Detailed History

[Taken from a student report Prepared by Elahna Green, Tracey O’Connor, Caitlin Burke, Burnley College, Melbourne University 2001]

Contextual History

The population of Prahran boomed in the mid 1800s when the railway was built as a quick and direct link to the city. Prahran became a working-class suburb and growth was astronomical. Terrace houses and cottages sprung up with no thought of parklands and open space.

Along with Grattan Gardens and Toorak Park, Victoria Gardens was the first land bought for public open space by the town council and was surrounded by great hullabaloo. Councilors bought the land at auction in 1884 against keen opposing bidders (one of whom was going to run a street through to Murray St). They secured the allotment for 5,660 pounds (500 over the council authorised price). The Governor and his wife officially opened the Gardens on The 5th August 1885.

The 5 acre site was designed by William Sangster (1831-1910) who was a leading landscape gardener and horticulturalist who favoured the picturesque style. Using the nom-de-plume “Hortensis” Sangster wrote a column for the Australian. Sangster also worked on the Exhibition gardens, royal botanic gardens, Government House and Como house.

The landscape included a sunken oval and asymmetrically designed paths leading from High Street to Murray Street. The soil removed from the oval was used to create a picturesque mound covered with lush vegetation and ferns that had an impressive view to the city. This mound was similar to the one Sangster designed in the grounds of Rippon Lea some time earlier. Rose gardens, rockeries, fountains, flowerbeds, vast expanses of lawn and statues (including the  ‘Winged Victory’) were included in the gardens. Many of the elements included in the original design were typical of the early “Italianate Style” of Victorian gardens. Victorian gardens were often exuberant display as opposed to the ‘chaste’ good taste of Georgian gardens. This reflected the times, the Victorian era was a time of great change and innovation (lawn mower, garden hose, availability of exotic plant matter from all round the world and availability of written matter.) Also a new class was emerging and gardening in an ornamental fashion was available to the masses as opposed to utilitarian fruit and vegetable  gardens of the past. For this reason Victorian gardens were well suited to small enclosed spaces, like Victoria Gardens, unlike their predecessors which required vast amounts of space and money.

The Gardens were later enclosed in a wrought iron and stone fence which replaced the original timber palisade. A bandstand and timber pergola used as a rose arbour were later added reflecting styles of the times but these along with the mound were removed when the gardens were upgraded.

Although some items were removed, this garden remains the most intact public garden in Prahran. Although most of the current vegetation in the Gardens was planted post WW2, it contains several significant plantings including the Plane Trees, which surround the sunken oval. The character is still of the period 1885-1918 when the garden was most actively used. The High St entrance is strengthened by the row of Edwardian houses to its east while the northern entrance from Murray Street has a picturesque backdrop of Victorian Villas.

MMBW Plan of Victoria Gardens c. 1900 Source: Prahran City Council Archives


City of Prahran, ‘Significant Tree and Garden Study’
Georgina Whitehead, ‘Civilising a City’
John H. Foster, ‘Victoria Picturesque’
J.B Cooper, ‘History of Prahran’ Melbourne 1924.
Whitehead,G. ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan.’ Unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
R. Boyle, ‘Melbourne’s Parks and Gardens’

History of Victoria Gardens

The City of Prahran was established in 1856, but not until the 1880’s did the city attempt to secure land for public parks. The establishments of these parks were surrounded by controversy1. In 1884 the mayor (W.Templeton , esq.) at a special meeting of the City Council purposed securing a loan of 12, 500 pounds to purchase land to be used for “parks and pleasure grounds”2. Protests from the community and Council members resulted and the loan issue dominated the following Council elections. The landslide victory by George Taylor as mayor and his supporters, who were in favour of purchasing land for parks, attests to the community’s feeling about this issue. It was later revealed that four acres of land on east High Street had been purchased for 5, 660 pounds that had formerly been used to graze cattle3.

Poster announcing the opening of the three public gardens in Prahran

Poster announcing the opening of the three public gardens in Prahran

Source: Prahran Library online historical database

At the Victoria Gardens on August 7, 1885 Governor and Lady Loch declared open “the lands of the City of Prahran known as the Toorak Gardens, the Victoria Gardens and the Prahran Reserve, dedicated to public use and enjoyment as pleasure grounds and places of recreation”. This was a day of great celebration including a procession through decorated streets to the Victoria Gardens where a huge crowd including many parliamentarians and dignitaries as well as 4000 school children attended the opening ceremony4.

Mayor George W. Taylor was a strong supporter of public reserves and was described to have “bethought himself of the future generations”. The Victoria Gardens were named after his wife and seen as the most important of Prahrans pleasure gardens. These reserves were seen as a symbol of “the rise and progress of our splendid city”5.

Positioned on a slightly elevated area once referred to as ‘Mt Erica’, the Victoria Gardens site was surrounded by residential subdivisions. The prominent landscape designer and nurseryman William Sangster drew up the plan for the gardens. The rectangular site abutted High Street to the south and an access corridor through house blots to Murray Street to the north. A timber fence, gate and some border plants had been put in place for the opening ceremony, however the real construction began in 18876.

