A little while ago it occurred to me that children's play equipment had changed for ever - and perhaps for the better. It is safer, more colourful and even more comfortable. But it also got me thinking: "If this is the new era of kids play stuff, what did I grow up with?"
Speaking with friends, it soon all came back to me. I remember so fondly the rickety merry-go-rounds, see saws with a tire under each seat and the wood and chain bridges I used to scamper across gleefully. I didn't care that the steel was cold against my skin, that there was never a protective awning blocking me from a fierce sun, or that the chains of the swings always squeaked.
Old spinning swing in Lidcombe in 1943. Image credit: Sam Hood, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
A particular favourite of mine was the Giant Stride. Do you remember those contraptions?
They were towering poles with numerous chains reaching from the top down to you, each with a grip on the end. You would run around the pole holding this grip and bounding every few steps until, with enough momentum, you would swing outwards.
But not just you mind, 3 or 4 other freely swinging children whose legs might easily make contact with your face also enjoyed the effects of centrifugal force. But who cared? It was glorious.
Naturally, I began taking more notice as I moved around Sydney - looking out for the beloved play equipment of yesteryear. And it didn't surprise me to find that they are few left (nor, unsurprisingly, could I find a Giant Stride).
But I was relieved to find that it's not all gone. Here's what I did find:
Blackheath Memorial Park
Much of the children's play equipment used to be perfect for creating bruises and grazed knees. But on the same note, this made much of the equipment very sturdy - like those made primarily of welded steel.
It's fitting that I found the best of Sydney's heritage play equipment in Sydney's Blue Mountains as Blackheath engineer Dick West was responsible for supplying much of the steel piping play equipment to councils around New South Wales.
Currently the park also has an additional area of new play equipment, and it just goes to show how successfully the past and the present can be merged if we care enough about preservation.
Just beside Dulwich Hill's Arlington light rail station is Johnson Park. This park is part of the Greenway - the corridor of bike paths and greenery that connects Iron Cove with the Cooks River. At Johnson Park, there is some cool modern chidren's play equipment and the park is a popular space for children's parties with its onsite bandstand, toilet amenities and filtered water dispenser. In the midst of all this modernity is a colourfully restored Moon Rocket.
Sensibly, and like most of those in Sydney, it has been sealed off so that it can't be climbed. But it is still great to have a reminder of a by-gone era. Blackheath engineer Dick West was also responsible for the popularity of the Moon Rocket which he set about fabricating from plans brought back from America by fellow engineer John Yeaman.
This is not the only rocket in the Sydney area, there is another Moon Rocket in Chatswood that is an homage one that was formerly on the site. It is there through encouragement of the local community.
Some of the best play equipment I can recall was wooden - even if that fact didn't lend itself to the longevity of the structures.
Timbrell Park in Five Dock still has some of the wooden equipment I remember from childhood
The individual pieces of equipment didn't require much ingenuity to create, but usually offered a little more of a challenge in the form of ramps and a chain to pull yourself up with, or logs of varying lengths for balancing on. They were exciting to play on because these many simple parts were commonly arranged together to make up an exciting obstacle course.
Albert Street, Ashfield
One of the common structures you would find in these timber playgrounds was what I call a Witches Hat - for want of a better term. This one can be found sitting in the shade of some trees all alone on Albert Street.
I have never known the name of this bit of playtime equipment, but possibly because of its concrete component it has survived at many locations around Sydney. Made partly of logs of increasing height, I always enjoyed taking the balancing challenge it posed as you climb to the apex. Simply good for climbing up and over, or riding your bike up, the charm of it is its simplicity.
So those are the remnants of old-time play equipment I have discovered, but I'm sure there must be more. Do you know of play equipment from years past still surviving in Sydney's suburbs? I'd love to know what - and where.
Love your subject matter. I remember treehouses made of logs. I also remember i was too afraid of climbing up to the higher levels and when I finally got enough courage, they had replaced the playground equipment with plastic safer ones.