"A public recreation ground is much required in Perth … undoubtedly the encouragement of manly and healthy recreation and exercise does much to counteract vicious habits and propensities." 
Such arguments were used in the young colony for some time before any action was taken to create the space called for. It was hoped that as well as providing a parade ground, a cricket pitch and general sporting area, it would also be an ornamental space that could be planted with trees. In 1864 a group or residents met with the Governor on the issue and around £100 was subscribed to the cause.
The most useful site was seen as that low lying area between the two town jetties – at the foot of William and Barrack Streets.
The creation of the recreation ground was a slow process that involved building a riverfront wall and then filling in the space behind with the ash, street sweepings and other refuse from the town. The ground, with a bandstand, was finally completed and vested in the Perth City Council in 1881. Soon after its completion, entrepreneurs Richard Twopenny and Jules Joubert asked for permission to use the ground for the commercial exhibition they had displayed in Adelaide. The temporary timber and iron exhibition building was erected quickly and the Exhibition was the first major event held on the riverside recreation ground. The West Australian saw its opening on 21 November 1881 as "a red letter day" for the colony. It commented that:
"our colonial history, as a rule runs along in a pretty even stream – many might style it uneventful and monotonous; but when the opportunity does arise for public spirit and enthusiasm to display itself, we are by no means left behind." 
The flag bedecked building with its golden dome was imposing and:
"the crowds of well-dressed sightseers upon the green slopes of the ground, and the blue waters of the river as a background beyond, formed , as a whole, a spectacle such as has never been witnessed in the colony before." 
The exhibition closed in January 1882, facing some criticism, however in the space of a few weeks, the event had attracted more than 20,000 people, in a scattered population of around 31,000. It had encouraged tourism and travel within the colony and the reclaimed ground on the river front was now an established as a place for recreation.
"A red letter day for Perth", Perth’s International Exhibition 
Tennis courts, a bowling green, a pavilion and a quoits area were added to the facilities at the Recreation Ground in 1896. The Hotel Esplanade, looking over the Ground, opened in November 1898 and was advertised as "the latest in luxury with enjoyable river views".
The recreation ground, renamed the Esplanade Recreation Reserve in 1885, has remained a place of significance to the people of Perth. Enlarged from the 1890s as part of major River "improvements", it marks the southern edge of the city and links with the River.
The festivities that saw the declaration of Responsible Government in Western Australia were widespread, but the Esplanade Reserve, in particular the pavilion, was the focus of celebrations that attracted about 600 people on 23 October 1890, this Artist’s Proclamation was published in The Possum, 1 November 1890.
It can also be seen as a space that divides the city from its river front and there have been a range of redevelopment proposals for the area put forward over many years. Its significance however cannot be disputed. It has been the place where a range of historic events have taken place, where people have come to protest, to celebrate, to commemorate and to recreate.
Page last updated: Tuesday 23 November 2010