  1. J.B Cooper, ‘History of Prahran’ Melbourne 1924, p287.
  1. Prahran Chronicle, 11 July 1884.
  2. J.B Cooper, ‘History of Prahran’ Melbourne 1924.
  3. Whitehead,G. ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan.’ Unpublished manuscript dated 1989 p4.
  4.  Leavit,T.W.H. ‘Australian Representative Men,’ Ed, Wells and Leavitt, Melbourne 1887.
  5. Whitehead,G. ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan.’    Unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
The nursery of Messrs Taylor & Sangster.  Pictured a number of glass-houses, plants, nursery workers and a one-horse dray loading with potted plants. Toorak Road in the foreground. Source: 'Early Toorak and district' by E.M. Robb, Melbourne: Robertson & Mullens, 1934, page 85

The nursery of Messrs Taylor & Sangster. Pictured a number of glass-houses, plants, nursery workers and a one-horse dray loading with potted plants. Toorak Road in the foreground.
Source: ‘Early Toorak and district’ by E.M. Robb, Melbourne: Robertson & Mullens, 1934, page 85

The mount, that lay between the High Street entrance and the winding path along the eastern boundary, was a prominent feature of the plan and was about 20 feet in height and covered and area 100×120 feet at the base. The mount offered a view “over a great part of the city and also the bay and shipping”, The mount must have been a dramatic feature in the otherwise flat and low-lying district. Sangster describes another mount which he designed for the Rippon Lea estate as “somewhat similar, but much more extensive” than the mount at Victoria Gardens. The mound at Rippon Lea can still be seen today8.

An 1885 working drawing prepared by the Council shows the original paths to be about 15 feet wide except for the High Street entrance path which was 17 feet and the subsidiary paths to the south which were seven feet wide. These paths were constructed of gravel with red gutter bricks for edging9. Brick gutters line the current paths, yet early photographs suggest that the original gutters were very different in their appearance10 .

  1.  Australasian, July 2 1887 p14.
  2. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ Unpublished manuscript dated 1889, p14.
  3. Ibid
  4. Prahran archive photo, c.1900.
In 1888 George W. Taylor, the ex mayor, donated to the park a fountain, a statue and four vases, all made from terracotta cement and imported from Europe. The vases, statue and fountain were of a “renaissance design”12. The fountain was positioned at the junction of the High Street entrance path and the path circling the oval. Beyond the fountain two of the vases were symmetrically positioned on pedestals and placed on the rim of the oval at the top of the stairs that led down to the green. Directly across the oval the same configuration of vases and stairs led up from the oval to the path and framed the ‘Victory’ statue. The statue was placed directly opposite the fountain on the same central axis. The symmetry of this arrangement was a key design feature of the Gardens. A Telegraph newspaper article mentioned that: “… together they form one of the most handsome terracotta groups to be seen in Australia”13. In this article the statue is described as “a copy of the famous statue erected in La Place at le Port de Belle Alliance, Berlin, to commemorate the battle of Waterloo 14.

Photograph taken to record the view of the gardens. N.J. Caire took many scenic views and as a commercial photographer sold prints of these. This photograph was probably purchased from N.J.Caire by Prahran Council, along with other scenes in the collection. N.J.Caire had a studio in Toorak Road, South Yarra. Source: Prahran Library online historical database 

View of Prahran Public Gardens, showing a female statue called 'Winged Victory', and two concrete urns. The statuary and a fountain were donated by Cr. George William Taylor, as a gift to the citizens in 1888. The original statue of the female and the urns were removed and replaced with re-cast pieces around 1989. The original deteriorated statuary was placed in the courtyard at the Prahran Town Hall.

View of Prahran Public Gardens, showing a female statue called ‘Winged Victory’, and two concrete urns. The statuary and a fountain were donated by Cr. George William Taylor, as a gift to the citizens in 1888. The original statue of the female and the urns were removed and replaced with re-cast pieces around 1989. The original deteriorated statuary was placed in the courtyard at the Prahran Town Hall.

In 1900 the Council enlisted the City Surveyor William Calder to design a bandstand intended for municipal concerts. The bandstand was positioned in the center of the oval and opened in 1901 with a concert by the Prahran Brass Band. The bandstand was lit with electric lights and a moving picture of firefighters from around the world15. The concerts were extremely popular and money collected was sometimes donated to local charities such as the Toorak Benevolent Society, which held benefits annually in the gardens for many years.

Source: Prahran City Council annual report, 1912/13, p.46

Source: Prahran City Council annual report, 1912/13, p.46

Open-air concerts, initially held monthly became a weekly event, each Thursday evening in the summer. At the pinnacle of their popularity between 1905 and 1910 as many as 4000 people attended. The Council charged admission and a considerable profit were made. In 1906 turnstiles were introduced at both entrances. There were also free concerts held in the Gardens on Sunday afternoons16. Photographs taken around this time attest to the high level of usage of bandstand.

In 1906 the mount was dubbed ‘Mt Folly’ and was fenced off17. An early photograph of circa1900 shows the mount to be terraced with a lawn area at the top and heavily vegetated with trees, shrubs, exotic grasses, very much as Sangster had intended. Ex-resident Don Moore describes the mount as the ‘piece de resistance’ of the Gardens. He and other children of the time called the mount ‘Mt Erica,’ a name coined from the hotel of the same name that was across the road18. A photograph from this time taken from the mount shows the fernery at the eastern base bordering the side path with a dense row of conifers to the eastern boundary. In front of the conifers is a Cordyline australis of which many can be seen today along with pampas grass, which was also grown on the mound19.

