Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

History of the Domain

The first inhabitants 

Our knowledge of this period is based largely upon the observations made by the officers of the First Fleet, which were inevitably influenced by their European cultural heritage. When European settlers arrived in 1788, a long-established community life existed in the area. The Aborigines had a highly integrated tribal society. As hunter-gatherers, their lifestyle was inextricably linked to the land. In fact, it appeared to the Europeans that the superiority of a tribe was dependent on the possession of good fishing and hunting grounds. The area was rich in fauna unfamiliar to the members of the First Fleet - possums, emus, and of course kangaroos, not to mention the abundant marine, insect and reptile populations. The Aboriginal inhabitants lived in bark huts and spent a great part of their days hunting and fishing with the help of a variety of simple weapons and tools. As an important part of their diet was fish, the harbour waters were also of great importance to them. Ritual played a significant part in their lives; Woccanmagully (Farm Cove) was an initiation site while corroborees took place at Walla Mulla (Woolloomooloo). The sudden incursion of more than a thousand Europeans, occupying the land and disturbing the sources of food, upset this delicately balanced system. Introduced diseases such as smallpox struck native populations with particular ferocity. Eventually death, disease and deprivation led to dependence and degradation for the Aboriginal people. By 1840 there was little evidence of Aboriginal life in the Domain area.


European settlement

The Sydney Domain and the Royal Botanic Garden, with their superb location beside Sydney Harbour, form a living link with the beginnings of European settlement in eastern Australia. By July 1788, Governor Phillip had established a government farm with '9 acres in corn' to the east of Sydney Cove, in what was in 1816 to become the Botanic Gardens. Subsequently the government farm was moved to Parramatta because the soil in the Farm Cove area proved to be infertile; yet for about twenty years private farming continued in this area on permissive leases. Governor Phillip was far-sighted in attempting to restrict to leasehold the alienation of land north of a line drawn from the head of Woolloomooloo Bay to the head of Cockle Bay (Darling Harbour), and he further defined an area of land 'absolutely necessary for use of Government House'. This latter land was to become known as the 'Phillip Domain' and later as the 'Governor's Demesne'. The leasehold system was rejected by later Governors but the Domain was retained.  

'My Lord, I have for some time had it in contemplation to address your Lordship upon the very important subject of the Government Domain, as it is called in Sydney, and the want of a suitable Government House and Public Offices ... one half of Sydney Cove, in which Sydney Harbour is situated, has been reserved by Government, and at present is of no further use than affording a pleasing prospect for the Eye;... desirable to sell or let on building leases the whole of the water side of the Domain, as far as Fort Macquarie, and so many feet back as may be sufficient for the erection of Stores and Warehouses ... This arrangement may be done without any substantial loss to the Domain, as the land thus disposed of is applied to no valuable purpose at the moment ...' Sir Thomas Brisbane, Despatch No. 57, 1825

The 'Phillip Domain' (1788-1830)

The siting of Phillip's exclusive Domain was accidental. Originally, Government House was to have been on the heights on the western side of Sydney Cove, overlooking Cockle Bay. The decision to build on the eastern side of the Cove allowed Phillip to determine that the entire area east of the Tank Stream, across to the stream that ran into Woolloomooloo Bay, would be reserved for the Governor's use. This was not always taken with good grace, but it did prevent early commercial development. It did not stop destruction of the native trees that had covered the Domain, nor did it prevent Aborigines being displaced from their ceremonial grounds of the 'Kangaroo and Dog Dance' on the tidal flat of Farm Cove, or Woccanmagully as it was known. The introduction of exotic plants, including vegetables, fruit trees, grape vines and Norfolk Island Pines was not prevented, but the developers were halted enough to save a major part of the Phillip Domain as open, green space for the enjoyment of the people. The Inner Domain included Old Government House (cnr Phillip and Bridge Streets) and its Grounds, all of Bennelong Point and Sydney Cove down to Loftus Street, and south to the intersection of Bent and Macquarie Streets. The present Inner Domain comprises only a strip along Macquarie Street and around the Conservatorium of Music, other portions having been alienated many years ago or having become Government House Grounds and the Palace Garden precinct of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The Outer Domain includes Mrs Macquaries Point, the area east of the building alignment west of Hospital Road, and south to St Marys Road and Sir John Young Crescent. The main part of the Outer Domain was originally a valley with wooded slopes - the haunt of 'bushrangers', runaway convicts and illicit distillers. It was cleared and partly filled to become an open parkland and the centre of ceremonial, sporting and musical occasions. Reviews, receptions, balloon ascents and concerts were a feature of public entertainment in the Domain, and there is a record of public speaking beginning in the 1870s. Between 1810 and 1816 Governor Macquarie dedicated Hyde Park and extended and enclosed the Outer Domain, partly by walls and partly by paling fences, with a consequent restriction on its use at night. An extensive network of roads was formed, developing those laid out earlier by Governor Bligh. In 1813 Macquarie commenced a road through the Domain for his wife's recreation and, at the northernmost point overlooking the harbour a seat was carved out of a rock ledge, commanding fine views. Mrs Macquaries Chair remains a notable Sydney landmark. The traditional foundation date of the Botanic Garden is taken as the date of completion of Mrs Macquaries Road on 13th June, 1816, which is recorded above the Chair.

