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The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden


Sustainable Parklands Project

Creating an inspirational and engaging outdoor space for children

Project Name: The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden

Location: Centennial Park

Project Timing: September 2016 to mid-2017 (weather permitting)

Project in brief

We have long held a vision: to create a safe, unique space in Centennial Park for children to explore, learn and connect with the natural environment - a wild play children's garden.

Not just another playground or picnic area, but a purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility aimed at providing children opportunities to reconnect with nature at a time when many have rapidly decreasing access to nature and the outdoors.

In 2014, The Ian Potter Foundation joined us in our quest to create a wild play children's garden in Centennial Park and, thanks to the incredible support of its Governors, granted the Centennial Parklands Foundation $1.5 million to kick-start the most exciting children's educational and environmental project in NSW - The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden.

The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden will provide an outdoor learning experience for children aged 2-12, of all abilities and backgrounds, enabling a 'whole-of-life' approach to education. Located adjacent to the existing Education Precinct off Dickens Drive in Centennial Park, the Garden will consist of dedicated natural spaces including Artesian water play, creek beds, bamboo forests and outdoor classrooms, all designed to inspire and encourage children to engage in exciting, creative and imaginative outdoor 'wild play'.

"It is well documented that unstructured 'wild play' is an essential ingredient for healthy child development which enhances the prospect of each and every child fulfilling his or her potential. Through 'wild play', children explore, driven by their own interests and imaginations. They learn through natural experimentation how to negotiate their way, how to take manageable risks and how to cooperate and assist others. Nature play helps them understand the effects of their actions and cultivates an awareness of the world around them. These formative opportunities are being lost for a variety of reasons - a lack of access to nature, fear of risk or the over scheduling of children's free time."

- Anthony Dunsford, Director Visitor Experience

Project description

As a key initiative under the Centennial Park Master Plan 2040, we have undertaken to design and implement The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden.

Funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, Centennial Parklands Foundation and Centennial Parklands, this project proposes a significant increase in the Parkland’s offering for children including:

  • play spaces that offer innovative, world’s best play experiences
  • play spaces to be co-located with complementary visitor spaces
  • play spaces with unique character that offer a diverse range of experiences and cater for a diverse group of people, from babies to adults
  • play spaces that respond to and enhance the existing Park’s landscape character.

The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden will:

  • create 'nature smart' kids by engaging children with the environment through 'wild play' experiences. Children will learn to explore and observe the changing natural environment; guiding them on a path towards positive environmental awareness and encouraging environmental stewardship.
  • build and strengthen an 'outdoor, nature focused' community for Sydney by providing a gathering space where families and friends of all physical abilities, all cultural and linguistic backgrounds can meet, relax and enjoy being immersed in this inclusive 'wild play' space.
  • enable 'nature-based' play by providing a unique opportunity for children across NSW and beyond to actively participate in freely 'wild play' and participate in formal environmental education programs in an outdoor setting, improving well-being, problem solving skills, imagination, self-motivation and learning capacity.


The implementation process of the project is as follows:

Phase One: Design and design exhibition period

In early 2015, ASPECT Studios were awarded the landscape architect contract and have been working closely with Centennial Parklands through the stages of research, consultation and design. ASPECT Studios are an award-winning agency who have an outstanding track record designing unique children's spaces, for example The Darling Quarter in Sydney's Darling Harbour.

Phase Two: Construction

The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden will be constructed adjacent to Centennial Parklands' Education Precinct. In addition to the benefits of co-location with this popular precinct, it will also serve to better disperse visitors throughout the Parklands.

Community input and consultation

Like most public children’s gardens around the world, we enlisted the energy, ideas, suggestions and optimism of children in the early stages of planning and design. Involving children in the design process has given them the opportunity to express what is important to them, leading to:

  • outcomes that meet children’s needs and aspirations,
  • better decision-making, as children can offer their expertise on what matters to them; and
  • thematic ideas for the garden as children are immersed in the culture of childhood, their direct ideas can be more current, refreshing and relevant than adult ideas of what themes children should have.