  1. Prahran Telegraph, 11 August 1888
  2.  Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. 15. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ Unpublished manuscript dated 1889, p12.
  6. Ibid

Also in 1906, Council purchased an additional 50 feet of frontage to Murray Street on the eastern boundary and changed the entrance. According to an article in the Prahran Telegraph:

“Instead of the hard and fast straight path from Murray Street into the center of the lawns, there is a beautiful artistic curvature in double footways with a fine expanse of lawn just in front of the gates, and groupings of flowerbeds interspersed. These gardens are amongst the few beauty spots possessed by the city, and every citizen will heartily commend the Council for their care of this asset in health giving.”20.

Shortly after this the fountain was moved to the center of the lawn adjacent to the Murray Street entrance as it had become “an eyesore and a nuisance” due to splashing water deteriorating the paths21. By this time the Pinus insignus along the western border and within the garden had been removed and a Lambetiana ornamental hedge was planted along the western border, with flowerbeds in front22. Two Prahran Telegraph articles from 1905 and 1906 suggest that the mount should be removed and refers to barbed wire being used on ‘Mt Folly’ to deter access 23.

  1. Whithead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
  2. Letter from Don Moore to Jenny Brown, 11 April 1989.
  3. Photograph at Prahran archive c. 1900.
  4. Prahran Telegraph, 2, June, 1906
  5. Prahran Telegraph, September 23 1905.
  6. Prahran Telegraph, July 8, 1905.
  7. Prahran Telegraph, June 30, 1906.

A change in garden philosophy was seen to be taking place by 1907 as a result of William Calder’s influence. Having recently toured the United States and Europe, Calder preferred a garden to be laid out in natural lines achieving the impression of a natural landscape within the city. Calder describes the Victoria Gardens as ‘artificial’ although he concedes that the rectangular format does lend itself to a formal design. Calder did prescribe a more natural treatment of the garden beds be implemented by planting more shrubs with a focus on color and contrast rather than an emphasis on flowerbeds in the cottage garden style. He further recommended the introduction of more common species in natural arrangements24.

The Prahran Annual Report for 1910/11 makes reference to the addition of a ‘biograph’ screen25. In a letter to the Age newspaper Don Moore described this early form of outdoor cinema as:

“…silent movies with music provided by some members of the band. The screen was hauled up on two poles in the sunken oval on the east side of the rotunda. When the spool had to be changed the projectionist, with the assistant would turn on a light and the audience would turn to observe this operation, then turn to view the next section, it was part of the entertainment”26.

In 1912/1913 a glasshouse was donated to the Victoria Gardens, it was 18×56 feet and 15 feet high. The glasshouse was intended as a feature of interest for visitors and to house exotic and rare plants. In 1913 the Mayoress gave a Christmas party for the employees of Prahran City Council. Because of the availability of other attractions in Prahran and St. Kilda, 1913 was the first season of concerts to show a loss and were no longer mentioned in the Annual Reports after1915/16, which suggests they were probably ceased.

  1. Prahran Telegraph, July 7 1905.
  2. Prahran Annual Report 1910/11
  3. Moore, D. letter to J.D Brown, editor of Home section from The Age, held by the Prahran archive.


Photo of a Christmas function given for Council employees and their families by Mayor and Mrs E.H. Willis at Victoria Gardens 1913

Photo of a Christmas function given for Council employees and their families by Mayor and Mrs E.H. Willis at Victoria Gardens 1913

Source: Prahran Library online historical database

By this time picture theatres had become available and in 1920/21 the outdoor cinema at the park was ended27. During World War I the Victoria Gardens were well maintained despite the reduced availability of funds from the Council and a labor shortage28. On November 17, 1918 a Thanksgiving service was held in the Gardens to celebrate the end of the war. Two bands played and ministers of each religious denomination in the city took part in a service attended by a crowd estimated to be 10,00029.
A thanksgiving service to mark the end of World War I.

A thanksgiving service to mark the end of World War I.

Source: Prahran Library online historical database – PCC annual report 1918-19, pp.5.

A new water service was required in 1924/25 to irrigate the extensive and well-conditioned lawns30. The picket fence along High Street was removed and John Paton, a local citizen, donated ornamental iron gates, which were hung on large piers topped with lanterns. The entrance was redesigned in the form of a crescent with two additional piers on either side. Between these piers was an iron fence with a basalt wall base. The result was considered to be favorable and it was proclaimed in a Prahran Telegraph article of 1927 that “everything in the Gardens is lovely”31. Later on in the same year the ornamental iron fence and basalt base was extended along the entire High Street boundary. This enhanced the Victorian nature of the park and helped to strengthen the enclosed, rectangular format of the Gardens32.

  1. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
  2. Prahran historical database
  3. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
  4. Ibid
  5. Prahran Telegraph May 13, 1927, p5
  6. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.

