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History of Queen's Park

A detailed history of the gardens is available only to 1930. Information is based mostly on council minutes and the local newspaper.

Gold was discovered in Clunes in 1851 by James Esmond.  The goldrush that followed saw the establishment of the town, from temporary tents and shelters to permanent stone dwellings, shops, banks, the grand town hall and churches. The town was formally surveyed in 1858 by John Templeton and in 1863 by Hugh Fraser, the Assistant Surveyor. Fraser Street and the adjacent roads were gazetted in 1866.

A map from 1863 (see gallery) shows that Queen’s Park was not in the original layout for the town.  Ligar Street stretched all the way from the current blocks on the eastern side of the street to Creswick Creek.  Presumably this area was not considered for housing because of its susceptibility to flooding.  The soil is not particularly fertile, the whole area having been dug over for alluvial gold, bringing subsoil to the surface.  Council minutes refer to “pyrite problems” causing plants to die, while an 1899 minute refers to “arsenic placed in the park” resulting in poor growth.  Council minutes in 1872 note the recommendation to plant trees between Government Bridge (built 1861, at the southern end of the park) and Service Street Bridge (built 1864, at the northern end).  An article in the Clunes Guardian and Gazette in August 1874 records that Thomas Mann applied for compensation to remove his house from the Creek Reserve (though this may have been further to the north, where Victoria Park is now situated, since at that time the Creek Reserve included areas to the north of the current Queen’s Park).  In 1876 the newspaper “This, that and the other” column also commented on the need to plant more trees in “The Reserve”.  However, the degree to which Queen’s Park was planned and laid out is unclear.

A bowling green was laid out by Arthur Batson, the Town Clerk and Surveyor, in 1878.  The bowling club requested permission to build a pavilion in 1882.  Batson was also credited with laying out the paths through the gardens, constructed of crushed quartz and sand.  Council provided money for planting 20-30 ornamental trees in 1885 in the Creek Reserve Gardens.  Trees were bought from Thomas Lang and Co. of Ballarat in preference to the free stock from the Government Nursery in Macedon.  In 1885 a gate was constructed to the gardens entrance (thus by that time the park must have been fenced), with two gates and screens being erected around the bowling green to exclude cattle.  However, the entrance was too small to allow the entry of perambulators, thus excluding nurse girls and mothers with small children.  This was solved by installing a spring-loaded gate.

A map from 1886 (see gallery) is the first to show the Creek Reserve Gardens, as Queen’s Park was then called.  However, it had not been formally reserved at that time.  This became a problem, since in the 1870s and 1880s annual grants were received from the State government to subsidise the upkeep of parks and gardens in the Borough.  This money was to be used for reserved land only.  The Department of Agriculture had been under the impression that the money had been spent on the Botanic Gardens, gazetted in 1863.  Further grants were thus frozen.  The oversight of the formal reservation of the gardens was blamed by the Town Clerk on his predecessor, Arthur Batson.  Batson accepted the blame; however, he considered that because the land was proclaimed as a “Public Highway”, the council was within its rights to enclose and plant the park.  The local M.P. Thomas Cooper and the M.L.A. William Anderson expedited the gazetting of the park, which was completed just in time for Queen Victoria’s Jubillee celebrations.  Thus 2 acres 2 roods were temporarily reserved and gazetted as Public Gardens in 1887.  Another error was created by this action, since a private sporting club should not be on Crown Land reserved as a public garden.  This was finally rectified in 1963, with the excision of 3 roods 10 perches from the public gardens.

For the 50th Jubillee celebrations, council decided to re-name the gardens as Queen’s Park and to install a fountain.  The fountain (see gallery), made from pressed cement, appears in almost every photograph of the park taken since that date.  Originally it was planned to have a small fence around the fountain, but this was never done.  Around that time, two drinking fountains were put in the park (though in 1888 they were accused of spreading typhoid to the children who used them).

Until 1905 the gardens were locked each day at sunset.  Council then decided that they should be left open all night, but reversed their decision in 1906 to prevent swagmen from sleeping there.  In 1915 the closing time was still sunset, but the gates were not always locked.  Although dogs were banned and signs put up to warn of fines for having dogs in the park, this appears to have had little effect.

An asphalt tennis court was constructed in 1888 to the north of the bowling club, where the club’s car park (see gallery) is now.  Drainage work was paid for by the tennis club, but there was concern expressed that the club’s facilities were being paid for by the ratepayers.  A pavilion for the tennis club was erected in about 1892.  The club was not very successful, losing most of its matches; by 1900 the club was poorly patronised and the court was cracked and weedy.  In 1917 the pavilion was considered a disgrace to the gardens; although it was refurbished, it was again in poor condition in 1919.

In 1898 the council accepted an offer of a 32 pound gun (see gallery) from the Department of Defence.  When it arrived it was considered not to be very attractive and in need of paint.  After some time it eventually went on display in Queen’s Park.  There appears to be no photographs of the gun in situ.  It is currently situated in the Clunes Museum.

