This photo is of one of the many ponds in Sydney’s historic and much loved Centennial Park. This park was established in the 1800s, along the lines of the old Victorian ideals of ‘public park’. It was nicknamed ‘the People’s Park’ and the plantings undertaken were made to fit within the Australian landscape using both native and exotic species.
The ponds form an interconnected chain that is still important today as part of the Botany Aquifer. The upper catchment takes storm water underground from Centennial Park through layers of sand, peats and clays all the way to the coast at Botany Bay, some 6 kilometres downstream. Although much depleted from its pre-settlement state, it is the largest freshwater catchment in Sydney, helping with stormwater runoff and drainage. The riparian plantings of trees and grasses photographed not only help improve water quality by filtering pollutants and nutrients but they also provide vital habitat for some of the water birds, such as ducks, herons and swamphens that inhabit the parklands.
Not only is the park home to many species of native animal as well as birds, trees and plants, but it is used by thousands of Sydneysiders every day. You cannot underestimate the contribution of this park to the environmental health of Sydney and the physical health of the Sydneysiders who use it for pursuits such as cycling, jogging, dog walking and even horseriding. This is ‘green’ at its best, which basically means a ‘win’ for all!
Paula hints at both the ecological and social purposes of a city park. As cities expanded dramatically in the nineteenth century, it was the poor and working class inhabitants of the urban environment who had least access to England’s green and pleasant land. London’s ‘people’s park’, Victoria Park, is in the East End, where former parkland attached to a bishop’s palace became a place for collective recreation, with bathing ponds for washing and swimming. But the park also became a home for radicalism, with its own ‘speaker’s corner’ where crowds gathered to see political orators; anti-racist concerts were held here in the 1970s and 1980s, finding a very urban kind of togetherness and common purpose.
Sometimes a park can simply seem like the absence of a city. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is New York City’s Central Park, where the rigidly rectilinear urban grid simply gives way to greenery at 59th Street. Lobbied by residents, the city planners made space in the midst of the expanding city for New Yorkers to relax and breathe amidst the trees. But a previous idyll had to make way: approximately 1,600 free African Americans and Irish immigrants who had settled in this part of Manhattan were evicted from their land
and their villages razed to create the citydwellers’ park.