Parks Victoria Celebrates 100 Years of Wattle Park
Monday 27 March, 2017
For generations of Melburnians Wattle Park has been a green and gold jewel nestled in the city’s eastern suburbs. A site for picnics, lazy afternoons or exploring old trams with siblings and friends. On Saturday 1 April, we will celebrate 100 years of this iconic park and its rich history and contribution to Melbourne’s public life.
The story of Wattle Park begins when Eliza Welch, of the Ball and Welch department stores, sold 137 acres to the Hawthorn Tramway Trust on the provision that the land be used as a public park. The park was opened by Governor Arthur Stanley on the 31st of March 1917.
In the zeitgeist of a post-war Australia, where nationalism and a new sense of the Australian identity was on the rise, Governor Stanley planted a wattle tree, Australia’s then unofficial (now official) floral emblem, at the park’s opening and forever gave the park its name. For those who ever picnicked under, played around or merely admired the 12,000 wattle trees of this iconic park, remember to thank the 5th Baron Stanley of Alderley.
Despite the iconic mark left by The Right Honourable Lord Stanley of Alderley’s wattle trees, their cultural significance was eventually outdone by one extraordinary hairdresser and his Aunty Gray.
At the outbreak of World War 1 former hairdresser Thomas Keith McDowell, known as Keith, enlisted with the 23rd Battalion eventually fighting at Gallipoli. During the Gallipoli campaign “Lone Pine” became the scene of some of the fiercest fighting. The plateau was marked by a solitary pine tree bearing witness to a battle which cost over 2000 Australian and over 5000 Turkish lives.
During the withdrawal, a then Private Keith McDowell, took a pine cone from the original Lone Pine. He carried it for the remainder of the war through the deserts of North Africa, the mud of the Somme and eventually to the other side of the world and his Melbourne home.
He then gave the cone to his Aunt, Mrs. Emma Gray, who was famous for her green thumb. She would plant the few seeds gathered and in May 1933, one of the four seedlings was planted in Wattle Park on the occasion of the Trooping of the Colour by the 24th Battalion.
The war cast a long shadow over Australian public life and this can be seen in Wattle Park. Also in 1948 a clock tower was built near the Chalet in memory of a soldier who died during the war. Both it and the Lone Pine tree stand to this day as a living memorial of the sacrifices made by so many.
Within this land steeped in history around a third of the park is listed by Heritage Victoria while the park has been listed by the National Trust of Australia. Originally existing as a trolley park, the strategy behind Wattle Park was simple: Having built a tramline running east along Riversdale Road to the Warrigal Road intersection a park would be built at the lines terminus.
This would provide a green open space for Melburnians to enjoy and would encourage them to use the tramline on weekends. A successful strategy for a number of years until the rise in popularity of motorcars during the 60’s and 70’s.
Over time nearby residents became concerned for the state of the park and in 1991 ownership of Wattle Park was transferred to the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works, who undertook an extensive program of rehabilitation and replanting which continues to this day.
Due to its connection with Melbourne’s tramway operators Wattle Park maintains heritage W2 class tram bodies as picnic shelters within the park while tram route 70 runs along the parks northern boundaries. The Melbourne Tramways Band also pays homage to their connection to Wattle Park by playing there once a month during spring through to autumn.
Today Wattle Park is managed by Parks Victoria who continues to protect and preserve the deep natural and cultural heritage within this cherished park.
On Saturday 1 April, we invite you to join us in celebrating Wattle Park’s 100th birthday and its century of rich and vibrant life.
A tree will be planted to commemorate the 100th birthday of the park. There will also be community activities in the park between 11am and 2pm run by the Friends of Wattle Park, Parks Victoria and performances by the Melbourne Tramways Band.For more information about Wattle Park call 13 1963 or visit www.parks.vic.gov.au
Media enquiriesJarred Parsons
Parks Victoria media centre