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The Domain
Paths of The Domain, Sydney, May 2021.jpg
Paths of The Domain, Sydney
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Type Natural area; sports fields
Location Woolloomooloo
Nearest city Sydney
Area 34 hectares (84 acres)
Created c. 1830s
Operated by Royal Botanic Gardens Trust
Status Open all year
Public transit access TfNSW T.svg: TfNSW T2.svg/TfNSW T3.svg:St James or TfNSW T4.svg: Martin Place
TfNSW F.svg: Circular Quay
TfNSW B.svg: Routes #441; #200; Big Bus Sydney
TfNSW L.svg: Circular Quay or QVB
Official name Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain; Tarpeian Way; Botanical Gardens
Type State heritage (landscape)
Designated 2 April 1999
Reference no. 1070
Type Garden Botanic
Category Parks, Gardens and Trees
Builders Charles Fraser; Allan Cunningham; Richard Cunningham; Charles Moore; Joseph Maiden; Carrick Chambers

The Domain is a heritage-listed 34-hectare (84-acre) area of open space located on the eastern fringe of the Sydney central business district, in the City of Sydney local government area of New South Wales, Australia. Separating the central business district from Woolloomooloo, The Domain adjoins the Royal Botanic Gardens and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust, a division of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, an agency of the Government of New South Wales. The Domain is a popular venue for outdoor concerts, open-air events, large political gatherings and rallies and is used daily by the people of Sydney for exercise and relaxation. Along with the Royal Botanic Gardens, The Domain was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.



Mrs Macquarie's Chair was created in 1816.

By July 1788, six months after the First Fleet had landed in Sydney Cove, Governor Arthur Phillip had established a small farm in the cove immediately to the east, the so named Farm Cove. Further up the valley of the stream that flowed into Farm Cove, Governor Phillip set aside an open area for the Governor's exclusive use known as the ‘Phillip Domain’. It covered the area east of the Tank Stream to the head of Woolloomooloo (Walla Mulla) Bay. The farm had been established for growing grain, but was soon moved to Parramatta, because of the poor sandy soil. The Farm Cove (Woccanmagully) area was then leased out for private farming for the next twenty years.

Garden Palace Sydney 1879
The International Exhibition of 1879 at the Garden Palace

Despite a ditch being dug to define its boundary in 1792 the Domain was gradually encroached upon by others in subsequent years. Governor Bligh's attempts to reclaim the Domain was among the many causes of the ‘Rum Rebellion’ of 26 January 1808.

As soon as he arrived in 1810, Bligh’s successor Governor Macquarie built stone walls around the Government House garden and the Government Domain, separating them from Hyde Park. The traditional foundation date of the Botanic Gardens is taken as the date of completion of Mrs Macquarie's Road, on 13 June 1816. By 1817 the Domain was completely enclosed and the road system completed including several gates to regulate horse-drawn traffic. The Domain itself was cleared of trees and opened as a public area in the 1830s. Eventually, the Inner Domain, the area closest to Government House, was entirely consumed by the Government Gardens while the area now known as the Domain was then the Outer Domain.

Despite the Domain being whittled away in subsequent years it remained an important buffer to the Gardens. The native vegetation was cleared and the gullies of Phillip Precinct filled. During the 1830s the expansive green space of the Domain was now opened to the public, who strolled and picnicked there. The Domain west of Macquarie Street was then sold to pay for the construction of new Government House and Circular Quay. Throughout the 19th century, the south-western part of the Domain was gradually taken up by government and public buildings, including the Hyde Park Barracks, the Sydney Mint, Sydney Hospital, Parliament House, the State Library of New South Wales and the Land Registry Office. The Art Gallery of New South Wales was built on the eastern side of the Domain.

The Domain Cricket Ground

Cricket matches, which had been played in Hyde Park since the early 19th century, moved to the Domain in the 1850s. New South Wales had beaten Victoria by three wickets in their first inter-colonial match held in Melbourne in 1856. The return match was played in the Domain on from 14–16 January 1857 and New South Wales won again, this time by 65 runs.

