Sydney’s historic Hyde Park

Hyde Park, Sydney is a large urban park located in the city’s central business district. The Park covers two blocks (16.2 hectares) and is the oldest such parkland in the country. The Park was built between 1810 and 1927. City of Sydney owns the park, an offshoot which the NSW Government manages. It was added to the State Heritage Register in 2011. 

It is part of a parks chain that begins with the Domain, followed by the Sydney Botanical Gardens. Heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks is within the vicinity, as are St. Mary’s Cathedral, the David Jones flagship store, the state Supreme Court, among others. The Park is home to well-tended gardens and about 600 trees. It is notable for splendid tree-lined avenues.

Hyde Park: a history

The area that is now Hyde Park used to be marshes where the local Aborigines hunted geese. The site also represented a key contest ground among the Aborigines that is part and parcel of their Sydney history. The British were not the only ones to witness said contest; the visiting Russians and French explorers likewise grasped this.

There used to be a tributary called the Tank Stream which skated the former marshes. The area of Hyde Park was relatively flat, in consonance with the valley. The place was known to be timbered just like the rest of the landscape. These included eucalyptus and palm trees, figs and apple trees. From 1788, the plane represented a locus where troops could easily assemble to quell a convict uprising. Probably, this was the site of a bloody struggle between colonial settlers and Aborigines for land dominance in Sydney.

Before departing, Governor Phillip designated the area as crown land. This was subsequently diminished, though Hyde Park remained within its confines. While The Domain belonged to the Governor, the Hyde Park plot was for the people. Later, this became a sports centre and racecourse – both firsts for the colony. Cricket battles and boxing fights were held there. Prior to 1810, the area was referred to as ‘The Common’, ‘Racecourse,’ among other appellations. On 11 February 1810, then-Governor Macquarie allotted this as open space, the first such instance in the country. He drew the boundaries. 

Macquarie took a page out of London, naming it Hyde Park. The designation was all part of the governor’s planning policy. Fifteen years later, the governor’s architect exclaimed that the park was to be Sydneysiders’ forever and would be accorded only the finest landscaping. The spot continued to be a sporting haven, regularly showcasing cricket matches, boxing bouts, rugby contests, and military drills. 

Over the next century, the place was still upgraded and repurposed. For instance, in 1868, the Park was the site of Prince Albert’s ball. A parks movement across the empire ensured other sizeable parklands became public property. Hyde Park also showcased exhibitions. Ultimately, the ANZAC Monument and the Archibald Fountain were put up. The former took four years to be erected and was finished in 1934. Meanwhile, the latter was done in 1932. In 1927, the David Jones store opened. The 1980s saw the city council making major upgrades on the area, improving walls and paths, plantings, and monuments. In 2016, the same council advanced the restoration of the Frazer Memorial Fountain (1881), which was to transpire later in the year. 

Facelifts

Throughout its history, Hyde Park has undergone changes and faced challenges. The modernisation in the CBD has gone on around the locus. Events – whether distinctive on not – have been planned and held. The site has hosted sporting meets, such as boxing, horseracing, and rugby. The ambience has transformed from rural marshes to the most expensive blocks of land in the world. While passing through with a friend, I remember describing it ‘like an oasis in the big city.’ He loved the description.

Monument central

As mentioned, the park has some significant monuments. The Archibald Fountain is chief among these. A French architect designed the geyser, which immortalised Australia’s part during the Great War in France. The centrepiece was even featured on an 80s B-movie. Moreover, a gigantic chess set is also at this end. This sits near the entrance to Saint James station. Furthermore, the ANZAC War Memorial could be found on the southern block. The Pool of Reflection complements the tourist attraction. In addition, also at the southern end, is artwork dedicated to Indigenous servicemen. There is also an Egyptian obelisk at the western end circa 1857. An outdated monument to James Cook, who ‘discovered Australia’, is to be found at the locus’s southern half. Given the #blacklivesmatter movement, I am surprised that it’s still standing. 

A heritage-listed park

On 13 December 2011, the gardens received state heritage recognition. The Park ticks all the boxes. Firstly, the locus is crucial in displaying the state’s cultural and natural history. As mentioned, the Park is NSW’s oldest and has endured despite a lot of change. Secondly, the setting has both a special and strong association with the people of New South Wales. The locus has robust Aboriginal ties. Thirdly, the area exhibits the high artistic merit of NSW. Hyde Park is the paramount example in the country of a significant public park in an urban setting. Fourthly, Hyde Park has strong associations with a specific cultural group in the state. The locus honours the ANZAC and current servicemen; the area is culturally significant to residents of Sydney. Fifthly, the place harbours endangered, rare, or uncommon aspects of NSW’s natural history. The Park is only one of two public spaces that have survived since 1810, the time of the late Governor Macquarie. Sixthly, the Park is consequential in evincing the chief aspects of a class of certain cultural environs in NSW. Hyde Park is influential as both open space and public park. There have been many copycats throughout Australia, but none as worthy as the original.

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