BY GEORGIA FULLERTON
Sydney’s Centennial Park has joined the select group of Australia’s protected landmarks after the Federal Government announced its addition to the Australian National Heritage List last Tuesday. The public parkland encompasses almost 200 hectares in the inner east of Sydney and is the 115th site to be included on the list alongside Bondi Beach, The Australian War Memorial and the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The list provides acknowledgement of sites which have national cultural, historical and natural significance but are not under Commonwealth control. Sites on the national list also often also have a state heritage listing.
Centennial Park was the venue of the inauguration of Australia as a nation on New Year’s Day in 1901, with thousands of spectators witnessing the proclamation of the Federal Constitution, unifying the six independent colonies and marking the birth of modern Australia.
A procession entered through the sandstone Paddington Gates on Oxford Street, where crowds then gathered on the slopes of Federation Valley and watched as Lord Hopetoun was sworn in as Australia’s first Governor-General. The national heritage listing has come just in time to mark 130th anniversary of the park, originally known as ‘Lachlan’s Swamp’, but in 1888 dedicated to the first hundred years of European settlement in Australia.
At the time of the park’s dedication, Governor Lord Carrington declared it “the people’s park”. The announcement of the national heritage listing has led resident groups and historians to call for other significant public sites to be similarly acknowledged.
Watsons Bay residents believe South Head National Park, the site where Phillip landed in Sydney Harbour, should also be considered. The eastern suburbs community is currently in the midst of a campaign to stop a development proposal for buildings on the South Head grounds to be used as wedding venues by Dockside Group.
Likewise, residents of Moore Park, Centennial Park’s older neighbour, insist that now Centennial Park has its national heritage listing it is time to shift the focus to protecting Moore Park from over-development.
Along with Queens Park, Moore Park and Centennial Park form the Centennial Parklands, which are managed by the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. The parklands have been listed on the New South Wales Heritage Register since 2000.
President of Saving Moore Park, Michael Waterhouse said “Our Association is very supportive of the [national] heritage listing of Centennial Park…Centennial Park has very particular historical significance in connection with Federation, but unfortunately, Moore Park is the neglected cousin of Centennial”.
A quarter of Moore Park has been lost over the years, with sections having been sliced off for roadworks and other purposes, reducing it in size from its original 153 hectares to 115 hectares.
Mr Waterhouse said, “Bisected by major roads and close to sporting stadiums, it has been the focal point for attacks by Government and its agencies who regard parkland as less important than roads and stadiums.” Work is expected to start in the middle of next year in the Entertainment Quarter precinct, where contractors will build a new outdoor entertainment space connected to Sydney’s light rail.
This comes after a major investment from NSW Government to revamp the entertainment, sporting and community areas.
Mr. Waterhouse believes the terrible condition of the Moore Park section of the Centennial Parklands should be made a priority, “The devastating impact of the light rail works is obvious for all to see, remediation including extensive tree plantings will help the recovery, but it will be a long time before the parkland is anything like it once was”.
He listed parking and fences as some of the major issues affecting the park, claiming the continuation of car parking in connection with sporting events at the SCG and SFS has destroyed the surface of large sections of the park, limiting its use by the community.
“The parklands are intersected by fences in all directions…people wanting to use the park have great difficulty doing so, whether moving north-south or east-west.
“These fences must go if the community is to be able to use Moore Park as it was originally intended – for active and passive recreation.”
Mr Waterhouse cited a failure from Government to fund potential improvements in the parklands, “There is a major need for a new filtration system to keep the lake clear, however despite agreeing to spend more than $700 million on a redeveloped SFS, the Government has made no commitment to fund improvements to Moore Park under the Moore Park Master Plan.
The Minister for the Environment has declined to address the issue, as with so many other things, she sits on her hands and does nothing for Moore Park.”
He said, “Moore Park is more than 150 years old, its historical significance may not be as great as Centennial Park, but the time has come for the Government to recognise that its original purpose as a place for active and passive recreation for the community is today even more important with the rapid population growth to the west of the Park. “We call on the Government to make a pre-election commitment to upgrading Moore Park for the benefit of the community.”