Although used for cricket for the next 14 years, the Domain was not a high quality ground even by the standards of the day. It was a rough, uneven, open paddock and cricketers had a constant battle with the public who insisted it was public parkland. On top of that it was still used to graze cattle and cow pats often had to be removed before a game could start. Despite the fact that a game of cricket was a major occasion, often attended by the Governor, and the leading players promenaded with their ladies, the ground was not enclosed and spectators could not be charged an entrance fee.

These continuing problems were well known to those who attended a public meeting in the Domain on 13 December 1859 at which the New South Wales Cricket Association was formed. The search began for a more suitable ground and was still going on when the first England side toured Australia in 1862. In the absence of another venue they played a NSW XXII at the Domain.

A solution of sorts to the venue problem was found when the Albert Ground opened in Redfern on 29 October 1864. Although it featured good facilities for players and crowd alike, the cost to the NSWCA of staging matches there was so high that it continued to use the Domain until the early 1870s. In all, six first-class matches were played in the Domain between the 1856–57 and 1868–69 seasons.

Season Teams Date Result Ref
1856–57 New South Wales v Victoria 1857-01-14 14–16 January 1857 New South Wales won by 65 runs
1858–59 New South Wales v Victoria 1859-01-20 20–22 January 1859 Victoria won by 2 wickets
1860–61 New South Wales v Victoria 1861-02-14 14–16 February 1861 Victoria won by 21 runs
1862–63 New South Wales v Victoria 1863-02-05 5–7 February 1863 New South Wales won by 84 runs
1866–67 New South Wales v Victoria 1866-12-26 26–27 December 1866 New South Wales won by an innings and 13 runs
1868–69 New South Wales v Victoria 1869-03-04 4–6 March 1869 Victoria won by 78 runs

Later uses

Czech journalist Egon Kisch in the Domain warning of the dangers of fascism, 1935.
Domain 19751124
Crowd at ALP policy launch in the Domain on 24 November 1975

The Domain was subsequently used for military and ceremonial events and evolved as a venue for soap box oratory and political meetings. From 1860 the Domain was opened up at night to pedestrians, allowing people to use this valuable recreational space on summer evenings. It became known as the Park where the Gates Never Close. Carriage traffic however remained restricted after dusk for many years.

The growing city of Sydney put great pressure on the Domain. A major encroachment was the construction of the Garden Palace for the Sydney International Exhibition (1879). Only its gates and some statues remain after a fire in 1882. The site of the Garden Palace was later absorbed into the Royal Botanic Gardens.

A number of significant political rallies and meetings have occurred in the Domain, including Palm Sunday rallies, May Day demonstrations, and anti-war and anti-conscription protests. On 17 February 1935, the Czech journalist Egon Kisch addressed a crowd of 18,000 in the Domain warning of the dangers of Hitler's Nazi regime. His visit was organised by the Movement Against War and Fascism and vehemently opposed by the Lyons Government. Kisch polarized Australian politics in 1935 when he denounced Hitler's Nazi government and warned of war and concentration camps. During the bitter election campaign following the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975 the Australian Labor Party and its leader Gough Whitlam (who had recently been dismissed as Prime Minister by the Governor-General) held their policy launch in 'the Domain' on 24 November 1975 before a huge crowd. 30,000 attended the gathering, overspilling the Domain.

Cahill Expressway from Art Gallery Road – CN
The Cahill Expressway as it passes through the Domain
ESR Woolloomooloo viaduct
The Eastern Suburbs Line railway exits the tunnel on the eastern side of the Domain and proceeds across Woolloomooloo as a viaduct

In more recent years, major transport projects have affected the Domain. The most significant of these was the building of the Cahill Expressway in 1952. As part of this project to build an eastern tributary to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the small roads to the north and east of the Domain were widened into expressways. After the completion of the project, traffic moving south from the Bridge could pass through a tunnel built into the western part of the Royal Botanic Tunnels, after which it became a sunken road built into the northern edge of the Domain. The road crosses the eastern part of the Domain in a tunnel, exiting through the slope on the east side of the Domain, after which it continues south along the eastern edge of the Domain as the Eastern Distributor. The Cahill Expressway emphatically separated the Domain from the Royal Botanic Gardens, and destroyed the close spatial relationship between the Gardens and the Domain.

