by Cathy Jones
Strathfield Park is located between Homebush Road and Chalmers Road Strathfield. It is considered Strathfield’s ‘premier park’ because it is the most popular park in Strathfield and provides the widest range of activities and facilities. Strathfield Park was Strathfield’s first public park, dedicated in 1914, and is the site of most significant civic events in the Strathfield Municipality.
This park is fully located within the land transferred to James Wilshire by Crown Land grant in 1808 (regranted in 1810). Wilshire’s land measured 570 acres and contains most of the suburbs of Strathfield and Strathfield South. Ownership transferred to Samuel Terry in 1924, when it was renamed the ‘Redmire Estate’. By 1867, the land transferred to solicitor William Billyard who proceeded to subdivide and sell the land in allotments ranging from one to five hectares in size, which were large lots by the standards of the time[i].
Sarah Waller purchased Lots 7 and 8 of the Redmire Estate on which Strathfield Park is located. Waller was the sister of Charles Muddle, NSW Register-General who lived at ‘Fairholm’ in Cotswold Avenue Strathfield. Waller’s land appears to have remained undeveloped for many years, both before and after her death in 1888[ii].
It is likely that the Waller land was used as a golf course under a lease or informal agreement with the trustees of the Waller Estate in the years c.1896-c.1906[iii]. Though the golf course is not listed in postal directories of the period, there is evidence that the land was used for this purpose. Mrs Elizabeth Ward, who spent her childhood in Strathfield c. 1892 to 1904 recalled:
‘Strathfield Park on Homebush Road was a Golf Course in my time. As kids we used to go through the golf course and climb over the fences. The golfers had stiles to get through the fences and that is what used to attract us. It may have been part of some private property, I don’t know…I can’t remember seeing a clubhouse’.
Further, a subdivision poster advertising auction of part of the Waller land on 20 October 1906? (the year is unclear could be 1906 or 1908) refers to the land as the ‘Strathfield Portion of the Strathfield Golf Links of The Waller Estate’.
The use of this land as a golf course coincides with the formation of the first Strathfield Golf Club in 1897. The Club existed between 1897 and 1905 and attracted a healthy membership, numbering around 80 by 1900 of prominent and well to do local residents. In 1897, the Club was described by the Sydney Daily Telegraph that ‘the Strathfield Club is obtaining a number of members of the right stamp’[iv]. In 1905, the majority of members of the Strathfield and Concord Golf Clubs opted to amalgamate their membership and financial resources and purchase land from the Walker Estate in Concord to establish a new club and course. Apparently, the Strathfield members could not afford to acquire land in Strathfield for a permanent home and course for their Club. If the Club was occupying the Waller land, the land may have become unavailable around this time as part of the estate commenced subdivision (c.1906) and approaches had been made to the trustees by the State Government to acquire the site as a park.
Strathfield Municipality did not have golf course until 1930, when the current Strathfield Golf Club was formed. A large section of this course is located on public open space (part of Freshwater Park), which is subject to a licence agreement with Strathfield Council.
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Strathfield was known for its palatial homes and extensive gardens built on large land holdings. In this period, Strathfield was known as one of Sydney’s most exclusive and expensive suburbs, often described as similar to English-style country estates. Despite the appearance of extensive open space, land was privately not publicly owned. As individual sites commenced subdividing and/or developing new dwellings, the amount of open space inevitability declined. The amenity and streetscape of Strathfield would also be adversely affected by the loss of open space, gardens and trees.
As population of Strathfield increased and numbers of dwellings grew, larger amounts of open space for public recreation was required to compensate for the reduction of private open space as well as providing facilities for recreation and leisure activities.
The program of land acquisition for public recreation has been Council policy for more than a century after the Strathfield Council Town Clerk, John Hope Balmain, reported in 1899 that he surveyed other Sydney Councils and only Strathfield and Kogarah Councils were without a public park and recreation ground[v]. Given that the first public park, Strathfield Park, was not dedicated until 1914 and the cost of land acquisition in Strathfield since the late 19th Century is substantially higher than the Sydney average, Council’s strategy for acquiring land for parks and reserves has been very successful.
In the early 1900s, Strathfield experienced unprecedented amounts of land subdivision and population growth. For instance, from 1911 to 1921, the population of Strathfield rose by 100%, in contrast to the Sydney region increase of 42.8% in the same period[vi]. From 1921 to 1933, an increase of 67.8% occurred in Strathfield in contrast to the Sydney region increase of 37.4%. Some of the available land involved subdivision of large privately owned estates containing mansion style homes and extensive gardens. Other building occurred on vacant and undeveloped land, especially on the former Potts and Newton lands in western Strathfield. By the early 1950s, most of Strathfield Municipality had reached building capacity and population growth declined. From the mid-1950s to late 1990s, the population of Strathfield Municipality stablised. However, since late 1990s, population is again increasing due to urban consolidation, particularly in the north of the Municipality.
According to Michael Jones in Oasis in the West (1985), members of the public informally adopted a 7.6 hectare park known as ‘Powell’s Paddock’. Though the location of this paddock was not identified, it is likely that ‘Powell’s Paddock’ was land owned by Edward Powell of ‘Richmond Villa’ Homebush Road Strathfield. Powell was a descendent of Edward Powell, one of the original land grantees of the local area. Though this land was located closer to the Strathfield Town Centre, the cost of acquisition was considered too high. The owners, wanted £10,000 for the site, which was about four times the annual rate revenue of the Strathfield Municipality. Council eventually approached the State Government for assistance in purchasing a large park as the cost of land acquisition for public open space was unaffordable.
