men worked over coming years on fencing, soil preparation, footpaths, asphalting roads and rock blasting to bring the Park to completion. 

As Centennial Park grew and developed over the next 30 years, so did the uses of its space. The impact of the World War II saw Centennial Park occupied by the military, and the Park’s open green spaces were chosen for celebrations and events over the years.

After the World Wars, Centennial Park was the focus of a number of public protests, many of which involved the issue of passive and active recreation, and private versus public use.

The most influential protest occurred in 1972, when a green ban was placed on Centennial Park as part of the Green Bans Movement across Sydney.

Centennial Park’s story involves extraordinary characters, bold and challenging thinking, leaders who pushed through adversity to succeed or despaired as a result of drought and failure. Personalities and policitcs, too, bore greatly on the Park’s beginnings and it was once referred to as one of the most 'highly politicised patches of grass in the country'. While its fabric remains basically unaltered, park culture and management have reflected change in Australian society.

Paradise for millions

Today Centennial Park is a major tourist attraction visited by over 14 million of people annually for its rich history and provision of diverse recreational opportunities for a large range of different user groups.

Centennial Park is located approximately 5 km south-east of Sydney’s central business district and is one of three major urban parks that make up Centennial Parklands. Together they cover 360 hectares and are a public parkland for a diversity of structured and informal recreation, sport and education, and an opportunity to escape from the stresses of urban living.

Round in shape and surrounded by residential areas, Centennial Park is listed on Australia’s National Heritage List and is protected by historic fencing and gates, which open sunrise to sunset. As defined in its Master Plan, the Park is divided between what is considered the ‘inner park’ and ‘outer park’. It is also one of the world’s few inner city parks to still offer full horse riding facilities. 

The inner park is the formal, functional, and operational landscape comprised of formal gardens, ponds, food and beverage, sports fields, utilised by active recreation visitors. The outer park is the informal wild areas used by the passive recreation visitors, and home to local wildlife. Centennial Park is connected by a series of roads including Grand Drive, which was Sydney’s first public suburban drive. 

The Park is also home to diverse flora and fauna and many significant tree plantings dating back to the early 20th century, including Norfolk Island pines, Port Jackson figs and Holm oaks. 

In the last few years Centennial Park has been leading the way in environmental education with most of its programs and activities teaching the art of nature play. This is a key focus that the team are growing and developing, supported by the opening of the widely-successful and mutli-award winning Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden in 2017, which has attracted nearly 300,000 visitors since opening. 

The ’green lungs’ of Sydney

Centennial Park play a critical role in Sydney’s green infrastructure and is known as the ’green lungs’ of Sydney. It provides health and well-being of Sydney-siders and also for its international visitors. It continues to be a site of leading and innovative park management practices and horticultural experimentation.

The Parklands’ Management invest critical funding into the Park’s green spaces and facilities which make its a world-class destination for many. 

Centennial Park is part of one of the largest community sports precincts in Australia, with more than 560,000 registered sports users, over 40 fields and venues, and more than 35 different sports. The Park features a dedicated cycle lane, sports fields, facilities, equestrian grounds, fitness stations and pedestrian/jogger running tracks. 

A high percentage of the Park’s visitors come to walk the dog, run, or cycle (nearly one million cycle visits annually) as part of their commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Others come to relax, walk the meditation Labyrinth, or enjoy the positive stress reduction benefits offered by the Park’s serene setting.

World Urban Parks noted Centennial Park for its “well managed and protected mix of rich nature, well-preserved heritage and provision of a good range of activities, in cooperation with the community in the heart of the densely populated inner Sydney”.

A gathering space for all

From its opening to the present Centennial Park also hosts important social and cultural events and has been used as a meeting place for major commemorative events including: 
  • 1888: the centenary and the creation of the Parklands was celebrated 
  • 1897: Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations were held. 
  • 1901: On 1 January 1901, 60,000 people gathered in Centennial Park to witness the proclamation of the Federal Constitution, uniting six formerly independent colonies as one Commonwealth of Australia.
  • Gatherings have included ceremonies marking the death of Queen Victoria (1901) and King Edward IV (1910). 
  • Thanksgiving services and peace celebrations marked the end of the Great War (1918/9) 
  • Anniversary celebrations include the sesquicentenary celebrations and a naval and military review (January 31st 1938) was attended by 150,000 people, Jubilee of Federation celebrations (1951), and the Centenary of Federation festivities (January 2001).
  • 2018: Centennial Park celebrated its 130th anniversary.

Sustainability is key 

As Centennial Park’s surrounding population continues to grow, the increased usage demand on the Park and surrounding Parklands will rise ignificantly. The Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust (Trust) is committed to the promotion and protection of these wonderful open spaces and at every opportunity will leverage innovative approaches and best practices to create new opportunities, new partnerships and new ways of doing business.

The challenge of protecting these unique and critically important community spaces becomes more complex with each passing year. The key challenges the Parklands face are: 

  • Populations growth 
  • Environmental risks 
  • Financial sustainability 
  • Changing recreational needs
  • Protecting Trust lands
  • Changing climate.

To address these issues the Trust created a Plan of Management in 2017-18, with one key motive – to ensure that these the the Parklands are sustainable in perpetuity – socially, financially and environmentally. That means that they must have the love and passion of the local community; the respect of the political decision makers; and the operational and financial capability to deliver for their visitors. 

The Plan, which you can read here, provides a high-level framework and the overarching strategic direction for the Parklands on which Master Plans, Operational Plans and business plans can be built to ensure this sustainability and its protection for future generations. 

Was and always will be the People’s Park 

Even after 130 years, Centennial Park continues to breathe new life into Sydney and is valued for its nature, beauty, landscape, environmental refuge, a place to spend time with others and a place to be entertainment. It is truly “the People’s Park” and will continue to be for future generations as we support, engage, protect and communicate the story of this extraordinary Park and its history.
For more information about Centennial Park visit centennialparklands.com.au, read its blog and engage with the Parklands team via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube.