Sydney Park 21st Birthday

(2pm 11 February 2012, Village Green, Sydney Park)

Hello, everyone, welcome to the Sydney Park 21st birthday celebrations. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the 200 nationalities which make up our City.

Today we're marking a significant milestone. Hundreds of people have been involved in the transformation of Sydney Park over the past 21 years, and we've invited almost 100 of them to be part of the birthday celebrations. Two councils, three state governments and the Federal Government have provided funds to rehabilitate the park over the past two decades.

What was once a rubbish dump has become a magnificent regional park, with play areas and space enough for a whole host of activities. We'll soon be adding to that with a small area set aside for a City Farm, and we're installing a water harvesting system that will capture over 800 million litres of stormwater each year for use in the park and surrounding areas.

You may not be aware that Conybeare Morrison (together with Bruce Mackenzie) was responsible for the original planning and design of the park back in 1981-1984. The work was carried out through to the implementation of Stage 1 which included creating and landscaping the mounds, conserving and stabilising the chimneys, conserving the two Hoffman kilns (which some would have seen demolished) and creating the landscaped plaza surrounds. We fought to lower the floors in and around the kilns such that they might have a future use - a farsighted approach which would today be referred to as 'adaptive reuse'.

In pre-European times, this land was covered with a forest of turpentine and ironbark trees while the south-eastern section, set on Botany sands, had swamps and marshes and some heath-land.

Thomas Smyth, a marine sergeant with the First Fleet, cleared some of the forest cover and planted fruit trees and grain crops - and we'll be planting orchard trees and vegetables as so many of you have asked for in our City Farm.

Sydney Park was part of 40 acres of land granted to Elizabeth Needham in 1796, a First Fleet convict who became a successful businesswoman.

Later in the 19th century, the site played an important role in the development of Sydney after brick-making began here in the 1840s, with clay extracted from the extensive deposits.

Pits and chimneys dominated the area and employed workers from Newtown, St Peters, Marrickville and Alexandria. The remaining kilns and chimneys are relics of the Bedford Brickworks, run by the Gentle family from 1893. It was taken over by the Austral Brick Company in 1933 and bricks continued to be made here until 1970.

The area around the brickworks was also, in the early 20th century, the site of an illegal, but popular, two-up school, as a number of newspaper reports testify.

From the late 1940s through to the 1980s, the brick pits area was also used as a rubbish dump by the City Council, filling in the huge pits where the clay had been dug out.

Finally, following the closure of the last St Peter's tip, a layer of soil and building rubble was laid over the site to create a regional park, with the last remaining chimneys becoming a potent symbol of its renewal.

Since the park came into the care of the expanded City of Sydney, we have been able to direct the resources to develop it as an outstanding regional park, serving the people of a wide and diverse area. Since 2004, the City has spent just over $12 million on improvements here, and we're looking at a further $34 million worth of improvements to 2021.

At 44 hectares, it's our largest City park, and we are now implementing a detailed Master Plan which includes further improvements, to the landscape and to the park's environmental performance.

Landscaping to improve the areas where the desalination pipeline was installed has now been completed and one of the areas now has a grass amphitheatre, with power available for community events. New paths and improved lighting have been installed and new trees have been planted, and on-going works are due for completion next year.

We've also built a wonderful new award winning all-abilities playground, award winning kiosk and accessible toilets, as well as renewing the popular Village Green, with grass mounds and fig trees for shade.

In the middle of this year, we'll be starting Stage Two of our water re-use scheme, which will divert stormwater through underground pipes, and filter it through bio-retention beds for use in the park, and for other non-drinking uses locally.

This will help achieve our 2030 target of 10 per cent of water demand being met through local capture and re-use.

At the same time, we'll be revitalising the park's wetlands to increase storage and improve water filtration, and connect the wetlands through a series of picturesque water cascades. We'll be making landscape improvements and improving the footpath network, as well as installing new lighting and seating and new area for picnics and barbecues.

Four wetlands treat stormwater in Sydney Park, filtering it before it runs into the Alexandria Canal. The wetlands provide some of the most important habitat in the local area. Uncommon species found at Sydney Park include the royal spoonbill, black-winged stilt, black-fronted dotterel, Australian reed-warbler, eastern long-necked turtle and Australasian grebe. The park is home to the largest local populations of superb fairy-wrens and eastern blue-tongue lizards; both in decline in urban areas.

This park has continued to grow and improve over its 21 years and it continues to play host to dog-walkers and exercise junkies, to family picnics and children's playtimes and quiet, contemplative moments.

It's a tremendous asset and I'm delighted we're sharing its birthday together.

Have a great day!