Since the Dreamtime of Aboriginal legend, the bushland cascading down the face of Mt Eliza to the shores of the Swan River has been a place of majesty and inspiration for the human spirit. Today it sits above the bustling city, a welcoming girdle of green overlooking the skyline of modern Perth.
The park occupies approximately 400 hectares of Mount Eliza. Named by Governor Stirling, it honours Eliza Darling who was the wife of New South Wales Governor Ralph Darling, the man who authorised Stirling's 1827 exploratory voyage to Western Australia and later passed on to Whitehall, with approval, Stirling's recommendation that a colony be established on the Swan River.
Mt Eliza, known as Mooro Katta to the Nyoongar people (meaning all sit down place - friendly ground) was an important meeting place. The scarp was also an important hunting ground for the Nyoongar people. Kangaroos were herded and driven over the edge of the Scarp, providing a bountiful meat supply for the gathering clans. At the foot of Mt Eliza a freshwater spring provided the location for the base camp for Yellagonga's clan. Colonists recognised Yellagonga and his people as the owners of this area and Yellagonga could hunt on wetlands north of Perth because of his connections to that land.
Long before the area now known as King's Park received official recognition by colonial authorities, its intrinsic beauty set it apart as a place to be kept for the enjoyment of all Western Australians. The keen eye of John Septimus Roe, the first Surveyor General, recognised immediately the unique qualities of the bushland and he set out to protect it. Two years after settlement, Roe earmarked Mt Eliza as land to be set aside for public purposes.
Roe refused permission for Fremantle shipbuilder Thomas Mews to cut timber from the escarpment. Roe's ban was overturned a few years later and the first export from WA in 1835 was a shipment of five tonnes of jarrah cut from Kings Park. In the next 30 years the area was logged extensively and jarrah from the park was used for many public buildings, including government House and the Town Hall. But in the end Roe's vision prevailed. His successor as Surveyor-General, Malcolm Fraser, persuaded Governor Weld in 1871 to gazette 175 hectares in the area as a public reserve. This was done the following year and with that reservation, Kings Park was born.
In 1890 Sir John Forrest, as Commissioner of Crown Lands, added further land to the park bringing it up to its present day size of 400 hectares.
Until the late 1900s, colonists also quarried limestone from the Scarp to provide much needed building materials for the town of Perth.
Perth Park, as it was called then, was officially opened on 10 August 1895, and included a tree planting ceremony by Sir John and Lady Forrest. The park was officially gazetted in 1896 and the first official Board appointed. The name was changed to Kings Park in 1901 to mark the accession to the throne of King Edward VII and the visit to Western Australia by his son, the Duke of Cornwall and York, later to become King George V.
George Temple-Poole who became the park's first committee chairman designed the original layout of King's Park. He designed a series of zigzag paths and viewing terraces down the steep cliff-face of Mount Eliza, after the then Premier, Sir John Forrest, obtained in the Estimates of 1892, 5000 pounds to develop the park. One of the lemon-scented gum trees that form the avenue down the main drive was planted by Mr Poole during the Centenary Celebrations in 1929.
Although nowadays it is assumed that the park's founders intended to keep the area as an oasis of native bush in the middle of a growing settlement, the record is somewhat blurred. John Forrest was an advocate of introducing imported species such as oak and elm trees "to provide a pleasing contrast to the colouring of the native varieties growing therein". By 1940, the Kings Park Board had decided that most of the park should be used to preserve and regenerate indigenous species. In 1957 and again in 1959 proposals were put forward to build an aquatic centre on the reserve. A furious controversy erupted and led to the defeat in State Parliament of two Bills authorising construction of an aquatic centre.
Kings Park War Memorials
At dawn on April 25 each year, Kings Park is more than a bushland reserve, The cenotaph at its heart becomes the focus for the annual Anzac Day dawn Service. Thousands of Western Australians gather to pay their respects to The men and women who died in their country's service. The cenotaph was unveiled in 1929 and the centenary of the founding of the colony was Celebrated by planting an avenue of red-flowering gums along Fraser Avenue.
