The Parklands are constructed on lands that were traditionally in the custody of the Gadigal indigenous Australian people and are located between 3 to 6 kilometres (1.9 to 3.7 mi) south-east of the Sydney central business district.
From 1882, part of the Parklands were used to house the Sydney Showground, the home of the popular Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales' annual Easter Show, attracting up to 1 million people annually to the precinct. During the 1970s, it was recognised that the Showground facilities required significant investment. In 1988, a decision was made to relocate the Showground facilities to land adjacent to Homebush Bay, and seven years later, it was resolved to redevelop the Moore Park Showground site into a movie production studio. The final Royal Easter Show held at Moore Park concluded during 1997.
During the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Sydney 2000 Paralympics, the parks hosted part of the road cycling events, the football, and formed part of the route for the marathons.
The Parklands is home to over 15,000 trees, 124 species of native land and water birds, and 18 introduced species of land and water birds. The responsibilities of the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust cover low-lying wetlands, ornamental lakes, pine and native forests, expanses of grass, to playing fields, a golf course, tennis and netball courts and the Entertainment Quarter at nearby Moore Park.
The Centennial Park, with 189 hectares (470 acres), is the largest of the three parks that make up the Centennial Parklands. Centennial Park comprises 2.2 square kilometres (0.85 sq mi) of open space and lightly wooded grounds located within the City of Randwick. It was originally swampland, known as Lachlan Swamps. Centennial Park is one of Australia's most famous parks and is listed on the Register of the National Estate; and is a grand park in the Victorian period tradition featuring formal gardens, ponds, grand avenues, statues, historic buildings and sporting fields.
Centennial Park was set aside by Governor Macquarie in 1811 and was developed as water reserve and common grazing land.
The government began plans for a celebratory park in 1887 and passed an Act of Parliament in the following year. Some of the grandiose plans for the area, such as a museum and a national convention building, never eventuated. Centennial Park was dedicated by Governor Lord Carrington, on Australia Day on 26 January 1888 to celebrate the first 100 years of European settlement in Australia and described by him as 'emphatically the people's park'. The Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun dedicated the park 'to the people of New South Wales forever'.
The land was originally set aside by Governor Lachlan Macquarie for grazing and watering stock. The ponds to the south, known as Lachlan Swamps, were named in his honour and were the chief water supply for Sydney from 1830 to 1880. Water was carried to Hyde Park along a tunnel called Busby's Bore, after its designer John Busby (1765–1857). The tunnel served the needs of Sydney until the Nepean scheme made it redundant in the 1880s.
In 1851, it was a scene of a duel between the first Premier of New South Wales, Stuart Donaldson, and the Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell. Both men survived to fulfil their duties.
In more recent times, the park has had its share of bad news and publicity. On 7 February 1986, Sallie-Anne Huckstepp was found drowned in the Busby Pond. It was thought that she had been murdered by a well-known Sydney criminal, Neddy Smith, but he was not convicted. The Sydney Morning Herald described her as a "32-year-old gangster's moll, heroin addict and prostitute who mingled with Sydney's most notorious criminals and blew the whistle on crooked cops."
The Federation Pavilion, which encloses the Commonwealth Stone (1901), is significant as the site of the official ceremony to mark the Federation of Australia and the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.
The Federation Pavilion, designed by Alexander Tzannes, was erected around the 'Commonwealth Stone' as a permanent monument to Federation, in the Bicentennial Year of European Settlement in 1988. An inscription around the pavilion is from a poem by Bernard O'Dowd, and reads: "Mammon or millennial Eden". The building was renovated and plaques were added to celebrate the Centenary of the Federation of Australia on 1 January 2001.
The Commonwealth Stone is made of sandstone, and it is almost the only remnant of the original pavilion used by Lord Hopetoun. Most of the structure rotted, being made of plaster of Paris; the base survived and is now located in Cabarita Park.
Grand Drive is the circular main road through the park. It runs for 3.8 kilometres (2.4 mi) and was part of the marathons course used in the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. The drive is separated into five concentric circles, with the outer track used for cycling or rollerblading, fourth largest for car driving, third for car parking and many trees, the second is a paved pathway for walking, also used for running, the smallest being a dirt track for horseriding.