When's the Balloon Going up? (1830-1860)

During the 1830s and 1840s, the need for more wharves for shipping and a new Government House resulted in the construction of Macquarie treet North, new Government House, and Circular Quay. To pay for these projects and to provide the wharf space being demanded, all the Domain west of Macquarie Street was sold. However, at the same time, the construction of the sea wall in 1848 allowed the filling in of Farm Cove, which added a large area to the Botanic Gardens. The spoil from the old Government House site was used in this work, which continued for over thirty years. During the 1850s huge crowds gathered in the Domain to watch the Intercolonial Cricket Matches (NSW versus Victoria), the parades and reviews of the Volunteers, and balloon ascents.

'I would do myself the honor to suggest for His Excellency's consideration, the paucity of vacant water frontage for mercantile purposes in Port Jackson being likely to prove an impediment to the commercial prosperity of this Colony, whether it might not be deemed advisable to give up the lower part of the Government Domain behind Macquarie Street for the purpose of forming wharfs, warehouses and dock-yards so essential to any Colony, and without which the advantages of the fine harbour of Port Jackson, on which the prosperity of this so much depends, must be in a great manner lost; ... it does not appear to me that the Domain would materially lose much by the excision ...' Thomas Mitchell to Alexander Macleay, 1831

The Park Where the Gates Never Close (1860-1882)

From 1860, under the administration of Lands Minister Robertson, the Domain remained open at night to pedestrians, allowing people to use this valuable recreational resource during summer evenings. Thus the Domain was to become 'The Park where the Gates Never Close', although carriage traffic remained restricted after dusk for many years. Extensions to the Botanic Gardens were also made on the edges of the Inner and Outer Domains facing into Farm Cove. There was continued use of the Outer Domain by a variety of groups, including the NSW Volunteers and the newly-formed NSW Cricket Association. The first representative match between England and New South Wales was played there in 1862. The Domain became a place for large public gatherings and Yurong Point (Mrs Macquaries Point) was popular for picnic parties. The major encroachment in this period came with the construction of the Garden Palace for the International Exhibition of 1879. Not only was a   large portion of the Inner Domain taken up by the building itself, but also the Outer Domain was used to house additional displays and, for the period of the Exhibition, this area was fenced off to exclude the general public. After the fire that destroyed the Garden Palace in 1882 the surrounding land in the Inner Domain became a pleasure garden, with statue-lined walks and floral displays. The Outer Domain was once more an open park-land with a multitude of uses. From the International Exhibition came the impetus to build the Art Gallery of New South Wales. For some years one of the exhibition buildings along Hospital Road housed first the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, and then the Mining and Geological Museum.

A Park for the People (1882-1957)

Over these years the encroachments on the Domain were mainly for street widening or the erection of buildings such as the State Library of New South Wales, the Registrar General's Department and the Art Gallery. The State Library occupies only a small portion of the Domain, actually straddling the boundary established by Governor Macquarie.

The early Governors intended that important government buildings should be erected in the Domain. The siting of the Library and the Art Gallery, together with the conversion of Macquarie's stables to the Conservatorium of Music brings together into the Domain important parts of the national treasure in unrivalled settings. The National Herbarium of New South Wales and associated buildings in the Gardens are also part of this 'Cultural Crescent'. As a 'park for the people', the Outer Domain was used for large public meetings and official celebrations, for Sunday afternoon activities, family picnics and gatherings; and a variety of sporting activities.  During the Great Depression of the 1930s and indeed into the 1950s, Sunday afternoons became politically tense and there were often arrests of speakers or members of the crowd. In the 1890s and 1930s the rock shelters on Mrs Macquaries Point became a refuge for many out-of-work and homeless men.

'They are orderly crowds in the Domain on Sunday afternoon. I have been in scores of times, and never seen a fight or a brawl. This is rather remarkable, when the language used is so inflammatory ... There is much good humour in these crowds. All sorts and conditions of men, women, and children, are represented. The nursemaid, taking the children out for an hour or two ... Soldiers and sailors mingle with the crowd, and the dark-skinned, turbaned coolies in their white, flimsy garments and gaudy Indian silk sashes afford a striking contrast to the folk clothed in more civilised garb ...' Nat Gould, 1896

The Age of the Motor Car (1958-present)

The major impact on the Domain in recent years has come from the motor car with the building of the Cahill Expressway and the Domain Parking Station; and the use of the Domain grounds for car parking during transport strikes.The Cahill Expressway in particular has unfortunately partially destroyed the close spatial relationship between the Gardens and the Domain, and has separated portions of the Domain. During World War II Domain land was taken for naval fuel tanks. More land was alienated for an electrical substation and the surrounds of the Domain Baths, which passed into the hands of the Sydney City Council. Recently the Eastern Suburbs Railway took still more land. The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Act (1980) now better protects the land, but the pressure to alienate green space or to use it for sectional purposes does not abate. 

'Automobiles - A sign of the times is the large number of these horseless vehicles now to be seen in the Domain. They do not, however, appear to have any effect on the horse traffic.' J.H. Maiden, Annual Report, Botanic Garden, 1902

The original vegetation

>> See Maiden's plant list 1902

Some idea of the natural vegetation of the Domain, as it would have appeared in the time of Governor Phillip, may be obtained by taking a ferry ride around Bradleys Head. To the Europeans, it seemed a harsh, dry environment with eucalypt woodland, 'brushwood', and a variety of smaller plants, occurring on exposed rocky outcrops and in the more sheltered fern gullies of the creek beds. By 1816 the Domain had been largely cleared of its original forest growth, except for a narrow irregular strip of timber where Macquarie Street north now runs. There was considerable regeneration.

In the Annual Report of the Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust for the year 1902, the Director, J. H. Maiden, relates:

The Outer Domain is, of course, in the heart of the city of Sydney. People are alive who remember it to be a place of wild flowers, and they have spoken to people who remember it in much the same state as it was when the white men first set foot on its shores.

The wildflowers that people saw would have included Hibbertia scandens with its yellow flowers, Acacias, the Woody Pear, Xylomelum pyriforme; Grevilleas and Banksias; the Blueberry Ash, Elaeocarpus reticulatus; Native Olive, Notelaea ovata; Christmas Bush, Ceratopetalum gummiferum; the Wonga Wonga Vine, Pandorea pandorana; and heath plants like the Native Fuchsias, Epacris longiflora. As well as these, there would have been many pea flowered plants including bush-peas, Pultenaea retusa with yellow flowers, the red-flowered Running Postman, Kennedya rubicunda; and the purple Hardenbergia violacea. The Tongue Orchid, Dendrobium linguiforme, also grew on the rocks and produced delicate white flowers in spring.

'The Eucalypts and other native trees in the Domain are fast dying out and will soon dis  appear altogether in that part towards the city; but on the eastern side very many of these are still in good health and will in all probability survive for many years.' Charles Moore, Annual Report, Botanic Gardens, 1878-79

Near the salt water, the vegetation included the Swamp Oak, Casuarina glauca; Port Jackson Fig, Ficus rubiginosa; and Cheese Tree, Glochidion ferdinandi. In the 1850s the undergrowth over a large area of the Domain consisted of various 'tea-trees' including species of Leptospermum, Melaleuca and Kunzea (tick bush) - probably regrowth. The Cabbage Tree Palm, Livistona australis, grew in the Valley of the Tank Stream and probably in the Domain, although they were not listed by Maiden in the 1902 list. Palms were heavily exploited in the early days of the settlement for the construction of the first huts, for food and for headwear. The trees included the Smooth-barked Angophora, Angophora costata; the Swamp Mahogany, Eucalyptus robusta; the Bangalay, Eucalyptus botryoides; the Blackbutt, Eucalyptus pilularis; the Forest Red Gum, Eucalyptus tereticornis; the Red Mahogany, Eucalyptus resinifera; the Narrow-leaved Scribbly Gum, Eucalyptus racemosa; the Red Bloodwood, Eucalyptus gummifera; and the Turpentine, Syncarpia glomulifera.

