Fitzroy & Treasury Gardens

Fitzroy & Treasury Gardens, Melbourne, Australia (A)

The Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens are a quiet, green oasis near the heart of the business district, dotted with fountains, crossed by tree-lined paths and visited by over 2 million visitors every year. Stepping into the cool, shaded gardens, the busy pace of Melbourne's city streets recedes. The heritage-listed Fitzroy Gardens have been in constant use since their founding over 150 years ago.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Fitzroy & Treasury Gardens
Guide Location: Australia » Melbourne
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: Liz Sinclair
Author Bio: Liz Sinclair is an award-winning travel writer who divides her time between Melbourne, Australia and Bali, Indonesia.
Author Website:
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • The Robert Burns Memorial
  • John F. Kennedy Memorial
  • The Conservatory
  • Cook's Cottage
  • The Scarred Tree
  • The Sinclair Cottage
  • The Dolphin Fountain
  • The Fairy Tree
  • Model Tudor Village
  • The River God Fountain
  • The People's Path
The Robert Burns Memorial

1) The Robert Burns Memorial

On the city side of Treasury Gardens, stands a bronze statue of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns is often called the Scottish Bard, or “The Ploughman Poet,” as he was also a farmer. He is best-known for his poem, Auld Lang Syne, based on an old Scottish folk song, that is popularly sung on New Year’s Eve. Around the granite base of the statue, are plaques showing farming scenes, which represent the role that early Scottish settlers played in helping to create the city of Melbourne. They also serve as a reminder that Burns made his living from the land. There is a story, possibly true, that every Scot in Melbourne donated money towards the statue. The Caledonian Society commissioned the statue from sculptor George Anderson Lawson and erected it in on Princess Bridge near Flinders Street Station in 1904. The statue was moved to its current location in 1970 when St. Kilda Road was widened.
Image Courtesy of summonedbyfells.
John F. Kennedy Memorial

2) John F. Kennedy Memorial

Beside the made-lake in Treasury Gardens is a small, stark memorial to the late President John F Kennedy. The simple concrete block with a bronze plaque on it was installed in 1965, two years after JFK’s assassination. The memorial was created by sculptor Raymond B. Ewers. The pond had previously been an ornamental Japanese garden, surrounded by weeping willows. The entire area was re-landscaped in slate, with natural granite boulders, when the memorial was installed. A water fountain was also added at the same time. A plaque on the stone reads, "This memorial signifies the grateful recognition by the citizens of this city for the services given by John F. Kennedy as President of the United States of America 1960-1963".
The Conservatory

3) The Conservatory

The Conservatory was built in 1930 in the “Spanish Mission” style, popular at the time. All the flowers and decorative grasses in the glass-topped building are in pots and designed to be moved easily. Boilers in the conservatory basement heat the building in colder months to allow flowers to bloom year-round. The plants are all grown in the garden nursery near Cook’s Cottage. Inside the conservatory is a statue of the first white woman, Mary Gilbert, to settle and give birth in the new city of Melbourne in 1835. The statue is by sculptor Ailsa O’Connor and was installed in 1975. At the front of the Conservatory, stands a statue of the goddess Diana and the Hounds in a pool. The statue was designed by British sculptor W. Leslie-Bowles in 1939, and is a copy of a ancient statue of Diana in the Vatican. Diana and the Hounds was the last statue cast in England before World War Two and was sent to Australia on a boat that narrowly escaped German U-Boats during its voyage. The statue was unveiled in September of 1940. At the back of the Conservatory, stands a bronze Victorian statue of a boy, standing atop a granite ball, with a snake curled around him, now made into a fountain. Behind the fountain, stands the Statue of Meditation: a mourning woman, sculpted in marble by Robert Delandre, and donated to the city by a wealthy Australian, Madame Saint, in memory of her father.
Cook's Cottage

4) Cook's Cottage

This cottage belonged to the parents of Captain James Cook, although he never lived there, having already left home when they built the house in Yorkshire, England, in 1755. The cottage was sold to Russell Grimwade, for 800 pounds, in 1934 by the owner, Miss Dickson, who wished for it to “stay within the (British) Empire.” The cottage was taken apart, each brick individually numbered, packed into 253 cases and 40 barrells, and shipped to Melbourne, where it was painstakingly re-constructed in the Fitzroy Gardens over 3 months. Cuttings from ivy vines that grew on the cottage in England were also brought over and planted on the reconstructed building. Grimwade donated the cottage to the people of Victoria to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Melbourne. The cottage gives a snapshot of 18th century English country life. There is a life-size statue of Captain Cook in the traditional English cottage garden at the back. Inside the cottage’s Discovery Center, you can learn about James Cook’s life and historical sea voyages of discovery. The cottage is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, except Christmas Day. Admission prices apply.
The Scarred Tree

5) The Scarred Tree

The Fitzroy Gardens were originally a swamp that drained down to the Yarra River below, and dotted with native trees that pre-dated European settlement, such as river red gums, which also grow along the Murray River in New South Wales, eucalyptus trees and native Australian grasses. Several stumps of these original trees are left within the gardens as a reminder of the original grasslands and swamp, and their Aboriginal inhabitants. The scarred tree was once used by Aboriginals to provide bark for their canoes and shields. You can still see the the long, oval scar in the trunk of the tree where bark was stripped away. The tree serves as a valuable reminder that there was once a thriving Aboriginal culture in the Melbourne area before Europeans came.
The Sinclair Cottage

