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What's on City of Melbourne

Parks and gardens

In this section:

Alexandra Gardens

From the earliest days of European settlement in the 1830s, Alexandra Gardens was used for timber cutting, cattle grazing and as a brickmakers’ field.

The area was subject to regular flooding until a new channel was excavated at the turn of the 20th century to widen and straighten the Yarra River. Excavated material was used to raise the height of the riverbank and fill the lagoons created by the old brickmaking works.

Following this work, in 1904 the Alexandra Gardens were laid out as an ornamental garden. Their design was chiefly the work of Carlo Catani, Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department. The Henley Lawn, surrounded by distinctive Canary Island palms, was laid out in 1911.

The Melbourne Moomba Waterfest has been held annually in the gardens since the late 1950s.

The Riverslide Skate Park opened in 2001 on the site of a former depot and has great facilities for skaters of all ages and abilities as well as first aid, a café and supervisory staff.

Boatsheds started appearing early in the 20th century and in 1904 the first Henley-on-Yarra regatta was held, quickly becoming one of the most popular events in Melbourne and drawing huge crowds to both banks of the river. The Oarsmen’s Memorial Judges Box is sited in the Gardens near the finish line of the regatta and was built in 1930 to commemorate the oarsmen who served in World War 1.

Alexandra Avenue
Prior to the realignment of Alexandra Avenue, it was a parkland boulevard featuring four separated lanes, representing an equestrian track, a carriage drive banned from commercial traffic, a bicycle path and a pedestrian path. Each lane was separated by a row of trees, including elms, London planes, English oak, and silver poplar. While the boulevard no longer exists, remnants of these rows are still visible, showing the original alignment of Alexandra Avenue along the Yarra River.

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Birrarung Marr

Work began in September 2000 on Melbourne's new park and Birrarung Marr was opened on Australia Day, 26 January 2002.

The  development is a world leading example of international urban park expertise and design and was an initiative of the City of Melbourne and the State of Victoria. In October 2004, the design of Birrarung Marr won the Walter Burley Griffin award for Urban Design.

The creation of the park was made possible by the closure of the Jolimont rail yards. Fifty-six rail lines across the area now covered by parkland were reduced to the 13 that remain along the park’s northern edge.

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Carlton Gardens

Carlton Gardens were originally designed for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 and, for more than a century, have formed one of the most historically significant urban landscapes in Australia. Edward Latrobe Bateman designed the layout, planted in the 1850s and 1860s as ornamental gardens, although much of this work was later destroyed to accommodate the Exhibition Building.

The central area of the gardens became the site of the Exhibition Building. In July 2004 the building gained international recognition with World Heritage Listing. More information can be found about the significance of Carlton Gardens and the Royal Exhibition Building at Heritage Victoria.

The ultra-modern Melbourne Museum rises up alongside the Exhibition Building and creates an impressive contrast for visitors.

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Fawkner Park

Aboriginal people used the area now known as Fawkner Park as a favourite camping place until as recently as 1849.

Fawkner Park was created in 1862 and is named after Melbourne's co-founder, the Honorary John Pascoe Fawkner, owner of the schooner Enterprize, the vessel that brought Melbourne's first settlers from Tasmania.

Since European settlement Fawkner Park has been used for a wide range of activities and functions, including grazing cattle, training greyhounds, illegal gambling and a variety of sports. For three years it was the site of the Australian Women's Army Service barracks and after World War II these buildings were used as emergency accommodation for newly arrived immigrants.

The long history of activities on Fawkner Park's open spacious lawns and its distinctive, tree-lined avenues are an integral part of the park's history and character.

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Fitzroy Gardens

The area was once a swampy, unpromising piece of ground containing a creek and the remains of a quarry.

In 1848 the Fitzroy Gardens were permanently reserved as public gardens, with title vested jointly in the State Government and City of Melbourne. They were known as Fitz Roy Square until 1862 and were named after Sir Charles FitzRoy, governor of New South Wales (Victoria was part of New South Wales until 1851). The Gardens provide a pleasant setting for the precinct’s government buildings and churches.