The First Farm in Australia had been established on some alluvium to the east of the creek that still runs through the Botanic Gardens, but the sandy soil was too poor to support grain crops. By 1870 the eucalyptus and banksias were fast disappearing from the Domain due to natural decay and white man's use of the land. However, some eucalypts on the eastern side of the Domain (along the present road-way to Mrs Macquaries Point) were still in good condition in 1879. Over the years, the soils have been enriched to the extent that they are now too nutrient-rich to suit many of the original native plants. In 1986, a few old warriors still remain - notably gnarled old specimens of the Forest Red Gum. There are some younger Smooth-barked Angophoras and Red Bloodwoods which are presumably the product of natural regeneration, as well as the Bangalay and Blackbutt. Port Jackson Figs grow amongst the rocky outcrops east and west of the Point, and there are still some Cheese Trees growing in similar areas. Some Swamp Oaks also remain in the Lower Garden, as well as a remnant Clerodendron tomentosum and Rapanea variabilis at Mrs Macquaries Point. In less than two hundred years little remains. Along Macquarie Street, where tall buildings now stand, there were once gum trees and a 'tea-tree' scrub.      


From Governor's demesne to public domain  

When the Europeans settled at Port Jackson in 1788, the land was covered with open forest, woodland and ferny gullies through which clear streams ran. The vegetation harboured both large and small animals including many species of birds, while the harbour waters were rich in marine life. The new settlers quickly began farming close to Sydney Cove, in an area known to the Aborigines as Woccanmagully. The site of the first farm in Australia (within the present Botanic Gardens) proved unsuitable for grain farming but continued to be used for fruit and vegetable growing for almost twenty years. Governor Phillip established a government demesne or domain, an area set aside for the private use of the Governor, to be neither leased nor sold. Despite this ruling, land was leased for farming, milling and baking after Phillip's departure. These permissive occupancies were ended by Governors Bligh and Macquarie who put Phillip's original stipulations into practice and reclaimed the Domain for general use. These occupancies were the first of many and exemplify one of the major pressures placed on the Domain over the years. Macquarie's period of office marked a high point in the development of the Governor's Domain, later Governors often showing scant interest in it.  


'Our cultivation of the land was yet in its infancy. We had hitherto tried only the country contiguous to Sydney. Here, the Governor had established a government farm; at the head of which a competent person of his own household was placed, with convicts to work under him ...' Watkin Tench, 1788

The Domain began as the Governor's private preserve. Lachlan Macquarie went so far as to enclose it with a high stone wall and a single entrance, punishing wall-breakers and evening trespassers. During this period, use of the Domain was restricted to daytime activities such as strolling, riding, driving and picnicking. It was also a popular place for lovers' trysts. With the establishment of parliamentary government in 1856 the control of the Domain passed from an individual Governor to a Government body - the Department of Lands. Coincidentally, it was about this time that pressure from the NSW Cricket Association resulted in the clearing and levelling of the south-western part of the Outer Domain. Before long, sporting activities, political meetings and ceremonial occasions began to take place in both the Inner and Outer Domain. The citizens of Sydney flocked in their thousands to watch and take part in cricket matches, military reviews and even the occasional balloon ascent. In the early 1860s the then Minister for Lands, John Robertson, opened the gates of the Domain to pedestrians in the evening. The dark provided an opportunity for 'scenes of immorality beyond description', but also for 'Continentals' (fairs), 'illuminations' (fireworks) and evening concerts - which continue to this day.  

'A bronze statue was erected to the memory of the late Sir John Robertson, a Premier of New South Wales. It occupies a position on the lawn not far from the principal entrance in the south-west corner of the grounds, and faces the Public Library in Macquarie Street. It was unveiled by His Excellency the Governor on 24th September.' J.H. Maiden, Annual Report, Botanic Garden, 1904.


