Back in 1917, as war raged in Europe, Geelong’s leaders shared a creative vision to transform the ragged, dank and neglected Johnstone Park reserve into ‘a suitable civic centre and city approach’.
Led by the energetic mayor of the day, Cr Howard Hitchcock, the City of Geelong sought competitive public designs for the former Western Gully that would include ‘landscape gardening’ and ‘an architectural treatment’.
The £50 council prize was won by local architects Percy E. Everett and Messrs Laird & Buchan: the same team that designed many of Geelong’s finest civic buildings, including the Johnstone Park Peace Memorial in 1922.
At the time, Cr James Austin observed their design would turn the “slatternly reserve” that was “a disgrace to Geelong” into a “model garden”.
The winning architects’ vision for Johnstone Park, featuring grassed concert lawns, gravel paths, a new bandstand and a miniature lake, captivated the citizens of Geelong.
Exactly a century on, Johnstone Park retains its splendour as a tranquil and beautiful oasis framing the formal entrance to Geelong’s civic precinct.
To further enhance the park, in 2017 the Victorian Government and the City of Greater Geelong partnered to construct a $1.85 million tiered raingarden – as part of the Revitalising Central Geelong Action Plan.
The project has involved building a series of terraced ponds that naturally filter stormwater flowing in from Geelong West – to remove nitrogen, oils and other pollutants that would otherwise end up in Corio Bay.
Beneath the park is a 350,000-litre tank to store this filtered stormwater flowing in from Geelong West and a new retriculated drip system waters all the trees, lawns and plants around the park.
This now meets about half the park’s annual irrigation needs – a huge saving on water.
“This is a great project that will be a meeting place for the local people of Geelong for years to come,” Member for Bellarine and Minister for Water Lisa Neville says.
“It will activate what is public space through integrated water senstitive urban design.
“I’m proud to help deliver this and the many other Revitalising Central Geelong projects to deliver a more vibrant and liveable city,” she says
Member for Geelong Christine Couzens agrees “Johnstone Park is the green heart of Geelong and this project ensures it remains a place for the community to relax and enjoy.“
Geelong Mayor Bruce Harwood is equally impressed.
“The new works have seen the park’s old steep ramps replaced by gently sloping all-weather pathways, which means everyone can access and enjoy this beautiful environment – regardless of their mobility,” he says.
“I’m also delighted with the restoration of the famous Medici Urns, the extra shrubs and trees, and the new improved lighting that makes the park even safer for pedestrians at night.”
All this seems a natural way to mark the 100th birthday of an iconic Geelong space, and a very clever and creative environmental statement for the region’s future.