On the final Saturday in May this year, Australia’s Prime Minister, The Honourable Tony Abbott MP, made his first official visit to Centennial Park to mark the 200th birthday of the Park’s founder, Sir Henry Parkes, and the launch of the Centennial Parklands Sir Henry Parkes Bequest Program.
The exuberant sound of Kookaburras rang out above Parkes Drive as Mr. Abbott was greeted by a Centennial Parklands delegation including Executive Director, Mr. Kim Ellis, Chair of Centennial Parklands Foundation, Ms. Rebekah Giles and Chair of Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, Mr. Tony Ryan.
They led Mr. Abbott past Sir Henry’s statue and across Hamilton Drive, up the grassy slope to a gathering that included former Governor of NSW Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, former Sydney Lord Mayor Sir Nicholas Shehadie AC OBE, NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage, Mr Mark Speakman and a “family reunion” of over 200 of Sir Henry’s descendants, who travelled to Sydney from around Australia.
Mr. Abbott paid tribute to the achievements of Sir Henry Parkes - the former five-time NSW Premier and “one of the most significant figures in our history” - and emphasised the historical significance of the Parklands: “while Sir Henry himself never saw the Federation, which he had helped to bring about, the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 was indeed held here in his beloved Centennial Parklands,” Mr. Abbott said.
“The temptation to play games with this park – to sell such magnificent land – has been resisted,” Mr. Abbott explained. “And this has been kept as an open space for all people for all time.”
Minister Speakman added: “Last year alone there were more than six million visits made to Centennial Park – and it becomes more popular by the day. Centennial Parklands is an environmental jewel in the crown of Sydney, as a place of community health and wellbeing.”
In launching the Centennial Parklands Sir Henry Parkes Bequest Program, Foundation Chair, Ms. Giles, inspired the crowd to create their own legacy to protect the Park’s future. “I’ve have come to terms with the fact that I won’t be leaving this earth with the achievements of someone like Sir Henry Parkes,” she said. “But I will happily take a leaf from Sir Henry’s book by leaving a legacy that will ensure these Parklands can be enjoyed by all long after I am forgotten.”
Her call was supported by Sir Henry’s descendent, Mr. Ian Thom, who candidly explained that his ancestor was indebted when he died, and therefore not in a financial position to fortify his promise that the Park shall forever be “the people’s”. But, said Mr Thom, that shouldn’t stop the rest of us: “It really is as simple as putting a codicil on a will, and we’re in business,” he said.
After the formalities, the Prime Minister turned the soil to plant a commemorative fig tree, and the Parkes family assembled to admire a 20 metre long family tree charting Sir Henry’s descendants - 1,015 in total, with the youngest aged just six weeks.
Centennial Parklands Foundation would like to thank Mr Thom and family for the opportunity to launch the Centennial Parklands Sir Henry Parkes Bequest Program at this prestigious event. Providing such passionate support for Centennial Parklands continues, Sir Henry’s future descendants, and countless other children, will be able to enjoy this precious public space for centuries to come.
For more information
If you would like more information about the Centennial Parklands Sir Henry Parkes Bequest Program please contact Centennial Parklands Foundation on (02) 9339 6633 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: Guests admiring the Parkes family tree banner
Image: Kim Ellis (Executive Director, Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands) addressing the guests
Image: Australia’s Prime Minister, The Honourable Tony Abbott MP turning the soil
Image: Tony Ryan (Chair, Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust), Rebekah Giles (Chair, Centennial Parklands Foundation), The Hon. Tony Abbott MP, Mark Speakman (NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage), Mr Ian Thom and Kim Ellis (Executive Director, Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands)