Queen’s Gardens (East Perth Clayfields Reserve, East Perth Park)
Queen’s Gardens in East Perth is an attractive open space with lakes with waterlilies, displays of flowers, manicured lawns and a large variety of trees and shrubs. It also includes a park bench made famous in the movie Notting Hill and a replica of the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London.
Originally used for horseracing, by 1860 the site was being dug for its clay and had become the Government Brickworks. Bricks from here were used in a number of Perth buildings, including the Town Hall on Barrack Street. Eventually the old pits became filled with stagnant water and were thought to be a health risk to East Perth residents.
In the 1890s, Perth City Council decided to obtain the land and convert it into a landscaped reserve, with the stagnant pits linked by running streams to form a series of picturesque lakes. Combined with the planting of ornamental trees and flowers, Queen’s Garden was the most beautiful public space in Perth at the time.
It was officially opened by the Mayor of Perth, Alexander Forrest, in 1899, and despite occasional development over the next century, Queen’s Gardens still retains much of its original layout and late nineteenth century charm.
The site of Queen’s Gardens was originally Perth’s earliest racecourse. The track seems to have closed around 1847, and the sport moved south of the river to what is now Ascot. In 1852 the State Government purchased the old racecourse for £150. At some point after this, the site became the Government Brickfield, and the clay was dug to produce bricks used in a number of significant Perth buildings, including the Town Hall. In 1873, Charles Howlett acquired part of the Government Brickfield and advertised “well-burnt bricks” and James Brittain took over another portion of the site, probably around 1882.
Brittain had arrived in Western Australia, with his wife and three children, on the Sir Walter Raleigh, on 31 May 1852. Upon arrival he started business as a builder and among his buildings are the Barracks, the old Bank of New South Wales, The Cloisters, Bishop’s House, the Deanery, and a portion of the Public Offices, next to the former General Post Office.
It appears, however, that not long after the site was used by Brittain and Stephen Howlett, who acquired his father’s interest after his death, it was abandoned because the deep pits where the clay had been dug out, some as deep as ten metres, were regularly flooding and becoming unworkable. By the early 1890s, Perth City Council received many complaints from East Perth residents that the old pits were a breeding ground for mosquitos and a general danger to public health.
Finally, it was decided to transfer the site to Perth City Council, so they could establish a botanic garden there. In early 1894 it was decided the City could afford £1,500 for the works, which was not a great deal of money for such a project. Just at the right time, A. W. Farris, a Sydney landscape gardener, arrived in Perth to set up business, and he was quickly engaged to plan the transformation of the old brickworks. By May 1897, it was unrecognisable from its old condition, even if it still lacked grass and many of the proposed plantings.
Originally called East Perth Park, when the Mayor of Perth, Alexander Forrest, opened it on 9 October 1899 the name had changed to Queen’s Gardens. The stagnant waters had been replaced by streams with small rustic bridges to cross them, so the old pits were now connected forming a series of picturesque lakes. Farris had used Italian landscape gardening techniques, with leafy trees combined with ornamental trees, and with beds of flowers. Two grottoes were built and birds, including black and white swans, introduced. Brick makers had already introduced fish into the flooded pits, and these were kept for the new park. Surrounding Queen’s Gardens was a wooden fence, and a track so the public could ride a carriage around the outside.
A caretaker was appointed to look after Queen’s Gardens, and a cottage erected for him in 1906 in the north-east corner. In 1915 new entrance gates were erected and eight new bridges constructed in place of previous ones, which were falling to pieces. Electric lighting was installed in 1924, enabling use of the Gardens in the evenings for concerts. Four years later, new entrance gates, built by Malloch Bros., Perth, were erected at the corner of Hay and Plain streets, replacing the original entrance towards the eastern end of Hay Street, although they had to be moved later to stop people blocking the traffic on that corner.
Queen’s Gardens most famous inhabitant arrived during the State’s centenary in 1929 when the Rotary Club purchased a cast of the famous statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. The statue, one of seven from the original mould, was made by sculptor Sir George Frampton, and was a gift from the Rotary Club to the children of Western Australia. In February 1933, Peter Pan was further west and closer to the ponds, so that it would be in similar surrounds to the original London statue. This involved removing one of the grottoes.
There was little change to the layout of Queen’s Gardens until the mid-1960s, apart from the replacement of the bridges in the 1950s. Major redevelopment started around 1985. with the replacement of trees in poor condition, new shrubs, re-paving of pathways, and construction of a gazebo. Commemorative trees were planted at this time, including six cherry trees donated by Western Australia’s sister state, Hyogo Prefecture in Kobe, Japan. In 1988, Amnesty International planted several trees to honour political prisoners who had disappeared in Chile.
Today, Queen’s Gardens continues to be a public park and is a favourite spot for East Perth families and workers.
State Heritage Office, Assessment of Queen’s Gardens (1999)
Thompson Palmer Pty Ltd, ‘Queen’s Gardens, Perth: Conservation Plan’, prepared for the City of Perth (1998)
Inquirer, 27 October 1847
‘Legislative Council,’ Perth Gazette, 21 May 1852
‘Advertising,’ Inquirer, 25 June 1873
‘Queen’s Gardens’, West Australian, 11 October 1899
‘Family Notices,’ Western Mail, 21 December 1901
‘City Gardens and Reserves,’ West Australian, 7 January 1916
‘Band Concert,’ Sunday Times, 21 December 1924
‘New Entrance Gates at Queen’s Gardens,’ Western Mail, 13 September 1928
‘Peter Pan Pleases,’ Daily News, 10 June 1929
‘Peter Pan Statue,’ Daily News, 24 July 1933