These magnificent figs (standing 16-22 metres in height and 20-30 metres canopy spread) possibly date from planting during the mid-nineteenth century. The trees are recovering from previous stress from modification around their roots, physical damage, heavy pruning and increased pavement areas within their drip-lines.
London Planes (Platanus x acerifolia) are an important component of this collection. They occur as individuals in the Children’s Centre playground and adjacent courts. A further row planting of London Planes occurs in the park. All of these trees are outstanding individual specimens (20-22 metres in height and 25 metres canopy spread) and possibly date from the early twentieth century.
The boundary row plantations include mixed Port Jackson Figs (Ficus rubiginosa f. glabrescens), Moreton Bay Figs (Ficus macrophylla) and a large specimen the less common species, the Small-leaved Fig (Ficus obliqua) adjacent to Cathedral Street. The Small-leaved Fig, is a native of the east coast rainforests. This species is relatively rare in the City of Sydney LGA (refer to Reg Bartley Oval, Rushcutters Bay and Kirsova Playground, Glebe in this Register).
A specimen Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena draco) has been recently transplanted to the sculpture garden. Mature examples of this species are somewhat rare in the City of Sydney LGA. This specimen and the tall group of Canary Island Date Palms (Phoenix canariensis) would likely date from the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century.
A group of very tall Washington Palms (Washingtonia robusta) are landmark specimens (20-22 metres clear trunk height) in this location, comparable to specimens in Farrer Place (refer to Listing in this Register).
Cook & Phillip Park is one of the City’s earliest public parks and forms an important part of the City’s public open space. The significant trees located in the park, together with other remnant isolated individuals in Yurong Parkway, the adjoining courts of the Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) and Children’s Centre, are very important components of the City’s park heritage (refer to Hyde Park, Victoria Park, Wentworth Park and Prince Alfred Park listings in this Register).
Together, the collection of trees are of individual and group significance at the City/ LGA level in terms of their visual, historic, social and botanic values.
In 1821, the park was identified on plans as a “garden” (State Heritage Inventory). At this stage, the park provided a contiguous open space link between Hyde Park and the Domain but was later subdivided into two parks (ie. total of four separate parks). In the 1830’s College Street and William Street were constructed followed by Boomerang Street in 1851 and Haig Avenue in 1912, effectively subdividing the parkland. Cook & Phillip Parks were dedicated as parkland in 1878 and a large portion leased to the City Bowling Club (1880). From 1876 to 1905, this Crown reserve was managed by a statutory body of Park Trustees, accountable to the NSW Minister of Mines and Minister of Lands. The Trustees were given the duties of maintaining, improving and managing the uses of the park. In 1876, the first regulations were drawn up. In 1905, control and management of Cook & Phillip Park was passed to Sydney Municipal Council.
Cook and Phillip Park has been completely redeveloped in the late 1990’s in order to create an active public recreation and aquatic centre. Before the re-development began, Cook Park contained border plantings of mature trees, some of which were most likely planted between 1860 and the 1890’s. These included four mature Phoenix canariensis, a mature Ficus macrophylla and a row of Washingtona robusta. The redevelopment of Cook & Phillip Park attracted a considerable level of community input and debate over the transformation of this historic public open space, including the pool and forecourt area to St Mary’s Cathedral (Cathedral Square). Peak community and conservation bodies such as the National Trust of Australia NSW were particularly concerned with the changes to the park’s historic fabric and curtilage.
The earlier fig plantations and later overlays of various palm components and other species create an eclectic mix which are typical of Sydney’s public parks. The fig planting, in particular, reflects the influence of Charles Moore (Director, Royal Botanic Gardens 1848-1896) and others. Review of the 1943 aerial photos of the park reveal that the oldest planting is probably the central row of Moreton Bay Figs. These were similar in size to that of today indicating a planting probably around 1860’s or 70’s. Substantial but smaller trees around the perimeter were also noted at this time probably indicating a planting in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.