26 January is an important day in Australia. To most it is our national day of celebration – Australia Day – but it is also another celebration day…it’s the birthday of Centennial Park!
When Centennial Park opened in 1888, Australia did not exist as a unified nation and the population of Sydney was around 230,000.
Creating the place was certainly no “walk in the park” – work began in 1886, and when they started out it looked pretty much like this:
Surveyors look over what would become Centennial Park (image: 1886)
But they did it!
Despite the trying conditions and torturous timetable, the construction of the park was completed. On 26 January 1888 a ceremony was held on what is today known as ‘Cannons Triangle’ in Centennial Park (read The Sydney Morning Herald from that day announcing the event). We don’t have any photos from the day, but this artists impression gives an insight of the first tree planting and the cannon being fired to signify the park was open.
Dedication Ceremony of Centennial Park – 26 January 1888
And since then?
Well, let’s have a look down through the decades:
1890s: Centennial Park was quickly becoming a place of sport and recreation – lawn tennis courts were a feature atop Reservoir No. 1 from 1898 until 1917 (structural concerns over the reservoir’s roof caused their premature demise!).
1900s: The turn of the century saw a truly momentous occasion held in Centennial Park – the inauguration of the Federation of Australia. That makes Centennial Park the birthplace of modern Australia! The image shows part of the swearing-in ceremony of Australia’s first national government.
1910s: Cricket was a popular feature in Centennial Park – this is an image looking down on what is now known as Federation Valley (the Federation Stone where today the Federation Pavilion is located is nearest the cricket pitch on the left!)
1920s: The Great Depression hit Australia – and particularly Sydney – hard. Centennial Park benefited from work under the Government’s Relief Works projects in public parks. You can see Lily Pond Bridge in the background.
1930s: Cars became an increasing feature of Centennial Park, as daytrippers saw Centennial Park as a great picnic and gathering location.
1940s: The military occupied part of Centennial Park during World War II. This wasn’t all bad news though, as one outcome being some of the heavy lifting pond restoration works being completed by the stationed troops.
1950s: National celebrations continued to centre around Centennial Park – here the Governor-General attends a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Australian Federation.
1960s: The number of people using Centennial Park for sport took off rapidly with cycling, horse riding and sporting events leading the way. Here is a rider in the three-day eventing competition as part of the Royal Easter Show.
1970s: Mounted Rangers were a popular feature for many years in Centennial Park – here is Ranger John Leckie looking quite spruced up for the task. John was the last mounted ranger and finished in 2000.
1980s: “What Bicentennial?” indeed! It was the 100th Anniversary of Centennial Park in 1988 that we were more interested in. This is from the opening of the Federation Pavilion.
1990s: The ’90s brought a significant event to Centennial Park – The Concert for Life. Over 60,000 people came to Centennial Park. Headlining the event was INXS.
2000s: Niche events became Sydney icons in Centennial Park. Moonlight Cinema is now an established outdoor cinema experience in this city and is one of a great program of events now on offer.
2010s and beyond: The future is bright for Centennial Park. The People’s Park has lived up to its name for 127 years and continues to be an important part of Sydney’s daily life. Parks make cities liveable, and Centennial Park is Sydney’s lungs.
Love Centennial Park? Love learning about history?
We have two great opportunities available for you to learn all the great stories, mysteries, features and people that make this one of the most fascinating public parks in the world:
- Download our free Centennial Park History Walking Tour app
- Buy our book Centennial Park – A History
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