The birth of our nation at Centennial Park

Earlier this week the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced that Centennial Park in Sydney will be heritage listed. It will be the 115th protected site in Australia. Centennial Park was created by an Act of Parliament by the Premier of NSW Henry Parkes in July 1887:

Parkes had been a long time advocate of the need for open space for recreation, and seized upon the idea of creating a park to fulfil two needs: a people’s park and a grand setting for a State House to celebrate the Centenary. His plans were nothing if not ambitious. They would provide relief work for the vast pool of unemployed men who were victims of depressed working conditions. 

Centennial Park was opened at the centenary of New South Wales on 26 January 1888. The following year a tree planting ceremony attracted 40,000 spectators and the clearing of land, planting of trees and building of pavilions, lakes and driveways continued for some years. Hundreds of unemployed men helped to transform the park.

Henry Parkes and a united Australia

In 1889 Henry Parkes delivered his famous Tenterfield speech calling for the creation of an Australian Parliament to unite the six colonies. Parkes worked tirelessly to help make the Australian Constitution and convened the first Constitutional Convention in Sydney in 1891. The name of our country, the Commonwealth of Australia, was his idea.

Parkes passed away before our nation was formed. However, the Park he had helped to create hosted a huge celebration at our Federation on 1 January 1901. A five mile parade was held to commemorate Federation which included horse-drawn floats and specially constructed Federation Arches that the procession passed through. The Parliamentary Education Office states that:

In Sydney, 500,000 people lined the route of the 'Great Inaugural Procession' leading from the Domain to Centennial Park.

Over 10,000 people participated in the procession, including:

Troops, mounted police, military bands, members of trade unions, stockmen, firefighters and Friendly Societies such as the Sons and Daughters of Temperance, the Ancient Order of Druids and the Irish National Foresters. There were members of state parliament, along with representatives of foreign governments and community and church groups.

More than 60,000 people poured into Centennial Park, including 7,000 dignitaries and guests and 300 members of the press, all watching as our first Federal Government was formed. Three choirs sang for the occasion, including a choir of 10,000 school children, a church choir of 400 people and another choir of a thousand.

It was a huge party! A pavilion had been built specifically for the occasion and was decorated with native flora and fauna and it was inside this pavilion that the swearing in of the first Federal Government occurred. A further eight days of celebrations followed the formation of our Federal Government.

The significance of Centennial Park to our nationhood

Centennial Park is of high significance to our nationhood and our history. Minister Fydenberg summed this up on Tuesday. He stated why Centennial Park would be heritage listed:

This is because this place was where Australia was born. It is here that our federation was inaugurated. Our Constitution was proclaimed. Our first Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, was sworn in. Our first Prime Minister, Edward Barton, was sworn in, and the first cabinet of Australia was sworn in.

Celebrating Federation at the Australian Constitution Centre

In April this year the Australian Constitution Centre was opened at the High Court in Canberra. This project is a collaboration between The Constitution Education Fund and the High Court and was funded by the Commonwealth Government. The Australian Constitution Centre film The Journey: How Australia Came To Be explores the foundation principles of the Constitution.

The film is set in 1901 and two children, Matilda and Banjo, are on their way to the Federation party at Centennial Park. All the different colonies in Australia have agreed to come together as one country and it’s very exciting. One country, one set of rules, one people. We are all united under something called the Constitution. Matilda and Banjo explain why democracy, the rule of law, separation of powers, federalism, nationhood and rights are the foundation principles of our Constitution.

We encourage all our supporters to watch the film. Please feel free to let us know what you think.


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