Robertson Park is a place relax, remember, play, shop at markets, eat, or just take a shortcut. But did you know that once you could play bowls there? Or that it was named after a man who was the member for Mudgee while also the premier of NSW?
Prior to 1891, Robertson Park was known as Market Square, one year earlier than that it'd been dedicated as a public reserve, although it was the venue for a variety of uses for decades before then. The Mudgee Agricultural Society's first show was held there in 1846 and on January 26, 1855, it hosted the inaugural local cricket match for "Anniversary Day" - as it was known then.
When the first train to Mudgee arrived in 1884, Market Square was where the celebrations were held, with the festivities including a procession to the railway station for the big moment before returning to the park. In attendance that day was the member for Mudgee, Sir John Robertson.
Robertson the man
Sir John Robertson was born in London in 1816 and came to Australia when his family emigrated in the 1820s. He entered politics in 1856 when he won the seat of Phillip, Brisbane and Bligh, which was later replaced by the Upper Hunter and Mudgee electorates, with Robertson becoming the member for the former.
He was the Premier of New South Wales five times, the final two stints while he was the member for Mudgee. His legacy in public office was the Robertson Land Acts, reforms for free selection of crown land before surveying, which would allow poor settlers to find and work a patch of land even if it were held already by wealthy squatters.
Robertson was also initially elected supporting voting reform, the secret ballot and electorates based on population. He resigned in 1886 after the collapse of his government and a leg injury sustained while working in the National Park as chairman of its trustees.
He died in 1891 and the name of Market Square was changed to Robertson Park. In case you're wondering, Robertson Street - location of the Mudgee Golf Club - was also named in honour of the former premier, after the previous Robertson Street was re-named Lovejoy Street in 1925 (after Ebenezer and Thomas Lovejoy, who both served as council clerk).
Lest we forget
The rotunda was built in 1903, by Stoddart and Casimir, and was a two-fold tribute. It's not only a memorial to the park's namesake - "premier and statesman", one tablet reads - but also to those who died in service in the Boer War.
"South African War 1899-1902, in memory of Mudgee volunteers Reginald Belmore Cox, Hugh Trevor Jones, William Croome," the other inscription reads.
Robertson Park has been intrinsically linked with remembrance ever since the end of World War I. The Cenotaph was built in 1923 by monumental mason D B Acton, who along with carrier Mr W Norris, hauled it along Church Street and raised it.
Anyone for bowls?
The reason why the landscaping in Robertson Park is noticeably flatter in some sections is because they were once bowling greens. The current Mudgee Preschool, at the eastern end, used to be the clubhouse - albeit before significant extension and alteration.
Greens were also located at the western end at one point, with a weatherboard building on that side once serving as the clubhouse, which later became the park gardener's tool house. Water for the greens was supplied by a well at the eastern end, sunk by council in 1886, which also supplemented the town during times of drought.
The not-always picture perfect park
The location has become something of a showpiece for Mudgee - a stone's throw from the CBD, surrounded by historic buildings and houses, and overlooking the tourist information centre where many visitors would make their first stop after arriving in town. So it's hard to believe that the park, or particular parts of it, weren't always viewed so favourably.
A fountain formerly located on the Perry Street side - and described as "notorious" in a Mudgee Guardian report on a late 1960s council meeting - was the source of much ire and ridicule. The decision that evening was that council wouldn't spend any more money on improvements until other options were explored.
Alderman A W Cox said that the $1,000 fountain "didn't look too bad" when functioning, however, "the base is totally inadequate... as a result, when there was any kind of wind, it blew all the water away". "If the base were big enough, the water could be forced to a terrific height."
Upon hearing the amount of money allocated to remedy it, Ald John Hill said, "for $800 I could blow that much water into the air myself" - and called the fountain "an eyesore" and "a disgrace to the town". Eventually it was filled in and turned into a garden.
In 1900 the Western Post reported that the state of Mudgee's parks was the subject of a meeting and locals were called upon to take up the matter, with Bathurst's Machattie Park held up as an example. "Robertson Park or Victoria Park ought to be selected for special attention in the manner that Bathurst people have made their park a beauty spot," the story read.
In the year that it became Robertson Park the first trees were planted and although the approved conservatory didn't go ahead, it has been complemented by additions such as the rotunda and Cenotaph. The aesthetic standard was continually lifted ever since a caretaker was put in place (around the turn of last century) and with its manicured gardens the park remains a picturesque and functional space.
This article was produced from the Mudgee Guardian/The Weekly archives and with thanks to the Mudgee Historical Society.