Ducking out for a picnic in the park
How blessed are Sydneysiders to have access to the green oasis of Centennial Park with its plentiful picnic spots, broad avenues lined with Port Jackson figs and Norfolk pines, bicycle and horseriding lanes, and ponds filled with (seemingly) contented ducks and geese. I used to take my two sons there when they were about five and six to see the mallards. “Why is Mrs Duck so plain?” asked the older boy one day as we observed the male’s jaunty markings. “I think she is very pretty,” added his brother, sensing I probably didn’t have an answer to the umpteenth question of the day. I thought of those once-little lads last weekend while attending a get-together in the park with grandchildren Katie and Jasper and a stack of family and friends. The park didn’t seem all that different, aside from the quality of provisioning by today’s picnickers We didn’t have haloumi cheese back then or lavender-flavoured cupcakes. I recall I made cheese sandwiches and we filled plastic bottles with diluted acid-green GI cordial. You could pick up free slices of stale bread from the kiosk and feed the ducks, which we did with gusto, although I suspect that is frowned upon these days. The 189ha parkland was opened in 1888 by NSW premier Sir Henry Parkes who declared it to be “the people’s park”. Sydneysiders were encouraged to “drive their carriages” and “take the air”. You’d think by now, in development-hungry Sydney, it would have been eaten into for housing and leisure centres, so its survival rates as a miracle. Fields and groves can be hired for concerts and weddings. Jasper’s parents were married here two years ago under the shelter of old trees. At Paperbark Grove (pictured) picnics can be booked for up to 100 people and its BYO barbecue (to grill that haloumi, of course, as well as the snags), folding tables and chairs and pop-up shelters (“weighted, not pegged” as no damage to that lovely green turf, please). Just as I recall from three decades ago, kids scamper about, with lots of chasing, squealing and rolling on the ground. And I checked on a Mrs Duck or two, who are still looking plain but they were quacking crankily at their dandified Misters, which pleased me no end.
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