St John’s College contains a significant collection of trees dating from the early 20th century. The integrity of an important historic row planting of six mature Moreton Bay Figs (Ficus macrophylla), near the north-eastern boundary of the oval, has been compromised by past unsympathetic pruning practices. One very large Canary Island date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) remains from an earlier reported row planting along the driveway.
The grounds of the University of Sydney contain an exceptional collection of significant trees, many of which are important elements in association with heritage listed buildings and road precincts. A number of places and items are scheduled on the Register of the National Estate, the State Heritage Register, City of Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2012 and classified by the National Trust of Australia (NSW). At a group level, the significant trees within the University are considered to be one of the City of Sydney’s more important collections in terms of the special combination of aesthetic, scientific, botanic, historic, social and commemorative values.
Many of these trees are of exceptional value, creating landscapes of high visual and aesthetic quality and a unique sense of place. The University’s significant trees are typically associated with the curtilage of historic buildings, building facades, boundaries to colleges and along the campus boundaries, ovals and sportsgrounds, internal roadways and pedestrian walkways, courtyards and a broad range of ancillary spaces. These trees tell the stories and aspirations of people. They also provide historic markers in the landscape, describing the way the campus developed over time and its close links with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Victoria Park (refer to other listings in this Register).
St John’s College is the second oldest University College in Australia and has been in continuous occupation of this site since 1863. The College is a landmark building for Australian Catholic Church as a representation for equality with other denominations in NSW and as the culmination of the Catholic education system. The ambitious size and halting progress of the buildings is evidence of the tension between the aspirations of the Church hierarchy and the resources of the Catholic community. The buildings have strong associations with the many important 19th century and 20th century architects, scholars, as well as church and community leaders.
The northern wing and central section were constructed in 1862 which contain the principal internal spaces of the complex, the Great Hall, The Chapel and Brennan Hall. The tower was added in 1937. There were four storey extensions carried out in the 20th century – the 1938 Wing designed by Hennessy and Hennessy Co, the Menzies Wing (1962) by McDonnell, Mar and Anderson Architects, the Polding Wing (1967) by McDonnell and Mar Architects. The 2009 building, known as the Hintz Block, was designed by Altis Architecture.
The grounds are important in providing an appropriate setting for the college buildings and they are one of the few remaining large undeveloped open spaces in the university. The Parramatta Road entry to the college is defined by two vehicular gates affixed to two sandstone pillars with carved St John’s College Coat of Arms and decorative caps, flanked on either side by pedestrian iron gates and smaller sandstone piers. Phoenix palms originally lined the driveway but now only one survives. (State Heritage Register)
Aerial photos dating to 1943 indicate that most of the current planting dates from the 1920’s and 30’s. Numerous trees can be seen as small specimens in 1943 with many now removed providing a more simplistic landscape.