By Cathy Jones
Airey Park is fully located within the ‘Potts Estate’, land measuring 256 acres (103 hectares) originally granted in 1841 to Joseph Hyde Potts. Potts was first secretary of the Bank of New South Wales (later Westpac Bank) and a prominent landowner in Sydney, owning land on which suburbs such as Potts Point and Potts Hill are built. Part of Rookwood Cemetery is located on Potts ‘Hyde Park’ Estate. The Potts land at Homebush was bounded at north by the railway (built 1855), at east by the 1806 Fleming land grant (later Underwood Estate and now suburb of Homebush West) and at south Barker Road, the dividing boundary of the Potts and 1841 Newton land grants.
While subdivision for residential development commenced in the parts of Strathfield (1867 Redmire Estate) and Homebush (1878 Underwood Estate) and Homebush West (1882 Underwood Estate), the Potts Estate land lay undeveloped for many years due to legal restrictions over use of land.
It is likely that Joseph Hyde Potts transferred his ownership of this land to his mother-in-law Mary Ann Bates, mother of his wife Emma, on order to raise money to finance his other interests. Mary Ann Bates died in 1860 and left her land in trust, granting her daughter and son-in-law life interest and occupancy of the estate. Joseph Hyde Potts died in 1865. Bates’ trust was devised to keep the estate in-tact for the benefit of her grandchildren, after the death of her daughter. However, Bates did not foresee that her daughter would live to old age and the trustees were not granted the ability to sell or mortgage the estate. Over the next twenty years the land remained unimproved and the estate, though rich in assets, headed towards insolvency.
The family’s only avenue was to petition the NSW Parliament and thus legislation, entitled the ‘Bates Estate Act 1881’ was enacted to permit the Trustees to sell, lease or mortgage the estate. Under the authority of the Bates Estate Act 1881, the trustees commenced subdivision. However, due to these dealys, most of the Potts Estate remianed undeveloped during the first and second periods of residential development in Strathfield and Homebush. Development commenced around Airey Park in the 1920s and homes were built during the interwar period (1919-1939).
The names of streets surrounding Airey Park reflect the historic development of the area. Bates Street is named after Mary Anne Bates. Fraser Street is named after Donald Fraser, son-in-law of Joseph Hyde Potts. Francis Street is named for a member of the Bates family. Badgery Avenue is named after Harrie Badgery, member of the prominent Badgery agricultural family. The Crescent was formerly known as Homebush Crescent.
Development of Airey Park
The land on which Airey Park is located was not considered suitable for residential development as the site was bisected by a waterway and the land was flood prone. Saleyards Creek Stormwater Canal runs through Airey Park, entering at The Crescent and breaking into two separate streams within the Park. One section continues through to Melville Reserve in Hampstead Road and is an open canal. This section of the canal was concreted in the 1930s as a Government work relief project during the Great Depression. The other section flows through Badgery Avenue and finishes at Pilgrim Park in Arthur Street. A Metropolitan Water & Sewerage Board Sydney and Suburbs Map No.38 (undated), which clearly shows the stormwater channels in Airey Park. In 1925, Strathfield Council and the Metropolitan Water, Drainage and Sewerage Board signed an agreement to sewer this section.
The majority of Airey Park is built on 7 ½ acres of land donated by the executors of the estate of Henry Marcus Clark. Henry Marcus Clark was the founder of Marcus Clark & Co Ltd, a large Sydney based retail company and mail order business. The company were ‘universal distributors’ and located from 1906 at Railway Square (cnr Pitt and George Streets), then the tallest building in Sydney. The building today is heritage listed and occupied by State Rail Authority.
The dedication of land to Council was made possible by the representations of Joseph Airey, manager of the Marcus Clark store. Airey was also an Alderman of Strathfield Council (1917-24) and Vice-Chairman of Strathfield Council’s finance committee. Strathfield Council minutes of 9 September 1919 resolved to forward a letter to the (Marcus Clark) Executors conveying the Council’s sincere thanks for their Public spirited action in giving 7½ acres for use as Recreation Ground’.
Airey Park was formally dedicated as a public park in 1920 and the park was named after Joseph Airey for his contributions in securing the donation of land. Airey died unexpectedly in March 1924 while still serving as an Alderman.
Other land was added to Airey Park including two lots facing The Crescent, which was approved by Council in 1924 on the recommendation of Council’s Parks Committee for acquisition. A portion of Francis Street, a road which enters Airey Park from Badgery Avenue has also been incorporated into Airey Park.
