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19 Apr 2022

Moore Park Zoo’s colourful history

Taronga Zoo may be one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks, but it wasn’t the first public zoo in Sydney. The very first public zoo was based at Moore Park.

The Zoological Society of New South Wales was established in 1879 to create a place for, amongst other things, the “introduction and acclimatisation of song birds and game”. In 1883, the Sydney City Council granted the Society seven acres (3 ha) of Moore Park, known as Billy Goat Swamp, for the purposes of establishing a zoo.

So we set up a zoo

The original birds and a donated elephant (donated by the King of Siam – or modern day Thailand) started to move to Moore Park Zoo in 1883, while the the zoo at Moore Park was officially opened to the public in 1884.

Charles Moore, the Director of the Botanic Gardens (today the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney) was also a member of the Zoological Society laid out the Zoological Gardens. Moore oversaw a small menagerie at the Botanic Gardens, and soon re-located the birds from the Gardens to Moore Park Zoo.

In 1902 the bubonic plague was detected in kangaroos and the Zoo was closed for four months and buildings burnt down. Three years later the zoo increased to fifteen acres and in August 1906 the City Council extended the lease for another 14 years. However, it was clear by this time that the zoo needed more space, and plans were made to move the Zoo, and the site for Taronga Zoo was chosen in 1912.

In July 1916, Moore Park Zoo closed when the Trustees of Taronga Park took over responsibility for all the employees and animals (believed to be 177 animals and 329 birds), and Taronga Zoo officially opened.

Postcards bring a colourful history to life

While there are some great old black-and-white photos of the Moore Park Zoo and the animals that lived there, the zoo also produced a series of colourised postcards for visitors to enjoy. Take a look at the below!

You can actually still see the remains of the original bear pit today within the grounds of nowadays Sydney Girls High School (see image here).

See below for even more facinating photos of the Moore Park Zoo and a long forgotten time.

Tiny Oz

Tune into Tiny Oz on ABC TV + iview at 8.30pm tonight (19 April) to see Moore Park Zoo featured. 
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