University of Melbourne, Old Arts Clocktower from the South Lawn, 2020. Photographer: Joe Vittorio © University of Melbourne

Susan Reidy

Susan Reidy (PhD in History, 2021) ‘Glorious Gardens and Exuberant Grounds: The History of Urban Public Parks in Australia’

From the colonial period until the present day, Australia’s urban public parks, botanic gardens, and its sports and recreation grounds have been places of special value, considerable cultural and environmental significance and complex social use. In urban places they are distinctive as locations of ornamental charm and floral allure, of physical recreation and entertainment, of sad and happy remembrance, and as containers of botanical and ecological knowledge. Within the fabric of the city, suburb and country town, they provide space, beauty, community and healthful or spiritual respite. A national study of the social history of the public parks of Australia has never been undertaken, despite the many social, cultural and symbolic roles they have played in the country.

This thesis examines the spatial and cultural shaping of Australian urban public parks by a national evaluation of their histories, of the pressures that have affected them, the diversity of their forms and the multiplicity of their use across time and the nation. The thesis also considers aspects of the Australian public park’s development within international contexts, and the extent to which the public park in the nation may be considered an exemplar of modern urban life. Australia’s versions of the botanic garden, public park and outdoor playing field emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century and new ones have been added to urban places ever since. The evolution of such parks has been influenced by the growth of the modern city, the rise of the botanical sciences, new forms of recreation, public participation, political and community contestations, and changing ideas about urban land use, aesthetics, knowledge, health, entertainment, commemoration, heritage, nature and the environment, and who (and what) has rights to public space.

Supervisors: Professor Andrew May, Professor Stuart Macintyre