Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - Mr President, not only has Launceston been judged Australia's most family-friendly city for 2013 but now our City Park has been named the ninth best park in the country in the inaugural Trip Advisor Travellers' Choice Awards for 2013. It was the only Tasmanian park to feature in the list. Travel website Trip Advisor based its awards on millions of reviews and opinions from users across the world. There is so much to tell you about our park but with only five minutes, I will briefly touch on some of the features and history.
The history of the park started with the allocation of an allotment for the Government Cottage, the first seat of authority in Launceston . Elizabeth Paterson, wife of the first Lieutenant Governor of the north, had arrived in the new settlement in 1805. Launceston dates from the following year. The Government Cottage was built in 1807 and used for the next 40 years. It is not entirely clear exactly where the cottage was but it seems likely that it was is the south-east corner of today's park where the Crimea cannon now stands. Elizabeth was a keen botanist and it is believed likely she was responsible for the early days of what has become a pleasing public space. There are trees that look as if they could have been planted in her day but Paterson was the only northern Lieutenant Governor. After a series of short-term northern commandants, all authority moved south in 1812 with the house being used to accommodate visiting dignitaries from that time on.
City Park, once called the People's Park, is one of Launceston's oldest and most significant heritage parks. In the mid-1800s, the Launceston Horticultural Society acquired the neighbouring allotment to the immediate west of the gardens for use as a botanical garden. In 1863, the Launceston City Council took over ownership of the City Park. The cannon located in the south-eastern corner of the park was one of 4 000 pieces of ordnance captured from the Russian town of Sebastopol by the British during the Crimean War with Russia and distributed throughout the Empire. The cannon was cast in Emperor Alexander's factory in 1840 and is aimed up the Tamar River as a symbol of defence. It was given to the people of Launceston as thanks for the money they raised to fight the war. It has a 184-millimetre bore and fires a cannonball weighing approximately 16 kilograms, which is about the weight of a small child.
On the western side of the park, behind the monkey enclosure, there stands a stone memorial monument erected by the public of northern Tasmania in the affectionate remembrance of those Tasmanians who gave their lives for throne and empire in the southern African war, the Boer War of 1899-1902.
There have been various exhibitions and horticultural displays and a zoo containing over 100 different species of animals. It has been, and still is, a very popular place for events and public gatherings in Launceston . This continues today and City Park is famous for hosting Tasmania's premier food, wine and entertainment event, Festivale, where locals, intrastate, interstate and overseas tourists all flock on the second weekend in February each year.
City Park contains a richness of cultural features including the John Hart Conservatory, which has been maintained by gardener Dennis Lee, who has been designing and maintaining the conservatory displays for more than 25 years. There is also a bronze statue of well-known Tasmanian botanist Ronald Campbell Gunn.
Then there is the macaque monkey island, which earlier this year saw the arrival of three new babies to join the families. Monkeys have been a part of this park for over 30 years, having been donated as a gift to Launceston from our sister city Ikeda. But they have not been without their dramas. In the year 2000, 11 of the 26 monkeys were found to be infected with the herpes B virus and there was concern the colony would have to be put down. While the virus does not hurt the monkeys, it can be fatal to humans. However, it was decided that the risk to the community was very low and a new special enclosure was built, improving the housing and removing public risk. This is a very popular part of our City Park with both adults and children alike.
Other features include the Dutch garden and the senses garden, where plants in raised beds are selected for their aroma or texture, a bandstand, fountain, duck pond, chess board, historic Albert Hall, a barbecue area, children's playground and, of course, Thomas the Train, an almost 20 minute ride that stretches the length of the park, crossing under the branches of the 100 year old trees. Regular visitors to the park have been listening to the putt-putt engines of three different trains since the ride began in 1960. Driver Peter Douglas, 74, who has been driving the train for the last 17 years, estimated that he has carried over 600 000 people during that time.
The park has been developed predominantly in the Gardenesque style and its collection of nineteenth century forest trees is possibly the most significant in Tasmania outside the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the Launceston City Council staff responsible for this park achieving the status of ninth-best park in Australia. Head gardener Dale Poke has been working in City Park for 13 years during which time, under his guidance, the City Park team have maintained the park to such a high standard that they have also been responsible for the Glebe and the High Street area, and more recently, Windmill Hill and Georges Square. Dale is capably assisted by Robert Terry, who has worked in City Park for nine years, and Gareth John, for two-and-a-half years. They all work as a team caring for the macaque monkeys and carrying out a range of horticultural activities both in and outside the park.
We regularly hear that tourists who visit the park say they believe it is the best maintained park in Australia. Any day of the week City Park is a magnificent place to take a short walk or enjoy your lunch break and our staff do a wonderful job of ensuring that it always looks fantastic. City Park is an icon of our city and I am very pleased it has gained recognition.