6) The Sinclair Cottage

The Sinclair Cottage was the home of head gardener, James Sinclair, in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Sinclair arrived in Melbourne in 1856, already well-known as a garden designer. Originally from Northern Scotland, Sinclair was a talented botanical illustrator, who studied at the famous Kew Gardens in London. He was hired to design and plant gardens in the Crimea, for a Russian prince in 1838. Czar Nicholas was so impressed he hired Sinclair to help lay out the Royal Gardens in St. Petersburg, and later awarded him the “Imperial Order of St. Anne,” the highest horticultural award in Russia. While in the Crimea, Sinclair met and married Mary Anne Cooper, with whom he had four children. The couple left Russia when the Crimean War broke out. The British government asked Sinclair to spy on his former Russian hosts, and to avoid complying, he moved his family to Melbourne instead. The Parks Lands Committee hired Sinclair to help lay out and plant the future Fitzroy Gardens, under the direction of Clement Hodgkinson, the Assistant Commissioner of Lands and Survey. Sinclair planted most of the English elms in the park, laid out the central stream gully with ferns and re-designed many of the pathways that crossed the park. He also started the Australian Gardener’s Journal in 1855. Sinclair and his family lived in the cottage until his death in 1881. The cottage is now used for park offices and is closed to the public.
The Dolphin Fountain

7) The Dolphin Fountain

The Fitzroy Gardens were once a swamp, with a central creek that drained through the park down to the Yarra River. In 1896, this creek was described by an inspector as a ‘menace to the health of the public using the Gardens,' because of the stench from the raw sewage running into the creek from houses in East Melbourne. Even altering the landscape around the creek by planting ferns and willow trees didn’t help much. The creek was eventually piped underground, and only the small stream running through Fern Gully remains above ground now. In 1982, the Dolphin Fountain was installed in a pool at the top of the creek. The fountain was designed by sculptress June Arnold and consists of myriad bronze sea creatures, including dolphins, crabs, starfish, turtles, sea horses, octopus and sea gulls, which frolic around a large pile of granite boulders, with water cascading down.
The Fairy Tree

8) The Fairy Tree

The Fairy Tree was created by children’s artist Ola Cohn over three years between 1931 and 1934. Cohn chose a non-native tree for her masterpiece, so as to not offend Australian aboriginals. The tree was inspired by The Elephant Tree, in Kensington Gardens in London. Cohn carved the bumps and fissures in the tree into fairies, dwarfs, gnomes and a wide range of Australian native animals and birds, and then painted them in bright colors, which have faded over time. Her work was commissioned to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Victoria in 1934. The artist worked day and night to complete the Fairy Tree. Ola Cohn was a founding member of the Australian Sculptor’s Society, the President of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors for 16 years and received an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for her life’s work. In 1977, the Fairy Tree was removed from the ground, mounted on a concrete base and chemically-treated to extend the life of the carved trunk. While removing the Fairy Tree from the ground, the 40-year-old mummified body of a tree possum was found inside the dead tree. The Fitzroy Gardens holds an annual Fairy Fanfare day, during the January school summer holidays, centred around the historic tree, involving acrobatic and musical performances, that is attended by hundreds of children dressed as fairies.
Model Tudor Village

9) Model Tudor Village

During World War Two, many people in Melbourne sent food parcels to the residents of Lambeth, Kent in southern England. After the war ended, the people of Lambeth, in gratitude for the parcels, raised funds and commissioned a model Tudor village for the Fitzroy Gardens. The village was created in cement by a 77 year old retiree, Edgar Wilson, who made them as a hobby. The village is designed to look like a typical village in Kent during the Tudor period, about the year 1500. There are several thatched cottages, a church, a school, a hotel, barns and other structures, including a tiny pump. Mr Wilson included a copy of Shakespeare’s home from the town of Stratford on Avon as well. The model village was formally opened in 1948. The site also has bonsai trees and miniature shrubs and features small roads and streams. Lambeth, the model for the tiny village, also serves as a backdrop for the popular English television mystery series, MidSummer Murders.
The River God Fountain

10) The River God Fountain

In 1862, a central water main was installed to service the suburb of East Melbourne. This also meant that water was, for the first time, available to the Fitzroy Gardens to run fountains. Previously, there had been only statues of figures from Greek and Roman mythology lining the walks in the gardens. The River God Fountain was the first one installed in the park, also in 1862. The statue is supposed to represent the Greek and Roman god of the oceans, Poseidon. It shows an old man kneeling, with one knee bent, holding an enormous clam shell on his back, out of which come sprays of water. The statue was made by the sculptor Charles Summers. The fountain was dry for several years under severe water restrictions during Victoria’s drought in the early 2000’s, but is now running again, using recycled water.
The People's Path

11) The People's Path

The sidewalk near this corner of the park has been transformed into a permanent art project. The People’s Path consists of 10,000 ceramic tiles that were designed by everyday Victorians for the 1978 Arts Victoria Crafts Festival. People of all ages and walks of life made tiles: as you walk up or down the slope of the path, you will see children’s drawings, poems, symbols and poignant personal messages, all inscribed forever in ceramic. In addition to the decorated ones, an additional 10,000 plain ceramic tiles of the same red-brown terra-cotta were laid out in a circular design commissioned from Melbourne ceramic artist, Ian Sprague. The permanent art, which you can walk on without harm, has been in place since 1979.

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