Royal Park was an important Aboriginal camping ground and fell within the territory of the Wurundjeri people, with whom John Batman made his infamous land deal in 1835. Described by Batman as being, ‘thinly timbered with gum and wattle and she-oak’, development and grazing on the site erased most of the original vegetation.
Royal Park is a remnant of a much larger reserve of 625 hectares (2,500 acres) set aside for recreation purposes by Governor Latrobe in 1854. On his last day in Melbourne he permanently reserved the area now known as Royal Park.
The first agricultural farm of about 35 hectares was established here in 1858. In 1860 Burke and Wills set out from Royal Park to cross the continent from south to north. After they perished on the return journey they were hailed as heroes and large crowds gathered in the city for their public funeral. A cairn near Macarthur Road now marks the departure point of their ill-fated expedition.
In 1868 and again in 1878 the size of Royal Park was reduced for housing allotments. In the 1880s more land was lost to make way for trams, trains and roads.
Thousands of Australian troops were stationed here for training in 1927 in readiness for the official opening in Melbourne of Australia’s first Parliament.
In 1933 Melbourne City Council and the Victorian Government signed an agreement where in return for maintaining the sites of the western and eastern markets, Melbourne City Council was to improve and maintain several city areas, including Royal Park. The Council was to spend $50 000 over five years improving the park and $10 000 annually maintaining it.
The Park was used for the stationing of troops in both the First and Second World Wars. Camp Pell remained after the war and the army buildings were used as temporary housing until 1960. The Urban Camp now uses the one remaining structure to provide accommodation for rural school children and other groups. In the intervening years another 2.5 hectares were transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital.
The Victorian Netball Association opened a stadium here in 1969, which was replaced in 2000 by the $27 million State Netball and Hockey Centre with improved facilities for players and spectators.
In the 1970s the City of Melbourne took over the Royal Park Golf Club for public use. An attractive Australian native garden was opened, barbecues and picnic tables added, a site was chosen for kite enthusiasts, and horses were available for hire. In the same decade Grace Fraser designed a garden of Australian plants near the Gatehouse Street entrance. Its trees, shrubs and pond make a beautiful spot for a picnic.
Republished without permission from http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/ABOUTMELBOURNE/HISTORY/Pages/Parkshisto… - for purposes of study