Centennial Parklands: the masterpiece of the East

Neil Breen on the myriad joys of our greatest park, and why its preservation is paramount.

In another life, I had lunch with legendary developer Harry Triguboff in the penthouse of his CBD development, World Tower.

Triguboff, from a Russian Jewish family who fled to China after the rise of Lenin, came to Australia to attend Scots College at Bellevue Hill in 1947. He bought his first blocks of land in the 1960s and the rest is history. His company Meriton has built more than 65,000 apartments since and Triguboff is worth an estimated $12.77 billion.

That lunch was a bizarre experience. We pulled up in a car on the street and, all of a sudden, our door was opened by a gentleman who talked into his wrist and whisked us inside and into a lift.

The lift stopped and we were handed over to another gentleman who, after also speaking into his wrist, whisked us into another lift.

At the top, it was into Harry’s apartment with to-die-for views across the city.

Harry loves apartments blocks. During that lunch, he said something I have thought about on an almost daily basis since.

“The government should let me have Centennial Park,” he said. “I could house 150,000 people in there. I told Bob Carr."

He then went on to explain what he could do with the park.

I didn’t know if he was joking, but my instant thought was: “You couldn’t possibly be for real.”

Of course, no government would ever do that.

I later found out he wasn’t joking — he had raised the idea with Premier Bob Carr in 2006, saying, “Sydney had too many forests and parks” and “If you want to see trees, go to Katoomba”.

Mr Carr in turn said: “Centennial Park would resemble a second coming of Judgement Day”. 

Centennial Park is a masterpiece of the Eastern Suburbs.

Every time I go there I think of that lunch with Harry. He’s undoubtedly a genius, but building apartment blocks all through Centennial Park isn’t even to be joked about.

The other thing I think about is how our predecessors were also geniuses for preserving the land way back in the day. A bit like the forefathers of New York did with Central Park.

Stepping into Centennial Park is akin to entering some sort of Twilight Zone. The hustle, the bustle, the madness of the population-rich Eastern Suburbs melts away.

Kids can run and climb trees. Dogs can escape their apartments and terrace houses. Bike riders, horse riders, runners, skaters and walkers co-exist on their layers of tracks and roads.

There’s history to explore and grass upon which to lie. Ok, sometimes the duck droppings annoy you but it is a small sacrifice. Oh, also, those eels kind of creep me out.

When there’s nothing to do on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon, there’s always something to do in Centennial Park. Even if it’s nothing. You can just lie there on the grass. That’s the magic of it.

The park exists today thanks to the forethought of the powers that be in the late 1800s, including Lord Carrington, governor of NSW from 1885 to 1890, and premier Sir Henry Parkes.

In 1887, it was decided the park would be created as a gift to the city to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the colony, hence the name Centennial Park.

And what a gift it is … the gift that keeps on giving.