Parks


People's Park in Launceston, about 1880 (W.L. Crowther Library, SLT)

Parks are plentiful in Tasmanian towns. Mostly managed by municipal authorities, they consist of land set aside by the state or federal government (for example, Hobart's Domain), donated by public-spirited citizens (William and Isabella Barnes in Launceston gave most of the land for the Cataract Gorge Reserve), or bought or otherwise acquired by local councils, sometimes after a previous use ceased (cemeteries such as Ockerby Gardens, Launceston, rubbish tips such as Wentworth Park, Howrah, and battery sites such as Bellerive Bluff). Community groups have often assisted to set up parks.

Many parks make the most of natural features, being sited along rivers (Derby, Campbell Town, Ulverstone, Sorell, Richmond, New Norfolk, Huonville), lakes (Oatlands), the coast (Penguin, Devonport, Bridport, Dover, Nubeena, Margate, Dunalley), or on hills (Spion Kop, Queenstown, and Whalers Lookout in Bicheno). Some were set up with the assistance of industries (Goliath Park, Railton) or individuals (Grace Nicholas Park, Ouse). Parks usually contain lawns, trees and paths, and sometimes gardens, statues, fountains, bandstands, tea gardens, war memorials, picnic facilities, shelters, information displays, and buildings such as public conveniences, halls and swimming pools. Citizens are fond and proud of their parks; any attempt to alienate well-known parks such as Hobart's Domain or Mountain Park (for example, with a cable car to the top) results in widespread protest.

In 1808, land was reserved in Launceston for the government cottage, and in 1811 in Hobart, Governor Macquarie set aside a government domain on a rocky knoll. Little was done to develop these areas as parks for some years; in 1818 the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens began, though with limited public access until the 1830s, and from 1838 the Launceston Horticultural Society laid out the grounds of the future City Park on the government cottage site. The establishment of municipal government from the 1850s encouraged councils and citizens to set up parks. In Launceston St John's Square, open ground formerly used for a parade ground, election meetings and celebrations for the cessation of transportation, was enclosed and a fountain set up in 1859. It was renamed Prince's Square in 1868 when Prince Alfred planted two commemorative oaks there. The Launceston Council took over City Park in 1863, and two William McGowans, father and son, successive Superintendents of Reserves, beautified these parks.

In Hobart, in 1860 a 240-hectare site on the Domain was formally presented to the council for the recreation of citizens, as was Franklin Square, the site of the former government house. This was laid out in 186466 with gardens and oak trees around the statue of Sir John Franklin. In Westbury, the local council gained control of the village green in 1863. Said to be the only village green in Australia, it had been used for soldiers' parades and archery competitions, and contained the village stocks.

Public parks developed extensively from the 1880s, when Tasmania became more prosperous and civic pride was growing. In Launceston, City Park gained zoological exhibits, particularly Japanese macaque monkeys; a gate lodge (188789); the Albert Hall (1890); and a bandstand (1908). From 1889 the Launceston City and Suburbs Improvement Association began to turn the magnificent Cataract Gorge into a public park. They built a walkway, bought land at First Basin and laid it out in gardens, and built the 'Swiss' gate cottage (1891, designed by Alexander North), bandstand (1896) and rustic kiosk (1900) which served as a tea garden. Municipal authorities took control in 1898, and also secured the land for the Windmill Hill reserve (1882), Royal Park (1889), and the Punchbowl Reserve (1902). In Hobart, 4000 acres on Mount Wellington became Mountain Park (1906), while in about 1905 Foster Leek bought land on Mersey Bluff, Devonport and set up a Tea Gardens and Museum. It later became the Mersey Bluff reserve.

After the First World War, towns erected soldiers' memorial avenues and war memorials, sometimes with parks around them (Memorial Park, Geeveston; Anzac Parks in Lindisfarne, Perth, Ulverstone and Deloraine). The 1920s was another period of enthusiastic development. Hobart City Council had done little with its reserves, but in 1914 money was set aside to beautify them and Leslie Lipscombe became the first Superintendent of Reserves. Before his death in 1928, Lipscombe landscaped and laid out Fitzroy Gardens, Long Beach reserve (Sandy Bay), Franklin Square (which had become an overgrown wilderness), Cornelian Bay, the rose garden on the Domain and tracks in Mountain Park, but his masterpiece was St David's Park, formerly a cemetery, which gained gardens, trees, paths, a bandstand and stone entrances. In 1929 Hobart City Council bought land to extend Mountain Park across the face of Mount Wellington. Meanwhile, in Launceston municipal authorities developed King's Park and provided a swimming pool and garden at First Basin at Cataract Gorge, and in Burnie, the council bought William Oldaker's extensive gardens and the gorge beside it, and turned them into Burnie Park (1927). During the Depression some work was done on reserves with unemployment relief labour, such as walking tracks in Hobart's Mountain Park.

In the 1950s and 1960s little was done to parks, as municipal emphasis was more on improving sportsgrounds, though community groups assisted, developing, for example, Apex Parks in Sheffield and Deloraine, and Lions Parks in Currie and Miandetta. From the 1980s many councils beautified their parks, and various anniversaries provided opportunities to develop new ones, with Bicentennial Parks in Currie, Margate and Campbell Town. In 2004 Tasmanian towns contained almost three hundred public parks, large and small, ranging from beautiful formal gardens (Prince's Square, Launceston) to casual grassy areas.

Further reading: L Scripps, 'Franklin Square', K Walsh, 'Domains', A Neale, 'Cataract Gorge', 'City Park, Launceston', 'Prince's Square, Launceston', in R Aitken & M Looker (eds), The Oxford companion to Australian gardens, Melbourne, 2002; J Morris, History in our streets, Launceston, 1989; A Wood, The Mersey Bluff Tea Gardens and Museum, Devonport, 1913.

Alison Alexander