War and peace

From the late 1790s, fear of attack and conquest by a foreign power led to the erection of a series of batteries on Bennelong Point. This also led, in 1819, to the construction of Fort Macquarie, which guarded the entrance to Sydney Cove until 1902. The Crimean War and the general fear of Russia in the mid-1850s provoked the formation of both infantry and artillery volunteer units, which skirmished and manoeuvred in the Domain. There was a light-hearted element to this activity, even though there was a possibility of a local conflict between the Volunteers and the Cricketers as they fought for the use of the Outer Domain. During the 1870s and 1880s sham naval attacks took place on Mrs Macquaries Point amid great clouds of smoke from the practice cannon on board warships in the harbour. The military presence in the Domain during World War I had far more to do with real life. Heartbroken families watched their menfolk march from the Domain to Woolloomooloo (where ships waited for them) and welcomed home the survivors - wounded and unwounded - at the Red Cross Society's Buffet in the Outer Domain. The first Anzac Day Remembrance Service was held in the Domain on 25 April 1916, and all subsequent Anzac Day observances have involved the Domain. In recent years, marchers have gathered there before proceeding into the city. During World War II, artillery batteries were set up in the Domain and air raid shelters erected. Peace activities have also centred on the Domain. Mass rallies for and against conscription were held during World War I and between 100,000 and 200,000 people (the largest crowd yet to be recorded in the Domain) celebrated the coming of peace in 1918. Between the wars, a number of peace rallies were held, often being dismissed as 'communist-led'. During the 1960s, the Domain was a focus for the reaction against Australian participation in the Vietnam War. More recently it has been used for anti-nuclear rallies.    

'Fort Macquarie - The small New Fort, now in Progress and erecting on Bennelong's Point, for the purpose of defending Sydney Cove and the Shipping lying therein against Surprize or Sudden attack from an Enemy, as well as for preventing Ships or Vessels from being cut out by the Convicts or leaving the Cove in a Clandestine manner ...' Lachlan Macquarie, Despatch, 1819


The Garden Palace - its rise and fall

The International Exhibition spawned a host of other 'Cultural' institutions - the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the Mining and Geological Museum, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The old galvanised-iron building that housed the Mining Museum was not removed until 1914. From 1882 to 1893 it housed the Technological Museum, and from 1893 to 1904 the Mining and Geological Museum. At one stage it was used for a temporary shelter for the 'Unfortunate Italians who were brought back from the Marquis de Ray's colonising expedition to New Britain' (J. H. Maiden, Annual Report, 1914). When the Palace burnt down in 1882 the land was incorporated into the Gardens and is now known as the Palace Garden. 

Flags and feathers

'December 15th witnessed the arrival and landing of Lord Hopetoun, our first Governor General, the landing-stage and pavilion being erected in the Outer Domain, overlooking Farm Cove. The route of the procession was from Mrs Macquaries Point and Victoria Lodge, by the Garden Wall to the Director's residence, and thence by the fig-tree avenue to Governor Bourke's Statue, passing through Macquarie Street gates, and thence to Government House.' J. H. Maiden, Annual Report, Botanic Gardens, 1900

Like scenes from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, ceremonial occasions have been staged in the Domain with flags and feathers fluttering. These centred around Farm Cove, Fleet Steps and the Outer Domain. Royalty, Governors, Governors-General, Admirals and their fleets, war heroes, Red Cross workers, Boy Scouts and trees have all been honoured in the Domain. The ceremonies marking the inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901 began in the Domain at Fleet Steps. The Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, enjoyed two ceremonial 'arrivals', one on 15 December 1900 and the other on 1 January 1901. Another gala occasion was the visit of the American Fleet in 1908. 

'In carrying out the city improvement scheme, the widening of Macquarie Street has entailed a loss to the Domain of a strip of plantation ground 280 feet long by 20 feet wide, together with the trees and shrubs planted thereon. A line of palm trees, Phoenix canariensis, will be planted running parallel with Macquarie Street ...' J. H. Maiden, Annual Report, Botanic Garden, 1910 


'Following the widening of Macquarie Street to 80 feet, the five large iron gates with their six stone piers have been moved from their position at the top of Bent Street, and re-erected at the top of Fig Tree Road. The making of a wide sweep opposite the Public Library and also the Australian Club has made a noble entrance to the Domain, and has formed a fine plaza on which the Garden Palace Gates and the Mitchell Library abut.' J.H. Maiden, Annual Report, Botanic Garden, 1912


Sport and recreation

A wide variety of sports and games has been played in the Domain, and on its shores. They include ballooning, baseball, bicycling, bowls, chess, cricket, football, hockey, hunting, lacrosse, netball, sailing, swimming and vigoro. The popularity of different sports has varied over time. In the very early years, hunting with guns and dogs was a popular sport, particularly for military officers, an activity discouraged and later banned by Bligh and Macquarie. Cricket was the game of the 1850s and 1860s while touch football and netball are popular now. Swimming has been the one sport that has continued virtually over the entire history of the Domain, both before and after the arrival of Europeans. Only once in the long history of the Domain are crowds known to have rioted. That was in 1856 when a balloon failed to ascend. The accessibility and availability of the Domain were, and still are, important factors in its use for recreation and sport. Sixty years ago it served as the local playground for children living in the Woolloomooloo area. Now it is a venue for city workers seeking fresh air and physical activity in their lunchbreak from high-rise offices.

