All Play: Newtown’s Hollis Park

July 22nd, 2021 - by Brad Gillespie

Hollis Park is much loved by Newtown locals for its green space, children’s play area and nearby café.

And while some of the equipment is new, the park has a long history.

Bligh’s land grant

Bounded by Warrenball Avenue and Wilson, Fitzroy and Georgina Streets, Hollis Park sits on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.

After European settlement, the land formed part of a 97-hectare grant given to William Bligh when he arrived in Sydney in 1806 to take up the post of Governor. Returning to England just four years later, Bligh passed the land, then part of Camperdown, to his daughter.

Bligh’s descendants eventually sold a section of the estate between Wilson and King Streets in 1834, and in 1846 one John Icke Kettle bought it. Kettle subdivided the land, and it was further subdivided after his death. It is part of this land that eventually became Hollis Park.

A much-needed play space

In the 19th century, there were no major parks in the Newtown area despite the council’s repeated requests to the NSW government for land for public recreation.

However, success came in 1912 when land that had once formed part of Kettle’s subdivision and had been earmarked for a school, was given over for a park. Hollis Park – the area’s earliest major park – was dedicated on 8 April 1914.

Robert Hollis

The park was named after Wilson Street resident, Robert Hollis.

On arriving in Australia from England in 1885, Hollis joined the Department of Railways as a fireman. He became involved in unionism and in 1891 became a foundation member of the Redfern Labor League.

The civic-minded Hollis served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Newtown between 1901 and 1917, began the Newtown Literary and Debating Society, and was a director of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for 20 years.

A very London look

Between 1885 and 1890, many of the grand terrace houses in the streets around Hollis Park were built, adding an English look and feel to the area that continues today.

But it’s those houses combined with the park that really gives a London feel. With the park’s roughly square shape, symmetrical pathways and large trees, and heritage Victorian terraces looking onto the park from the surrounding streets, the area very much resembles one of London’s “city squares”.

For this reason, the area was deemed historically significant and designated the Hollis Park Heritage Conservation Area.

Hollis Park today

Hollis Park’s open green lawns and border of huge fig trees continue to be a welcome oasis for Newtown locals. It’s also a popular spot for wedding ceremonies.

The park is a magnet for local children and their adults, and it’s easy to see why. Having recently undergone an upgrade, the fenced, shaded play area features a rock-climbing wall, a large climbing frame, slides, swings and rockers – and the much-loved yellow boat rocker. There’s also improved access to the playground and its facilities, ensuring Hollis Park can be enjoyed by all.

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Photo credits: City of Sydney website