Edwards Park

Edwards Park is known locally as the site of the Branch Library, however the park has an interesting history.  Though originally developed as a private housing estate by Ebenezer Ford, the death of Ford and the Great Depression and World War II meant that the estate laid undeveloped for over 15 years.  Fords’ estate was compulsorily acquired by the NSW Government and was developed into one of the first post-war housing estates in Sydney.   

Edwards Park, High Street, Strathfield is owned by Strathfield Council and was dedicated to Council in 1955 for open space and public recreation by the NSW Government.  The site on which the park is built is the centre of a large residential NSW Government housing development of the 1940s and 1950s.  The development area measured about 22 acres, and is bounded by Homebush Road, Liverpool Road, Rickard Road and the Sydney Water Supply Pipe Line (Humphries Reserve).

Edwards Park is located within Lots 10 and 11 of the ‘Redmire Estate’ (deposited plan no.35) which was subdivided and offered for sale in 1867.   The Redmire Estate is the later name of the original land grant to James Wilshire in 1808.   Most of the land on which the suburbs of Strathfield and Strathfield South are built is located on the Redmire Estate.  Following subdivision and sale of individual lots of the Redmire Estate, residential development gradually commenced in Strathfield and Strathfield South.

Despite residential development dating from the late 1800s in areas close to Edwards Park, such as Liverpool Road and Homebush Road, the site of Edwards Park and surrounding streets remained undeveloped.  By the 1920s, ownership of this land passed to Ebenezer Ford (d.1932).  Ford was a prominent resident of Strathfield and Enfield. He was a builder by profession and was extensively involved in land and property development in Enfield, owning most of the Broadway (Enfield) shopping centre and responsible for development of estates such as the Mintaro Estate.  Ford served as an Alderman on Enfield Council for over 20 years and Mayor for 12 years and Ford Park and Ford Street are named after him.  Ford was the grandfather of solicitor Harvey Ford, Mayor of Strathfield (1965-66).

The land owned by Ford was commonly known as the ‘Ford Estate South Strathfield’.  In 1929, Ford submitted a plan of subdivision which was approved by Strathfield Council.  The subdivision plan laid out roads such as High Street (between Homebush Road and Amaroo Avenue), Mintaro Avenue (between Homebush Road and Amaroo Avenue), Amaroo Avenue, Macarthur Avenue and Noble Avenue.  Based on the success of his prior residential developments, Ford would have anticipated a successful enterprise and proceeded with construction of the roads.  Roads were constructed in accordance with Council’s specifications involving widths of sixty six feet (66ft) and road materials of ballast with bituminous surface. Concrete kerbing and guttering were also built with Strathfield Council contributing 25% of the cost.  Ford’s plan did not include roads south of High Street such as the Noble Avenue and Macarthur Avenue extensions, which surround Edwards Park.  These road extensions were constructed later, when the subdivision was redesigned.

Though the roads were built, Ford’s plan to sell the residential lots did not eventuate.  Demand for land and building activity plunged in the early 1930s due to the economic depression with virtually no building activity in Sydney recorded between 1931 and 1935.  Additionally, the death of Ford in 1932 would have placed plans on-hold pending resolution of his estate. The Great Depression followed by World War II, lead to a virtual cessation of building activity in NSW.  Building activity and demand for land did not substantially improve until the end of World War II in 1945 and by this time, Sydney experienced a severe crisis in available housing and building supplies.  The NSW Government estimated in 1946 that 80,000 homes were not built because of the depression and another 80,000 were not built due to the WWII.   It was estimated by the end of WWII that Sydney had a shortfall of 90,000 houses and return of ex-servicemen would exacerbate the demand for housing.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) was committed to government intervention in the provision of housing to ensure access to affordable homes for low income earners especially former servicemen.  In 1941, the NSW McKell-led Labor Government introduced the Housing Act, which enabled the establishment of the NSW Housing Commission.  McKell stated that the aim was provide ‘good, cheap house, either for rent or purchase for people earning around the basic wage’. Plans to directly intervene into the housing system were made possible by the first Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in 1945.  The agreement involved federal loans to the States at low rates of interest to build dwellings for low income earners.  Provision of housing in response to demand was a key initiative of Labor Governments in post-War Sydney.  For instance, during the 1947 NSW state election, the Premier James McGirr (a local resident of Strathfield) regularly promised that the Labor Government would provide 90,000 homes in following three years.

After the enabling of the 1941 Housing Act, the NSW Government identified sites suitable for development of new housing throughout Sydney.  Despite significant protests from Strathfield Council concerning the fact that State planning powers could override Council’s planning controls, the undeveloped Ford Estate was compulsory acquired from the trustees of Ebenezer’s Ford Estate and resumed by the NSW Government for housing in September 1945[1] Ownership of the land was vested in the Housing Commission of NSW.   The Housing Commission developed a new subdivision plan registered as deposited plan no. 941, which involved the redesign of 108 allotments, with 3 lots left in abeyance.  The lots in abeyance were assessed by the Department to ‘lack natural drainage’[2]  and eventually were allocated for park and recreation purpose.  It was estimated that the new estate would provide accommodation for over 400 people, housed in single storey separate dwellings and gardens with either two or three bedrooms.  Allocation of Commission housing was targeted on basis of need, with ex-servicemen receiving at least half of all dwellings built.