Photographs from the turn of the century show extensive flower borders (see gallery) at the northern end of Queen’s Park, several conifers and a cabbage tree palm (Cordyline australis).  However, in 1899 the park was apparently in a poor state, drawing complaints by councillors and the newspaper.  As a result, considerable work was carried out: lawns were levelled, borders nicely kerbed and the fountain was washed.  Pipes were also laid at this time to provide water for reticulation.  However, no flower borders can be see in a photograph from the 1920s (see gallery).  A rockery was constructed in 1905.  There are no specific records of the planting of the pinetum at the southern end of the park: the trees are considerably smaller than those at the northern end.  Council minutes note the removal of several old trees in that part of the park in 1913, and the planting of trees there in 1916.

Play equipment has long been a part of the park.  By 1900 there was certainly a swing.  In 1902 another swing, a roundabout and a see-saw were added.  A new playground was opened in 1951 (see gallery), on the centennary of the discovery of gold, by Sir James Disney, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne.  There were swings, see-saws, a slide and a roundabout. Councillor Steart took the first slide, descenting into a sandpit. Modern playground equipment was installed around 2000.

Toilets were added in 1904 and a toolhouse was built for the caretaker in 1907 (the old shed currently in the park was moved from behind the Town Hall by the Lions Club when they were looking after the park).  Gas lights were installed in 1911 in the southern end of the park.  Although there are no known photographs, there was a stand or platform in the southern part of the park by 1901.  This was used regularly by the brass band on Sunday afternoons, as well as occasionally by choirs and for concerts, fetes and carnivals.  A proper wood and iron band stand was proposed by council in 1907, but instead the existing platform was increased in height so that audiences could see performances better.  By 1930 the platform was badly in need of repair; it is not known when it was removed.

Periodic floods (see gallery) have caused damage to the park.  In 1893 a flood damaged considerable lengths of fencing.  The replacement fence was tied to the trees on the creek bank, which resulted in only minor damage in the 1894 flood.  A hurricane in 1897 resulted in considerable damage and required the caretaker to make repairs.  Another flood occurred in 1906, while in 1918 severe frosts killed many flowers and damaged shrubs.  Damage has also been caused by vandals, even from the earliest days of the park (vandalism is not a modern phenomenon!).  Trees have been ring-barked and seats damaged.  In one disgusting incident, seats, gates, trees and garden fixtures were smeared with “night soil” by “ill-disposed boys”.  After this, signs were placed, informing the public of penalties for such acts.  In April 1897 “larrikins” were said to have infested the park, but they were apparently not in evidence a few Sundays later.  In 1914 and 1922 barbed wire was put along the fence to disuade young people jumping the fences to gain access after dark.  On one occasion, in 1920, children had removed planks from the seats and used them as see-saws. Flowers were often stolen, while in 1918 children damaged the tops of young pines; in 1919 there were again children “mutilating and often destroying the plants and other attractions”.

With very little maintenance, the fountain ceased to work, seats were removed and the park became very dilapidated.  The bowling club took over the old tennis court (see gallery) as a car park and sited a large shed outside the club’s limits to the south.  With little attention from the council, who are the formal Management Committee for the reserve, the Clunes Lions Club were given the role of Project Committee for Queen’s Park, with a role of beautifying it.  Richard Aitken was contracted by the council to do a conservation analysis of the park in 1990; this was extended and developed into a Master Plan by Wendy Jacobs in 2006.  The fountain (see gallery) has been restored to working order by local residents Lesley Carey and Daid Coleman and some of the original paths have been re-made as part of a Creek Walk funded by the Hugh Williamson Foundation.  A pergola and covered barbecue have also been added by Hepworth Shire Counicil, while other renovations and additions specified in the master plan await funding.  However, the master plan does not include the pinetum.

In any garden, trees mature, become unsightly and die.  For a park to remain in good condition (as well as safe), trees need to be removed and new ones planted.  However, if this is not communicated to the public there can be strong reactions to the removal of trees.  There is also strong debate if healthy trees are removed merely to meet the needs of a sporting club.  Suckers have long been a problem in the bowling greens, shade from trees causes grass to grow poorly and the greens to retain moisture, and falling leaves and twigs are a nuisance.  Trees between the bowling club and the creek were cut down in 1969 (see gallery).  Trees to the south of the greens were removed in 1990, resulting in major articles in the local newspaper, “Clunes residents protest at blatant act of vandalism”. Although considered by some to be the result of the bowling club acting unilaterally, the appropriate channels through the council had been followed.

One of the problem with mature trees is that they tend to drop limbs, especially poplars and elms.  This becomes a problem for public liability.  From time to time, complaints about dangerous limbs have been lodged and council has paid for remedial work.  It has been proposed that some of the old poplars along the creek be removed, but because of their heritage value Heritage Victoria stated that this should be done only if absolutely necessary.  Regular assessments are now done of all hazards and maintenance required.  However, the very day after a new pergola was erected in 2007 at the north end of the park, a huge branched from one of the poplars fell on it and caused considerable damage.

Flowers grown in the park

The following were noted in the local paper as flowering in the park:

Daffodils and hyacinths (1901); petunias, Phlox drummondii and dahlias (1903); peonies, pansies and white stocks (1904); gladioli (1905); daffodils and jonquils (1906); phlox, petunias and asters (1917); geraniums (1925); dahlias (1927).

Roses are seen clearly in postcards (see gallery). An archway was erected in 1905 for climbing plants; a postcard from 1928 shows an archway to the north of the fountain.

Rabbits were a continual problem, with ferrets and poison being used to control them.