Oxford Street Reserve is a narrow lineal parcel of public open space bordering Oxford Street and the northern boundary to Victoria Barracks (between the Old Paddington Town Hall and Greens Road).
A massive Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) is located in the lower western end of the reserve, opposite the Oxford Street/ Glenmore Road intersection (site of the Old South Head Road toll gate). This specimen (24 metres in height/ 30 metres canopy spread/ 2.5m diameter base) is amongst the largest examples of this species in the City of Sydney LGA. Moreover, it is part of an historic group of Moreton Bay Figs in this location (two other similar sized specimens are inside the high sandstone boundary wall of the Victoria Barracks). One of these specimens is particularly evocative of the rainforest with self-sown Elkhorns (Platycerium bifurcatum), a native bracket-epiphyte, high in the branches. Another smaller Moreton Bay Fig is located near the entrance to Victoria Barracks.
At the upper eastern end of the reserve, adjacent to the Old Paddington Town Hall, the area surrounding the War Memorial has a small group of two Washington Palms (Washingtonia robusta) (18-20 metres clear trunk height) and a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) (12 metres clear trunk height).
The reserve is significant as an integral component of the Victoria Barracks Group and retains a valuable collection of significant trees and palms dating from the mid-nineteenth century and Inter-War period (c.1915-1940). Some of the figs are arguably some of the oldest figs in Sydney which, like the Figs on Observatory Hill date from the 1860’s and are therefore over 150 years old.
Together, the collection of trees are of individual and group significance at the City/ LGA level in terms of their visual, historic and social values.
Victoria Barracks Group includes various sandstone Colonial Regency and Colonial Georgian style buildings and later additions. The buildings together with the perimeter sandstone walls, entrance gates, parade grounds, and site landscaping are significant heritage items and listed in the City of Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2012.The history of the Barracks began in 1836 when it was decided to move the barracks from George Street in the centre of the city to the current “sandy rock strewn site”. (Aust. Council of National Trusts 1982). Work commenced in 1841 with the barracks completed in 1848. Australian forces took over the site in 1871.
Historic photos of the site show numerous fig trees adorning the parade ground in front of the main barracks building in 1870 and 1885. These trees, although young appear well established and suggest planting of figs around the site occurred very soon after completion of the buildings in 1850-1860. Most of the larger Moreton Bay Figs therefore would date from this period. The sizes of the figs along Oxford Street in 1943 aerials would also support this.
The very large Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) in the lower western end of the reserve, opposite the Oxford Street/ Glenmore Road intersection (site of the Old South Head Road toll gate) would appear to be the oldest tree on the site and may even pre-date the Barracks although this is unconfirmed.
Most of the other planting is typical of the early Inter-War period (c.1915-1940). This group is visually part of a larger collection in the Victoria Barracks and Oatley Road Reserve (refer to listings in this Register).
The reserve also contains a mixed row plantation of Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and Outeniqua Yellow-wood (Afrocarpus falcatus) which appear to date from an early Post-War (1940’s to 1960’s) period as they are not evident in 1943 photos.