In 1857 James Sinclair was appointed as head gardener of the land that was to become the Fitzroy Gardens. For the next 25 years, until his death, Sinclair personally supervised the gardens, often planting trees himself to a design by Clement Hodgkinson. The formal design was naturalised with the creation of a dense woodland with meandering avenues and a gully of ferns. Quick-growing blue gums, since removed, were used to provide wind breaks in the early years. Planting at this time included many of the majestic, and now historic, elm trees.

By 1900 most plants had been replaced by English trees, while lawns and flower beds were almost non-existent. Instead, the gardens were decorated with copies of classical and modern statues lining the paths, a bandstand, rotunda, and numerous fountains. Sweeping lawns replaced many trees.

The shady fern gully planted in the nineteenth century, the colourful flower and shrub borders, and the green lawns and majestic trees still delight visitors to the Fitzroy Gardens.

The Fitzroy Gardens were listed on the Heritage Victoria register in 2000. More information can be found at Heritage Victoria.

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Flagstaff Gardens

Before 1840 the Flagstaff Gardens area was known as Burial Hill as it was the final resting place for the city’s earliest colonial residents.

A flagstaff erected on the site in 1840 was one of several within the Port Phillip District used for communicating with Sandridge (Port Melbourne) and ships on the bay. The signalling station was also equipped with a ‘time ball’, dropped at noon every day and a noticeboard where written messages advised the public of daily shipping movements.

The 'flagstaff hill' became a popular place to receive the daily news of arriving ships. On Sundays people made up picnic parties to go up the hill and listen to the music of regimental bands or study lists of ships in port, or with telescopes try to recognise vessels coming up the bay. The area was also a prominent site for public gatherings.

In 1857 a cutting was excavated through the hill to ease the gradient of King Street, which created the high bank, with its bluestone retaining wall, which still forms the present western boundary.

By the 1860s, the electric telegraph had superseded signalling flags as a means of communication and the hill lost its attraction as a meeting place.

Establishment of the gardens
In 1862 West Melbourne residents became unhappy with the derelict condition of Flagstaff Hill and petitioned the government to turn it into public gardens or a recreation reserve. Clement Hodgkinson, the Deputy Surveyor-General in charge of the entire city’s parks at the time, prepared a plan and directed its implementation. He also designed the Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens.

In 1873 the gardens were permanently reserved and in 1880 were laid out with trees, a pathway network, lawns, and low flowerbeds.

The City of Melbourne was appointed Committee of Management for the Flagstaff Gardens in October 1917. This was followed by the opening of a children’s playground in 1918.  Unlike playgrounds today it was designed in two quite separate sections, one each for boys and girls.

Since then, the city has grown up around the gardens and tall buildings now obscure the panoramic views of the bay once enjoyed from the crown of the hill.

With many features of historic and horticultural interest, the Gardens are covered by a Heritage Overlay Control under the Melbourne Planning Scheme. It has been classified by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) and is listed by the Australian Heritage Commission. The 7.2 hectares of the Flagstaff Gardens is Crown Land vested jointly in the City of Melbourne and the State Government, and is permanently reserved as a public park.

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JJ Holland Park

JJ Holland Park is named after John Joseph Holland, a former Labor parliamentarian who campaigned for the development of social welfare schemes. Holland Park, as it is commonly known, is freehold land owned by the City of Melbourne and was originally developed throughout the 1960s as part of a project to transform "Seagull Swamp" in South Kensington.

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Kings Domain

Kings Domain was originally reserved from sale by the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, Charles La Trobe, as a site for a future Government House, being known as ‘Government House and its domain’.

Melbourne celebrated its centenary in 1935, and 17 hectares of the Government House grounds were transferred to the public parkland of the Domain to mark the occasion. This area is known as King's Domain. Hugh Linaker’s design for the new park was built by workers in a scheme that provided work for the unemployed during the Great Depression.

Charles La Trobe, the first Governor of Victoria, lived in nearby Jolimont. In 1964 what remained of his cottage was moved to The Domain, where it was reconstructed by the National Trust, and is now located backing on to Dallas Brooks Drive. Visit the National Trust for more information.

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Princes Park

Princes Park was originally part of 2,560 acres reserved from sale by Superintendent La Trobe in 1845, which included land now occupied by Royal Park, Melbourne Cemetery and the University of Melbourne.

