by Jodi Panayotov
Can't make any of the dawn services this Anzac Day? Instead pack a picnic and take time out to remember those who died in the Great War in one of Brisbane's war memorial parks.
For it is some of the city's best loved gracious and stately parks with their shady avenues of figs, palms and pine trees that were built not as playgrounds but as memorials to alleviate the extraordinary outpouring of grief after 1.38% of the country, or 61966 young men, lost their lives.
At the end of World War I it seemed everyone was related to or close to someone who had lost their son, father or brother in a battle that had originally been greeted with enthusiasm but resulted in the end in utter devastation. And, unlike in the next World War and other subsequent wars in which Australian lives have been lost, this was one in which people were not able to bury and grieve for their loved ones as the majority of the dead stayed overseas where they had fallen. And so the government created memorials as public spaces for people to remember, grieve and commemorate those left behind.
South Brisbane Memorial Park
Tucked away opposite Somerville House and overlooking South Bank is this tiny triangular park with a secluded grove of banyan trees and pink porphyry stairs leading down to wrought iron memorial gates and two cairns commemorating the two world wars. At top level are a couple of tables and seats although with Vulture St traffic thundering past, it's more of a spot for quick contemplation than a hang-out.
This beautiful hilly green expanse incorporating, ponds, playgrounds and a dog exercise area was established in 1916 by local solicitor Walter Harding and as such is thought to have been the world's first official Anzac Park. Remnants of its original Avenue of Honour – a sacred row of palms and memorial trees which at the time were inscribed with metal commemorative plates - have recently been discovered, with plans now afoot to restore this important historical feature.
Often overlooked in favour of the secluded riverfront parks at Fairfield, Yeronga Memorial Park is a large and unexpectedly picturesque park that is riddled with history and one of Brisbane's oldest, dating from the late 1880s. Selected in 1917 as a memorial to the Great War, an Avenue of Honour (thought to be the second oldest in the country) lined with weeping figs and flame trees was carved through it and each tree adorned with metal plates dedicated to individual soldiers who'd died. The memorial gates at the Ipswich side of the avenue are unique in that they commemorate the services of women in the Great War while the nearby domed memorial is one of few to be found in Brisbane. Interestingly Yeronga Pool within the park is itself a war memorial dedicated to World War II.
A recreational spot since the 1880s and onetime aerodrome, this park contains the relics of two Greats – the war and the depression. The ornamental cricket bandstand, one of three remaining in Brisbane memorial parks, was a nation-building effort from 1936. After World War I the park was declared an official memorial park, and a row of 52 memorial cotton trees and bunya pines were planted (some 40 of which survive, with their metal plates missing) while the other commemorative feature is the poignant handmade copper scroll, fashioned by local resident Ernest Gunderson and listing the names of the 51 Sherwood locals who lost their lives.
One of the northside's most well-equipped and popular recreation spots was established in 1910 and by the end of World War I had been kitted out with the grand Soldiers Honours Gates that greet road entrants and renamed Anzac Memorial Park. The tree-lined drive within known as Diggers Drive was built in 1924 by returned World War I soldiers who survived the war only to find themselves unemployed after returning home and then the war connection continued in World War II when the entire park was home to an army staging camp.
Bulimba's favourite village green was originally a land donation from a local Bulimba farmer and was opened in 1919 in its official guise as a memorial park. Bordering it are rows of weeping figs and cocos palms dedicated to the memory of World War I's lost soldiers although the metal name plaques are long since missing in action, with some in safe keeping at the Colmslie RSL. At the park's entrance on Oxford St a cairn commemorates its opening and the service men and women from Bulimba who served in the Great War.
While not officially a memorial park, Mowbray Park is home to Brisbane's first World War I monument, the imposing statue of an Australian Light Horseman, made of Helidon sandstone and flanked by two colonial guns that were originally part of the Fort Lytton defence. When first unveiled it was surrounded by a garden in the shape of a red cross and this was later replaced with the current arrangement involving stone from the demolished Normal School that once stood on Anzac Square.