Safety valve

An important and impressive function of the Domain has been to act as a safety valve for popular causes, particularly in times of great community tension. The conflicts that have beset our society have been brought into the open through public speaking, where individuals have put their cases, or through mass rallies of protest and solidarity like the massive anti-conscription rallies in 1916. Sometimes the desire of the people to exercise their right to free speech has not been appreciated by the authorities. This was particularly so in the 1920s and 30s when the debate between the advocates of racism and communism, and between capitalism and socialism, led, at times, to a certain amount of violence in the Domain. Some people saw the Domain as a place where revolution was being fostered and wanted to replace free speech with concerts. Others saw the Domain as an important safety valve.

In that period, the use of the Domain as a venue for free speech was restricted to some degree - the hours during which meetings could be held, the types of meetings and the dispersal of literature. At times, public protests on some matters were banned. Later, especially during the Vietnam Moratorium period of the 1960s, pressures for similar restrictions were evident. In recent years, the Domain on Sunday afternoons has provided an outlet for speakers, pleading a wide variety of causes, who would not normally have had access to the public. Soap-box orators still draw crowds, but it seems that television, bands, banners and demonstration chants have changed the nature of revolution.   

'... the Sydney Outer Domain is occupied on Sunday afternoons by a dozen assemblies of the most diverse schools of religious thought, from the narrowest Calvinism to the most comprehensive latitudinarianism. They preach and argue and wrangle, a little noisily perhaps, but with the greatest good-humour, until tea-time, then go decorously home satisfied with having begun the week well. All visitors to Sydney should spend a Sunday afternoon in the Outer Domain if they would witness the fierce blaze of light a person can throw upon a subject of which he may know little.' Sydney Morning Herald, 24 January 1888
'That, in view of the seditious utterances which are voiced there from time to time, and in the interests of public safety, the Government be urged to close the Domain against public speaking during the war.' Resolution of the Primary Producers' Union, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 1918
'BEA MILES, NOW 63, CALLS OFF HER PRIVATE WAR 'IT WAS BOSKER FUN' At 63, Miss Bea Miles has abandoned her war against taxi drivers and bus conductors. She has also ended the footpath and Domain recitations from Shakespeare which kept her before the public eye for 30 years.' Sydney Morning Herald, 3 June 1965


One of the most notorious and distinctive speakers in the Sydney Domain was William James Chidley. His clothing, a simple, Roman-style tunic, his ideas on living out a healthy lifestyle, and his theories on human sexuality, led to his being charged with offensive behaviour or indecent language at least twenty times between 1912 and 1916. Usually these charges were laid after Chidley had been speaking in the Domain. Other opportunities for him to speak were denied under the provisions of the Theatres and Public Halls Act. On a number of occasions he was detained under a charge of lunacy.    

In November 1934, Egon Kisch addressed a meeting in the Sydney Domain, while on bail on a charge of being a prohibited immigrant. Kisch, a Czechoslovakian-born author, journalist and pacifist, had been refused entry to Australia on the grounds of his subversive views and association with Communist organisations. He had come to Australia on a lecture tour and to represent the International Committee against War and Fascism at the All Australia Congress in Melbourne. Justice Evatt directed that he be allowed to land in Sydney, where he was arrested, taken to Central Police Station and given a dictation test. Although Kisch spoke eleven languages fluently, he was tested in Scottish Gaelic and failed the test. He was then charged under the Immigration Act 1901 with being a prohibited immigrant. The Kisch case was taken to the High Court, which ruled that the test in Scottish Gaelic was invalid in terms of Section 3A of the Act. Kisch remained in Australia some 3 months, departing early 1935.

'As the sun sets, and the better class of visitors to the Domain retire, the park becomes the undisputed property of the loafers and sundowners, who nightly use the niches and crevices of the rocks as their dormitories, from the dim recesses of which they draw forth their 'bed-clothes', consisting of old newspapers and wrappers ... thus literally becoming 'wrapped in literature'. In the morning, these gentry perform their ablutions in the cattle troughs abounding in the park, and later on may be seen fishing for their breakfasts from the wooden piles in the harbour ...'  H. Furniss, 1888

The Domain has often been seen as a convenient open space which can be alienated at will. Every building increases pressure for additional services: wider roadways; larger parking areas; acres of asphalt eating into the grasslands, adding to noise and other pollution. It is in these ways that the Domain has been gradually eroded. The development of the Cahill Expressway not only alienated space but destroyed the buffer effect of the Domain on the Garden. Fortunately, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Act (1980) secures the land more firmly in the interests of the people. However, the struggle to alienate green space continues - between public and private use, between passive and active recreational space and between general or specific activity.  

