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Belair National Park has been one of the most popular attractions in Adelaide for over a century. It's the perfect place for a family picnic, a work Christmas party, or a friendly game of cricket or tennis.
There are plenty of fun things to do in the national park - follow the bush walking trails, go mountain bike riding, the adventure playground is great fun for kids, and the possibilities for nature play in the park are endless.
Belair National Park was originally established as a Government Farm in 1840 for agistment of government owned horses and bullocks, and as a place to grow hay for livestock. A Government Farm Cottage for the governor was completed in 1860, but by the 1880's the government was under pressure from developers to sell the Farm for housing.
Sailors Enjoying a Picnic at Belair National Park in 1920 (Image: State Library SA PRG-280-1-21-101)
By 1883 public opinion was strongly supporting the idea of using the land for a recreation park, as the Nairne railway was bringing trainloads of people to Belair National Park (then known as Belair Forest Reserve).
A picnic ground was created near the new Belair railway station in 1886, and planted with a hawthorn maze as an added attraction for families. The maze was based on an earlier maze in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, and was the first of its kind in South Australia. Mazes had become extremely popular around the world in Victorian times
Belair Maze is Located About 100m South of Belair Railway Station
The Belair maze comprised six concentric circles of hawthorn trees set on a knoll overlooking the national park. The design was based on the "Labyrinth of Love" popular in Europe around 1600, and was a simple hedged puzzle layout with a bamboo gazebo planned to be set in the middle. It's not known whether the gazebo was ever installed.
In 1889 it was reported that the Belair maze was growing well and it was expected to "attract the attention of the visiting public at an early date". However poor soil, infrequent watering and poor maintenance led to the decline of the maze. In 1902 a second maze with the same pattern was planted near the main oval, probably because the original Belair maze near the railway station was not thriving.
The second maze was located near tennis courts 5I-54 using Kaffir apple trees. Unfortunately the variety of tree chosen was not as well suited and the maze was removed in 1950.
The Belair Maze was in disrepair by 1940, but remnants of it survived until it was restored in 1988 with a National Estate Grant to the Garden History Society. The Maze re-opened in 1991 as part of the Belair National Park centenary celebrations, but its renaissance was short lived: the watering system controller was located in the Belair railway station signal cabin which was gutted by fire in 2003.
Fast forward another thirty years and the Belair maze still struggles on. Many of the original hawthorn plants have survived, and Friends of the Belair National Park continue to tend the area. Replacement hawthorn plants now fill many of the gaps in the Belair maze, but it will be some time before it will be fit for purpose.
A lone volunteer was working in the Belair maze when I visited, but he was as unfriendly as a mythical monster when I spoke to him. I was informed that my dogs were not permitted in the maze because they leave poo on the path, but the volunteer seemed blithely unaware that he was standing in a pile of kangaroo poo already.
Hawthorn Tree Seedlings Fill Gaps in the Belair Maze
I'm extremely grateful that 130 years after planting, somebody still tends this historic place. The Belair maze is the only remaining colonial maze left in Australia, and also the oldest maze in Australia. In fact it's one of only three known Victorian era mazes left in the world!
The Belair maze was added to the Register of the National Estate in 1980, now referred to as the Australian Heritage Database. See its entry here.
I hope this faded icon from another age gets another chance. Children today are just as fond of puzzles and games as they were 130 years ago, and there's no reason why the maze could not again be one of the many fun things to do at Belair National Park.
The author is grateful for assistance provided by the Friends of Belair National Park in writing this article.
I took my kids for a wander around the maze one rainy day in the school holidays. They loved it, and didn't seem bothered that it was mostly only waist height. When the drizzle got too much we made a cubby with some bark against a nearby fallen tree, followed by a visit to the Belair station- great day! Thanks for all that extra info about the area.