Our consultation with children was considered an important early stage to provide outcomes in the built environment where children have been included as valued members of the community.

And what was the response?

“I love the idea” was the overwhelming response from 94% of people when consulted about a Children’s Wild Play Garden for Centennial Park.

Stakeholder input into the initial concept design

In addition, the opinions of over 100 influential community stakeholders were sought through an online survey on the proposal and initial concept designs, including:

  • Association for Disability NSW
  • Australian Association of Environmental Educators
  • Centennial Parklands Community Consultative Committee
  • Centennial Parklands Foundation
  • City of Sydney Youth Services
  • Kidsafe
  • NSW Early Childhood Environmental Education Network
  • Planning Institute of Australia
  • Sydney Children’s Hospital
  • Sydney for Under Fives
  • Sydney University
  • Touched by Olivia Foundation
  • UNSW Faculty of the Built Environment
  • Ways Youth Services

We also engaged children and staff from eight local schools.

This consultation created a pool of magnificent ideas, and a blueprint was created for The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden.

This blueprint formed part of the Centennial Park Master Plan 2040 consultation in 2013. The Master Plan consultation phase included four mechanisms for community input:

  1. Event engagement seeking 'future ideas and wishes for the Park'
  2. Park user intercept survey
  3. In-Park exhibition and Online exhibition
  4. Online, individual and institutional submissions.
As estimated reach for these four mechanisms was 2.3 million people, which resulted in receiving around 3,000 submissions from over 1,000 individuals and organisations.

Design progression

Following the approval the Centennial Park Master Plan 2040 in December 2013, the Trustees of the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust approved the creation of The Ian Potter Children's Wild Play Garden.

In keeping with Centennial Parklands’ heritage significance, elements of the Garden have been designed around stories that have shaped the Parklands into what is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest public open spaces.

The key elements of the Garden include:

Design element: Artesian Water Play area


Design element: Bamboo Forest


Design element: Dry Creek


Design element: Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS)


Design element: Jungle Play



Design element: Mounds


Design element: Observation Tree


Design element: Picnic Lawn


Design element: Relaxation Tree


Design element: Swamp Water Play


Design element: Wild Play areas and Nature Art Space


Project works and timing

Construction of the Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden has commenced in Centennial Park. Works will take approximately eight months to complete with an expected opening in mid-2017, weather permitting.

Temporary fencing has now being erected around the construction site for safety reasons. The works will take place Monday to Friday only, between the hours of 7.00 and 5.00 pm.

There will be limited vehicle movements accessing the Children’s Garden area and these will be through Randwick Gates. Entry for construction vehicles and trucks will be off Loch Avenue during the works period. This will be carefully managed by traffic controllers and each vehicle will be escorted to ensure public safety is maintained at all times.

Please note there will be no changes to parking availability in the surrounding area.

Support with a donation

We are excited to deliver this amazing garden and have a number of unique opportunities for private benefactors and organisations to join us by contributing to this world-class facility.

By supporting this project you will follow in the footsteps of The Ian Potter Foundation, one of Australia's largest philanthropic organisations, and share in the creation of a safe, unique space for children to explore, learn and connect with the natural environment.

If you would like to discuss the concept plans further and/or visit the proposed site please contact us and we will be happy to help.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Where will The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden be located?
A: The Garden will be located adjacent to the Education Precinct, off Dickens Drive in Centennial Park In addition to the benefits of co-location with the popular precinct it will also serve to better disperse visitors throughout the Parklands.

Q: Where will the entrance to The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden be located?
A: Access to the Garden will be via a pathway off Grand Drive near the York Road Gates area (see location map above).

Q: Will there be toilets in The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: A new amenities block will be constructed as part of this project and will be located within the envelope of the Learning Centre, immediately within the northern masonry wall. There will be an opening created in the masonry wall to allow access from the Garden.

Q: Can we buy food at or near The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: As part of this project, a small kiosk will be constructed adjacent to the new amenities block, within the Garden, to service visitors. You will be able to purchase pre-packaged food and hot and cold beverages.

