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Growing Centennial Park

Although officially open, Centennial Park was far from finished. More than 450 men worked over coming years on fencing, soil preparation, footpaths, asphalting roads and rock blasting to bring the Park to completion.

Joseph Maiden (image below) took over the administration of Centennial Park following Charles Moore’s retirement in 1896, and augmented the original character of the Park. He had his own stylistic ideas and put his own stamp on the Park.

Maiden had been inspired by the Tiergarten in Berlin (designed in 1830s by Lenné) and was particularly influenced by facilities such as pavilions, kiosks and the provision of children’s playgrounds.

Maiden pioneered the experimentation with and use of Australian native plants, and also introduced a more “tropical” flavour to the Park’s design with plantings of palms. Some of Moore’s original exotic plantings proved unsuitable for the soils and climate within the Park so Maiden established a plant nursery to raise plants more suited to the site conditions.

William Forsyth was overseer of Centennial Park from 1892 to his death in 1911 and much of the successful horticultural development of the Park during the first decade of the Century has been attributed to his botanical knowledge and labours. The need for protection of the remnant native vegetation in the Park was frequently advocated by Forsyth in his annual reports, and experimentation with native trees, particularly eucalypts, was escalated under Forsyth’s direction.

One of Forsyth’s most significant contributions was the selection of paperbarks to serve several purposes: aesthetic, shade and windbreak.

Forsyth and Maiden also experimented with acacias and casuarinas, planting 289 seedlings in 1896-97. Experimental plantings were undertaken in order to find suitable drought resistant grasses to plant in Centennial Park. Forsyth undertook extensive modifications to the trees planted along Grand Drive. He removed elms, poplars and pines, and replaced them from 1897 onwards with a complex formal arrangement of predominantly Port Jackson Figs, with Holm Oak and Norfolk Island Pine. The rhythmic pattern created by the diagonal planting creates a strong landscape character in the Victorian Gardenesque tradition.

A great deal of work also went into the stormwater and drainage systems that feed into, and pass through Centennial Park. Swamps and dams were transformed into the ornamental ponds with islands that exist today.

The ponds form the upper catchment of the Botany Wetlands. These water bodies, covering an area of approximately 26 hectares, provide an important habitat for water birds and aquatic wildlife and are a significant feature of the formal design of Centennial Park. They also play an important role in flood mitigation, acting as a retention basin.

Ten of the eleven interconnected ponds in Centennial Park, and a single pond in Moore Park, are fed by stormwater run-off from the surrounding catchment area. Only one pond, Lily Pond, is fed by a natural artesian spring in Lachlan Swamp.

The Centennial Park Reservoir No. 1 was also completed in 1899 with an 81-megalitre capacity in the northern part of Centennial Park.

Maiden encouraged the use of the Parklands for events, military reviews and public activities. The Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations were held in Centennial Park in 1897, while musical events were encouraged in Centennial Park with the building of a bandstand in 1900 and recitals were played there from 1901 onwards.

Below is an image from 1908, with a parade in Centennial Park in honour of the visit of the Great White American Fleet.