Bowen Park, a Historic Park of Brisbane, Australia
Note: This article was originally written as part of a research report during my horticultural studies and as such contains some fairly specific information which may only be of interest to readers who have existing knowledge of Bowen Park and the surrounding area in Brisbane, Australia.
Bowen Park, nestled between the suburbs of Herston to the west and Bowen Hills to the east is located on the northern edge of Brisbane’s CBD between the RNA show-grounds and the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital. Access today is via Bowen Bridge Road and O'Connell Terrace.
Since its inception when the Queensland Acclimatisation Society obtained 33 acres in 1863 and an additional 7.5 acres of adjacent land in 1866, various groups (primarily the National Agricultural and Industry Association of Queensland, later known as the RNA) have nibbled away at its boundaries leading to its current size of roughly 3.7 acres as of 2011. The multitude of separate land claims are detailed in 'Bowen Park - A Timeline Of Events'.
The Acclimatisation Society was established to trial plants of economical importance to ascertain their suitability for growing in Brisbane’s conditions and potential for use in the horticultural and agricultural industries. They exchanged native and exotic ornamentals, food and medicinal plants with many organisations from across the globe. They played a major role in trialling and propagating many newly introduced plants, including sugar cane, mangoes, pecans, chestnuts, walnuts, olives, almonds, avocados and custard apples. They also assisted in the prickly pear eradication program and supplied plants to schools, Queensland Rail and Brisbane City Council. The Queensland Acclimatisation Society held the park until its sale to Brisbane City Council, who have held the park ever since, in 1913. The society had moved it's main operations to a 200 acre site at Lawton by 1907 and continued, in some small way, all the way until until 1956 when the University of Queensland purchased their remaining land.
Although the Botanical Gardens in the city is the main repository of historic plantings in Brisbane, Bowen Park contains many historic plantings dating from the original Acclimatisation Society gardens including English Oak (Quercus robur), American Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), Chinese Elm (Celtis parviflorum), Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwillii), Hoop Pines (Araucaria cunninghamii), Cuban Royal Palms (Roystonea regia), Date Palms (Phoenix dactylifera) and planted as the first of its kind in Australia, a variegated Indian Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica). The central, lush Weeping Figs (Ficus Benjamina) and tropical walk-through garden are also legacy of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society and a demonstration of the Victorian tropical planting exuberance of the time.
The park holds additional significance as it was one of Brisbane’s first public gardens and as such possesses a rich and varied history as detailed in 'Bowen Park - A Timeline Of Events'. It has been extensively used as a cultural and recreational location and gathering place almost continuously since its inception. It is opposite the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital and serves as a strolling garden for visitors and patients. It is also an example of an Edwardian gardenesque-styled park and still holds elements of the well-known landscape architect Harry Oakman’s 1957 re-design today including many of the original path and garden layouts. In considering a restoration of Bowen Park we should try to keep the character of this design intact as well as hold onto any features pre-dating it. We should also not be hesitant to make changes if sensible and practical, in accordance with the Burra Charter and considerate of the past, this last point is too often neglected. Our recommendations for restoration are detailed in section three.
A concept plan for proposed additions to the RNA show-ground was released approximately three years ago (c2008). This proposed development will likely claim further land away from the park however I was unable to obtain a copy of the concept plan containing specific details during my research. Also of concern is the proposed new exhibition railway station and although the boundaries of Bowen Park itself may remain intact, the construction of the station and access pathways to it may claim land from the old Queensland Museum building garden on Gregory Terrace, originally part of the old Acclimatisation Society gardens. The original layout of the 19th century formal garden remains partially intact and the site is another suitable candidate for restoration.
The area surrounding Bowen Park is undergoing a period of rapid development and with the construction of nearby high-rise apartments the park will have to cater for an increased demand for recreational space. Not being content in drastically reducing the park from its original size and forcing the Acclimatisation Society to move further away from the city to Lawton, the RNA re-development may further reduce the size of the park and conflict with the needs of a growing local population. Considering these requirements, ideally the RNA re-development should make provisions for additional parkland and every effort should be made to at least preserve the current size of Bowen Park for the enjoyment of the current and future residents of Bowen Hills and Herston.