In 1959, the Domain Parking Station was built under the Domain. It can be accessed via a moving footway from College Street, near St Mary's and other surrounding roads. Then in the 1970s, the rail tunnel for the Eastern Suburbs Line was built under the southern part of the Domain: the railway exits the tunnel on the eastern slopes of the Domain, after which (owing to the large change in ground elevation) it becomes a viaduct. In 1992, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was built, with its southern section under the northwestern part of the Domain.

In its present configuration, the Domain covers 34 hectares and is still a popular venue for Sydney residents and visitors to relax and enjoy views of the City and Sydney Harbour. On any weekday lunchtime, its roads are filled with joggers and its grass used for corporate soccer and touch football competitions.

Description and features

Sydney from domain
Sydney skyline at dusk, view from Mrs Macquarie Point, The Domain

The Domain today begins in the south on St Mary's Road, to the north of St Mary's Cathedral and the northeast of Hyde Park, and ends in the north at Mrs Macquarie's Point, a headland on Sydney Harbour. It is roughtly divided into three sections by a road running north-south (Art Gallery Road in the south, Mrs Macquarie's Road in the north), and the east-west Cahill Expressway: the Domain occupies roughly the south-west, south-east and north-east quadrants formed by these roads, while the Royal Botanic Gardens is to the north-west. From the north-west corner of the south-west quadrant, a small band of parkland extends north along the western edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, leading to an elevated open area overlooking the Sydney Opera House, which is also part of the Domain.

South-west: Phillip Precinct

The part of the Domain to the west of Art Gallery Road and to the south of Cahill Expressway consists of a large open grass area bounded by groups of mature trees to the east and south. It is named "Phillip Precinct" after Arthur Phillip. This area is crossed by several walkways, and has a restaurant called "Pavilion on the Park" in the north-east corner. The public institutions of Macquarie Street, such as Sydney Hospital, Parliament House and the State Library, back onto the park. Being easily accessible from Sydney's financial district via walkways through these public buildings, this part of the park is a popular area for city workers to relax, exercise and play sports. This open area frequently hosts meetings and events. During the summer months, a temporary stage is erected in the south of this area, and open-air concerts and other events are held, with the remainder of the open grass area serving as seating for spectators. The north side of this area is marked by an open-air section of the Cahill Expressway, sunken below the ground level of the park.

Speakers Corner (an area for public speaking) is located in the northeastern part of this part of the Domain, close to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Officially established in 1878, this area was historically an important gathering place where any person may turn up unannounced and talk on any subject they wish, although they were likely to be heckled by people holding opposing views. This has historically been the focal point of free speech in Sydney. Although now largely disused, the corner's role is enshrined in legislation, and a steel platform with engravings commemorating notable speakers still occasionally attracts speakers on Sunday afternoons.

South-east: The Crescent Precinct

The part of the Domain to the east of Art Gallery Road and to the south and west of Cahill Expressway falls in the east via a sharp slope towards the much lower-lying Woolloomooloo. It is named the "Crescent Precinct" after the Sir John Young Crescent that marks its eastern boundary. This part of the Domain is dominated by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, with a neo-classical façade facing Art Gallery Road and a modern extension built onto the eastern slope. near the southern end of Art Gallery Road is the main entrance to the Domain from the junction of Prince Albert Road, College Street and St Mary's Road, which features a historical gatehouse. Playing fields occupy the south-east of this area, built above the Domain Parking Station.