Although a carriage drive was built around the park late in the 19th century, sport has always been the focus of recreation here. Until the early years of the 20th century, cricket and football had to co-exist with grazing, which was important in raising revenue to maintain Melbourne’s parks and gardens.

The Bowling Club was established in 1886, and when the Carlton Cricket and Football Clubs merged a few years later they were allowed to occupy an area now known as the Carlton Recreation Ground.

A children’s playground was built next to the tennis courts in 1921 so that a supervisor could manage both at the same time. Barbecues nearby make this a favoured picnicking spot for local families. This playground was most recently upgraded in 1998 and is now the site of a popular large timber playground.

In 1973 Princes Park was reserved as an area for public recreation. Today the park is the site of one of Melbourne’s major football stadiums and other football and cricket fields used by local clubs and schools are located throughout the Park.

The Royal Park to Clifton Hill railway line once severed this tranquil environment. After it was closed in 1981, the railway reserve was turned into a shared pedestrian and bicycle path connecting Merri Creek to the east and Royal Park to the west.

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Queen Victoria Gardens

Prior to the colonising of Port Phillip, this area was a low-lying, swampy area. Members of the Kulin Nation lived in this area and called the river Birrarang. It was home to native grasses, she-oaks, wattles, paperbarks and gum trees. The water provided a source of food, the reeds were useful for weaving and the area was often used as a meeting place and for social activities.

After settlement, the area was used during the gold rush of the mid-1880s as a place to house new immigrants in hostels and campsites. It was also the site of the early police barracks.

Reclaimed and developed much later than the rest of Domain parklands, the Queen Victoria Gardens were established as a memorial to Queen Victoria following her death in 1901. These gardens contain a marble statue of the Queen on an artificial mound overlooking one of two ponds where it would be seen clearly from St Kilda Road.

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Royal Park

Royal Park was an important Aboriginal camping ground and fell within the territory of the Wurundjeri people, with whom John Batman made his infamous land deal in 1835. Described by Batman as being, ‘thinly timbered with gum and wattle and she-oak’, development and grazing on the site erased most of the original vegetation.

Royal Park is a remnant of a much larger reserve of 625 hectares (2,500 acres) set aside for recreation purposes by Governor Latrobe in 1854. On his last day in Melbourne he permanently reserved the area now known as Royal Park.

The first agricultural farm of about 35 hectares was established here in 1858. In 1860 Burke and Wills set out from Royal Park to cross the continent from south to north. After they perished on the return journey they were hailed as heroes and large crowds gathered in the city for their public funeral. A cairn near Macarthur Road now marks the departure point of their ill-fated expedition.

In 1868 and again in 1878 the size of Royal Park was reduced for housing allotments. In the 1880s more land was lost to make way for trams, trains and roads.

Thousands of Australian troops were stationed here for training in 1927 in readiness for the official opening in Melbourne of Australia’s first Parliament.

In 1933 Melbourne City Council and the Victorian Government signed an agreement where in return for maintaining the sites of the western and eastern markets, Melbourne City Council was to improve and maintain several city areas, including Royal Park. The Council was to spend $50 000 over five years improving the park and $10 000 annually maintaining it.

The Park was used for the stationing of troops in both the First and Second World Wars. Camp Pell remained after the war and the army buildings were used as temporary housing until 1960. The Urban Camp now uses the one remaining structure to provide accommodation for rural school children and other groups. In the intervening years another 2.5 hectares were transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

The Victorian Netball Association opened a stadium here in 1969, which was replaced in 2000 by the $27 million State Netball and Hockey Centre with improved facilities for players and spectators.

In the 1970s the City of Melbourne took over the Royal Park Golf Club for public use. An attractive Australian native garden was opened, barbecues and picnic tables added, a site was chosen for kite enthusiasts, and horses were available for hire. In the same decade Grace Fraser designed a garden of Australian plants near the Gatehouse Street entrance. Its trees, shrubs and pond make a beautiful spot for a picnic.

Melbourne Zoo
The Zoological Society was first given 8.25 hectares on the present site of Olympic Park in 1857. Four years later, in 1861,   it moved to Royal Park as the Zoological and Acclimatizarion Society. The 12.5 hectares, granted and fenced in this area, have belonged to the Zoological Gardens ever since.

