Speers Point a favourite for many Cessnock and Kurri Kurri locals

One of the intriguing aspects of local history is that sometimes places of great significance aren't even in the local area.

For us one such special place is found on the shores of Lake Macquarie, the lovely Speers Point Park.

In 1887 Lake Macquarie Council bought 20 acres of waterfront land from William Speer - a wealthy Sydney businessman - and opened the site in 1888 with great fanfare as Lake Macquarie Park.

This grassy lakeside park soon became a favoured picnic spot for weekend outings, attracting crowds from Newcastle and the lower Hunter Valley.

On a typical Sunday in the 1920s a band would play in the rotunda and the little shop in the park would supply hot water for tea along with ice-creams and other confectionary.

An open-sided hall also often hosted concerts and dancing.

A large area of low-lying swampy land which adjoined the park was bought by the Council in 1938, filled in and the park further extended.

The peninsula of land jutting into Lake Macquarie was re-named Speers Point along with the park.

For several decades Speers Point Park became the favoured destination for the much-anticipated colliery picnic days.

Hired double-decker buses transported families, workmates and friends to this annual event which had a large program of well-organised sporting competitions and games: sack races, tug-of-war, running and novelty races and of course cricket.

The program was taken very seriously and cups and ribbons awarded to the winners.

But it wasn't just the coal miners who knew what a great place Speers Point Park was.

From the 1920s onwards many Cessnock and Kurri Kurri people made the park their favoured destination for social outings: school and Sunday school annual picnics, staff picnics from local businesses such as Rover Motors, pensioner and retiree groups, retired miners' societies, RSLs and ex-soldiers clubs and the Cessnock and Kurri Kurri Co-operative Societies.

The regular presence of people from the Cessnock Local Government Area in the park was noticed by Lake Macquarie residents such as Gwen Stevens (nee Probert) who in her childhood memoir A Walk by the Lake recalled the liveliness of Speers Point Park:

"Families came to enjoy a leisurely outing. A picnic in the park, swim in the baths, stroll along the foreshore or a listen to the brass band in the rotunda. Miners and their families from the Coalfields would spent the entire Christmas holidays camping at Speers Point Camping Reserve."

Kimberly O'Sullivan is Cessnock City Library's local studies librarian.