'The Sydney Domain is both beloved and ignored - a vital part of the City's folk history for many, a flash of green and truncated figs for motorists on the Expressway - and its modern history barely runs to two hundred years. It is lung and safety valve for the city's people. It has been a place to play, to be entertained, to worship, to protest, to promenade - and a place for families to gather and outcasts to hide. It has seen politicians and princes, lovers and layabouts, the carriage trade and the pedestrian, players and orators, strikers and strike-breakers, war rallies and peace celebrations. It is fragile and vulnerable, tough and enduring. It has survived great changes and reveals enduring changelessness. It was the Governor's private domain, closed off and exclusive. It is now the people's Domain, whose Gates never close, free, open and varied.' Shirley Colless, 1983


Discovering the Domain
These web pages are from 'Discovering the Domain', edited by Edwin Wilson, research by Shirley Colless, published by Hale and Iremonger, copyright Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, 1986.

>> Download pdf of book (6.5 MB)
>> Maiden's plant list 1902

Aborigines fishing
A watercolour of Aborigines fishing by Philip Gidley King, the Colony's third governor who sailed with Phillip on the first Fleet - Mitchell Library, Sydney

Mrs Macquaries Point
Mrs Macquaries Point - Rowan Fotheringham     

Southern entrance
Etching by S.T. Gill of the southern entrance to the Domain, c. 1860 - Dixson Library, Sydney

Cricket match
Detail of the second Intercolonial Cricket Match in the Domain, 1857, by S.T. Gill from an original painting by 'T.M.L.' - Dixson Library, Sydney

Peace celebrations
The Official Peace Celebrations in the domain in 1919, marking the end of World War I

Royal Botanic Garden
Macquarie Street 1916

Royal Botanic Gardens
Macquarie Street 1930

In the 14 years that separate these two photographs, not only have the Canary Island Date Palms grown, but also the traffic. The palms were planted in 1912. Both pictures were taken from Macquarie Street, near Bridge Street.

A natural group of eucalyptus at Mrs Macquaries Point, Outer Domain, 1915 - NSW Government Printer

A grove of Casuarina glauca, 1908. The tree trees standing near the Maiden pavilion are remnatns of this grove - NSW Government Printer

Mint and Barracks
A view of the Mint and Hyde Park Barracks, c. 1860, probably taken from the tower of St James' Church. In the background is the Domain with natural (regenerated) stands of gum trees - Mitchell Library Sydney

swamp mahoganies
An 1894 Charles Kerry photograph of the Macquarie Wall showing Swamp Mahonany trees planted in 1816 when the wall was completed. The path that still exists in the Gardens (on the north side of the wall) was originally part of Mrs Macquaries Road - Royal Botanic Gardens  

Governors house
'View of the Governor's House at Sydney; 1791 by William Bradley - Mitchell Library, Sydney

Robertson statue
Sir John Robertson's statue. It has been moved twice and now stands at the termination of the former main pedestrian avenue leading from St Marys Gates to the Botanic Garden - Rowan Fotheringham

Advertisement for the sale of John Anson's farm, Farm Cove, in the Sydney Gazette, 5 May 1805 - Mitchell Library, Sydney

The Old Mill (Boston's Mill) in the Government Domain, 1832 -The Sydney Gazette, 1805

Sydney Rifle Corps
The Sydney Rifle Corps, photographed in 1855. The Corps carried out manoeuvres in the Domain - NSW Government Printer

tram shed
The red brick castellated tram shed that replaced the Fort on Bennelong Point in 1902

Construction of Palace
The Garden Palace under construction in June 1879 - NSW Government Printer

The International Exhibition in progress at the Garden Palace, 1879 - NSW Government Printer

After the fire
The ruins of the Garden Palace after the September 1882 fire. The Huntsman and Dogs statue now stands near the Conservatorium Gate to the Gardens - NSW Government Printer

American Fleet.
The welcome in the Domain near Fig Tree Avenue to the American Fleet in 1908. The statue of Governor Bourke in the centre of the picture is where the Shakespeare group now stands. The Mitchell Library, now incorporated into the State Library of New South Wales, is on the right, and Hospital Road curves around behind it. The Domain Gates at the Bent Street entrance are ceremonially bedecked for the occasion - NSW Government Printer