Anzac Day is not the only occasion on which Kings Park becomes a place of commemoration. There are more than 50 monuments in the park, and ceremonies to mark wartime and other anniversaries are scattered throughout the calendar.
The South African War Memorial, commemorating Western Australians killed in the Boer War, was the first monument established in the park in 1901. Fittingly, the gardens around the memorial contain many South African plants. The Light Horse Memorial, The Tobruk Memorial and the Prisoner of War Memorial are among many monuments in Kings Park to the valour of Western Australian servicemen and women. Together with more than 1100 trees with plaques at their base bearing the names of war dead, the park contains probably the biggest concentration of commemorative symbols of any State capital.
Western Australia has half of Australia's wildflowers packed into a third of the nation's landmass. The Botanic Garden in Kings Park is there to promote the horticulture, conservation and understanding of Western Australian and other flora - 12 000 species of plants. Since the Garden was opened in 1965, conservation has been among its key roles. Traditionally such gardens have been established to introduce plants into cultivation and display them in a pleasant landscape.
The Botanic Garden has always had an unusually strong focus on local plants with only small areas allocated to plants from other regions of the worlds. The park remains a haven for birds and reptiles.
Kings Park also has a highly respected botanical research unit. Their research has already saved some species from oblivion and it is working on the survival of others. Pioneering work on tissue culture, genetic fingerprinting, conservation techniques and cryostorage, has given the laboratories a worldwide reputation. Serious research commenced in the early 1960s, with the establishment of the botanic garden.
Some of the historical highlights of the park include:
- 1965 - The Botanic Garden officially opened, with its centrepiece the Pioneer Women's Memorial Fountain.
- 1967 - The Arthur Fairall Playground constructed around an ornamental lake on May Drive.
- 1975 - The Ernst Wittwer Playground constructed on Saw Avenue.
- 1989 - The Australian Vietnam Forces Memorial Pavilion erected using an 1899 structure relocated from Karrakatta Cemetery.
- 1995 - Centenary of the Kings Park Board celebrated. Largest capital works initiative for Kings Park and Botanic Garden, the Centenary Enhancement Project, proposed for the next 10 years to upgrade infrastructure, services and public amenities.
- 1997 - Inaugural Kings Park and Botanic Garden display at London's Chelsea Flower Show wins a gold medal.
- 1998 - State War Memorial and old Rifle Range landscape refurbishment completed.
- 1999 - Water Garden refurbishment and Centenary of Women's Suffrage Memorial completed.
- 2000 - Flame of Remembrance in the State War Memorial Court of Contemplation officially opened by Queen Elizabeth. Fire Fighter's Memorial Grove unveiled.
- 2001 - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Service Memorial unveiled.
- 2003 - Lotterywest Federation Walkway and Mt Eliza Scarp restoration project completed. Bali Memorial commemorating Western Australian victims of terror and those who helped after the bombing unveiled.
- 2004 - Plant Conservation Centre, Kings Park Shop, refurbishment of Lotterywest Family Area at Hale Oval, Volunteers Garden and Wildflower Pavilion, Tuart Pavilion and Stage 2 of the Western Power Parkland due for completion.
A Place for the People
Kings Park is a place for the people and is there for young and old. Extensive dual-use paths (pedestrian and bicycle, also accessible to wheelchairs) traverse Kings Park. Volunteer Guides and excellent maps assist visitors to enjoy the delights on offer. There are free-guided walking tours available throughout the year and picnic and barbecue facilities, public toilets and playgrounds spread throughout the park. There is always something new to see as the seasons change. The Annual Spring Wildflower Festival is Australia's largest and most varied massed Native Plant display and Wildflower exhibition. It has been part of the lives of the people of Western Australia from the Aboriginal Peoples to the children of today.
Kings Park is truly deserving of the status of Heritage Icon.