Q: Will The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden be accessible to the general public? A: The Garden will be accessible to all members of the general public.

Q: Will The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden be accessible to those in wheelchairs?
A: The Garden has been designed in consultation with an accessibility consultant, in order to optimise access for park users in wheelchairs. The garden is not classified as an all-abilities space. There will be access to all major features such as the water play. The features of the Garden will be available for a range of abilities.

Q: Will there be a cost to use The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: Entry to the Garden will be free of charge.

Q: Where will I be able to park my car if I drive to visit The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: Parking will be available on Grand Drive, immediately adjacent to the Garden. Parking will be free of charge.

Q: Will parking be available for buses? A: Yes, bus parking is available at the Education Precinct, off Dickens Drive.

Q: What sorts of plants can we expect to see in The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: As part of the design process, there has been extensive consultation with the Botanic Garden & Centennial Parklands’ Horticultural teams, to ensure that the plants and trees chosen for the Garden are in keeping with the Parklands' existing setting and natural environment. The planting design has also been developed in consultation with a Heritage consultant, with the design requiring formal approval from the Heritage Council prior to construction. Plants will be carefully chosen for each area of the Garden, in order to offer a different nature experience in each zone and to ensure the play areas are safe for interaction with children.

Q: What will the visual impact of The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden be on the Parklands?
A: The visual impact on the Parklands will be minimal as the Garden is positioned on a slope and the visibility will be of the tree line. The vegetation will look like a wild meadow, showing a natural progression of small plants growing in height and density towards the middle of the Garden. Because the visual impact is minimal, signage will be positioned on Grand Drive to notify visitors. There will also be a sign at the entrance of the Garden.

Q: What will be the environmental impact of The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: The environmental impact will be minimal and the Garden will be adding value to the environment through the use of vegetation and planting. Other than the new amenities block, which is to be located within the envelope of the existing Learning Centre, and a small kiosk immediately adjacent, there is limited building work involved and, in what building work there is, ecologically sustainable materials will be used.

The water in the Artesian Water Play element of the Garden will be recycled. It will be captured and treated, ensuring the Garden provides high quality finishes for children’s safety and the environment.

Q: Will there be an impact on the heritage significance of the Parklands? A: The heritage impact will be minimal. The vistas from Grand Drive will be unaffected, visually there will be more trees along the tree line, enhancing the park characteristics of beautiful lush greenery. The only other addition to the heritage of Grand Drive will be a (way finding) sign located to the left of Grand Drive’s cyclist track and will not take away from the significant style of Grand Drive. The Garden is located on a slope and has been positioned down the hill and away from the heritage significant equestrian and jogging track along the arris rail fence.

Q: What are the hours of operation for The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: The hours of operation are yet to be determined. There will be times throughout the year when the Garden will need to be closed to the public, to allow for ongoing maintenance requirements and to allow resting periods for plants and trees within the area.

Q: What type of signage will be provided within The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden?
A: In addition to the Parklands way-finding signage, signage will be placed throughout the Garden and storytelling will be used to explain the various elements of the Garden to children.

Q: What has been the planning approval process to date?
A: The Garden formed part of the Centennial Park Master Plan 2040 which was approved in 2013.

Q: What other Planning Approvals are required prior to construction?
A: A Heritage Impact Statement (HIS) has been approved by the Heritage Council and a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) has been completed and approved by the BGCP Director and Chief Executive Officer. In addition to these approvals, the Minister for the Office of Environment and Heritage has also approved the project to proceed to the construction stage.

Q: When will The Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden be constructed?
A: Following receipt of Heritage and Ministerial approval, construction is expected to take place between September 2016 and mid-2017 (weather permitting), with an official opening to take place once the turf and plants within the Garden have had the chance to fully establish.

Further information

If you would like more information or would like to be kept informed about important updates relating to this project, please subscribe to our Park Notices eNewsletter. This is a dedicated newsletter, which provides key updates and information about each of our Sustainable Parklands Projects Program and events happening across the Parklands. Subscribe here now.