Moore Park in Sydney is known affectionately as the ‘green lungs of the city’. But this description tells only part of the story – a truly amazing story that has unfolded over the last 150 years.
Why is it ‘amazing’?
Moore Park may be a place visited by millions every year, but its history is – in reality – not as well understood.
The Park has a complex, ever-changing, tension-driven and entertaining past, and there is no way you can do justice to this long history in one post. This is just a glimpse into that past.
Moore Park, as you know it today, was developed on land that was part of the second Sydney Common. Decreed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1811, the second Sydney Common was not set aside for people, but technically for cattle. Or, as it was more elegantly put: “…the common pasturage of the cattle belonging to the inhabitants of Sydney”.
In the 1840s, Victoria Barracks in Paddington was constructed (originally using convict labour), bringing a strong military presence to the area. In 1852 a grant of land to the south of the Barracks was given to the British Army for use as a soldier’s cricket ground and garden. Not content with that, the military also added a Rifle Range adjacent to the cricket ground, and were often seen using the expanses of the Common for marching, drilling and Military Parades.
Around this time a cemetery (we assume there was no direct link to the rifle range!) was established nearby (at what we refer to as Mt Steel). The cemetery (located on land that is now part of Moore Park Golf) was used until 1861 when a report into the protection of the water supply for Sydney cited it as a possible contamination risk (water was being drawn from Lachlan Swamps in an area that is now Centennial Park).
By the mid-1850s the construction of new public roads from the Sydney town centre to the south (through what is today Moore Park) saw two toll houses established to raise funds for the maintenance of the roads. The oldest of these toll houses still survives today, while the second of the toll houses was demolished in 1909.
It is said the second toll house, sited on nowadays Tay Reserve, was strategically placed to collect tolls from those travelling to and from Randwick Racecourse (it’s surmised that toll collection would have been more fruitful from those heading to, rather than coming from, the track!).
Establishing a place for the people…
In 1866 the Sydney Common Improvement Bill passed the NSW Parliament, and 378 acres (153 hectares) of land from the western part of the Second Sydney Common was transferred to the management of the Sydney City Council. The Council promptly set aside the land for public recreation – although it was already unofficially used for sporting purposes and active recreation.
Moore Park becomes official…
On 29 April 1867 a Council report recommended that the land be designated with the name ‘Moore Park’ – in honour of Charles Moore, Mayor of Sydney (and also Director of the Botanic Garden) during this period.
The park was ‘officially’ opened with a ceremony on 9 September 1868.
Over the following 20 years a number of key developments were added to the Park, including the Moore Park Zoological Gardens and the Sydney Showground (which became the home of the Royal Easter Show for 115 years).
Formalised sport was becoming a growing feature of Moore Park as early as 1874 (which interestingly included the first known polo game in Australia). In 1876 the old military cricket ground was upgraded and officially dedicated as the NSW Cricket Association Ground (renamed the Sydney Cricket Ground – or SCG – in 1894).
It was noted that the first cricket match on the rebuilt ground was played between the Government Printing Office and the Audit Office (not sure what the score was, but the scorebook would have looked beautiful and the runs recorded meticulously, no doubt!).
Military out, sport and animals in…
Military and civilian tensions were growing ever more aggressive over the competition for space in Moore Park. As community demand for sporting access grew, the military’s grip on public space weakened.
Demand for sporting access to public space in Sydney is certainly not a recent phenomena – speaking in relation to the military rifle range, in 1875 a Military spokesman complained: “…we are driven from Moore Park by football players in winter and cricketers in summer.”
The first Royal Easter Show was held shortly after at the Moore Park Showground in 1882, and that year also saw the establishment of a golf course in the Park that heralded the birth of the Australian Golf Club (Australia’s oldest golf club).
Moore Park Zoo then opened in 1884 becoming Sydney’s first official public zoo. The Zoo operated until 1916, when the animals and birds were moved to their current home at Taronga Zoo in Mosman.
By the end of the nineteenth century Moore Park was Sydney’s most popular sporting and entertainment precinct. It featured a cricket ground, sporting stadium, golf course, racecourse, agricultural society showground, a running track and sporting fields (that catered for cricket in summer and three codes of football – Australian Rules Football, soccer and rugby – in winter).
The growing importance of Moore Park as a recreational space for the community was underpinned by one simple fact:
By 1886, 65% of the population of metropolitan Sydney was living within a five mile radius of the park.