In more recent times the enclosures have been re-designed to resemble the animals’ natural habitats. The zoo is open every day of the year from 9am to 5pm. Visit Zoos Victoria for visiting information.

The park today
As with most Melbourne parks, recreation and games were an early feature. Cricket, football, lacrosse, baseball, tennis and golf are played in the Park, which is also home to the State Hockey and Netball Centre.

From its earliest years, Melbourne’s largest park developed in piecemeal fashion. Since 1984, when a Master Plan was prepared to unify the fragmented landscape, thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted to evoke a natural woodland, such as John Batman encountered in 1835.

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Shrine Reserve

The Shrine of Remembrance is Victoria’s principal war memorial and the focus for commemorative ceremonies and marches.
It was built between July 1928 and November 1934 in remembrance of those 114 000 men and women of Victoria who served, and those who died, in the Great War of 1914-1918.

Situated between St Kilda Road and Kings Domain, the Shrine was inspired by the tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus in south-west Turkey, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It takes the form of a cenotaph, or empty tomb, and is aligned with Swanston Street, providing a strong visual connection and formal axis with the central city.

The Shrine and its landscape are a striking and moving tribute to those who fought in both world wars and subsequent conflicts. It was designed by Hudson and Wardrop.

A broad ceremonial approach lined with Bhutan cypress climbs the slope to a large forecourt in the shape of a cross. The symmetrical layout of paths radiating from the Shrine into the surrounding landscape is balanced by trees arranged informally in the spacious lawns. The trees are a mixture of Australian and exotic species, evergreen and deciduous. Most carry commemorative plaques representing units of the Army, Airforce, Navy, Women’s Services, and Commonwealth and Allied countries.

For more information visit the Shrine of Remembrance.

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Treasury Gardens

The land that now forms the Treasury Gardens was originally sub-divided for building allotments but was so swampy that no buyers were interested and it was decided to leave the area as open space.

The gardens were set out at roughly the same time as the adjoining Fitzroy Gardens in the 1860s, but were primarily planted up to improve the view to the State Government buildings on Spring Street.

Clement Hodgkinson laid the gardens out to a relatively simple design – a pattern of diagonally crossing paths lined with trees. Their only ornament was a willow-fringed pond which William Guilfoyle, the director of the Botanic Gardens, transformed into a Japanese garden at the turn of the 20th century. Guilfoyle’s Japanese garden around the pond was demolished after the Second World War. In 1965 this area was redeveloped as a memorial to former US President John F. Kennedy following his assassination.

Responsibility for the management of the gardens was transferred to the City of Melbourne in 1929 and the area was later permanently reserved as a public park'. At that time the Gardens had become very overgrown. They were seen by some as ‘a beautiful bit of unspoilt nature’ and by others as ‘a blot on the City’.

Much of the current layout and detailing of the gardens has been retained from this early period of development and these historic gardens remain a public amenity provided on Crown land. Many old trees, such as the fine avenue of Moreton Bay figs, survive from the gardens’ earliest period.

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Trin Warren Tam-boore (wetland)

Trin Warren Tam-boore (Bellbird waterhole) was previously five hectares of little-used land in the north-western area of Royal Park adjacent to a busy freeway.

Officially opened in June 2006, this area is now an urban wetland designed to treat stormwater run-off from the roads, rooftops and gutters of surrounding suburbs, to provide a habitat area for wildlife and to deliver recycled water for use in Royal Park.

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Yarra Park

Part of this area had been the home of the Melbourne Cricket Club since 1853. For more information about the iconic MCG, visit Melbourne Cricket Ground.

In 1856, Governor La Trobe set aside from sale (for parkland), a large tract of land (81 hectares, then 200 acres), that extended from Punt Road to Swanston Street and ran down from Wellington Parade to the Yarra River. 

The area saw many changes as roads and rail lines were developed to link the city with Richmond and beyond, including the proclamation of Governor Barkly that land "passing through the pleasure ground commonly called and known as the Richmond paddock shall henceforth be a public road".

This parkland is today known as Yarra Park, the gateway for many thousands of spectators to national and international sporting competitions. It is also crossed daily by hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists on their way to the city and a favourite place for local residents to walk their dogs.