In 1928/29 ornamental iron gates hung from concrete and brick piers with ornamental lanterns were placed at the Murray Street entrance33. An ornamental iron fence similar to the one at the High Street end of the park was intended for the Murray Street boundary the following year. However, because of the depression the Prahran Council was avoiding such expenditures, so the existing picket fence remained34. After many years of criticism the mount had become a problem and its unkempt appearance was considered unsuitable to the Gardens. Therefore, in 1930 the mount was removed and replaced by lawns and flowerbeds 35,36. According to Don Moore one man “with horse and dray and pick and shovel” removed the mount, which took him over a year, in all weather, to complete the task37.

For a period no major changes took place at the gardens yet general maintenance and upkeep was carried out38. The 1932/33 Annual Report refers to the repair of fences along the eastern boundary to prevent residents accessing the park through their yards39.

Electrical lights on ornamental concrete lamp standards were introduced in 1935/36 allowing the Gardens to remain open at night40. At this time an ornamental pergola was constructed over a portion of the High Street entrance path. The pillars and the adjacent steps leading down to the oval were reconstructed of schist. In between the pillars, rock seats were constructed facing inwards. Timber beams formed the top of the pergola and beds of climbing roses were planted against the pillars41.

Another important addition at this time was the acquisition of an adjoining residential property at the Murray Street end. The house was used for a resident gardener and the land for a nursery to propagate street trees to be used by the Council42. By 1936/37 one thousand tree cuttings had been planted in the new nursery and a small glasshouse for propagation was erected. Assorted shrubbery was grown in the glasshouse along with 1,500 dahlias43.

  1. Prahran Annual Report 1928/29, p9 and p46.
  2. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
  3. Prahran Annual Report 1929/30.
  4. Prahran Annual Report 1930/31.
  5. Moore, D. letter to J.D. Brown, editor of the Home section from The Age, 11, April, 1989.
  6. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
  7. Prahran Annual Report 1932/33
  8. Prahran Annual Report 1935/36, p41 and p56.
  9. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
  10. Ibid
  11. Prahran Annual Report 1936/37, p51-52.

In the 1937/38 Annual Report there are two photographs of the Gardens44. In them a well-established hedge dating from around 1906 can be seen that runs along the western boundary. Also visible in these photographs are large flower and annual beds and well-kept lawns. Few trees are apparent and there is a view to the south of the Wesleyan Church across High Street. Two Phoenix caneriensis Palms are seen located along the High Street entrance path at either end of the pergola, which is surrounded by wide rose beds. Except for one mature Cupressus macrocarpa, the only other evident mature trees are Plane trees at the southern end of the Gardens.

The 1937/38 Annual Report also makes mention of the waning interest of the public in regards to the open-air recitals. It is suggested that this be because of a move away from public interest in brass band and military music45.

To the east side of the oval a stone retaining wall with inserted seating was constructed in 1940/41. As a result of enlistments of local men to fight in World War II, the gardening staff was depleted and standards were expected to drop in the coming year46. One reason for the labour shortage was because any available park staff was busy digging trenches in local parks in preparation of possible attack by the Japanese. Seed shortages were also mentioned as another problem encountered in 1941/4247. In 1942/43 two new shelters were built along the eastern retaining wall to cover the existing wall seating48.

After the war ended only essential work was carried out for several years, “Without its extensive flower beds overflowing with colorful blooms, Victoria Gardens must have appeared rather sad.”49. By 1945/46 Prahran’s gardens had deteriorated and changes were planned with “a view to a more modern treatment and the reduction of maintenance cost”. It was decided at this time that Victoria Gardens would be used “purely as a park” and the supply of flowers and propagation of plants would take place elsewhere. Also at this time the famous landscape designer Edna Wallingwas asked to prepare plans for changes to the Gardens50

  1. Prahran Annual Report 1937/38.
  2. Ibid
  3. Prahran Annual Report 1940/41
  4. Prahran Annual Report 1941/42
  5. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
  6. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989, p23.
  7. Prahran Annual Report 1945/46, p44.

Prahran’s plans for the reconstruction of the city’s gardens after World War II included a change in plant materials. Instead of the dominance of annuals and herbaceous perennials requiring intensive maintenance, mainly shrubs and trees were to be used. A budget of 1700 pounds was set aside for1946/47 and 4000 pounds for the following year.

In 1946, Prahran Council prepared a plan of existing conditions in the Victoria Gardens. This plan showed that the path alignment at the Murray Street entrance had not changed since 1906. A privet hedge partially replaced the cypress hedge that had been removed. Screened by a Tea Tree fence was the gardener’s residence, a bush hut, two glass houses, a potting shed and rubbish dump. Flower and shrub beds lined the boundaries and the path behind the statue of ‘Victory’ and either side of the pergola. The original fountain base remains as a flower planter and still today retains this function and location 51. The fountain base was filled in around 1930 when funds were not available to repair it; previously it had contained Water lilies 52. Also located on the plan is the oval containing the bandstand, rimmed with the original Plane Trees. Other trees on the plan that remain today include the Weeping Elm, Corymbia citrodora, the mature Gardenia and Stenocarpus53.

Edna Walling’s plan for Victoria Gardens was dated April 18, 1947. This plan was aimed at significantly changing the layout and nature of the Gardens. The most notable modification was the change to the direction of the entrance path from High Street. This path was made to curve to the west around the pergola and meet off centre with the path circumventing the oval. The pergola was walled in to the north and south but left open to the east and west. A large planter bed was created between the entrance path and the northern end of the pergola; this was planted with trees and shrubs. These changes meant that the strong symmetry around the north-south axis was compromised. At the Murray Street entrance the paths were altered. Contrary to the plan the eastern section was removed and the straight portion was curved54.

51. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
52. Moore, D. letter to J.D Brown, editor of Home section of The Age, held by the Prahran archive.
53. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
54. Ibid, p26.

In Edna Walling’s landscape design, she preferred the garden to be revealed in parts rather than in one sweeping vista. Her changes to the High Street entrance achieved this objective, as did the plans for the planting north of the oval. Walling’s plan shows many existing trees which were not shown on the Council’s plan. An odd element of the plan was its orientation, the north point is pointing to the south. Much of the vegetation may have died since this time, however it does appear that little of the planting specified in the Walling plan was carried out or alternative species were planted. Many of these trees planted in the 1940’s contributor to the structure, aesthetics and botanical interest of the Gardens. The style of curved planting beds along the boundaries, planted with large and small trees and shrubs were mostly followed from Walling’s plan55.

The Prahran branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League (R.S.L) was granted a plot in the Gardens for a ‘Field of Remembrance’ in 1953. This memorial consists of a stone marker and flagpole with a strip of lawn and rosemary hedge surrounded by a low fence. It is located along the southwest border of the Gardens. Each year on Anzac day services are held by the Prahran R.S.L. A plan for this memorial shows that the bandstand was still located in the oval at this time. In Georgina Whitehead’s master plan for Victoria Gardens, which was completed in 1989, references are made to changes that occurred previously. The path on the north eastern side of the oval was narrowed and straightened and constructed in concrete. The other paths were made of bitumen. Today the path around the oval has been reinstated in gravel56.

Shortly after 1960, the gardener’s residence and adjoining buildings were removed as was the bandstand and the Murray Street gates. In 1985 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Victoria an avenue of Plane trees was planted along the Murray Street entry path. A plaque lies beside the path to commemorate the occasion. By this time the Gardens had again fallen into disrepair. The statue of ‘Victory’ had been vandalised and its wings removed for safety by the Council. The vases had been smashed by vandals and eventually removed all together. Police now patrolled regularly at night 55. The nursery had become the municipal nursery and Council trucks regularly used the paths for access. In July of 1987 the Prahran Council put up signs notifying users that dogs must be walked on a lead. This infuriated elements of the community, it was felt that much greater problems existed and should be addressed in the Gardens such as vandalism, homosexuality, drug dealing and plant stealing57. This situation caused several local residents to meet and form the “The Friends of the Victorian Gardens” (F.O.V.G). At the next meeting a Council representative was invited and to this day Council representation is generally included at the meetings.

55. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
56. Ibid
57. Southern Cross, July 22, 1987.

Community action at this time coincided with renewed interest by the Prahran Council in the Gardens and a period of change and rejuvenation followed. A Herald newspaper article refers to the “preserved Victorian splendor” of the Gardens and also reports on the Council’s intention to introduce dog scoops to the Victoria Gardens, one of the first in Melbourne, which is now a common utility in urban parks 58.

Other events were planned by the Council to raise community awareness of Victoria Gardens. One event sponsored by the Council was ‘artist in residence’ for two weeks in September 198759. Another event staged by the Council was a ‘Let’s Go Floral’ gardening festival in the same month and attracted a large crowd. This festival became an annual event in the Gardens for a number of years60.

F.O.V.G still acts as an advisory group who assists Council in the planning and development of Victorian Gardens. The F.O.V.G included amongst its members three landscape architects and an artist. The Council saw this combination of experts and community members acting in conjunction as a unique model for future organisations61.

When the Hellenic community donated a modern sculpture to the gardens in 1988, Council asked F.O.V.G. for their opinion. It was agreed that the sculpture would be inappropriate and the statue was not used62.

58. The Herald, January 24, 1989, p9.
59. Fleming.M. ‘The Victoria Gardens of Prahran: Their history and their friends’ Unpublished report dated 1991.
60. Southern Cross, September 22, 1987
61. Fleming.M. ‘The Victoria Gardens of Prahran: Their history and their friends’ Unpublished report dated 1991.
62. Ibid 

In 1989, the combined fundraising efforts of the F.O.V.G and the Mayoress’s Fund resulted in the placement of a ‘Victorian style’ fountain fashioned on the original of 1888. It was created by a local antique dealer and donated to the Gardens. This fountain was placed in the original position of the first fountain 64. At the opening ceremony the Mayoress Suzy Chandler and councilors arrived in horse drawn coaches, a reenactment of the original ceremony 65. In her speech, the Mayoress stated that: “People are concerned about losing their heritage and this fountain returns the focus to this garden which was once the centre of community life” 66.

Mayoress Velos raised funds to commission replicas of the original vases and pedestals to be cast in bronze. Mrs. Velos raised twenty five thousand dollars to have the ‘Victory’ statue cast in bronze in 1990. In an article in the Southern Cross newspaper, Mrs Velos describes the statue as a replica of a Greek statue dating from 421 BC. She states: “The original has a remarkable story and connections with European history and culture”67.

