“Curiouser and curiouser!” is how I’ve felt about Bathurst’s Machattie Park since returning home. Two weeks ago, I had no idea this park even existed and my awareness of landscape design was also minimal. Indeed, I’m even one of those dreadful plant murderers who should be banned from buying plants altogether.
“Not all who wander are lost.”
Alice in Wonderland
Yet, now I find myself travelling down all sorts of rabbit holes (like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland on steroids) exploring every nook and cranny of Machattie Park. Not only that. I’ve even found myself nipping over to France in a virtual sense to explore a myriad of magnificent historical gardens to gain a deeper understanding of its layout. Apparently, the park was designed in the “French style” whatever that meant. I am certainly none the wiser, but at least I’m enjoying the journey.
Located between William, George, Russell, and Keppel streets; Machattie Park forms the graphical and cultural heart of Bathurst. Machattie Park was opened on Saturday 20th December, 1890 – a whopping 132 years ago when my Great Grandmother was two years old and I wasn’t even a distant dream. Fortunately, the park has been very well preserved and has only experienced minor change since then. Indeed, a visit to Machattie Park feels like stepping out of a time machine, and I could even picture myself wearing period dress promenading with my parasol back in the day.
When you look at the park today, it’s hard to imagine that it was ever the site of the former gaol. After the gaol was relocated, this space was known by the inauspicious title of: “Gaol Reserve”. Although it was used as a sports’ ground by the local schools, the crumbling foundations of the former gaol remained and it was a far cry from what we see today. However, the people of Bathurst under the leadership of the Progress Association, has vision and campaigned for the site to be transformed into a spectacular park with all the bells and whistles. When he opened the park, Mayor Crago expressed their grand ambitions for Bathurst and how the park was to play a central part in making Bathurst shine: “The park will henceforth he one of the landmarks of the city and the most beautiful spot in Bathurst, enabling us to hope that eventually our city will become the Ballarat of New South Wales1.”
While touching on the opening of the park, I found another gem this time in Dr Spencer’s speech, who was the President of the Progress Association. While these sentiments were no doubt said in earnest at the time, they certainly made me laugh today and it reminds me of my rather posh private school where we weren’t allowed to walk on the grass:
“Now please remember this, and I speak especially to the intelligent and independent youth of Bathurst, those young men who will in the future guide public opinion. Let me tell them that they will not succeed in life unless they keep off the grass, and that no dogs are admitted. These regulations are for the benefit of all, and will be cheerfully obeyed by everyone with a spark of intelligence and good nature.2”
So, what is it like to walk through Machattie Park today? I guess I should also put a particularly emphasis on TODAY. As far as I could tell, most if not all of the trees in Machattie Park are deciduous. So, he park varies considerably from season to season. We were there in late Winter when the trees were stripped of their leaves forming bare skeletons against the muted sky. However, the daffodils and jonquils were in flower and looking particularly stunning.
Yet, despite the seasons, Machattie Park has a peculiar charm, serenity and spirit which extends well beyond just “going to the park” or “being in the great outdoors.” Even on our rushed walk through, I felt an uncharacteristic sense of peace and calm, despite almost rushing around trying to absorb it all through my camera lens. There I was bending down to photograph the daffodils and jonquils. Next minute, I glace up and spot the fountain and I’m off again zooming in to capture what I now understand to be dolphins, but which looked more like feral carp to me. Then there was the band rotunda, which was known as the Music Temple. It was hard not to notice the Federation-style Gardeners’ Cottage on my right either with its roof tiles which came all the way from Marseilles, France. However, before I knew it, we were inside the Fernery and gob smacked by a trio of marble statues by Giovanni Fontana. As if all of this wasn’t sufficient fodder for my camera, there was also the very quaint Munro Drinking fountain which was erected in 1901. All of that was a lot to take in. Yet, as I said, the park was strangely relaxing at the same time.
Above: The Fernery. The sculptures were by Giovanni Fontana.
Naturally, I’m not the only one who has found peace and tranquility in Machattie Park. Browsing through the historic newspapers online, I came across this reference from the Bathurst Times on the 16th October, 1909:
“And now that the fountain on the main basin is spraying, it is almost like listening to a small waterfall or cascade. When one feels run down and tired, it is well worth while to put ones troubles on one side; sit down in Machattie Park and listen to the drip, drip, drip, and the splash and hissing of the water as it soothes, and lulls and — just then one’s book drops down, and then comes peace — perfect peace.3.”
I absolutely loved that account! It was so poetic!
Of course, I was just a traveler passing through Machattie Park. There are locals who would have so much more to say about it, and know it much more intimately, of course, having spent all of their lives in Bathurst. I can well imagine them sitting the park feeding the ducks, listening to the band or attending Carols By Candlelight with their parents or grandparents and now doing the same with their children or grandchildren. No doubt, there’s also been a lot of romance in Machattie Park over the years too…that magic twinkle in the eye and perhaps a return to the park for solace with a broken heart. There’s certainly a real sense of timelessness visiting Machattie Park.
Well, that’s the end of our tour through Machattie Park. Now, it’s over to you. Have you ever been to Machattie Park and do you have any stories you’d like to share? Or, perhaps you have a and park near you, you’d like to share? Or, perhaps even your own magnificent garden? I’d love to hear from you.
After spending days revisiting and researching Machattie Park, I’m needing to quote White Rabbit:
“I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello, goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”
1.National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), Monday 22 December 1890, page 2
2. Ibid pg 2
3.  Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), Saturday 16 October 1909