Central Park boosts community pride. In 1843 the decision was made to establish a government town for the settlers in the Manning Valley area north of Newcastle.
Many of the new arrivals were Scottish immigrants, driven from their homes by the Highland Battle of Culloden in 1745 and in the years up to 1854, when the last evictions and massacres associated with the clearances took place.
The newcomers became well-established in their new home, but even today the Scots ancestry is very obvious in many of the residents of places such as Marlee, Wherrol Flat, Caparra, and Ashlea.
Equally obvious was the Irish ancestry of the many people living near the Scots – people who had fled the potato famines and oppressive laws of their homeland. There were, of course, many other national and religious groupings who comprised these exuberant settlers, such as the English and the Germans.
These people were energetic, and ambitious, but essentially they were law-abiding people and the need arose for the setting up of proper social structures. These included state law and order agencies. Commercial systems, sensible behaviour codes, religious instrumentalities and educational facilities, just to name some. However, government officials were necessary for the implementation of various rules and regulations.
Hence, the need for a government town in each district to provide officials who would administer the various groups and settlements located there.
The task of planning the new village was given to Surveyor John Valentine Gorman.
He selected and measured in the year 1843 a site for the government village on the Manning River, and on July 12 1844, the same place was proclaimed as the village of Wingham.
The plans he drew up presented a neatly laid-out village, and the emphasis is on ‘village’, for that is the term that Gorman himself used on the plans. However, one of the most striking aspects of Gorman’s plan was the provision of a reserve or recreation area.
Whether it was Gorman’s idea or not, the principle of a recreation ground was soon accepted by the people of Wingham, and was officially proclaimed as a recreation reserve in 1889.
The accompanying photograph of the Common, as Central Park was originally known, is an early one and suggests a rather irregular surface.
Since the Park was created, it has been used for many and varied activities.
Very few, if any other, communities in New South Wales, or even Australia, have a facility that can engender as much community pride as Central Park does in Wingham.
It is virtually unique and frequently excites favourable comments from visitors to the town.
As a recreation space it is very conveniently placed, so that people in Wingham consider it most suitable as meeting or gathering place. Consequently, as we shall see, the citizens’ regular and spontaneous utilisation of their middle-most reserve is as noticeable as ever.
How many times do you hear an announcement about an excursion from Wingham concluded by the familiar phrase, “Meet at the log at x o’clock”? This of course refers to the famous large log that was mounted in the south-west corner of Central Park in 1970 to celebrate the bicentenary of the famous voyage by Captain James Cook down the east coast of Australia.
The only awkward note is that the original log proved to be very tasty to white ants and had to be replaced. Still, that sad note does not prevent people from meeting at the log.
More than anything else, Central Park is a sporting venue: on weekday winter afternoons, when school has finished, and depending on which day of the week it is, you will see junior Rugby League and Soccer teams being trained enthusiastically by their coaches.
In the same season, at other times, you will encounter junior hockey players enhancing their skills as they move in formation. Also, during winter, on Sunday morning you could come face to face with a new breed that may well change our local sporting landscape. I refer to the base-ballers with their unfamiliar jargon and fast-moving game, who attract increasing attention. Any keen supporter will tell you that Central Park is an ideal place in which to play baseball, mainly because of the size and the location.
In the summer months, the scene is dominated by cricket. For a long time Central Park was the headquarters of cricket in Wingham, but now most matches played are junior competition ones. After school the boys train at the Park under the watchful eyes of their coaches. On Saturday morning the Park is a scheduled match venue, and so Saturday morning shoppers are entertained by the sounds and noises of cricket.
They can even be startled by the occasional ball rushing across in front of them. During the week, inter-school primary and secondary matches are played in the Park. A photograph of a very early cricket match on Central Park can be seen above.
As well as being a place for active people, Central Park contains a surprising number of memorials. In the north-west corner of the park is an Aleppo Pine Tree, grown from seed from the original pine at Lone Pine.
This tree was grown in the Gallipoli Jubilee year of 1965. About half-way along the Farqhuar Street side of Central Park is a tree presented in 1995 by Women’s R.S.L. Auxiliary to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific, 1945-1995.
The north-east corner contains two memorials that I covered in one of my earlier articles dealing with Dr. W. Kelly, who was held in the highest esteem by the people of Wingham. They greatly appreciated his efforts on their behalf, particularly on the construction of the North Coast Railway and throughout the deadly influenza epidemic that raged after World War I.
In 1971 the R.A.A.F. celebrated their 50th anniversary and to signify this, the Vampire acts as sentinel over Wingham shopping centre from the Bent Street side of Central Park.
The Wingham Rotary Club was chartered in 1945, and its fifty years of service to the Wingham community is recorded on a plaque dated 15th Jan 1995 at the base of the flagpole in Central Park.
During the previous year (1994), the Club had participated in a refurbishment of the Park and donated a date palm to mark the occasion. The flagpole and the date palm stand near each other in the north-east corner of the Park to recognise Rotary’s efforts.
Also on Central Park is Wingham’s historic site-marker, indicating important steps in Wingham’s history. Finally, in 1994 a plaque was unveiled in Central Park to commemorate Wingham’s 150 years as a village.
One aspect of Central Park that changed was the demise of the grandstand. As far as I can determine, the stand (referred to as a pavilion at that time) was built in the late 1880s. As well as allowing spectators to watch sport, the grandstand was used as a rostrum for public events, political speeches and public announcements.
Our photograph of it was possibly taken during World War I; the building was situated very close to where the log is now. The grandstand was demolished in 1968 due to its decrepit condition at the time. The fence seen in so many old photographs was removed in 1970.
From the wide range of activities catered for at Central Park, it can be regarded as a much-used, highly valued accessory that local people see affectionately as theirs alone, because they see it as unique to Wingham.
With such esteem, it seems likely that Central Park will continue to be held closely in the strong attachment that Wingham residents have for their special park.
Story by Mal Rattray for the Manning Valley Historical Society.