A View From The Park Bench
Upon this old familiar bench
From which I’ve spent a time or two,
Just gazing at the sky above
And watching chestnut trees,
Which change throughout the seasons
Now their copper leaves do fall,
Which gather on this stony path
And tossed upon the breeze.
Upon this bench so old and worn
That’s scrawled and etched on every slat,
And smeared with food from yesterday
Yet still to me so kind,
For here within my solitude
Away from all the toil and spite,
I’ll take my time to look around
While others seem so blind.
– Andrew Blakemore
A visitor to Melbourne who picks up a tourist guide is likely to encounter the usual sightseeing destinations: Eureka Tower, Victoria Market, Federation Square, Melbourne Cemetery, Royal Botanic Gardens etc.. However, there is another side of Melbourne that is often overlooked in such guides. For locals looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life – whether for a brief moment or for a few hours – there is a myriad of small green leafy parks which provide perfect refuge. While these small patches of greenery may on the surface seem very ordinary, many in fact harbour interesting secrets. One such place is University Square – a small patch of parkland in Carlton.
At first glance, it would seem there is nothing special about the place. Apart from a few tree-lined pathways and park benches, its location means it is often nothing more than a thoroughfare – a place of transience. But dig deeper and its charm begins to reveal itself. It is at once draped in history and connected to the future. A curious mixture of the new and old can be found not only within the parkland itself, but also all around – in the four rows of architecture that line the bounds of the square. University Square – like many other small parklands in Melbourne, represents a surprising window to this complex and wonderful cosmopolitan city. For the traveller who prefers an unusual approach to touring Melbourne, places like University Square provide a keystone – a gateway to the authentic Melbourne.
History (or, what is this place?)
Built between 1892 and 1900, the square was known as Barry Square until 1998 when it was renamed University Square by The University of Melbourne. The original name was in honour of Daniel Joseph Barry, a private in the 7 Machine Gun Company, who was killed in action in World War 1 on 3 October 1918.
At the southern end of the square is a drinking fountain of no great beauty. Nevertheless, it has its own story to tell. It was dedicated to Thomas Ferguson, who from 1868 to 1904 was the secretary of the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society, a society formed in 1842 to discourage use of opium and alcohol. This somewhat modest-looking fountain was originally positioned in Russell Street and had reached a towering height of six metres. However, after it was hit and damaged by a truck in 1947, it was downsized and relocated to the current site.
On its four sides, University Square is flanked by neat rows of original 19th century Victorian terrace houses as well as some unusually-shaped modern architecture. The stark contrast between the old and the new is what makes Melbourne so special: the past flows into the future in a seemingly effortless fashion – much like a living record of history. For most Melbournians, the sight of modern high-rise towering over 19th-century terrace houses is a normal part of every-day life. The past and the present coexist in harmony, in perfect continuity.
A Networking Hub (or, who are these people?)
Games of soccer and Frisbee are common in the square, which is also a popular lunch destination. But more interesting than what happens in the park is “who are these people?” On any day the park is populated with interesting people, of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Situated in the vicinity of The University of Melbourne, the park is frequented by academics and students alike. In our brief sojourn around the area, we met undergraduate and postgraduate students studying commerce, mechanical engineering, physiotherapy, and law. People are more than happy to sit and chat for a while and it is no stretch to suggest that the square exudes its own culture.
Transport (or, where should I go now?)
There are no less than five forms of transport servicing the square. The first two transport options being:
- Greenshare car: Two car spaces are reserved for the Greenshare car scheme. Whether or not you will find cars there is a matter of luck, but these “pay and go” hire cars offer the opportunity to get around town at your own leisure.
- Carpark: The north end of the square is in fact the roof of the central Melbourne University car park, conceived in 1970 and completed only two years later. The car-parking in the centre of Leicester Street is also one of the cheapest around Melbourne, costing no more than 60 cents an hour.
But why drive at all? Indeed this would not be in line with the “gateway” approach to touring. Instead, let the city guide you with any of these options:
- Bicycles: At the north end of the square is a rack of Melbourne bike share bicycles. The bike share scheme extends around all points of the city and can cost only a few dollars a day.
- Free tourist shuttle: A must-do ride to see some of the major tourist attractions in the city.
- Buses: Footscray and North Melbourne. For the less traditional tourists, hopping on a local bus can provide great insight into the people and places that make up the “real” city, from Footscray’s bustling market to North Melbourne’s cafes and unique shops.
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The theme of “keystone” touring is quite simply to stop and observe. Even something as simple as a thoroughfare can provide many hidden interests. What appears to be a small urban park not only has links to architectural and war history, but connects people with diverse experiences, and is a transport gateway to the entire city. Taking this “keystone” approach, the tourist only needs to be guided by the city itself. Instead of visiting the typical places cited in a guidebook, one follows the sights and sounds of the city and immerses in a world of wonders.
How to get there?