In September of 1989 a “Conservation Study and Master Plan” prepared by Georgina Whitehead was completed and placed on display at the Prahran Town Hall. Council was active in seeking resident’s opinions regarding the proposed changes to the Gardens. The Prahran Ratepayers Association was vocal in protesting the proposed removal of the Plane trees around the oval that have been enjoyed by several generations of Prahran residents 68.

Prahran Council has followed many of the recommendations made in Whitehead’s plan. The informal style of planting adopted in the 1940’s for the trees and shrubs has been largely maintained. The important existing trees have been maintained and the planting along the borders is comprised of a large variety of species. Massing of foliage and flowers is used for ornamental effect.


Stage set painted by Peter Seymour and commissioned by Prahran Council in 1993. It is located in the theatre at Stonnington Town Hall.

Stage set painted by Peter Seymour and commissioned by Prahran Council in 1993. It is located in the theatre at Stonnington Town Hall.

64. Fleming.M. ‘The Victoria Gardens of Prahran: Their history and their friends’ Unpublished report dated 1991.
65. Prahran Progress, August 1989,
66. The Herald, January 24, 1989 p9.
67. Southern Cross, 21 February 1990.
68. Southern Cross, 20 September 1989.

A parterre garden is shown in Whitehead’s plan. This was constructed in the section of the Gardens where the nursery buildings were previously removed. A curvilinear planting bed was created along the western boarder and continues along the southern boundary to the Murray Street gate 69. The parterre was designed using a William Sangster plan for a rose garden70.

The Gardens have been used for many community events including ‘Carols at Christmas,’ fundraising day for St. Dimitrios as well as other events put on by the Greek Orthodox Church. Other events include an Anglican Palm Sunday service and picnic, weddings, the Ward Christmas party and the Mayoress’s Orienteering Day 71. An annual event which is still flourishing today is “Opera in the Park’ held annually at the end of summer 72. In addition to various events the Gardens are used for strolling, dog walking, passive and active recreation and relaxation.

According to Mark Phillips at the Parks and Gardens Department at Stonnington Council recent plans to remove the Plane trees around the oval and to remove the pergola were met with strong community opposition. At this point in time the only plans for the Gardens are to bitumen all the paths, remove the small garbage depot located near the wall of the maintenance area and replace the benches along side of the oval73. It is the Council’s policy to consult with F.O.V.G and seek community opinion before adopting any plans for Victorian Gardens are implemented 74

69. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
70. Hawker, J, personal communication, 2001.
71. Whitehead, G, ‘Victoria Gardens, conservation study and Master Plan’ unpublished manuscript dated 1989.
72. Wilde, S. ‘The History of Prahran’ 1990-1994.
73. Phillips, M, Stonnington Council, personal communication, 2001.
74.Seymour,P, Founding secretary of F.O.V.G, conversation.

Description of Place

Victoria Gardens contains various dominating elements of which the following are considered most significant: the sunken oval lawn ringed with Platanus and an asphalt path with brick gutters, the wrought iron gate and front fence are notable. Symmetrically placed on the central axis are urns and a statue of a winged victory set on pedestals.  Other major elements include a post WW2 stone and timber pergola used as a rose arbour, similar shelters, stone walls and a new parterre.  The gardens were designed by leading landscape architect William Sangster and were partially redesigned in the late 1940s by Edna Walling. This change in garden management is reflected in the planting dating from the late 1940s.  Most of the trees and shrubs are now in Victoria Gardens were planted after the Second World War. The most notable exceptions to this are the Plane Trees around the oval.

The gardens are approached via two entrances. The main entrance from the southern boundary on High Street is flanked by large gates and enhanced by the church row of intact terrace houses (now used commercially) to the east of the entrance. Inside this entrance is the stone and timber pergola containing seating. The northern entrance opens onto the quiet residential Murray Street and enjoys a backdrop of significant residences that enhance the view from the garden.

The sunken lawn surrounded by Plane Trees continues to be the focus of the park due to its location and simply the fact that it is the largest single element in the garden. It is constantly used for various activities eg: casual football and opera and the surrounding seats are probably the most highly used in the park.

The gardens are bounded by many residences of the period and Lumley playground contains play equipment for children. An RSL memorial feature is contained within the gardens and is planted with rosemary for remembrance.

The Prahran Conservation Study by Nigel Lewis and Associates states “this area forms to most intact public garden in Prahran.”


Comparable parks to Victoria Gardens include Grattan Gardens, Toorak Park, Malvern Gardens, Central Park Malvern, Como Gardens, Prince’s Gardens, Fawkner Park, Fitzroy Gardens, Carlton Gardens, St. Kilda Botanical Gardens, Darling Gardens and St Vincents Gardens.

Grattan Gardens was opened at the same ceremony as the Victoria Gardens. Like the Victoria Garden, The Grattan Gardens were originally of formal Victorian design and hosted community social and cultural events. The design included a rotunda, formal paths, parterre that was notable for its illustrative plantings of decorative patterns, themes and a bowling green. Today parts of the Gardens have been taken over for buildings, however, the original gates and the rotunda still remain and other than a few mature Plane trees, possibility dating from the same time as the Victoria Gardens, the Victorian design features are no longer apparent. This Garden is smaller than Victoria Gardens and compartmentalized.

