Caulfield’s transition from being a pastoral area, where the wealthy built their mansions far from the bustling city, to being a densely settled suburb occurred gradually but not at a constant pace. The Caulfield Roads Board was established in 1857 and one of their first tasks was to build roads to link the many small centres of population – Owensville (later Ripponlea), Alma Road Village, Camden Town and the Caulfield Township close to Paddy’s Swamp. The Council also made provision for the anticipated need for open public space when housing blocks all had space for private gardens or back yards.

Caulfield expanded rapidly in the latter part of the nineteenth century until the Depression in the 1890s when much unemployment and misery halted the rate of subdivisions and new buildings. By 1902 there was a population of about 9,500 but this figure was to rise markedly in the first quarter of this century. Closer settlement of the land gradually moved east and south of the area around the Town Hall and in 1908 John T. Lempriere resigned from the Council because he considered there might be a conflict of interest if he remained a councillor. He wished to subdivide his land, known as Lempriere’s Paddock. This Paddock which was a popular polo ground, was situated between Elster Creek and the newly established Gardenvale Road, and stretched from Kooyong Road to the Point Nepean Road.

The subdivision became known as the Garden Vale Estate and in the planning of the subdivision, James Stewart, President of the Gardenvale Progress Association suggested that some part of the estate should be dedicated to a park for the use of local children. Unfortunately this did not happen at the time, but in the 1970s the Council made a number of studies on the provision of parks, gardens and recreational facilities in response to the changing face of housing in the municipality. More flats and units were being developed, so increasing the need for public parks and gardens for picnics and playgrounds.

In 1972 Loder & Bayley were commissioned by the Council to make a Municipal Survey and a number of recommendations were made, of which some are reproduced here in part: 

  • V.1.
    21. A green web system of open space provision should be implemented in conjunction with a system of street classification and closures and in accordance with projected population densities. Particular attention must be given to increasing open space provision in areas of high population density.
    22. The pattern of open space development needs to be life-time sports, children’s playgrounds and such informal recreation as bicycle and mini-bike riding.
  • V.2.
    11.27…we asked for people’s attitudes to parks (other than sporting grounds) in the City. A total of 59.1% of households said that they made some use of park areas and one in every six, together with 25% of non-users were dissatisfied with the available provision. We note the fact that there are few areas in the city which are designated as pleasant places for passive relaxation.

The Council continued to work on the provision of open space and reports were presented to Council in 1974, 1975 (2), and 1977 (2). In 1974 D.B. Logan, Deputy City Manager – Operations and A. Reynolds, Superintendent of Parks & Gardens recommended to Council … extra open space be acquired to cover existing deficiencies in provision of open space in their report Policy for the Further Development of Park Lands, Open Space and Recreation Centres.

In 1977 Cr. Don Dunstan produced a report entitled Open Space, Leisure and Recreation Facilities: a policy review for Parks and Gardens in which he gathered together numerous references to the provision of parks in various countries. He focused on the provision of the different types of parks in Caulfield. He reviewed the planning, provision, cost etc. of Harleston Park as that appeared to be the model on which a new park might be based. In Fig. 9 and point 10.2 he noted the accessibility of residents to the major parks and showed areas of Caulfield that were outside the average catchment area of 1/3 mile walking (1/2 mile by public transport). The areas lacking open space were listed as Carnegie, Gardenvale, City Hall area and Orrong Crescent area. He suggested mini parks to fill the gaps of coverage.

On 23rd February 1978 Council Officers devised a questionnaire Recreation Facilities Study which was included in the Caulfield Contact. Of the respondents 23% indicated a need for more small parks and more drinking fountains; 22% wanted more gas barbeques and 23% wanted mini forests (small urban forest containing close tree growth and native shrubs that would attract birds).

The current usage of the existing parks, as per the Parks Usage Survey of 6th July 1978, indicated that Caulfield Park was the most used park. Harleston Park was second, Princes Park third whilst the Duncan MacKinnon Reserve with its quality fun and fitness track and its international-standard athletic track rated highly in the personal fitness and participation in organized sport options.