Though land had been acquired for a public recreation area, substantial work was required to turn this land into a park. Most of the land was low lying, uneven and prone to flooding. A surveyors map (c.1925) describes areas of the park as ‘broken land’. Council minutes record a decision in 1924 to develop a landscape plan for Airey Park. Unfortunately, few general Council files are still in existence from this period as most were destroyed in 1929 by Council directive.
Council records indicate that Airey Park operated as a Council tip. The primary purpose was to fill holes and levelling the park surface. Further research is required to identify when the tip operated and what materials were used to fill the land, though it is unlikely due to proximity to residential developments that the tip contained dangerous materials.
1948 Gardeners Report refers to cricket posts at Airey Park and therefore, it can be assumed that cricket was played at Airey Park.
In 1953, the then Principal of Homebush Boys High, Robert Golding, requested that a formal Sports Oval be constructed in Airey Park. The school proposed financial contributions for the project in return for agreement for use of the facility. The purpose of the Oval was to provide a sportsground for cricket in summer season and football in winter. The cost of the Oval construction was £10,920. The pupils of Homebush Boys High, the Old Boys Union and Parents and Citizens Association contributed £1900 towards the cost. Strathfield Council’s contribution was funded through balance of funds from sale of property in Redmyre Road Strathfield (£1367), vote from general funds (£1000) and a loan from the Commonwealth Bank of £6000 (5 years at 4 ¾%). Approval for the loan required Ministerial consent, which was granted on 20 January 1956. In January 1957, the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board (MSWDB) approved free water supply to the Oval of 8400 gallons per annum.
The first sod of the Oval was turned on 10 May 1956 and the Oval, known as Airey Park Oval, was formally opened by the NSW Governor, Lt Gen Sir Eric Woodward, on 7 December 1957 and dedicated as a Memorial to former pupils of the School who died in World War II.
Homebush Boys High contributed £100 per annum for use of the Oval from 1958 until a formal licence between Council and the School was entered into on 5 April 1966. The original offer in 1953 from the school promised payments of £250 per annum, however the maximum payment returned was £100. Though Council endorsed a formal agreement between Homebush Boys High and Council in May 1958, the agreement was never executed. This appears to be due to problems in confirming status of trustees of the Homebush High School Old Boys Union and difficulties entering into legal agreements with NSW Department of Education, as Homebush Boys High is a public school.
Between 1958 and 1966 a casual agreement existed which allowed the School regular use of the facility with Council assuming full responsibility for maintaining the facility. Strathfield Council also managed similar agreements involving local schools and sportsgrounds such as Bressington Park with Trinity Grammar School and Hudson Park Oval with St Patricks College.
By 1961, Airey Park contained 1 Turf wicket, 1 Rugby Field, Sports Oval, 3 Men’s Bowling Rinks, 2 Women’s Bowling Rinks, Dressing Sheds and Toilets.
In 1964, the then Strathfield Council Town Clerk, James Matthews, exercised some concern regarding the management of the Oval as use and in particular, sub-leasing was occurring without knowledge or permission of Council causing considerable damage to the Oval and facilities. He recommended that a licence was necessary for Council to exercise greater control over the use of the Oval particularly sub-leasing, to limit private occupation by prescribing the days and times of use of the School and to make the facility available for other groups. The licence agreement of 1966 was between Strathfield Council and Trustees of the Homebush High School Old Boys Union (Kevin Myers, Donald Pettigrew, Sidney Coates, James Greening, Donald Craig and Donald Webb) spanned twenty years and involved a contribution of £100 per annum and £10 per annum for ‘licence fee’, mainly as contribution to the salary of the groundsman.
The dressing sheds at Airey Park Oval were considered to be inadequate and a request was made by Homebush Boys High, the Homebush Old Boys Union and Parents and Citizens Association for permission to build a new facility with provision at a later stage to build a grandstand. The site was located at the south western end of the oval and an area of 85’ x 52’ was measured out for the site of proposed clubhouse and entry. A pavilion and dressing sheds, adjacent to the Oval, was dedicated at an opening ceremony on 16 September 1967 as the Arthur Cave Memorial Pavillion, named for former Mayor of Strathfield Arthur Cave, who worked tirelessly to build Airey Oval. The pavilion was intended for future development with addition of a grandstand but this was never built. The pavilion was demolished in the 1990s and replaced with a newer structure.
The new Pavilion or Clubhouse was built in the mid-1990s by Strathfield Council with financial and in-kind contributions from the Strathfield Cricket Club, who held a licence of Airey Oval. The new pavilion provides a viewing platform, kitchen, clubroom, public toilets and change rooms.
With the establishment of the Pipeline Act (NSW), oil pipelines were permitted to be constructed through public reserves and parks. An oil pipeline was constructed from Botany Bay to Silverwater passing through Cooks River parkland, Hudson Park and Airey Park. The pipeline through Airey Park was constructed in 1978 ‘west of the canal’ and levelled with soil and regressed.
