The image above is another stunning view over one of Sydney’s most iconic and well loved parks – Centennial Park. Today, and indeed in the image above, the park is today a beautiful public space, but as we learned last week, this was not always the case. In fact, Centennial Park grew out of swamp land.
By 1859, the Lachlan Swamps, which had served as Sydney’s main water supply, were increasingly polluted and in 1874, after a series of floods, the pollution worsened. Yet there was another role on the horizon for the swamp lands. In the 1870s many members of the public began to lobby councils in Woollahra and Paddington to allow the Lachlan Swamps Water Reserve to be used as a public space – a park. Governor Carrington, who wished to establish a large park suited to riding and recreation recognised the potential of the enormous site and in 1887 the Centennial Celebrations Act created Centennial Park and Queens Park. The original designs for the park had allocated the highest ground in the park area for a memorial (or even house, as then Premier, Sir Henry Parkes dreamed) commemorating European colonisation. These plans, of course, did not come to fruition.
The park was carefully designed though, with much of the design work attributed to Frederick Augustus Franklin, who was an English civil engineer. The construction of the park was overseen by Charles Moore, who was then director of the Royal Botanical Gardens (Sydney) and James Jones, who was then the head gardener at the Botanic Gardens. 50,000 pounds was put aside by Parliament towards construction of the park, with its grand drives, processional entry with ornamental gates, lakes, cascades, fountains, grassy areas and dams. Yet construction was not easy. There were disagreements as to whether the wild vegetation should be preserved (with Moore preferring large, grassy expanses), floods, droughts, damage from stock and vandalism and problems with the natural sandy soils. Despite these many hindrances, the land was cleared and carefully sculpted, and the Old Grand Drive (now known as Federation Way) was constructed in 1887, with the public soon making enthusiastic use of the new public space. Centennial Park was officially opened on January 26, 1888, just a year after construction began, and well before the entire park was complete.