This beautiful poincietta, jacaranda and fig-studded ridge with green rolling hills was once earmarked to be Brisbane’s premier park but the plan was short-lived as the transportation needs of the public took precedence over their recreational and breathing space needs. With a railroad already in place since the late 1880s the park was further cut in half by construction of the inner city bypass – an asphalt and concrete gash that separates Brisbane’s first municipal golf course from the bike tracks, benches and tree groves on the other side.
Nevertheless it still serves as a part of the ‘green lung’ that it was originally intended for residents of Spring Hill, Fortitude Valley and is a space that is rich in Brisbane’s history dating back to first free settlement. As such it is still a core encircled by significant heritage pieces of Brisbane – the RNA showgrounds, Spring Hill Baths, Centenary Pool, Old Museum, Bowen Park and the original clubhouse of Victoria Park golf course.
Initially known as York’s Hollow, it served as a catchment camp for the pioneering arrivals on the HMS Fortitude and their followers, having in the 1830s been used as a lumbering and brick-making area after local Aborigines were unceremoniously moved along. Some 250 plus residents camped on the hills while awaiting their ‘free land’ which had been promised but unfulfilled by Rev Lang who’d organized their passage. Eventually due to health concerns the camps were moved and the beautification began with plantings of avenues of trees.
With an administration determined to avoid replicating the industry-clouded polluted 19th century cities of Europe and Spring Hill rapidly becoming the most populated part of Brisbane, Victoria Park was set aside as a green open space for residents.
In 1913 the world spotlight shone on Victoria Park as it played host to a scientific experiment of global significance. Organised by the Carnegie Institute of Washington the experiment purported to study the Earth’s magnetism and as such set up little tent stations at locations around the world. The exact location of one of these tents was discovered when an archaeological dig opposite the Children’s Hospital turned up a Carnegie Institute inscribed sandstone block dated 1913 and marking the spot.
In 1928 the city’s fourth substation, designed by Alfred Foster was built down on Bowen Bridge Road to power trams along this route and it remains as the city’s best example of early substation design.
During World War II military forces camped out in fibrolite buildings on the spot where the Fortitude arrivals had camped 100 years earlier and after WWII these buildings remained as temporary makeshift housing for hapless war brides who had found themselves stateless. Having married American soldiers they had automatically lost their Oz citizenship but were struggling to gain US citizenship which was notoriously hard to acquire and paid no attention to marital status.
At one point by 1950 the park was also accommodating up to 270 families without a home as a result of the war and by 1960 all accommodation was closed and the park resumed under the stewardship of Harry Oakman, with a collaboration with council architect James Birrell resulting in the space age Centenary Pool.
In 1965 the park once again achieved infamy with the sighting of a ‘ghost’ in a tunnel under the rail line by a school boy. Taken to the nearby hospital by his mates in a state of hysteria, the event made headlines and in the ensuing week saw throngs of Brisbane residents descending on Victoria Park in an attempt to witness the wispy green headless apparition for themselves. The lake became a cess pool of discarded burnt rubbish as attempts were made to ‘exorcize’ the ghost, food sellers set up stalls and it became something of a nightly event until the fuss died down. No explanation has ever been given for the sightings, which had also occurred in 1903, 1922 and 1932 and been ‘captured’ on film by a newspaper reporter, other then it being green mist that emanated from a drain.