Airey Park is not typical of Council’s traditional approach to park planning as it contains a significant amount of built structures. However with the exception of the Community Centre and Cricket Clubhouse attached to Airey Oval, the other structures were originally lawn bowling clubs. A total of five outdoor bowling greens were once available in Airey Park. When the Clubs were built, they were considered complimentary to the park’s primary objective of providing sports and recreation facilities and were consistent with Council’s then building codes. Following the introduction of the 1919 Local Government Act, Strathfield Council proclaimed most of Strathfield a residential district in 1920 and excluded building or operation of trade, industry, shop, place of amusement, advertisements or residential flats throughout Strathfield, except for certain areas on main roads and town centres. The proclamation largely stayed in place until 1969 when it was suspended by the Strathfield Planning Scheme Ordinance. Though ‘amusements’ were prohibited by the Proclamation, Council permitted the building of Bowling Clubs within residential areas and on park land such as Airey Park and Thew Reserve (Strathfield South Bowling Club) in the 1950s.
However, with decline of participants in lawn bowling, the two clubs in Airey Park have ceased and these sites are now used primarily as centres for children’s services.
Airey Park contains a number of built facilities such as the Strathfield Community Centre, Strathfield Sessional Preschool and Strathfield Children’s Centre.
The Strathfield Community Centre was opened in 1990. The building of the Centre was funded through State and Commonwealth Governments. The original tenants of the Centre included Homebush West Seniors Citizens Club and the Strathfield District Historical Society.
Strathfield Sessional Preschool at 1A Bates Street (Airey Park) iwas established on the site of the former Homebush Women’s Bowling Club. The Clubhouse was converted into a kindergarten and the two former bowling greens were converted into an outdoor playarea. This playarea is incorporated into the childcare centre and is not available for general public access.
The Strathfield Children’s Centre is established on the site of the former Strathfield West Bowling Club, which wound up in 1994. The Club contained three bowling greens. Two greens have been demolished but one former green still exists.
The Strathfield Children’s Centre provides long day care. The lower ground floor is used by NSW Department of Health and operates as the Strathfield Early Childhood Centre. This Centre replaced the former Baby Health Centre at 52 Redmyre Road Strathfield. The Homebush Baby Health Centre once operated at 90 Underwood Road Homebush (which was demolished in 2016 as part of the Westconnex project).
Airey Park Oval was renamed Alan Davidson Oval in 2002.
Airey Park Cricket Practice Wickets, which include five separate wickets, were opened in 2004.
Matthews, James Sandry, Oral History, Strathfield Council (c.1993)
Premier Street Directory of Sydney and Suburbs, HEC Robinson Ltd, 1930.
Spearritt, Peter, ‘Clark, Sir Reginald Marcus (1883 – 1953)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, Melbourne University Press, 1981, pp 11-12.
Strathfield Council Mayor’s Supplementary Report ‘Airey Park’, Strathfield Council, 9 August 1965
Strathfield Council Meeting Minutes, Strathfield Council, 1924 Item 234 (Recommend acquisition of property on The Crescent Homebush for park purpose)
Strathfield Council Meeting Minutes, March 1924 (Death of Alderman Joseph Airey)
Strathfield Council Town Clerk’s Report, Strathfield Council, 9July 1965
Strathfield Council Town Clerk’s Report, Strathfield Council, March 6 1964 (Recommendation to enter into formal licence agreement with Homebush Boys High)
Town Clerk’s Report, Strathfield Council, April 7 1964 (Recommendation for terms of licence a Strathfield Council agreement with Homebush Boys High)
Strathfield Council Town Clerk’s Report, Strathfield Council, April 7 1964 (Report on financing of Airey Oval and undertakings by Homebush Boys High in regard to Airey Oval construction and use)
 James Matthews Oral History
 Agreement between MWDSB and Strathfield Council, 1925.
 Strathfield Council Minutes March 1924.
 Council Parks Committee recommend purchase of land in The Crescent for parks purpose, Strathfield Council Minutes 1924 Item 234/1924
 Town Clerk Report 28 April 1964
 Some Notes on the Municipality of Strathfield , p26
 Application for continued possession or occupation of a public reserve 1979.
 Town Clerk Report 28 April 1964
 Strathfield Planning Survey.
 Town Clerk Report March 6 1964
 Town Clerk Report April 7 1964
 Mayor’s Supplementary Report 9 August 1965
 Town Clerk’s Report 9th July 1965
 Manwaring, K. “Oral History’ p6, Strathfield Council, 1993.
 Council file note 19.9.1978
© Cathy Jones 2008. This article is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.