Located in East Melbourne, Yarra Park was established in 1850 by Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe who reserved a tract of open land totalling 100 acres (40 ha) extending from Punt Road to Swanston Street and from Wellington Parade to the Yarra River.
With the Fitzroy and Treasury gardens, and the Kings Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens, these parklands formed a green fringe on Central Melbourne's southern and eastern border. Over the years the size of the park decreased as land was given over for building purposes and railways. In 1853 the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Richmond Cricket Club established sporting ovals on 9 acres (3.6 ha) and 6 acres (2.4 ha) respectively. The Park's area was reduced in 1875 by the extension of Swan Street across the Park to the Yarra River. Brunton Avenue and the railway tracks running from Flinders Street Railway Station to Richmond station effectively cut Yarra Park in two.
Prior to European settlement river red gums grew in marshy land on what is now the park precinct. Aboriginal people cut shields, canoes and utensils from the bark of the river gums and the remains of several scarred trees can still be seen. In the years following World War I there was an increase in the demands placed upon the Park's sporting facilities. In 1920 special car parking was set aside in Yarra Park in response to a joint request from the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) and the Melbourne Cricket Club. Currently car parking for 5700 vehicles is available in Yarra Park to cater for patrons attending major events at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and the other venues.
The 1956 Olympic Games resulted in the construction of the Olympic Swimming Pool and cycling velodrome in Yarra Park. Olympic Park, one of the venues for the 1956 games, had been zoological gardens before the animals were removed in 1857 to the current Melbourne Zoo.
Yarra Park is dominated by the massive size of Melbourne's premier stadium, the MCG, but also includes other sporting venues such as the Richmond Cricket Ground, Gosch's Oval and the multi-purpose Vodafone Arena. The parkland is fragmented into predominantly open, irregularly shaped lawns bordered by a series of straight, tree-lined paths and internal roadways that crisscross the Park. Yarra Park caters for large crowds attending its various stadiums built to host major sporting and entertainment events.