History and horticulture in Hobart’s parks and gardens

It is Autumn in Hobart’s Parks and Gardens, where our history is celebrated and our public discourses are conducted.

St Davids Park

Saint Davids Park, Hobart in Autumn

St Davids Park was converted from one of Hobart’s original cemeteries after being transferred from Church ownership to the Hobart City Council in 1919, having become a haunt for ‘undesireables’ and others on the run from the law (according to the excellent ‘On the Convict Trail‘ website, which has a more detailed account of the Park’s fascinating history).

It was cleaned up during the first half of the 20th century; many headstones were removed to Cornelian Bay, and some were retained and embedded into the walls of the new Supreme Court building in the early 1970s. Some monuments, including that of Lt Governer David Collins, first Governer of Van Diemens Land, for whom the park is named.

Franklin Square

Late afternoon Autumn sunshine in Hobart’s Franklin Square

Franklin Square is also named for an early vice-regal representative, this time Sir John Franklin, who was later lost along with his crew and ships searching for the North West Passage. His statue in bronze stands in a fountain at the centre of the park, atop a sandstone plinth.

Monument commemorating Sir John Franklin in Hobart’s Franklin Square

Before becoming a public square, this was home to Tasmania’s first Government House and prior to that (according to Callum J Jones), it was called Georges Square and was used as a muster ground to check on both colonists and convicts.

Contemporary perspectives on history

Today Franklin Square is home to a popular summer evening food market, a large-scale public chess set, and more monuments and public art, including the striking Two Islands by Nigel Hellyer.

‘The Two Islands sculpture presents a metaphor that draws together histories of Tasmanian Aboriginal and European settler cultures in the form of two symbolic vessels … the skeleton of Sir John Franklin’s ship the HMS Erebus lies wrecked alongside a contemporary representation of a traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal canoe, creating a tension that resonates with the complex histories of Tasmania.’

Nigel Hellyer, Artist Statement

At the time of writing Franklin Square is home to another, temporary, public art installation, which seeks to redress the balance of history by reinterpreting a sculpture of William Crowther, a nineteenth century naturalist and surgeon who was briefly Premier of Tasmania.

Allan Mansell, Truth Telling – a reinterpretation of the statue of William Crowther, nineteenth century naturalist and surgeon, and briefly Premier of Tasmania

Crowther was responsible for a particularly shameful act in Tasmania’s colonial history, stealing and mutilating the body of Tasmanian Aboriginal leader William Lanne (also known as King Billy), then sending the head to the Royal College of Surgeons in London as an exhibit.

The current reinterpretation of his statue by Allan Mansell, featuring blood red paint on the head and hands, an Aboriginal flag and a butcher’s saw, seeks to inspire conversations about the future of the statue. It is also a response to debatees and events in other post-colonial places around the world, where some historical monuments have been toppled. It is the first of several such reinterpretations planned for the statue, and a project seeks to inspire debate and discussion about what is the most constructive way to correct the historical record and make ammends for the wrongs of the past.

Parliament Gardens

Autumn leaves in Parliament Gardens, Hobart

Parliament Gardens sits, as the name suggests, adjacent to Parliament House, on the edge of Sullivans Cove. As well as being home to a more statues and monuments, it has some decent deciduous trees that put on a good show in Autumn.

Parliament Gardens is where Tasmanians generally gather to voice dissent and protest – a sort of Speakers Corner for all – provided the correct paperwork is in place.

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

Autumn in the Japanese Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

Regular followers will know that, as far as Hobart’s Parks and Gardens are concerned, I have a particular fondness for Tasmania’s Botanical Gardens, having spent a happy couple of years working there. I visit at least once each season, and Autumn is perhaps my favourite time of year there, as previous blog posts will attest.

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