Over the last years of the nineteenth century there were ongoing changes to Moore Park, including:
- the body of water near the SCG known as ‘Nanny Goat Swamp’ was renamed ‘Kippax Lake’ in 1888 (the lake itself has a fascinating history – read here and here);
- the Military Rifle Range was closed down with part of this land being turned into a second sports ground (that ground is the nowadays Sydney Football Stadium);
- a bandstand was erected in Moore Park;
- Driver Avenue was created to link together all the sporting and Showground developments; and
- several drinking fountains were built, including the Kippax Drinking Fountain (which still exists today) and the Dunmore Lang Memorial Fountain on top of a sand hill called Mt Lang.
We mention Mt Lang as a segue into showing this photo from the 1930s…
This aerial photo is fascinating for many reasons:
- the trams that looped around Moore Park;
- the SCG with its ornate stands;
- the rows of spectators cars parked on the grass; and
- that fort-like feature known as Mt Lang (by the way, the reason you don’t still see Mt Lang today is described here in this 1951 newspaper article!).
The new century then heralded further development of sporting facilities, most notably:
- the construction of Sydney Athletics Field in 1906 (today known as E.S. Marks Athletics Field)
- the establishment of a new 9-hole golf course in 1913 (this has grown to become Moore Park Golf).
Industry, Anzacs and education…
A curious industrial feature on the southern side of Moore Park was the Moore Park Coal Bore which operated from the 1890s. It was, by all accounts, far from successful in extracting any coal, and by 1901 it was replaced by the “Perfectus” Refuse Destructor and Disinfector (decommissioned in the late 1930s).
In 1917 Randwick Road was widened and renamed Anzac Parade. A ceremony was held and an obelisk constructed to honour the fallen at a solemn event on 15 March 1917.
Following the closure of Moore Park Zoo in 1916, the former Zoo site was re-converted into Sydney Girl’s High School (opened 1921) and Sydney Boy’s High School (opened 1928). The Zoological past is not forgotten however, as you can still see the old bear pit today!
The Showground becomes an ‘island’…
Several new Showground Pavilions were also built to support the Royal Easter Show, and by 1935 the high brown brick wall that surrounds the former Showground site was completed. It was noted at the time that the brick wall resembled a “mediaeval walled village” and its urban character was in direct contrast to the grassy expanses of the rest of Moore Park.
In 1926 the main arena of the Showground site also began to be used as a dirt track speedway (operating until 1996). If Wikipedia is to be believed, there is a claim that the speedway was “…the fastest speedway in the world in 1937”. That may require a secondary source to verify, but sounds a great boast!
Recognition, Trust and Commemoration…
In 1967 the Sydney City Council undertook a competition for a new statue to feature in Kippax Lake. The sculpture eventually chosen, and still on display today, is a recognition of Australian Sportswomen and has become Moore Park’s very own ‘lady of the lake’.
In 1990 the management of Moore Park changed hands, signalling a decade of substantial change and investment. The Park’s ownership and operation was transferred to the Centennial Park Trust (which promptly changed its name to the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust).
In the wake of this change, the Royal Agricultural Society (which operated the Royal Easter Show) relocated its operations and the Show itself to Homebush in 1996, ending its 115 year association with Moore Park.
The former showground site was subsequently reshaped into three distinct precincts by 1998:
- the old stables were refurbished and opened as the Centennial Parklands Equestrian Centre
- the southern portion of the former showground site (including the main showring) was converted into a public access entertainment and dining precinct known as the ‘Entertainment Quarter’
- the northern portion of the showground site became ‘Fox Studios Australia’ – the largest film studios in the southern hemisphere.
The 2000s also brought some new additions to Moore Park, including:
- a new feature (known as the Federation Gateway) was unveiled as part of the centenary of Australian Federation celebrations in 2001;
- the new bus interchange near the SCG in 2002; and
- a stunning but solemn war memorial – the Korean War Memorial – was added in Moore Park on the western side of Anzac Parade in 2009.
The ‘green lungs’ of the City…
Moore Park has, over the years, been labelled the “lungs of the city”. It’s not hard to see why.
The public space that was eventually named “Moore Park” celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2016 and has become one of Australia’s most important public parks.
While it features a world of opportunity for the community to enjoy, the Park itself faces a challenging future. An estimated 70,000 new residents are moving into new urban housing developments in suburbs bordering the Park over the next 20 years, and we are preparing long-term plans to ensure Moore Park can be sustained for future generations to enjoy.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this potted history of Moore Park. There is so much more to learn and explore. Come and enjoy it for yourself soon!