Centennial Park, which covers more than 200 hectares, is conveniently located between Sydney’s CBD and Bondi Beach. It adjoins Moore and Queens parks, and all three are easily accessible by public transport, car, bicycle or foot. The park has historic, cultural and recreational significance with heritage buildings, formal gardens, sports fields, natural woodlands and picnic areas. Favourite activities include cycling, walking, jogging, cricket, football, art exhibitions and outdoor cinema. Centennial Park is accessible to people of all abilities and offers a spacious recreational area for its visitors.

Federation Pavilion, Centennial Park
Federation Pavilion, Centennial Park in Sydney.
History of the Park

The perimeter of the park follows Aboriginal walking tracks. The European settlers continued following these well-worn tracks as they watched for incoming ships. Governor Macquarie set aside a large expanse of what was then swampland as a common, and the water from the Lachlan Swamps became a critical fresh water supply for Sydney’s European settlers. The common was soon designated as a water reserve, and the government designed a tunnel from the swamps to Hyde Park to ensure easier access to the water supplies.

As Sydney became more densely populated, the swamp became increasingly inadequate to meet its needs. Garbage and herd animals polluted the waters, which made them unsafe for drinking, and after a series of dams were built, the swamps became even more polluted. By the mid-1800s, the area was no longer used for fresh water.

At the same time, the colony’s centenary was approaching, and the idea of a park to mark the occasion had sparked the public’s imagination. Governor Carrington determined to design a park that would provide those who were living in densely populated Sydney fresh air, space and recreational facilities.

Carrington chose the swampy common area as the site for his new park, and Centennial Park and Queens Park were officially created by the Centennial Celebrations Act of 1887. Although Queens Park remained too damp and swampy for development at the time, the land for Centennial Park was ideally suited for landscaping and building. Joseph Paxton, who had designed the Crystal Palace for London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, was largely responsible for designing the park, and then-director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Charles Moore oversaw its construction.

The plans for Centennial Park included ornamental gates, fountains, grassy meadows and plantations. The dams that had once polluted the swamps were incorporated into the park’s design. More than 450 men worked to create roads, footpaths and other decorative elements. The park was officially dedicated in 1888, but much work remained to be done.

When Joseph Maiden took over after Moore’s retirement, the park was again transformed. Inspired by the Tiergarten in Berlin, Maiden added pavilions, playgrounds and other facilities throughout the park and introduced a variety of native Australian plants.

The People’s Park

One of Australia’s best-known and most historic parks, Centennial Park was designed purely as a people’s park. It grew from a swampy, polluted wasteland to a spectacular park that serves the needs of millions of people every year. The park continues to undergo renovations and construction, and plantings are regularly refreshed, enhanced and renewed. Pavilions, monuments and statuary have been added. Village markets are held twice a week, and festivals keep the park humming all year long with runners, golfers and others in search of fresh air, green space and beauty.

photo credit: Federation Pavilion, Centennial Park via photopin (license)