Mudgee's Lawson Park has a long and interesting past, so here is a dive into the archives of the Mudgee Historical Society and the Mudgee Guardian/The Weekly to take a look.
Pre-park days and establishment
The south bank of the Cudegong River, east of Holyoake Bridge, wasn't sold privately and was common land. It was used by people to graze sheep, cattle, and horses, and to turn out bullocks or horses hauling loads, in exchange for a small fee to Council.
By the late 1830s the location was set aside as a reserve for public recreation, renamed River Park, and would become popular for picnics.
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Although the riverbank was still used for agistment, much to the chagrin of one local resident - with the dilapidated fencing allowing livestock to stray and eat his garden. A March 1861 court report in the Western Post said that the Mr Bayly was summoned for overcharging impound fees on the cattle of a Mr Simpson.
"Simpson deposed that the cattle in question had been driven down to water and had found their way to what he called Mr Bayly's cattle trap, or what Mr Bayly might call a garden," the report read.
The location was of particular interest to John Edward Loneragan, who was a driver of beautifying the park and planting more trees. And he'd conceived the idea of the weir to create a place to swim - more on that below - and guaranteed the debt on it.
A number of places in the Mid-Western Region are named after poet Henry Lawson - but Lawson Park is not one of them. In 1921 River Park was re-named to honour the centenary of explorer William Lawson becoming the first European to traverse the site of Mudgee.
A monument was also erected to mark the occasion, but more on that below. This Lawson - who of course led the first successful crossing of the Blue Mountains by European settlers - is also the namesake of Lawson Creek, Lawson Street, and the Blue Mountains suburb.
A weir-ed place to swim
Swimming in the Cudgegong River goes back a long time. The Mudgee Historical Society archives contain photos of carnivals in the 1900s at a site close to Perry Street, which is now part of 'Lawson Park West'.
But it was the construction of the weir further upstream that created the first "pool". Although that did take a few attempts, the first was washed away in the next flood, with a concrete structure built in 1890 being more successful.
Mother Nature would eventually get the better of the second weir as well, when it was partially destroyed in the 1920s during some of the worst flooding experienced in Mudgee - bearing in mind this was long before Windamere Dam was there to help. The weir we have today was built in 1929, almost on top of its predecessor.
CHECK OUT OUR STREET VIEW SERIES HERE:
- Just like Street View only older, part-one
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- Old Time Street View redux, because some places have had many faces
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With the river backed up for over a kilometre, it became popular with swimmers, wire fencing and gates were used to grade the depth, shallower closer to the bank and deeper in the middle. And it even had low and high diving boards.
Dressing sheds for men and women were also constructed nearby. Although well-utilised, the river would become unsuitable for swimming due to a build-up of silt and pollution.
The current Mudgee pool site - still within the boundaries of Lawson Park - was built in the 1950s and with it's Olympic, children's and toddlers' pools, was a leap forward from swimming in the river. You can still find some of the concrete pieces of the old "pool" in the riverbank.
The renaming to Lawson Park included the addition of a monument to not only commemorate the discoveries of its namesake, but several other of the district's pioneers. Today, you'll find the piece within the park, just near the pool - but this wasn't it's original location or appearance.
It was unveiled as an obelisk, standing around five metres tall at the intersection of Church and Short streets. However, the top was destroyed after a motorist crashed into the monument in thick fog, what remained was repaired and relocated.
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Another former intersection centrepiece now found in the park is the stone watering trough, which was previously where you'll now find the clock tower. It was built in 1910 to mark 50 years since the founding of the Mudgee and Cudgegong Municipalities and designed to cater horses with the high troughs and dogs with the lower.
A "monument to the depression", as described by former Shire president Cr Moufarrige, is the stone wall, which recently has required a bit of work. Built in the 1930s, using stone carted from Mt Frome, it was a project to provide work for some of the many men who found themselves jobless at that moment in history.
Too much to list
The history of Mudgee's Lawson Park, like the river that runs through it, is long and winding.
This is but the shallow end, there's inadequate space to get into the botanic history of the location - which goes well beyond the Weeping Willows - let alone the somewhat bizarre chapter of having a kangaroo enclosure at the eastern end.
But like Robertson Park, it's not just a green space it's had many practical and varied applications over the years. Now you can have a barbecue or just go for a stroll - even further since the addition of the 'West' side on the former TAFE site - but if want to take a dip, go to the pool rather than the river.