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The People’s Park

By Dr Marjorie O'Neill on May 4, 2018 in News

Not a bad backyard, by Jack Chauvel Photography.

The People’s Park was reconstructed as a public park and opened in 1888 by Sir Henry Parkes as a place in which the people of Sydney could “take in the air” away from the Sydney town centre. 130 years later, Centennial Parklands is not only one of Australia’s best known and loved parklands, but one of its most historic. With a new plan of management currently under consideration, we all have an opportunity to influence the current and future management and decisions that will be made about our park.
The current draft plan identifies ten challenges that the trust will have to address for the future. While the conservation of the park is identified as the first challenge, and I totally agree with this, two of the identified challenges – that of securing funding and the financial sustainability of the park – have left me very concerned.
The NSW State Government has continually reduced recurrent funding to Centennial Park, forcing the park to become self-funding. It is an outrage that a public park should have to resort to commercialisation in order to survive. It is an insult to all the citizens of Sydney and NSW, if not the whole of Australia, that a park of such national significance should be required to be increasingly self-funding.
There would not be a family in the Eastern Suburbs, and few in the entire city of Sydney, who do not recall picnics or feeding the ducks at Centennial Park among the memories of their childhood. Riding a bike or just walking around the park remains a favoured inexpensive form of recreation and exercise. A visit to the park on any day of the week reveals it to be a favourite place of many thousands of new arrivals to this country.
The park, of course, is so much more than just a great site for recreation and exercise. It is a truly amazing natural habitat with extensive native tree plantings – some going back to the 1800s. It is also home to an extraordinary number of historical monuments, statues and other constructions including the Federation Pavilion, the Centennial Park Weather Station, the Sir Henry Parkes Statue and many more.
Most people visiting Centennial Park are happy to see some commercialisation and welcome the opportunity to buy a drink or an ice-cream, hire a bicycle, ride a horse, or even have a nice meal. It is important that public places provide the necessary amenities, but the driver for the provision of such services should be peoples’ needs, balanced with the long term sustainability of the resource. We have good reason to be alarmed at the provision of commercial services aimed primarily at financial independence, while community needs are only a secondary concern. Commercialisation of public land, which both reduces the extent of that resource and undermines its environmental sustainability, is a crime against current and future generations of Australians.