St John’s Park is one of the oldest suburbs of Fairfield City Council. It is located on the Cumberland Plain, approximately 35 kilometres west of central Sydney. Originally it was part of the land traversed by the Cabrogal people, as it was rich in resources for their hunting and gathering. The Clear Paddock Creek, which crosses the area, and the Orphan School Creek on its southern boundary, provided a plentiful source of clean, fresh water and an abundance of tortoises, fish and eels for the taking.
The native vegetation, of which some is still evident in St. John’s Park Reserve, consisted of Grey Box, Forest Red Gums and Paperbark. On a survey plan prepared in 1901 the terrain was described as ‘scrubby undulating gum’.
A witness to the commission investigating railway sites in 1916 described the area as follows:
…The whole of St. John’s Park…is good land, suitable for agriculture. In St. John’s Ward, there are 112 holdings, comprising 1,175 ¼ acres. There are 900 acres not yet cut up, suitable for poultry farms. There are several other holdings in the district from 50 to 200 acres. There were 44¼ acres under grapes last year, which produced 9024 cases, equal to 117 tons. We also produced 1000 gallons of wine. There are 117 acres under stone fruit, one half being young plants, which produced 5000 cases, and last year was a comparatively bad one. Of poultry, which is the main industry of our district there were 14,495 which produced 14,000 eggs. There are in the district 95 beehives, which produced 2 tons 6 cwt. of honey. We also have cattle and horses. An area there of 900 acres is used as a sort of rest paddock. It is splendid country. The population on the 112 holdings is 276 males and 154 females. There are 430 adults, and of children, there are 77 boys and 72 girls.
In 1917 the area was described as a ‘progressive and thriving little village, with a lively Progress Association and a School of Arts.’ The population had grown to around 450 adults and nearly 200 children. There was still approximately 900 acres available for poultry farms, vineyards and market gardens.
There has been much debate about the actual area designated as St. John’s Park. Historic maps show its boundaries as Smithfield Road, Edensor Road (formerly Parkes Road), Humphries Road and Canley Vale Road. The N.S.W. Geographical Names Register shows that St. John’s Park was only assigned the status of suburb as late as 17th May 1991. Note also that the full stop after the abbreviation “St.” on modern maps and plans etc. is now missing, as is the apostrophe between the “n” and “s” in John’s. The village was named in an early Parish map that included a designated area set aside for a school and Anglican Church. However, when reading early newspaper articles, electoral rolls and even looking at residential addresses given by pioneer residents, it is easy to see that the ‘real’ boundaries fluctuated. Often an address was given as St. John’s Park, Canley Vale or St. John’s Park, Cabramatta. Mike Davis in his book, Little House on the Prairie notes that when adjoining suburb Wakeley was officially gazetted in 1979 it ‘inherited parts of the suburbs of Canley Heights and St. John’s Park.
Early references to St. John’s Park also include properties on the north side of Smithfield Road, including parts of present day Prairiewood and extended across the present location of Canley Vale Road to Box Road (formerly Lackey Road) and Harris Road (now known as Richards Road). These roads are now part of Wakeley. In 1940, a newspaper article in The Biz referring to soldiers from the Cabramatta area mentions several enlisted members of the A.I.F from St. John’s Park who lived in Montgomery Road and on Mulgoa Road (now part of Elizabeth Drive).
It appears that it wasn’t until the early 1970s period of intense subdivision that the current accepted and fixed boundaries of the suburb came into being. Even as recently as 1973 some streets now in neighbouring new suburbs were considered to be part of St. John’s Park. Colin Watts tells of buying his one and a half acre property at 2 Myrtle Road from Les and Nola Henry for $60,000 at this time. The street is now part of the suburb of Prairiewood. Because of its proximity to the Fairfield Showground there is still some evidence of its popularity with local horse trainers like Mr. Watts. The suburb boundaries should not be confused with ward (particularly St. John’s Ward) and other electoral boundaries, as they are determined usually by population changes and are frequently changed.
The history of European settlement around and including St. John’s Park really starts with the allocation of a land grant in two portions in 1803 that was established by Governor Gidley King. This was in order to benefit and finance the Orphan Institution that he founded after noting that of the 958 children in the Colony, 398 were orphaned or abandoned. The naming of Orphan School Creek bears proof of this heritage. Some of the land grant was leased out for agricultural purposes. The original Orphan School building still stands nearby in Brown Road, Bonnyrigg.
White settlement and development of the suburb commenced between 1871 and 1876. William Stimson, an early mayor of the Fairfield Council, bought a large portion of the land along Orphan School Creek. His sons grew grapes in what is now considered part of the Bonnyrigg area, although one son was farming in part of what is now St. John’s Park. During this time most of the land grants in the St. John’s Park section had been taken over by Nathaniel G. Bull, with a small proportion belonging to Harriett Bull on the Mulgoa Road boundary side and to John Lackey overlapping into the present day suburb of Wakeley.
[Excerpt from “A journey in time : a history of St Johns Park and its people” by Vicky Movizio]