Islington Park History

Lobbying to establish public open space in the new suburb of Islington led to the dedication of Islington Park in late 1878. Originally the official park area was very small, consisting only of a narrow sliver of land adjacent to Maitland Road surrounded by steep slopes that dropped precipitously down to the flat, muddy, flood-prone, alluvial plain of Throsby Creek  which had to be navigated before crossing over the footbridge to Tighes Hill (see the 1910 map below).1

Source: provided courtesy of University of Newcastle Cultural Collection

Source: provided courtesy of University of Newcastle Cultural Collection

The original landscape design of the park was by T.W. Hogue, the Clerk of Wickham Council, of which Islington was a part at the time. The planting of trees, including extensive Moreton Bay figs, was carried out by J. T. Croft just after the park was officially established. The photo below was taken in 1906, 27 years after the fig tree avenue was planted in Islington Park. Entrance gates were located opposite Bevan Street, flanked by a pair of cannons, one reputedly from the First Fleet, both of which have subsequently been lost.2

Source: Snowball Collection image no. 003642 provided courtesy of Newcastle Regional Library

Source: Snowball Collection image no. 003642 provided courtesy of Newcastle Regional Library

A bowling green was first established in Islington Park on the low ground currently occupied by the oval, flanked to the east and west by swampy ground which was subject to flooding at high tide. Alfred Sharp proposed a revised design for the park, which may have contributed to the realignment of Throsby Creek in the 1880s.

Source: Snowball Collection image no. 003642 provided courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Source: Snowball Collection image no. 003642 provided courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

By 1906 the topography of the park had changed little. The photo above shows the fenced-off park on the steep embankment with two cows grazing on the alluvial common below. Apart from recreational use, Islington Park became a focus for public meetings and debate, especially for radical and trade union speakers. Thousands of Sunday afternoon speeches have been made to large crowds with banners, parasols and top hats. ‘No brawls ensued, but the speakers of those days were noted for the very forceful manner in which they endeavoured to belittle or defeat the opposition. Over ripe fruit-tomatoes were favourites – and old eggs were most effective missiles’.

During this time the park was also the meeting place for the West Wallsend branch of the Australian Socialist League and later the Socialist Labour Party. In 1931 the park was the site of the first International Woman’s Day rally in Newcastle (second in Australia) which was organised by the Unemployed Workers Movement with around 200 people attending. 3,4

During the 1930s depression, re-chanelisation work on the creek bank provided much needed labour for workers in the area. The banks of the creek below Maitland Road were cemented and the creek was converted into a storm water drain. A Tighes Hill resident remembers Islington Park as ‘mostly scrub’ before the First World War. In the two photos below we can see that by the end of World War II the park was well cleared.5

Source: Newcastle Herald image no. 010393 provided courtesy of the Newcastle Region Library

Source: Newcastle Herald image no. 010393 provided courtesy of the Newcastle Region Library

 

Source: Newcastle Herald image no. 001304 provided courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Source: Newcastle Herald image no. 001304 provided courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

The bowling club in Islington Park was then moved to higher ground with much public controversy over the removal of some of the fig trees on Maitland Road, which by then had become the major landscape feature that they remain today (see photo below).2

Ron Morrison Collection image no. 001003 provided courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Ron Morrison Collection image no. 001003 provided courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

The playground at Islington Park remained very basic until recent redevelopment of the park. Collaboration between Newcastle City Council and the community re-imagined the park and it is now a highly popular recreational area for families from all over Newcastle.

IMAG0662

Sources:

  1. Dulcie Hartley, ‘Throsby Creek – a brief history’ in Turning the Tide – the Throsby Creek campaign’ produced by Throsby Land Care and the Tighes Hill, Islington and Maryville Residents Action Group
  2. Newcastle City Council (2000). Islington Park Strategic Plan and Plans of Management – Heritage Places Strategic Plan Part I.
  3. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Friday 1 January 1937
  4. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate,   Saturday 15 June 1918
  5. Tighes Hill School 100 year anniversary

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