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OP-ED: History in Every Beat of Park's Green Heart

Thursday 22 July 2021, The Examiner

Of the beautiful places in Launceston, the City Park certainly stands out.

The tall, leafy trees, the gorgeous gardens, the duck pond and children's playground and the verdant grass provide a relaxing and interesting place for everyone in Launceston to take their families at any time of the year.

If you take a walk around it today, you'll observe the macaque monkeys, the Boer War Memorial, a canon, the rotunda and a statute of botanist Robert Campbell Gunn.

What are the histories of all of these features?

In enjoying our park, I wanted to get to know more about its history because its history, is our history.

Originally developed by the Launceston Horticultural Society (itself established in 1838) the park area was handed over to the Launceston City Council in 1863.

On one of my more recent visits, I noticed a plaque on the south-eastern side of the park stating: 'City of Launceston Original site of Government House for the North of the State 1827-1850.First occupied by Governor Arthur'.

I was surprised to realise that, on this site at the park, once stood Government House.

In my endeavours to find out more about this, I came across an article by Marion Sargent of the Launceston Historical Society from 2018, which stated that most of this information is incorrect.

According to Marion, while Launceston's Government Cottage was built in July 1807 for Lieutenant-Governor Paterson, the original Government House for the North of the Colony was at York Town from 1805-1808.

Nonetheless, the place where the plaque now sits was the site for Launceston's Government Cottage from the early 19th century, where subsequent Lieutenant-Governors, early Church of England clergymen and visiting dignitaries stayed when they visited Launceston.

Unfortunately it later became a rental property, fell into disrepair and was demolished.

Nearby is the canon, known as the Russian gun.

Thanks again to the astute efforts of Marion Sargent, I now know that the gun was manufactured in 1840 at the Alexandrovsky Factory in Petrozavodsk, a city in north-western Russia.

So how did it end up here?

The Crimean War, a conflict in which the United Kingdom was involved, lasted from October 1853 to March 1856 and during this time, the Ladies' Patriotic Fund Committee in Launceston raised over £25,000 which went towards relief efforts.

As a consequence of these efforts, the Mayor of Launceston at the time, Henry Dowling, believed that Launceston deserved a trophy that could be 'rendered ornamental to one of the public squares'.

Two trophy guns that had been captured during the siege of Sevastopol (1854-55) made their way to Tasmania.

One was placed in Franklin Square in Hobart and the other found its way to our City Park after first being placed in the middle of Cameron Street, to the entrance of the Horticultural Gardens which, as we know, became the City Park when it was handed over to the Launceston Council in 1863.

This of course, was not without controversy.

A gun - even a decommissioned one - is a weapon and a symbol of war and violence.

The merits or otherwise of memorialising imagery such as this is one on which many people have opinions, but nonetheless, we can still find it in our City Park today.

Of course, we have the beloved monkey enclosure, but how many people know that our city was gifted with the group of Japanese macaques in 1965 when Launceston became a sister city with Ikeda City in Japan?

The life of the monkeys hasn't always been easy, with many of them infected with the Herpes B virus, which fortunately in monkeys is quite benign.

The discovery of this led to some worrying times for the monkeys, whether to euthanise or not, but ultimately they came out of it with a much improved enclosure with glass walls, trees, climbing equipment and a water feature.

It is common to see children and families alike enjoying the antics of these playful creatures daily.

For those wondering - Launceston is also a sister city with Napa in California and Taiyuan in China.

We also can't forget how deeply entrenched the train zipping around the park is in our city's heart.

According to the City of Launceston website, there have been three different trains operating around the paths of City Park since 1960.

The original train, known as Little Toot, consisted of an engine and four brightly-coloured carriages.

For six decades it has been a staple of our park and it certainly brightens my day every time I see families, young and old, enjoying themselves with a trip.

Once I started out on my journey to learn more about the City Park, I came across lots of material that I simply couldn't cover in one editorial.

Check back in two weeks' time to see what else I have learned.

Rosemary Armitage, independent Launceston MLC


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