Melbourne-born Eliza Welch (née Reardon), the widow of William Henry Welch (of wellknown Ball & Welch drapers), sold 137 acres (554 000m²) of bushland to Hawthorn Tramways Trust under the condition that it was to be used as a public park.
The park was opened on Saturday 31 March 1917, 15 months after Eliza’s death on 24 December 1915, “by His Excellency Sir Arthur Stanley, in the presence of over 1000 persons, who travelled by trams, motor cars, and horse-drawn vehicles. The reserve, which is situated on an eminence beyond the terminus of the Riversdale road electric tramway at Surrey Hills, and comprises about 140 acres, was acquired by the Hawthorn Tramways Trust some time ago for recreation purposes, and commands a magnificent view of the city, the bay, and the surrounding country.”
In naming the reserve “Wattle Park”, Sir Arthur “referred to the ever-growing necessity for the acquirement of ‘lungs’ to the city, and to the great need, in the expansion of Melbourne and suburbs, for the provision of facilities for the recreation of the people … [He] emphasised the necessity for an extension of the tramway line for another half-mile, so that those who wished to use the park would not be obliged to walk through the mud, but be landed at the gates of the park.”
However, back on 6 January 1916, Punch magazine reported that in the closing days of the Victorian Parliamentary session: “… members did not quite know whether to be annoyed or amused when Mr. McPherson almost stopped the passing of a Bill to allow the Hawthorn Tramway Board to purchase a park at the end of the Riversdale road line. Mr. Elmslie, as Opposition leader, performed a perfunctory duty when he objected to powers being given to the Tramways Board to make a charge for admission to certain parts of the park. He had no notion of blocking the Bill, but Mr. McPherson at once got up on his conscientious horse and said, with one hand in his pocket and the other on his notes, that he understood the park was to be kept in a state of nature, that he had had a good deal to do with the business, but—and so on with many “buts” until the Premier, in a temper, threw the Bill under the table. It would have stayed there had not a clerk in the Public Works Department fished it out and telephoned for the chairman of the Tramways Board. Finally, the harmless but necessary Bill was passed. It was a stupid business and everyone laughed at it.” It wasn’t until 30 June 1928 that a single line tram extension to Wattle Park was opened. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was well attended by locals.
Wattle Park is natural bushland containing remnant indigenous flora and fauna and many wattle trees. It is known for its plantation of 12 000 wattle trees. Pinus brutia, planted on 7 May 1933, is one of the four original trees in Victoria grown from seed of the ‘Lone Pine’ in Gallipoli. Located near the Chalet, this multi-trunked tree has similar habit to the specimen at the Shrine. The Park has two children’s playgrounds, walking tracks and barbecue areas. Two heritage ‘W’ Class trams offer shelter; public toilets are near the Chalet. There is a large grassed sports oval, a public golf course and public tennis courts. Dogs on a lead are permitted in the park.
Euan Walmsley, Treasurer of “Friends of Wattle Park”, says “Since 1992, we’ve planted hundreds of indigenous plants throughout the park and a range of wattles around the perimeter, taken out weeds like agapanthus, blackberries and ivy, watered plantings in dry weather and provided tours.” “Parks Victoria maintains the park”, says Euan. “They have not yet planted any indigenous or native species, but have taken steps to protect users of the park by removing hazardous trees and branches, by coordinating with the Friends group and the Patriotic group for planting and weeding days and Anzac celebrations.
A ‘trooping of the colour’ occurred in the park in the late 1920s which saw thousands of people on the oval and near the ‘lone pine’. That ceremony was among the earliest in Victoria and was led by the founder of Legacy and important figures of local government.” Euan says that “severe damage has been done by cyclists creating new trails down the eastern slope and through BMX bumps created by both children and adults. Indigenous orchids and lilies which are rare in parks are being endangered by such activities.
“Our group hopes to continue to plant throughout the park including some of the rare and endangered plants, and to fence off those plants.” “Friends of Wattle Park” get together on the first Saturday of each month at 10am (February to December). They meet in the carpark next to the oval and Anzac heritage area. As membership numbers have declined in recent years, they are keen to welcome new volunteers. Membership is only $5 for individuals and $10 for a family. Donations, to enable their activities to continue, are also welcome. Contact Euan Walmsley via email on 9890 1806 or at email@example.com