Looking into Pioneers Memorial Park. The Bicentennial Rotunda is the steel structure in the background.

Looking into Pioneers Memorial Park. 

Mums with their babies sit in the shade of a mighty Hill's Fig tree.  There were so many lovely places to sit in the shade.

Mums with their babies gather in the shade of a mighty Hill’s Fig tree. There were so many lovely shady places to sit in this park.

The quick version:  Tree, trees, trees!  Many species of trees & lots of shade.  No need for shade cloth.  Lovely trees with side branches & canopies that cascade down to the ground.  Fabulous interesting playground.  Logs for seats.  Concrete as well as natural pathways.  Non-fenced off-leash area for dogs.  No graffiti or litter anywhere.  Peace & quiet.  No cars in the park.  Natural leaf litter as well as woodchip.  Old rose garden.  Well-maintained WW1 War Memorial with statue.  Huge rotunda.  Children’s maze.  This is an excellent park to kick a ball, run your dog or go for peace & quiet & get into nature.  5kms from Sydney CBD & just next door to Marrickville LGA.

The longer version:  A friend had been trying to get me to visit this park for a while saying that I would love it & that it would probably surprise me.  She was correct on both accounts.

This beautiful 3-hectare park is located at Norton Street Leichhardt.  From 1868 to 1912 it functioned as the Old Balmain Cemetery.  A plaque on site said that there were 10,608 burials of 24 different religious denominations.  In 1941 the cemetery was declared a park & renamed Pioneers Memorial Park.  Leichhardt Council describes this park as ‘an urban jewel’ & they are not exaggerating.

Even though we went on a week day, there were plenty of people – groups, couples & people on their own.

The sandstone entrance gate

The sandstone entrance gate

The park itself has a number of different roles, as well as features.  It has a very old & lovely rose garden marking that it once was a cemetery.  The grand old sandstone entrance gate has been retained. It leads up to a well-kept war memorial of the First World War of 1914-1919.   On either side of the war memorial is a row of cypress pines.

The memorial itself is in excellent condition. The gold lettering of the names of the fallen soldiers is clear & the statue of a woman, who I think symbolizes Victory, stands on top.  There is no graffiti or litter & the surrounding landscaping is beautiful. This memorial would give peace for some people.

The WW1 War Memorial

The WW1 War Memorial

The park itself is divided into a number of rooms.  At the street frontage there are beautiful large old trees & plenty of shade.  The setup allows one to quickly pop into the park, sit in the shade of a tree & have lunch for example.  There is what appears to be appears to be a fairly new wheelchair ramp into the park as well making it accessible to everyone.

Further in, but still close to the road, is a four-sided Lilly pilly hedge offering a quiet place to sit mostly unseen by others.  On either side of the war memorial is a substantial olive grove, which I imagine represents the Italian culture & community of Leichhardt.  In line with the war memorial, but further into the park, is the raised modern steel Bicentennial Rotunda. I remember this being built & can safely say the park has been greened up significantly since those days.

A little further in from the road is a fantastic children’s playground.  The equipment looked to me to be exciting & different.  There was a swing where a child could lie down in a bowl-shaped net with padded sides. It looks to be safe for children with physical disabilities.  I didn’t go close to the playground, but from where I stood I could see a walled area covered in painted tiles of what looked to be a large sandplay area.  The whole playground looked wonderful & it was being well used while we were there.

We came across two Council workers watering the plants & after a quick chat, found out that they look after this park 5-days per week.  I can tell you I was quite shocked.  They were very pleasant happy men who were obviously very proud of the park.

The Ibis are let be, but they, other birds & dogs have access to fresh water with water bowls & other containers under taps all over the park.  Birds of many different species were everywhere.  You could not see or hear the traffic from most areas of the park, so you were left with the sound of the breeze in the trees, the occasional sound of children laughing & birdsong.  It is a very peaceful park, which is quite amazing considering its central location.

Approximately one-third of the park is off-leash for dogs & the area is not fenced.  There are doggie-poo bag dispensers & bins in many places.  For the most part people respect this.  I did not see one bag of dog poo anywhere.  Litter was not an issue either.  I saw one discarded bottle – so different to the parks around where I live.

Some of the areas are used as sporting fields. All of these are surrounded by landscaped areas & groups of trees. This allows for these areas to be separated for both privacy & noise, but they also act as windbreaks

Moving from one section to another

Moving from one section to another

Leichhardt Council certainly doesn’t seem to have an issue with sightlines in Pioneers Memorial Park. For those who don’t know what sightlines are, as I didn’t until 2-3 years ago – sightlines are where all vegetation is either removed or kept very low to allow a clear sight across the park.  In Marrickville LGA this often means being able to see, hear & smell the traffic right across the park. Sightlines are created to deter criminal or unsavoury behaviour.   It may well achieve this, but the community loses out by having little or no respite from the outside world.  I think sightlines are overdone.

What impressed me most was the beauty & the peacefulness of Pioneers Memorial Park.  Here you can get away from the madding crowd & although the planes fly overhead, cars are not a feature.   Most importantly, you do feel you are getting away into nature.  This is something that I believe is extremely important if people are to get the most benefit from being in nature in an inner-city environment.  My friend even walked barefoot without getting injured by bindi-eyes or stepping in dog poo.

The trees were stunning & there were so many.  There were at least six Hill’s Figs with seating under them & lots & lots of Gum trees of various ages & heights.   There was a grove of around 100 Casuarinas.  There were shrubs wrapped along the fence line & a spotted Gum that would have had a girth of around 5-metres.  There were also Olive trees, Banksias, Grevillias, a variety of pine trees & many more.

The trees also had side branches.  This is a fixation of mine, as most of our trees have been formative pruned removing side branches, even trees in parks.  On top of this, the canopy of many trees in Pioneers Memorial Park cascaded to just above the ground or all the way to the ground.  The trees looked fantastic.  People can step out of the way if there is a branch of willowy leaves in front of them.  It is a park, not the footpath.

Almost every area of trees had an understory making it very hospitable & safe for birds & other urban wildlife.  Gymea lilies were used a lot as feature plants & many were in flower.  There were a couple of areas where native grasses were used, but they were certainly not the dominant ground cover.    Logs were scattered about offering a different kind of seating.

In amongst the trees was a children's playstation. This is a delightful place for a child to play.

In amongst the trees was a toddler’s playstation. This is a delightful shady place for a child to play.

Woodchip was used, but there were also many areas where natural leaf litter provided mulch.  There were many dirt  paths meandering through the planted areas so you would hear the crunch of leaves. There was even a toddler’s playstation inside a shady area of trees with leaf litter on the ground. I was very impressed with this as it introduces children to nature & a new toy is always fun.

There were concrete paths, but also plenty of natural paths were people have wandered through the undergrowth.  I suspect the Council keeps them looking like paths to encourage people to leave the concrete & wander through these areas.

There was also a maze of soft vines that grew into mounds. Little kids could go into the maze, chase each other around, yet still be able to see each other as it was only about 1-metre high before pruning.  The maze was in a very shady area as Gum trees were sprinkled all around like white sentinels.

I loved this park.  It had many really great qualities.  Leichhardt Council & the community should be proud of it.

The maze area in the shade of Gum trees

The maze area in the shade of Gum trees

Plenty of grassed areas as well as plenty of trees & landscaped areas.  The Bicentennial Rotunda is at the far left.

Plenty of grassed areas as well as plenty of trees & landscaped areas. The Bicentennial Rotunda is at the far left.