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Published April 24th 2021
A Melbourne Meeting Place
Fitzroy Gardens are an icon that every Melburnian can relate to, something that's been there forever. I can remember visiting the gardens as a very young child for family picnics in, what even then, was a perfectly manicured landscape located right on the city's edge.
One of Melbourne's best known attractions, Captain Cooks Cottage, is a focal point of the Fitzroy Gardens. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
A little bit of research shows that a reserve or garden has existed here since 1848, when the area was set aside by the Colonial Government and known initially as Fitzroy Square. The change of name to Fitzroy Gardens happened in 1862, named after Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, who was Governor of New South Wales from 1846 to 1851 and then Governor-General of Australian Colonies until 1855.
Take a stroll through these meticulously maintained, peaceful gardens today and it's difficult to believe that they host more than 2 million visitors annually.
A favourite with children the Fairies Tree was a labour of love for the artist Ola Cohn. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The gardens are a magnet for families and particularly popular with young children attracted by, among other things, the world-famous 'Fairies Tree'. Taking the form of fairies, gnomes and native animals & birds, lovingly carved into the stump of a 300 year old red gum, the 'Fairies Tree' is the work of Carola (Ola) Cohn, a Bendigo born artist and sculptor who worked for 3 years from 1931 to 1934 to shape the 'Fairies Tree'.
Obviously, the carvings were done years after the tree died, so there was considerable risk that the rotting of the timber would eventually rob the gardens of the much-loved work of art. In 1970, the stump was removed and chemically treated before being remounted on a concrete base.
The 'Fairies Tree' owes its origins to Ola Cohn's love of animals and her inspiration on seeing the 'Elfin Tree' in Kensington Park, London.
The Temple Of The Winds Rotunda is a favourite meeting place for the people of Melbourne. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Another attraction for children is the miniature Tudor Village. Cast in cement the village is the work of London pensioner Edgar Wilson. Then 77 years old, Mr Wilson constructed three such villages not long after World War 2. One was presented to the City of Melbourne as a token of appreciation for food supplies sent from Melbourne to England during the war. The display was opened by Melbourne's Lord Mayor on 21st May 1948. A Tudor period village the display includes scale replicas of the homes of William Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway.
Fitzroy Gardens are perhaps best known as the home of Captain Cooks Cottage. The cottage was the Cook family home in Great Ayton, Yorkshire and it's thought Captain James Cook lived in it between 1736 and 1745.
Purchased by Russell Grimwade in 1933 the cottage was dismantled, packed into 253 packing crates and shipped to Melbourne, arriving in April 1934. Twice restored, one in the late 1950s and again in 1970, Cooks Cottage is a 'must see' attraction in one of the world's great inner-city parks.
The Miniature Tudor Village was a gift to the people of Melbourne. Photos: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Other attractions in the gardens include the famous Spanish-style conservatory, home to spectacular floral displays since its opening in 1930 and Sinclair's Cottage, the former home gardener James Sinclair and his family.
A dozen or more fountains and sculptures are scattered throughout the Fitzroy Gardens, which are as attractive to the people of Melbourne today as they have ever been.
Opened in 1930 The Conservatory hosts spectacular floral displays. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The Fitzroy Gardens are truly one of the world's great inner-city gardens and well worth a visit.
Getting There ….
You'll find the 26-Hectare Fitzroy Gardens on the southeastern edge of the Melbourne CBD bounded by Clarendon Street, Albert Street, Lansdowne Street and Wellington Parade.