In 1987 Council produced a report Local Parks Strategy with a summary of recommendations which, in part, read: 

  • Point 2.3. (in part) Local parks should be located with 500 metres of any dwelling in the municipality.
  • Point 2.4. (in part) Particular areas of Caulfield appear at present, on face value, to be poorly served by local parks. …Gardenvale, part of north Caulfield, the Town Hall environs…an analysis of the socio-demographic characteristics of each area together with transport links and general accessibility factors suggest that Gardenvale is the high priority area if a new park were to be established.
  • Point 2.5. Council will take the necessary steps to reserve some specific land pursuant to the Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme as Proposed Public Open Space. This land is located centrally in the Gardenvale area of Caulfield.
  • Point 2.6. upon eventual acquisition of the land required, Council shall develop that land as a local park.
  • Point 3.4.3. (in part) In a survey in 1986, 47% of Caulfield residents had visited a local park within the previous two-week period.
  • Point Council will aim ultimately to provide a network of local parks throughout Caulfield each with a minimum of 5000 square metres.
  • Point 6.3.6. Council has been researching the Gardenvale area and considers that the most centrally accessible site for a new park would be in the general area around Magnolia Road, Elster Avenue and Gardenia Road…properties Council intend to seek Reservation over…

In 1987 the Southern Cross newspaper reported that Council had decided to provide funds from the sale of the Arts Centre in Inkerman Road to establish a ‘Children’s Park Land’ in the West Ward. A proposal for a playground in the area of Elizabeth Street had little support. A letter of notification was sent to owners of a proposal to rezone land and properties to Open Space-Public Proposed Reserve in the Elster Avenue, Gardenia Road, Magnolia Road area. Residents both supported and opposed the development.

Amendment RL29 to the Planning Scheme was gazetted on 16th March 1989 so that the land was now reserved for Proposed Public Open Space.

By 12th October 1990 three of the properties had been purchased for under $900,000. The closure of a road needed consultation with Vic Roads for their agreement to the proposed closure and there was community consultation and traffic in neighbourhood streets was surveyed and recorded. On 27th December 1990 Vic Roads wrote to indicate no objection to the closure of Elster Avenue and Bertram Street. On 21st February 1991 local residents were advised of the proposed park. On 13th March 1991 a Statutory Notice was published in The Age.

A survey of resident’s responses to certain suggestions was: 

  • Flower beds – Yes
  • More trees than shrubs – Yes
  • Barbeques and Toilets – No
  • Children’s play equipment – Yes, but must also cater for older children
  • Lighting – Yes
  • Name of park – Gardenvale Park, Elster Park, Mason Reserve
  • Ornamental lake or fountain – Maybe
  • Seats – Yes
  • Sports facility – Not enough space, but maybe a hit-up-wall or basketball ring

A meeting with residents brought forth the following suggestions: 

  • Undulation of the site
  • Bicycle facilities – 3 U-bend stands
  • Hit-up-wall or basketball ring
  • Screen off the flats with special plantings
  • Playground also for 6-13 year-old children
  • Plantings to be traditional English or a mixture with Australian natives
  • Fountain rather than a lake
  • Perimeter path
  • Access for garbage trucks could also be a hard court for handball and chained off
  • Not too many trees – for safety reasons
  • Regulations to exclude golf and dogs not under control
  • Park to be something like Hopetoun Gardens
  • Park should be versatile and cater for the elderly
  • Play equipment should blend with the park and not be prone to vandalism
  • Treat the cul-de-sac as a focal point to extend the park into an avenue of trees
  • Consider a grove of eucalypts along the flats and deciduous trees on the northern side

On 3rd June 1992 the name was declared to be Gardenvale Park and the Council approved a Landscape Plan which was prepared by Council’s Urban Designer, Lyn Hannan, in consultation with local residents. A report in the June edition of the Caulfield Contact stated that the resident participation has been the key factor in preparing the design of the park. Interested local residents formed a group and designed and circulated a questionnaire to determine features residents wished to include in the park.

Four meetings were held, chaired by Caulfield Mayor, Cr. Veronika Martens and attended by residents and relevant council officers. The Landscape Plan incorporates almost all the suggestions from the residents and has met with agreement from all residents involved.

Sufficient land has been purchased and cleared to create a local park. Features of the park will include a picket fence, lichgate, gazebo, playground, Australian native and exotic trees and lawn areas. The parkland is designed to integrate with the surrounding residential character. The design utilises attractive garden features and planting with small lawn areas to maximise local use.

Preliminary site works, road closures and relocation of existing power lines will absorb the $100,000 budget allocated to parkland this year. Council expects to allocate further funds to continue development of the parkland next year.

The completed park was officially opened by His Worship The Mayor, Cr. Ed. Biggs at noon on Sunday 25th July 1993. The Guest Speaker was the Hon. Clyde Holding, M.P. Federal Member for Melbourne Ports.

Written by Gladys Vallati for the Caulfield Historical Society Newsletter in April 1997