Lush green lawns, palm trees, historical statues, and all right in the centre of Geelong. If you walk through Johnstone Park on a lovely summer week day you'll see scores of TAFE students, sitting, laying, chatting and eating whilst enjoying the peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.
Johnstone Park has a vast, changing story, which is appropriate considering how vast and sprawling Johnstone Park is. It also contains historical statues and buildings. Johnstone Park is a landscaped garden in Geelong city - central Geelong. The boundary streets around Johnstone Park are Railway Terrace, Gheringhap Street, Little Malop Street, Fenwick Street and Mercer Street.
Johnstone Park is on the western edge of Geelong and is a favourite haven for shoppers, workers and parents with young children. There is a block of toilets within the Park. There are lots of lawns and seats for outdoor dining, sitting, relaxing, having a picnic, whilst letting the children run around safely within the park grounds.
Johnstone Park was once a swamp. At one stage it was a dam. Finally it was transformed into a park in 1872, an idea put forward by the Mayor of the time - Robert de Bruce Johnstone.
Robert de Bruce Johnstone earned a reputation as the "parks and gardens" mayor due to his support of the Geelong Botanic Gardens, and his support of the curator of the Geelong Botanic Gardens Daniel Bunce.
Johnstone Park, Geelong
Robert de Bruce Johnstone served three terms as mayor from 1865 to 1867. The park was named after him for his efforts to beautify Geelong.
Another Geelong mayor, Cr Howard Hitchcock, also had a major hand in further work on Johnstone Park, which created the park's layout, the central bandstand and the entrance that faces Mercer Street. The work on Johnstone Park was part of Councillor Howard Hitchcock's city beautification program in 1917.
If you've been following my series on the buildings in the Geelong Arts Precinct you would have read my weekend notes articles relating to the historic City Hall, the Geelong Art Gallery, the Peace Memorial and the Regional Library. These buildings all flank Johnstone Park, and the buildings are described as important civic buildings for Geelong.
Other buildings within the Geelong Arts Precinct and in close proximity to Johnstone Park are the Geelong Law Courts, the Geelong Police Station and the Geelong Railway Station. The Peace Memorial, the rear of the Geelong Art Gallery and the Geelong Library are also located within the boundary of Railway Terrace, Gheringhap Street, Little Malop Street, Fenwick Street and Mercer Street. There is a bandstand in the centre of Johnstone Park.
The land occupied by Johnstone Park was originally known as Western Gully. It was a watercourse that drained towards Corio Bay. In 1849 a dam was built at the downstream end of the gully, near the present Gheringhap Street roundabout (well, where the roundabout used to be, it's now a set of traffic lights).
Due to at least one person and several horses drowning in the dam, it was fenced off in 1851. The area was made into a park in March 1872 and it was named after the former Geelong Mayor - Robert de Bruce Johnstone.
The park originally stretched from Gheringhap Street to Latrobe Terrace. In December 1872 the first band concert was held by the Geelong Artillery Corps band. The octagonal wooden bandstand was erected in the park in November 1873.
The Belcher Fountain was installed near the park in 1874, in the centre of the Gheringhap roundabout. The fountain was a gift to the City of Geelong from the former Mayor George Frederick Belcher.
In 1872 the park was divided when the Geelong railway was extended south to Winchelsea. Johnstone Park was reduced even further in size in 1887, when the Gordon Technical College was built on the western part of the park in Fenwick Street.
The Geelong Art Gallery was built on the Little Malop Street side of the park in 1915. In 1919 a war memorial was built in the park to remember the local lives lost in World War I. The memorial consisted of a row of columns on Railway Terrace, a new bandstand in the centre of the park and the peace memorial beside the art gallery. Now there's something I didn't know. I thought that the peace memorial was built to remember lives lost, however I didn't know that the columns and bandstand also had significance for World War I.
One of the main focal points of the park is the Hitchcock Memorial Bandstand. It was erected in the park in 1873 and is used as a backdrop for many performances and events in the park.
If you are a Geelongite, I am sure that you will have attended at least one "Carols by Candlelight" event at Johnstone Park. It is held annually on December 24th, Christmas Eve. You can purchase candles and programs at most entries to the park on Christmas Eve, with all proceeds of sales going to a local charity.
What else can you do in Johnstone Park?
In February, every Friday night, there is a market in Johnstone Park. There is an array of multicultural food, entertainment and market stalls, with the stalls selling a wide range of mostly home made products. There is usually a large crowd of people attending these markets, with most people relaxing under the palm trees, eating the cuisine, purchasing and browsing amongst the stalls.
The Apex Sculpture is on the Gheringhap Street side of Johnstone Park. It's a three pronged triangular sculpture dedicated to the formation of the Apex Club of Australia. Apex is a community service club that started in Geelong back in 1931. It has since grown to around 330 clubs throughout Australia.
Sloping lawns, palm trees, Johnstone Park
The Statue of King George V
There are not many bronze statues in Geelong. The statue of King George the V stands on a granite stone, looking out over Johnstone Park. The statue of King George V was unveiled by Victoria's Governor in 1938. The statue was cast at the Fonderie Chivrazzi in Naples Italy. It was designed by sculptor Wallace Anderson. The bronze statue of King George V was a tribute from the people of Geelong and District to their late king.
The Hitchcock Memorial Gateway
Howard Hitchcock, who served as mayor of Geelong from 1917, was a highly regarded civic leader. He has been remembered by having his name on many things around the city of Greater Geelong, including the English Renaissance style Memorial Gateway, which is at the corner of Mercer Street and Gordon Avenue. The Memorial Gateway was built in 1925 and leads the way to the Geelong Peace Memorial.
The De Medici Urns
In 1873 Mrs John Bell presented the two De Medici Urns to the city. The urns, based on urns from the Florentine Italian Renaissance period were first installed in Gheringhap Street, then later moved to Johnstone Park. The urns are made from cast iron.
Trees and seats aplenty at Johnstone Park
Please come and visit Johnstone Park while you're visiting Geelong. It is a lovely oasis in the middle of the city. There are no cafes or fast food outlets or fish and chip stores within the park.
However in Gheringhap Street, LIttle Malop Street and nearby Ryrie Street you can purchase food and bring it to the park with you. Sit down and relax, soak in the peaceful park, sit under the palm trees, and enjoy a few minutes of quiet.
Then head back in to the city to do some more shopping, if that's what you like to do. Or visit the Geelong Art Gallery, the National Wool Musuem. the Regional Library or the Geelong Performing Art Centre (GPAC). There is also a restaurant at GPAC, and at the Old Geelong Courthouse you can purchase some amazing sandwiches.