Toorak Park was also opened at the same time as Grattan and Victoria Gardens and therefore shares a similar history. This park has always been used for recreation as a sporting field (and home of the Prahran cricket, football and soccer clubs at various times). Since early in its history the park has been fenced off and a sports stadium was built. In addition to sporting events the park was sometimes leased for special events. Due to the Park’s emphasis on hosting sporting and other events Toorak Park is very different in function and character from Victoria Gardens.

Prince’s Gardens were established in 1909-1910. Its main function was as a playground for the large number of under-privileged children living in the city. A wading pool was opened in 1924 and on the same date ornamental gates and a fence taken from Illawarra Mansion were erected and are still intact. Some old trees also remain in the Gardens. There is no obvious path layout or garden design that can be identified with any one period. Over the years the size and range of functions of the gardens has increased and the old blue stone church to the east of the entrance is now part of a Leisure and Arts Centre. Currently the Prahran public swimming is located where the wading pool once was. There are also skateboard ramps, tennis courts and a sunken oval that is fashioned after the oval at Victoria Gardens. Prince’s Gardens are smaller in garden area than Victoria Gardens and very different in character. They are dominated by the swimming pool and other recreational amenities.

Malvern Gardens were opened in 1890 and are located east of Victoria Gardens on High Street. This Garden has a natural spring that was used by the local Wurrundjeri people and the early settlers for water giving it archeological significance. Today there is a grotto, fountain and pond at the site of the old spring. Thomas Pockett, a well-known gardener who had been associated with the Gardens for 30 years, prepared the original plan and Robinette designed the grotto. Pockett was a world famous breeder and propagator of Chrysanthemums, which were featured in the Gardens. The Malvern Gardens have serpentine gravel paths with brick gutters bordered by English Oaks on both sides and a framework of mature trees that were part of the original planting. The lawns and plantings were designed to provide long views through the Gardens, unlike Victoria Gardens that is more inward focused in design. A similarity of this garden and Victoria Gardens is that both were used as a neighborhood thoroughfare and as a recreational space. Malvern Gardens is somewhat larger than Victoria Gardens, however less formal in design, but they are similar in the fact that they both have retained much of their original design integrity.

Central Park in Malvern is dominated by a large open green used for recreation. Another section of the park is composed of curved gravel paths and is informal in design. The park is surrounded on all sides by roads. A sunken circular area with a large fountain is located in the ornamental garden section of the park. In addition to the fountain there is a glasshouse and children’s playground. Like the Victoria Gardens there is a Friends of Central Park group. This park is much larger than the Victoria Gardens but a significant portion of the park is taken up with open sporting fields. Due to the introduction of many modern elements the Victorian character of this park is somewhat lost in comparison with Victoria Gardens and its character is much less formal.

Fawkner Park was established in 1862 on a 41-hectare site. The original park design of 1875 included avenues of trees and open spaces. The original design and much of the mature avenue planting is still apparent today. In the 1890s the open spaces in the Park were developed into large sporting fields, for the encouragement of healthy recreation. A curious fact about this park is that police presence was required on weekends to prevent illegal gambling. During the Second World War, Fawkner Park was used as a military camp. When compared to Victoria Gardens, Fawkner Park is of a very different size and character it similarly provided an alternative recreational area for the same community.

St. Kilda Botanical Gardens has a formal geometric design, which was prepared by Tilman Gloystein around 1860. The Gardens have retained many of the elements from its original design such as the north-south axial avenues with intact alternating palms, and the unaltered central axis with its vistas, central circular feature and surrounding crescent shaped planting beds. There is also significant planting of botanical significance, some of which dates to the Gardens early association with Ferdinand von Mueller. Other important features date from later periods and as with Victoria Gardens, many changes took place in the St. Kilda Gardens during the 1940,s creating a layering effect that is apparent in the Garden’s present character. With improvement in public transport people from Prahran visited these botanical gardens that were one of the only two Victorian suburban botanical gardens in the state.

Fitzroy Gardens were proclaimed in 1848 and up until the 1860’s the 26-hectare site was used as a rubbish tip. Edward LaTrobe Batemen was commissioned to design the Gardens and developed an ordered, rectangular and symmetrical plan. Curator James Sinclair later modified the Gardens to create a more naturalistic character, which better suited the undulating topography of the site. The original formal design is still very evident in the path layout. Fitzroy Gardens was one of the first of a group of public reserves created in Melbourne to provide recreation and a place of respite for the people living in unhealthy and crowded inner city surroundings. The Gardens still retain mature avenue trees, remnant specimen trees and early boarder plantings. The Fitzroy Gardens illustrate many different phases of development and in particular during the 1920’s to 1940’s a new garden aesthetic developed that is still visible in the Gardens today. Like the Victoria Gardens, however much smaller, they both demonstrate a continuity of use for passive recreation, relaxation and entertainment.

Carlton Gardens were initially designed by Joseph Reed who was the architect of the Exhibition building and the Gardens were created as a setting for the building. Edward La Trobe Bateman first laid out the Gardens in 1857. In 1879 William Sangster was appointed to oversee the development of the Gardens. The Gardens are very formal and symmetrical in design. The central feature is a grand avenue of mature Plane trees, which create an axial view of the Exhibition building as the terminus. The Gardens contain an outstanding collection of mature tree specimens. The Carlton gardens have a long history of use by the community and visitors as a place for passive recreation, entertainment and social interaction.