Unlike other similar housing commission developments of the same period, such as Dundas and Villawood, the Strathfield South development was of higher quality benefiting from existing and superior infrastructure such as concreted roads, kerbing and guttering and connected sewerage.  Many metropolitan suburbs in Sydney were not connected to sewerage until the 1970s, dependent on septic tanks and night soil collectors. By 1956, the Housing Commission had constructed over 23,000 dwellings in Sydney and suburbs, which accounted for one-fifth of all houses and flats in NSW.   Though the initial strategy for housing involved long-term rental agreements, Government policy altered from the 1950s with emphasis on home ownership.  By 1976, over 40% of former Housing Commission homes were in private ownership.

The Housing Commission of NSW dedicated the site for Edwards Park to Strathfield Council for the purpose of public recreation.  This dedication appeared in the NSW Government Gazette No. 31 (14 March 1955) titled ‘Dedication of Edwards Park’.  The reserve is located on Lot 44, Housing Commission Layout Plan 941.

Strathfield Council named the new park after William Edwards, who died in 1954.  Edwards had served as an Alderman, Deputy Mayor and Parks Committee Vice-Chairman of Strathfield Council. In a letter from the Town Clerk to Mrs Edwards of 76 Albyn Rd, Strathfield, Mr Edwards is described as:

‘Mr Edwards, a former member of this Council and Deputy Mayor, was Vice-Chairman of its Parks Committee and during the whole of the time he held office he evinced a keen and intelligent interest in all matters relating to Parks, Reserves, Gardens and particularly Children’s Playgrounds. The Council proposes to establish a children’s playground in the area with all necessary equipment.  It feels that in so naming this Park, it is placing on record its appreciation of the public services rendered by one who enjoyed the respect and affection of all with whom he came in contact.’

The Council resolution to name the park states:

‘That this land, which was recently dedicated to the public by the Housing Commission of NSW, be named Edwards Park in honour, and to the memory, of the late William Edwards, a former member of this Council and Deputy Mayor’

Work commenced in Edwards Park in April 1955 to level the site and to build a children’s playground in the southern end of the park.

The Strathfield South Branch Library was erected in 1956 in the northern end of Edwards Park (facing High St).  The building was designed by architects D T Morrow and Gordon, who were responsible for other Council buildings such as the former Baby Health Centre, 50-52 Redmyre Road Strathfield.  The Library was dedicated as the ‘Sydney Black Memorial Library’, named for a local resident active in community organisations.  The Library was opened by Alderman William Dunlop, Mayor of Strathfield. The High Street Library became Strathfield’s Central Library in 1967 until the opening of the new Strathfield Library at 65 Rochester Street Homebush in 1976.  At this stage, the High Street Library again became a branch library.

 On 24 February 1958, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother visited Australia and her itinerary included visitations to recent Government Housing projects including Dundas Valley, Villawood and Strathfield South.  Her visit to Strathfield South included a drive through the streets of the housing development and past the new High Street Library and Edwards Park waving to local schoolchildren who lined the streets.  To commemorate this visit, Strathfield Council laid out new gardens outside the Branch Library and erected flagpoles in Edwards Park.

The initial objective of the park’s design was to provide open space and a children’s playground.  By the 1990s, a more formalised garden plan was implemented and facilities such as Shelters and BBQ’s were added.

Edwards Park is part of the Adopt a Park program. The park was adopted by the Rotary Club of Strathfield, working in collaboration with Strathfield Council to enhance and beautify the park.

Edwards Park is a heritage item on Strathfield Council’s draft Local Environmental Plan (LEP) 105 and has been assessed as an item of historic and cultural heritage significance.  The statement of heritage significance states:

‘Historically significant as part of the Strathfield South Housing Commission estate of the mid-1950s, and illustrates the provision made for recreation in public housing estates in the mid-1950s, including the provision of play equipment for children.  Evocative of the ‘baby boom’ and housing shortages of the 1950s.’  The heritage listing does not include the branch library building. 

References

Ebenezer Ford Obituary, Sydney Morning Herald, p17, 17 August 1932

Jones, Cathy (2004), Parks, Reserves & Memorials of Strathfield Municipality, 2004

Kemp & Johnson (2004), ‘Edwards Park’ Heritage Inventory Sheet, 2004

NSW Government Gazette No. 94, 14 September 1945

People’s Choice: Electoral Politics in 20th Century New South Wales (2001), (ed) Hogan and Clune, NSW Parliament and University of Sydney

Spearritt, Peter (2000), Sydney’s Century, NSW Press.

Strathfield Council, Building Inspector’s Report, 23 October 1945

Strathfield Council, Council meeting minutes, 22 March 1955.

Wilkinson, John (2005), Affordable Housing in NSW, NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service

 Footnotes

[1] NSW Government Gazette No. 94, 14 September 1945

[2] Strathfield Council, Building Inspector’s Report, 23 October 1945

(c) Cathy Jones 2008

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