In March 2012, Centennial Parklands management issued a proposal for traffic calming measures at one of four identified blackspots on Grand Drive. The proposal caused the ire of cyclist groups who staged a mass protest, claiming that the proposed measures would make the park more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Public submissions into the proposal were invited and Centennial Parklands management, together with community consultative representatives, are currently reviewing.
Located in the most western area of the park, it is used as the home ground of Sydney Boys High School for rugby union, soccer and cricket matches, in the Great Public Schools Competition. The main oval is currently surrounded by small white fence, which is also the boundary for cricket games, though spectators for the winter sports are allowed inside this boundary and are allowed to sit very close to the field, around 5 metres (16 ft).
Built adjacent is the Fairland Pavilion, the hosting area for various lunches and afternoon teas, also the location of the canteen, changerooms, scoreboard, first aid, and storerooms for the bulk of the sporting equipment.
Centennial Park has a wide variety of wildlife that makes its home in the park or uses it frequently. The range includes pelicans, black swans, mallard ducks, White ducks, purple swamphens, Common moorhens, coots, Toulouse geese, Emden geese, turtles and eels, plus European carp that were introduced into the park's ponds and are now regarded as a pest. There is also a colony of flying foxes in the Lachlan Swamp (including the grey-headed flying fox).
The Moore Park is a large urban park comprising 115 hectares (280 acres) of open spaces and playing fields, including the ES Marks Athletics Field, an 18-hole public golf course and golf driving range, tennis courts and netball courts. The park is also used as a venue for circuses and other outdoor events. The adjoining Sydney Football and Sydney Cricket stadia are managed by the Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust.
The 440-metre-long (1,440 ft) Albert 'Tibby' Cotter pedestrian bridge with concrete helical approach ramps across Anzac Parade connects Moore Park (west) with Kippax Lakes and Moore Park (east). A section of the heritage-listed Busby's Bore is located adjacent to Kippax Lakes and run's underneath sections of Moore Park.
The parkland located south of Paddington was named after Charles Moore, Mayor of Sydney from 1867–69, who fought for the land to be dedicated as a leisure area for the people of Sydney and suburbs. The land was part of 400 hectares (1,000 acres) originally set aside by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810 for grazing and watering stock.
Sydney's first zoo was established here in 1879 on 2.8 hectares (7 acres) of land known as Billygoat Swamp. The zoological gardens covered 6.1 hectares (15 acres) by 1906 but moved to Bradley's Head at the site now known as Taronga in 1917. It was replaced by Sydney Girls High School, which opened on this site in 1921. Students were transferred from Elizabeth Street, which was the site of the David Jones Department Store. Sydney Boys High School opened in 1928 on the remaining zoo land.
An infamous pack rape crime occurred in the park, leading to the 1886 Mount Rennie rape case. Nine men were sentenced to death and four were hanged despite controversy. Location on the rise known as Mount Rennie is the heritage-listed Moore Park Golf House that was opened on 19 June 1926. The Golf House is a two storey brick building with tiled roof and features a restaurant and bar with views of the golf course and a 150-seat function centre with views towards the city.
Constructed in 1909 in the park's northwestern corner is a rotunda, designed by the New South Wales Government Architect, that fell into disrepair by 1929 and was restored in 2004. A sandstone dwelling constructed in 1860 on the corner of Anzac Parade and Alison Road served as a road toll house up until 1877 and is the only surviving metropolitan toll house and the only two-storey toll house. Road tolls were collected from travellers journeying between Sydney and La Perouse or Randwick Racecourse.
The Queen's Park is a 26-hectare (64-acre) urban park set in a natural amphitheatre at the foot of dramatic sandstone cliffs, with panoramic views, that forms part of the Centennial Parklands. It was dedicated with Centennial Park in 1888 as part of the centenary celebrations of European settlement in Australia through the enactment of the Centennial Celebrations Act 1887. Surrounded to the north by the suburb of Queens Park, the park was originally part of the Sydney Common and later the Lachlan Swamps Water Reserve. Numerous playing fields are located on the southern and western flatter sections of the park. It has been used for sports fields since 1938. Moriah College, which is located on the park's western boundary, also uses the park for their PDHPE lessons and other schools in Sydney also use the park. The Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust undertook major renovations of Queen's Park in 2009 to improve the quality of the playing fields which are used daily. The Trust also completed a major renovation of the popular children's playground in 2009, and developed a shared cycleway to link the eastern suburbs cycle network with Centennial Park.