Originally Friends of King Edward Park were formed in response to a development application put to Newcastle City Council by Annie Street Commercial in December 2010. The proposal was for a Function Centre for 500 people with associated parking and a small public kiosk.
The site of the development was the old Newcastle City Bowling Club that had been part of the original grant of land by the AA Company in 1863. This grant had provided Newcastle with its first dedicated parkland.
The Friends were a loose association of people who felt that the DA was not in keeping with such a significant site. Their aim was to raise awareness about the importance of the Headland Reserve in both aboriginal and early Newcastle history. This was land dedicated for public recreation, yet the proposal did not comply with the dedication of the site, nor did it fulfil the intention of the earlier Plan of Management (2007). Further, It took no account of the effect the development would have on the nearby historic King Edward Park.
In this way, in January/February 2011, the Friends of King Edward Park came into existence.
Our views were informed by the Parks and Playground Movement, the National Trust and the Gimbay Gatigaan people.
The early history of the site seemed to have been lost in the process of the development that appeared only to acknowledge the previous Newcastle City Bowling Club with some giant concrete bowling balls.
However, the site was significant in early European and convict history. It was here in this area that the coal mining industry in Australia began in about 1807.The old bowling green shaft lies on this site and the developer is charged with locating it. The Headland Reserve and King Edward Park formed part of the Government Domain, that is to say, they were attached to the original Government House and the James Fletcher site and were referred to as the Governor’s sheep pastures. The area has recently been included in a nomination by Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party for listing on the Commonwealth Heritage List which reinforces our original opinion of the significance of the area to Newcastle and Australia. A summary of the Heritage listing can be downloaded here and makes fascinating reading.
Besides the early European history, the site was particularly significant to the Worimi people as it was here that they held initiation ceremonies as late as 1980. It was here that they brought their children to be held up to their ancestors. The cliffs, Yi ran na li, meaning falling rocks, was an ideal place to collect stones for tools. Jaye Quinlan, Secretary Gimbay Gatigaan Aboriginal Corporation writes “Our ancestors made knives and scrapers from chert (stone) from the land there…”
Later during World War 2 the area had an association with the military defence of Newcastle. There are various gun emplacements and tunnels connecting to other parts of the Park in the vicinity of or under the Reserve.
In the early days our group were able to access the area and could mow the site. Aerial photos mark one memorable event. Public meetings were held and in particular there was a flag raising ceremony with the Worimi when both the Aboriginal and Australian Flags were raised. Since that time the land has been fenced off. The Trustees of the Headland Reserve are charged with the care of this iconic site yet this precious public land is overgrown with weeds.
In July 2011 a revised DA was advertised which was smaller than the previous DA but still catered for 450 people and did not give access to the southern boundary. Most of the site was still given over to a function centre, car parking and ceremonial area and that part of the site that was marked for public recreation seemed to complement the function centre rather than provide opportunities for public use.
Incorporation of the Friends
Despite our efforts, in November 2011 the development application was passed by Newcastle City Council with certain conditions, one of these being a path around the southern boundary within King Edward Park. At this stage we did not imagine that we could challenge the Council’s decision. The outcome was disappointing but it was decided that we should try to do something positive for the Park itself, which has suffered neglect over the years and we should ensure that we used those public spaces that we had in the Reserve itself.This was a world-class site and should be treated as such- the model was the Louisiana Sculpture Park in Denmark. Our suggestion, over the period, had also been that the Park with the Headland would be a very suitable place for Newcastle’s Sculpture by the Sea. The Reserve would also be a very appropriate place for the display of aboriginal artefacts. To gain credibility it was decided to incorporate the Friends of King Edward Park. This was done in November 2011.
The object of the Friends under our constitution can be found at the About Us page.
We took as our motto the words of Joern Utzon “It should be good for the life of the people”.
Margaret Ostinga 25.4.12 amended 20.1.13