A Park of Stories

24 Apr

I have been meaning to visit Ballast Point Park – Walama for a while now, since it opened to the public in 2009, so it has taken me too long to get there.  Design Mom’s love the place you live theme gave me the perfect opportunity to pack the family up and have a look.  I’ve watched the park transform from the ferry as we travelled past, and looked at it from afar as the munchkins have played on a favourite playground, but never quite managed to physically get there.  But once again for love the place you live, we gravitated back to Sydney’s picturesque harbour, and explored Ballast Point.

Let me start by saying this is my kind of park, but initially it wasn’t the Drama Queens.  There is no structured playground, and this was a bitter disappointment to a four year old. I firmly hold the belief that the world is a playground and you shouldn’t need a set of swings to ensure endless fun.  The richer the landscape, the more fun that can be made, and Ballast Point Park is a landscape of quite divine treasures.

The Drama Queen needed a bit of convincing to come around to my way of thinking.  I explained to her that this was a park full of stories instead of a park full of playground equipment.  This sparked her interest as she loves a good story – especially when she makes them up herself.  I started to tell her and show her the stories weaved through the landscape, and as she started to see them for herself the park took on a whole new set of adventures.  There was no such convincing needed for her brother, this park is a Daredevil’s wonderland, so much to climb and explore, and he didn’t care that it wasn’t primary coloured and structured.

Ballast Point is a rich and diverse landscape of layers and stories.  The current parkland weaves an interesting and engaging tapestry of landscape design, artwork and historic interpretation to provide a valuable recreational resource for the community of Sydney.  Located in Birchgrove, Ballast Point Park is part of the expanding network of foreshore parks that the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority is developing and managing in order to return previously alienated land back to the public.  Designed by McGregor + Coxall, a Sydney based landscape architectural firm, the current format recognises a long and interesting history while addressing the functionality and significance of the site as public open space.

The site has a rich Indigenous, colonial and industrial heritage, and there are features through the park that tell these stories.  Some are literal, like the retention of industrial site features and signage, others interpretive like the display of relics suspected to have come from the excavated Menevia foundations, the original home built on the site, and some more ephemeral like the poetry and artworks that punctuate the site and recognise the site  and it’s significance to the harbour and its history.  Significantly, the park has the dual names of Ballast Point Park and Walama recognising both  the European and Indigenous history and importance of the site.

One of the most interesting layers of the park is its eco-cred.  The site is full of recycled and re-used materials, the most obvious being the imposing gabion walls made out of recycled building rubble.  The surprising flashes of mosaic tiles, electrical cover plates and marble make these walls a significant feature on their own.  The electricity for the site is produced from wind turbines located on the imposing Tank 101 artwork, and the storm water from the site is filtered through a network of wetlands on the site before it enters the harbour.  Plantings throughout the site enhance local biodiversity through the utilisation of local provenance seed stock.

Through all the design and history, my favourite part of this park is the layer that the current use has provided.  While we were there, we saw dogs being walked, people picnicking and families exploring.  The most interesting part was one I hadn’t expected.  People have begun to place padlocks on the gab ion walls overlooking the harbour.  Families, lovers, friends, travellers all seem to be locking their “love” on the site.  Reminiscent of Pont des Arts in Paris, these locks are commemorating people’s own personal life journeys of birth, love and death.

I am seriously considering adding a lock to the wall!



2 Responses to “A Park of Stories”

  1. Garden Walk Garden Talk April 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    I think the beautiful images of your children on discovery tells the story of this park, even though they were in search of story themselves. Parks are for people, and using them for a park is the best compliment to the site. Pretty interesting structures throughout the park. I too would add a colorful lock to the gabion wall.

    • drawnoutdoors April 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Thanks for such a lovely comment. I agree, the real purpose of a park is not for the designer or the manager, but for the user, and the people. In my many years of designing parks, I have never thought a park was finished until it had that layer of use on it.

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