Lord Hopetoun
The arrival of Lord Hopetoun at the Fleet Steps to celebrate the federation of the Australian states in 1901 - NSW Government Printer

new path
Constructing a new path in 1912 that terminated in Macquarie Street opposite Bridge Street - Royal Botanic Gardens 

Macquarie Street gates
The Macquarie Street gates were moved, in August 1912, approximately 50 metres south to the new entrance opposite Bridge Street - Royal Botanic Gardens 

Picket fencing
Picket fencing in the Domain, c. 1910 - Royal Botanic Gardens 

In the Domain
In the Domain

women cricketers
Sketch of women cricketers in the domain from the Illustrated Sydeny News, 15 May 1886 - Mitchell Library, Svdney

balloon advertisement

Tricycling in the Domain, Mitchell Library, Svdney

Fig Tree baths
The Fig Tree or Free Baths in the Domain, 1902

cycle race
A more energet pursuit, a cycle race in the Domain, 1984 - Rowan Fotheringham

William Chidley - Mitchell Library, Sydney

Sydney eccentric Bea Miles - Sydney Morning Herald

Kisch - photographs from the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 16 November 1934, taken soon after his arrival in Sydney. In Melbourne he had jumped from the SS Strathaird to the wharf, breaking his leg in the process, in a bid to remain in Australia

Kisch - Daily Telegraph

Prohibition parade
A prohibition parade - a Charles Kerry photograph of the Pyrmont Congregational Sunday School on the wagon in the Domain

Portion of the crowd that gathered in the Domain to protest Governor Game's dismissal of Premier Jack Lang on 13 May 1932

Anti-evolutionist in the Domain, c. 1962 - Alan Torrens

free thinker
Freethinker's platform in the Domain, c. 1968 - Edwin Wilson

opera in the park
Opera in the Park, January 1984 - Rowan Fotheringham

Dame Joan
Dame Joan Sutherland singing at the concert - these concerts have become annual events in the Domain - Rowan Fotheringham

Marilyn Rowe
Marilyn Rowe rehearses for 'Swan lake in the Park', Sydney Domain, March 1983 - News Limited

Cahill Expressway
The completion of the Cahill Expressway in 1962 divided the Gardens from the Domain, destroying Fig Tree Avenue in the process - Department of Main Roads

Sunday Afternoon (Sydney Domain in the Sixties)

Young loving,
Sunday Afternooning,
Sydney Domain.

For 'half-day a week
In the fig's shade,
Freedom of speech
For the proletariat.

Free speakers,
Free thinkers,
Free lovers,
Free sunshine. 

Red flags,
Red coats,
Red hair,
Long hair.

Irishmen, placards,
May Day Marchers;
Weekend hippies,
Ice cream and L.S.D.  

Policemen and addicts,
Tourists and day-trippers,
Hard-core whingers,
And the ratbag fringe.

Old Bolsheviks slapping
Each other on the back,
Poofta-bashing and
Scowling at dissent.

The Right defend
Vietnam and the draft,
And would smite the
Godless As a tsetse fly. 

The modern science of death
Plumbs career instead of truth;
Commercial Xmas smiles,
'Kill a Commie For Christ'.

Populate or perish is the
Cry: contain the
Yellow Peril, Dagos, Wogs and Wops
And keep Australia white.  

The Rationalist sneers
At the D.L.P., short
Back and sides: three
Cheers for the Paraclete! 

Ada and her tambourine
Converting sinners;
Red and his big voice,
And an angel singing. 

Canting Fundamentalists
Extolling purges,
Can't come to grips
With their own urges.

'Ye must be born again
The end is nigh!'
Bligh would have
Turned in his grave. 

Webster up his ladder
Votes open-slather,
Social-sex and laughter;
Sign of the goat. 

The Ape-man stoops
To his stroller, an
Album of old hairies:
Douanier of the Domain.  

Jack Sprat for a
Flat Earth in a Pop Age.
Dismisses satellites
As illusion and propaganda.

* * *

All this before Gay Lib
And Women's Rights,
Hare Krishnas and
The Festival of Light. 

Robbie Burns with a
Dripping pen, leans on
A plough and watches on,
Recently washed. 

Across the park, white splotched,
'Scholar, Citizen, patriot'
Green-crusted brass, a man long dead,
Patina of pigeon shit upon his head. 

Edwin Wilson, Banyan, Woodbine Press, 1982