Como House Gardens were designed by William Sangster between 1857 and 1866. The Gardens are located on a hilltop site around Como mansion. The Gardens, like the house, are representative of a 19th century private elite estate. One of the key design features was taking advantage of the topography to create vistas of the surrounding countryside. Very little modification of the garden layout has occurred since the 19th century. The Gardens of Como House have historical significance due to their association with Willaim Sangster who also designed Victoria Gardens.

Darling Gardens in Clifton Hill were reserved for recreational use in 1867, for a similar reason as Victoria Gardens, namely unsanitary conditions and overcrowding in the city. The area is rectangular like Victoria Gardens, however it is far larger – fifteen acres. The Darling Gardens originally had many Victorian design elements including a rockery, grotto, symmetrical design, large Elm and Oak encircled lawn, picket fence and vast flowerbeds. Like Victoria Gardens, a bandstand was erected in 1906 that still exists. However, that is where the similarity ends. Whilst Victoria Gardens has retained it’s strong Victorian character, Darling Gardens have been significantly altered. The Gardens are open parkland with many mature Oaks and Elms and a central bandstand. The Darling Gardens presently are more reminiscent of the ‘Landscape Park’ style made popular by Capability Brown rather than other Victorian gardens.

St Vincents Gardens were established in 1857 and were laid out to be reminiscent of private gardens in West London. The Gardens are rectangular and form the centre of a residential square surrounded by mostly Victorian terrace houses. The Gardens are laid out in a formal manner with many exotic trees, a rose garden and flowerbeds. Dense planting on the perimeter gives them a similar enclosed feel that is comparative to Victoria Gardens. Over the years amenities such as tennis courts, a bowling green and play area have been added. Whilst St. Vincents Gardens share some Victorian aesthetic characteristics with Victoria Gardens, they do not appear to have as strong a social bond with the community as Victoria Gardens has had over the years.

Victoria Garden

Draft statement of cultural heritage significance

What is significant?

The area known as Victoria Gardens was set aside as a public reserve in 1884. Governor Loch opened the Gardens in 1885 and designed by William Sangster. Today the Victoria Gardens retain a substantial portion of their formal and symmetrical Victorian layout. Remaining are the original sunken oval and perimeter of intact mature Plane trees and encircling path, though the path was later narrowed and resurfaced. Another significant feature is the original fountain base that is now a raised planter bed that had been repositioned to the vicinity of the Murray Street entrance around 1906 and is still in this location. Though reconstructed, the High Street entrance with piers, lamps, iron gates and fence with basalt base dating from 1927, and the Murray Street entrance piers, lamps and iron gates, still remain in their original locations. Like other nineteenth century gardens, Victoria Gardens contain landscape elements from different periods. This layering effect represents the changes in garden design philosophy over time. This is particularly true of the plantings surviving from the 1940s and illustrates some of the influence of the landscape designer Edna Walling. During a time of active community participation and garden renewal in the late 1980’s, a replica of the original fountain was located in its initial location. Shortly after this the severely vandalized Victorian statuary were replaced. Since its establishment Victoria Gardens has had a continuity of use as a place of important and diverse social and cultural events.

How is it significant?

Victoria Gardens are of historical, aesthetic, scientific (horticultural) and social significance to the state of Victoria.

Why is it significant?

Victoria Gardens are of historical significance as one of the first three parcels of land purchased by the city of Prahran in 1884 to be used as public recreation and pleasure grounds. This small urban park was created as a result of the social awareness that flourished in the nineteenth century of the value of green open spaces in crowded unhealthy urban environments. Victoria Gardens are significant as a unique illustration of a Victorian garden design by William Sangster, a prominent Melbourne garden designer and nurseryman. Sangster is associated with other significant gardens, namely Carlton Gardens and the gardens at Como House. Victoria Gardens have remained substantially intact while many other municipal gardens have been greatly changed by loss of land area, conversion of land to other uses and the later introduction of incompatible built elements and amenities.

The Victoria Gardens are aesthetically significant for their formal Victorian character as reflected in the symmetrical layout of entranceways, sunken grassed oval, fountain and statuary that are juxtaposed with curvilinear planting beds along the perimeter. The enclosed nature of the Victoria Gardens that results from its dense boarder planting and iron fence and basalt wall base, heighten the sense of the Gardens as a sanctuary. Of particular aesthetic significance is the sunken oval itself with its magnificent perimeter of mature Plane trees, which has been depicted by artists, and reproduced recently in another Prahran park. Visible changes in the Garden’s design over time have also resulted in it possessing a distinctive character.

The Victoria Gardens have scientific (horticultural) significance for its 19th century Plane trees and variety of remnant trees and shrubs.

Victoria Gardens has social significance because of its long and continuous association with the citizens of Prahran and the daily lives of this community. This has been reflected by the continuity of cultural and social events that have been held in the Gardens since their establishment. The continued use for both passive and active recreation and social interaction by the community further contribute to their social significance. Renewal of the Gardens by the community and Council after a period of neglect is a testimony to civic pride. The replacement of the donated fountain and statuary were a collaborative effort between the community and council. These elements are significant because the community imbues them with the same meanings as the originals and because they symbolise a vital connection with the past. These Gardens are significant because they represent a valuable link with the history of the park, the local community and European history.