An ornate pavilion was erected in Centennial Park for the swearing in of the first Governor General of Australia, Lord Hopetoun, the first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, and the first Cabinet at the official inauguration of the federation of the colonies in Centennial Park, Sydney, on 1 January 1901.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 2nd January, 1901, eloquently describes the pavilion . . .
Entering the Centennial Park the swearing-in pavilion soon opens to the view. At the foot of the semi-circle of low hills which have their heights on the Waverley boundary of the Centennial Park, the pure whiteness and chaste beauty of the pavilion in which the Governor-General swore to maintain our Constitution struck the vision with the force of its clear, sharp contrast to the dull green, grass-grown ground, and the darker hues of the native ornamental trees. It had no florist’s art to lend a transitory effectiveness, yet perhaps it will be universally conceded that in its simple purity and graceful elegance of outline, its exquisite modellings designed to symbolise the arts and crafts of the Commonwealth, its circumspect ornateness, and the vivid touch of colour lent to it by the magnificent royal standard proudly moving over it 70 ft in the air, it stood incomparably above all other inanimate displays of the day.
Built of the material known to the artisans as fibrous plaster, it looked like a white marble structure. The knowledge that it was not of great durability, and therefore could not stand to tell coming generations of the noble era began within it was, perhaps, the only jarring thought in connection with it.
Octagonal in shape and dome-covered, the pavilion had eight archways. The floor is 50 ft in diameter, and the flagpole rises from the apex of the dome to a height of 70 ft. Each of the eight piers upon which the arches rest is composed of a Corinthian pilaster nursed by four columns built and fluted in the Ionic style. It is from these columns that the arches spring, and surmounting the arcade is a massive and handsome medillioned (sic) cornice. A heavy freize follows the contours of the building, giving eight sides, which are used to carry the symbol of union a stage further. Thrown out in relief on each of six of the sides is the name of one of the United States of the Commonwealth; on the seventh (the southern) is worked “Australia”, and on the opposite octagonal side (the northern) appears the date of union “A.D. 1901”. On the faces of the keystones of the northern and southern arches are cast models of the Queen’s head, and above them are beautifully wrought representations of the Imperial coat of arms.
The octagonal dome has heavy moulding on all its angles, and in each instance the moulding terminates in an ornamental truss. The outer surface of the dome looked like a clever manipulation of loose tiles, but in reality the fibrous plaster was treated to resemble tiling. The top of the dome, as already stated, gradually merges, by astute architectural devices, into the flagpole. The floor of the pavilion is level at a height of 6 ft from the ground, and it is approached on each of its eight sides by two flights of steps. Some admirable modellings intersect this approach at its angles, which are also the angles where the plasters and columns rise. Abutting from each pilaster, and depending to bases settled in the ground, is a magnificent truss having for its ultimate adornment fine casts of powerful lions. Profuse on the entablature both within and without the pavilion are deft modellings in representation of the handicrafts, and more particularly the native industries of the continent. Cattle, sheep, wheat in the ear and in bulk, corn in the cob, ploughshares, symbols of mining and much else equally significant are patent to the observer. The interior of the dome is panelled and otherwise chastely ornamented. Sunk in the ground sufficiently to allow its surface to project a few inches above the flooring boards, in a position which is the exact centre of the octagon, is a huge block of granite hewn at Moruya. Over this block the table stood at which Lord Hopetoun signed the papers calling this nation into actual life. The stone is to be preserved for all time.
After the celebrations
Following the inauguration ceremony, a number of people suggested that the original fibrous plaster ornamentations should be re-made in marble. No action was taken in relation to these suggestions, and in 1902 the pavilion was reported in the Botanic Gardens and Domain Report for that year to be in a very dilapidated condition. The report recommended the pavilion’s removal. It was soon put up for sale and bought by the Municipality of Concord for the sum of 60 pounds. At the time of purchase the plaster ornamentations had all but disintegrated, leaving the wooden skeleton or frame on which they had been erected.
The pavilion was moved (the shell of the rotunda dome) by Concord Council to Cabarita Park (then known as Mortlake Park) in 1903 though it was now stripped of all its original ornamentation.
Apparently the six white statuette lions which guarded the rotunda remained in place. However, over the years four of them disintegrated but the remaining two were taken to the park’s storage section for safekeeping.
Concord Council made a requests for them to be put under the rotunda at Cabarita Park but they are now destined for the Royal Botanic Gardens.
In 1972 there was a proposal to restore the pavilion to its original appearance, but using marble for the ornamental features. However this was refused by the NSW Government Architect because of the difficulties involved, the lack of any known plans and drawings for the structure, the fact that it would not be satisfactory to reproduce in durable material ornamentation that was originally designed to be temporary.
In 1983, the NSW Premier’s Department initiated moves to return the pavilion to its original location in Centennial Park in preparation for the Centenary of Federation celebrations in 2001. This proposal was rejected unanimously by Concord Council, its members indignantly pointing out that the structure would not have survived at all but for its purchase, re-erection and maintenance by the Council.
From at least the 1980s the pavilion in Cabarita Park has been used as the venue for wedding parties and band recitals.
In 1988, a new and permanent Federation Pavilion, designed by architect Alexander Tzannes in post modern style and evoking the form of a classical rotunda was erected over the granite slab in Centennial Park, the Bicentennial year of European settlement.
On 22nd December, 2000, our pavilion was listed on the State Heritage Register.
As part of the Jubilee of Federation celebrations, the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Justice of NSW, The Hon. J.K.Street, unveiled a memorial tablet and plaque in the pavilion at its new location in Cabarita Park on 9 May 1951.
The ceremony was organised by Concord Council and attended by some 10,000 people. Representatives of 14 harbour side councils also attended, while the Mayor of Concord, AId.H.F.Stanton, read messages from 18 other city and suburban councils. The messages had been delivered by runners from the Western Suburbs Amateur Athletic Association who had taken part in an 11 mile relay around Concord Municipality before the ceremony.
Messages of goodwill were also received from the then Lord Hopetoun and his son, the Marquis. Accompanying the ceremony were exhibitions of basketball, gymnastic displays and aquatic events, including water-skiing and speedboat racing. The Navy League, local Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts formed guards of honour for the distinguished guests after unveiling the plaque.