How many of you have been to Royal Park?

How many of you have visited a part of the park that is not a sports field or zoo?

The wide expanses of the park to the north of the CBD are known to many, but many do not know the original design intent for the park.  This article from Megan Backhouse at The Age provides a look at the true vision for Royal Park and the benefits it provides our city.

Right royal battleground | The Age

By Megan Backhouse

The east-west freeway link and redevelopment of the former children’s hospital site are the latest proposed changes to Royal Park. But some argue Melbourne’s biggest inner-city parkland is ugly and under used. Is Eden threatened with further encroachment, or is the time right to rethink this major public asset?

The billabong would never cut it at Chelsea. Too many dead twigs snagged in the water and not enough greenery around it. No ferns or kangaroo paws. Not a bottle tree in sight. Tucked up near the tennis courts on Royal Parade this pool of water in Royal Park isn’t so very remarkable taken on its own. But what gives it – and the adjacent 160- hectare expanse – an edge is it is only two kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD.

One moment you are surrounded by office towers, hospitals, universities and terrace houses, and the next all height and density falls away and the city breaks wide open. Bald land and a big sky never seemed so shocking.

It was 1845 when Charles La Trobe set aside the land (by then largely devoid of original vegetation) that is now Royal Park. To put his move in context, around the same time he selected some choice marshland and swamp for the Royal Botanic Gardens and set aside property for the Fitzroy and Carlton gardens.

Landscape architect Ron Jones, who designed part of Royal Park. Photo: Jason South

But unlike these English-style showpieces, Royal Park never went down the structured, manicured route. For one thing, its vast size made it unwieldy for the sort of high-level upkeep that would be required, and for another there was such an assortment of amenities being stashed within it (a zoo, a slew of sporting facilities, a railway line, tram tracks) that for a long time it was difficult to achieve any sense of unity. When military encampments were called for during World War I, and then again in World War II, they were set up inside the park (and one remains to this day in the form of the Urban Camp, which puts up an assembly of school, sporting and community groups visiting Melbourne).

By the time the Melbourne City Council held a design competition for the park in 1984, it was a series of disconnected parcels of land pierced by roads and car parks. Ever utilitarian, a toilet block crowned its highest point.

Landscape architects Ron Jones and Brian Stafford won the competition with a design that stripped the park back to its central elements. Where most development plans propose adding features, this one was largely about removing them. The idea was to edit and clarify until the landscape felt unified and continuous.

Jones and Stafford, then of Laceworks Landscape Collaborative, outlined plans for a park that ”combined the perceived spaciousness of native landscapes” with the function and artifice required of urban areas. They wanted to reintroduce a sense of horizon, sky and wind. ”It will not be an imitation nor a reconstruction of an idealised past but a novel synthesis which speaks well of the place and those who make it,” they wrote in their plan.

Read more at Right royal battleground | The Age.