The Domain Parking Station is a 1,130 space car park that caters predominantly for The Art Gallery of NSW patrons, The Domain event attendees, and inner city workers, now known as "Domain Car Park". The Domain Car Park also houses a moving walkway which takes parkers from the car park to the top of Hyde Park. The walkway, or travelator, is an impressive 207 metres in length. The Express Walkway features a painted mural along the length of the walkway that depicts Aboriginal and local scenes, and the Walkway is most likely the longest continuous moving walkway in the Southern Hemisphere and reportedly the third longest in the world.

North-east: Mrs Macquarie's Point

North of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Road passes over the Cahill Expressway, with a narrow section of parkland built over the expressway connecting the Crescent Precinct with the "Yurong Precinct" at Mrs Macquaries Point. In this section, the Domain is a narrow section of greenery bounded by the Royal Botanic Gardens to the west of the roadway and the waters of Woolloomooloo Bay to the east. To the north, the Domain occupies the entirety of the peninsula of Mrs Macquarie's Point, with Farm Cove to the west and Woolloomooloo Bay to the east. Offering the iconic view of the Sydney Opera House alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Mrs Macquarie's Point is a popular destination for tourists and photographers.

Mrs Macquarie's Chair was carved out of the rock for Governor Lachlan Macquarie's wife, so she could sit and observe the passing ships. Above the chair is an inscription recording the completion of Mrs Macquaries Road on 13 June 1816.

The Fleet Steps link Farm Cove to Mrs Macquarie Road. It is named after the Great White Fleet of the US Navy, and was built for the visit of that fleet to Sydney in 1908. It is the point where Queen Elizabeth II first set foot on Australian soil, and a commemorative wall plaque marks the event. The site is often used for large marquee functions with stunning views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

The Andrew "Boy" Charlton Pool is an outdoor swimming facility beside Wolloomooloo Bay. Veil of Trees is a sculpture of glass panels installed between the pool and the "Lion Gate Lodge" of the Royal Botanic Gardens in 1999.

North-west: Tarpeian Precinct

A view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from the Tarpeian Precinct

Cut off from the rest of the Domain by the Cahill Expressway, a narrow strip of open parkland runs alongside the eastern side of Macquarie Street and the western boundary of the Royal Botanic Gardens, rising towards the north to encompass the elevated area near Bennelong Point, which overlooks the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House via a rocky escarpment. This area is named the "Tarpeian Precinct", after the resemblance of the escarpment to the Tarpeian Rock. This relatively small elevated green space dotted with large trees has views from above to parts of Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Government House is immediately to the south-east of this area. The historical sightlines from the Tarpeian Precinct to Circular Quay and beyond were significantly disrupted by the construction of the Toaster Building.


Tropfest 2011
The Domain's open grass area filled with spectators at night during the Tropfest short film festival

A number of major events are hosted every year in the Domain, mostly during the Summer holiday months of December and January and many as part of the Sydney Festival. These large events occur in the Phillip precinct where a temporary covered stage is erected every November for the summer festival season.

Some of the more popular and long-running annual events that have become Sydney 'traditions' include the nationally televised Carols in the Domain (held on the evening of the last Saturday before Christmas) and the Sydney Festival trio of Symphony in The Domain (featuring the Sydney Symphony Orchestra), Jazz in the Domain and Opera in The Domain (featuring Opera Australia), held on consecutive Saturday evenings in January. The Tropfest short film festival was held in the Domain each February from 1999 until 2013, when it outgrew the Domain and moved four kilometres south-east to the much larger Centennial Park.

An 'Open Air Cinema' operates in the summer months near the Fleet Steps. The movie screen sits on pylons in the water at Farm Cove with the audience seated along the foreshore, facing directly towards the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The screen lies horizontally above the water of Farm Cove to allow patrons to enjoy the views before the movie begins and then lifts to the vertical position for the movie screening.

The Fleet Steps are used since 2012 for annual outdoor opera stagings at the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, during the months of March and April.

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