Hyde Park needs its Big Day

AFTER years of research a Hyde Park history enthusiast has come to an unexpected conclusion: The park has never had an official opening.

Retired journalist Rodney O’Brien threw himself into researching Hyde Park to find out more about a long-forgotten fountain that was vandalised in 1918 and removed two years later, along the way discovering there was no trace of an opening.

“From 2011 to 2019, I was constantly going through anything I could find at the state archives and city archives,” Mr O’Brien says.

Grand openings were a big deal in those days: “They were ‘top hats and long frocks’ affairs,” Mr O’Brien says, with media coverage and big public turnouts at openings of other parks including Queens Gardens in 1898, Russell Square and Weld Square in 1899. 

But Hyde Park, often referred to as the “jewel in the crown” of the area, seemed to get no such treatment, and in this piece Mr O’Brien lays out his theory as to why it was likely forgotten “in the wake of much turbulence at City Hall”.

A significant Noongar wetland, then later a camp ground known as ‘Third Swamp’, the park was gazetted in 1897 and slowly turned from bushy wetland into today’s familiar ornamental style surrounds.

While it never got an opening in those early years, Mr O’Brien thinks it’s time to right that.

“I think they should seize it by the top hat and say ‘let’s do it’. Why not? The place is so wonderful, and no one could be anything but proud of this landscape. It’s so undulating and unfolding and lyrical.”

by DAVID BELL

Retired journo Rodney O’Brien discovered Hyde Park never got it’s official opening. Is it too late? Photo by David Bell.

NOT a trace of detail is on record in state or city archives to show that Hyde Park in Highgate was ever officially opened.

This exceptionally well-kept secret surfaces as the City of Vincent celebrates the 125th anniversary of the gazetting of the Park in 1897.

Many attempts to locate any evidence that an event of this significance ever took place have failed.

State Records Office senior archivist Damien Hassan has confirmed that he found nothing, as did a former City of Perth historical librarian and more recently a cultural heritage support officer.

Well-documented is the grand opening of Queens Gardens in 1898 as well as the formal launching of Russell Square and Weld Square in 1899.

Very likely Hyde Park missed out in the wake of much turbulence at City Hall following the shock resignation of Perth lord mayor William Brookman on June 26, 1901 – only seven months after taking office in December 1900.

An early and ardent park supporter, he kept his campaign promise to fund an elegant three-tiered fountain that stood inside the Lake Street entrance until 1920 – after a vandal attack in 1918.

Having fallen bankrupt due to his failing ore smelter in South Fremantle, Brookman could no longer serve as mayor.

However his timing could not have been more disastrous as the city without a mayor was facing an imminent royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in mid-July.

Urgently the council rallied to install mayor Stephen Parker to steer the city through the royal tour with the highlight of ‘Perth’s Park’ being renamed as Kings Park by the Duke.

Then Parker resigned to become a supreme court judge in September, triggering another rush by the city to elevate councillor William Loton as Perth’s lord mayor within four months.

Any priority for Hyde Park to be officially opened had entirely evaporated without notice for more than a century. 

by RODNEY O’BRIEN

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