Steele Park
A little bit of Hamilton East history, right at our front door.

Originally taken under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863, Steele Park started its park life as Lot 410. In 1868, under the Public Reserves Act 1854, it was reserved for the purpose of a public square.
Ten years later its purpose was changed again and it became a recreation ground.
As early as 1872 the recreation ground was referred to as Sydney Square.  We’re not sure if this name had any official status. According to Gibbons the public square was probably named as such because much of the Waikato Militia was recruited in Australia.

Despite being reserved for recreational use it appears that Sydney Square wasn’t exactly fit for this purpose. In November of 1878 the Hamilton Borough Council invited tenders for the fencing of Sydney Square and for levelling the ground and filling in holes. Funds towards this purpose were raised from the sale of the Hamilton East Town Hall.
Work on levelling the ground began in February of 1880. In April it was reported that the work was still not complete with mounds yet to be levelled, the land not sown and the ground not fenced.
In spite of this, sports were played on the ground. The opening match of the school football season, between boys of the Albion Club and the Hamilton East school, was played on a ‘portion’ of
Sydney Square.  The levelling and filling work started up again in August and by the end of October, grass had been sown and the Hamilton Cricket Club had laid a pitch.

Fencing Sydney Square
William Cumming, Chairman of the Sydney Square Improvement Committee, was particularly keen to get the square fenced as soon as possible. The reason for this was that the public were using the square as a thoroughfare, riding their horses and driving their vehicles through it.
There was also the issue of stray cattle grazing on the park. At a lively meeting of ratepayers of the Hamilton Borough, arguments were put for and against fencing the Square. The main argument against was that the Borough already had an overdraft of £230 and the money would be better spent on streets and drainage. Mr Isaac Vialou agreed, saying “[the Council] should first expend their funds upon works of absolute necessity rather than upon those of ornamentation.”
There was some argument over the cost of the fencing. William Cumming argued that as private
individuals had paid for 80% of the cost of levelling the Square, it was only fair that the Borough should pay for the fencing. In the end the motion “That it is not advisable to fence Sydney Square at present.” won by 30 votes to 5.
The issue was picked up again about a year later by Mr Henry Steele. An application was made by the Hamilton Borough Council to have the recreation ground brought under the Public Domains Act 1881 and so vested with the Hamilton Domain Board.
In early November the Board accepted a tender of £60 from a Mr F. Forrest to construct a fence.
It would be made from “puriri posts, six to the chain, five No. 6 and two barbed wires, or seven in all. On the west side there will be an ornamental gate, with 12ft of panel fencing on either side”.
Half would be paid for by the Domain Board and the other funds sourced by Mr Henry Steele who would collect subscriptions from the public for it.

The Oak trees and the 4th Waikato Regiment
In spite of the lack of a fence, various recreational and sporting activities did take place at Sydney Square. Sport included cricket, football (soccer) and rugby union. Boxing Day athletic and equestrian events were held at the square and the Hamilton Light Infantry and others practiced their drills there.