The land owned by the Waller Estate was selected by the State Government as a viable location for a park. Though the land was some distance from the Town Centre and railway station, the land had not been developed and was almost nine hectares in size, which permitted a large park to be developed. It is believed that the land was compulsorily acquired by the State Government from the estate and dedicated as a public recreation on 11 February 1914 and the park was named ‘Strathfield Park’. Strathfield was adopted as the name of the Municipality in 1885, taken from John Hardy’s home ‘Strathfield’.
After the land was dedicated, Council minutes indicate that the park remained undeveloped for some time. Activities such as shooting and cattle grazing were permitted in the park. In 1918, cricket pitches were constructed.
Strathfield Park also contained a small cottage, facing Homebush Road, which was the residence for Council’s caretaker. As early as 1924, Council considered the demolition of this building, however in 1934 Council minutes it is noted that the cottage is still occupied. An aerial photograph in 1943 shows the cottage was still in existence. The Cottage has since been demolished.
During World II, many sites including parks and residential homes in Strathfield were requisitioned by the Australian Armed Forces. Records note that Strathfield Park was hired as a military training area and the dressing sheds at Strathfield Park were used from storage areas for clothes and equipment.
In the 1961 Planning Survey of Strathfield Council, Strathfield Park was assessed as providing 3 Concrete wickets, 3 Hockey fields, 8 Basketball fields, 2 Softball courts, playground and dressing sheds and toilets. By the 1970s, Strathfield Park’s facilities included 3 cricket pitches (concrete), children’s playground (metal equipment), soccer field, separate men’s and ladies toilets and change rooms and kiosk. Former Mayor Bruce Ward described Strathfield Park as ‘a large ungraded area with very little to recommend it’[vii] in the 1960s.
Though Strathfield Park was a popular site for sports such as cricket, the Park required significant upgrading. Plans to redevelop Strathfield Park commenced in the 1970s.
In 1973, Council decided to sell the rear portion of Matthews Park in Greenacre, which measured about 5 acres and allocate funds to parks improvements and land acquisition. The rezoning and sale of this land was not finalised until 1981. A report to Council in 1981 approved the dedication of $250,000 to the redevelopment of Strathfield Park.
In 1979, Strathfield Council commissioned a new landscape plan from Harry Howard & Associates for Strathfield Park. Former Mayor of Strathfield (1989, 1990 and 1995) John Elvy recalled:
‘Another contribution was that made whilst I was an Alderman in the late 1970s and 1980s. That was upgrading Strathfield Park. I think I had been in Council for probably 6 or 7 years and after constant discussion and with the support of the majority of Aldermen we decided to sell 5 acres of a 10 acre park in Roberts Road which was greatly underutilised and also located in the middle of an industrial area. With the money we received from this sale we upgraded Strathfield Park to what I believe a significant open space contribution to our area which is very well utilised by our community and provides an environmentally attractive environment for Strathfield’.
The new Plan for Strathfield Park changed levels and created different sections in the park.
In 1985, the celebrations for the centenary of Strathfield Council was held in Strathfield Park. A 19th century style Colonial procession of floats and motorcades travelled from Redmyre Road, though Homebush Road to Strathfield Park. A plaque commemorating this celebration was placed in the Park[viii].
During the Bicentennial Celebrations in 1988, the Park’s Rotunda was erected.
Strathfield Park in more recent times has hosted Australia Day celebrations including citizenship ceremonies, annual Spring Fair and regular activities like Movies in the Park.
Derriman, P., Concord Golf Club: First Hundred Years, 1999
Gibbons, Y (ed), John Elvy Oral History, Strathfield Council, 1993
Gibbons, Y (ed), Rodney Rimes Oral History, Strathfield Council, 1993
Gibbons, Y (ed), Bruce Ward Oral History, Strathfield Council, 1993
Jones, C., About Strathfield Municipality, 2008
Jones, M., Oasis in the West, Allen & Unwin, pps 104-105, 1985.
National Archives of Australia at www.naa.gov.au
NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages, Death certificate of Sarah Waller Registration No: 3144/1888, downloaded from www.bdm.nsw.gov.au on 17 December 2007.
Ward, E., Recollections of Old Strathfield, Strathfield District Historical Society Newsletter Vol.2 No.7, April 1980
[i] Jones, p27 ‘Oasis in the West’
[ii] Death certificate of Sarah Waller in 1888. It is not known why the land remained undeveloped or not sold for so many years. There may have been a legal complication under terms of the Waller will. Further research such as probate searches etc would provide additional information.
[iii] There is little information on the golf course available. The executors of the Waller Estate continued to own the land until it was acquired by the State Government in early 1900s. Council records such as rates and valuations rate the land at unimproved land value and do not note a formal lease arrangement, however an informal arrangement may have existed between the members of the Club and the Waller estate trustees.
[iv] Concord Golf Course, p38, 1999
[v] Jones, Oasis in the West, 1985
[vi] Jones, C, About Strathfield Municipality, 2008
[vii] Gibbons, Y (ed), Bruce Ward Oral History, 1993
[viii] Gibbons, Y (ed), Rod Rimes Oral History, 1993
© Cathy Jones 2008. This article is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.