New Water Play Area and Rejuvenated Pond Opens at Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park

the rocket at Blackheath memorial park

The new water play feature, with the iconic red rocket in the background. (Hamish Dunlop)

Story by Hamish Dunlop

Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park has had a fabulous upgrade with a new water play feature, landscaping and improvements to the duck & turtle pond. Take a tour here.


Key Points:

  • The upgraded pond and play areas at Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park have been opened.
  • The new water play feature is the highlight for children and carers alike.
  • The turtles and ducks have returned to the pond!

It’s the grand opening of the upgraded playground and duck pond at Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park. The pipe-based play equipment glistens with newly applied paint, but it’s the waterplay feature that enthrals everyone. Through bark and fern plantings, a sandstone water race winds its way down the slope. The duck pond has been reinvigorated too. There is an island for ducks and turtles and new native plantings lead down to the water’s edge.

Water play that honours place

The park was originally a swamp. Over the years, springs have surfaced and the area has been prone to flooding. During La Nina, this was especially so. One of the triumphs of the upgrade is the celebration of this water. The Blackheath Streetscape Group championed the idea of using the water to create a water play feature.

Everyone agrees the result is spectacular. The water is collected using buried infiltration pipes and feeds into the snaking water race that children can play in. There are gates that can be opened and closed to allow water to flow or build up. When it’s finally released, water can gush down the shallow sandstone channel to the delight of all. There are also water sprayers that can be activated by pushing buttons.

Young Blackheathen Fergus Jackson was so inspired by the new park upgrades he created this video:

Park Upgrade by Fergus Jackson

Wentworth Falls local Eliza Crespis says, “We’ve always loved the park, but we love it even more now.” She thinks the new water play feature is fantastic and appreciates the new facilities. “Using the natural water is such a lovely idea and it’s great to have the new bathrooms close by.”

Eliza has also observed how the water play feature supports children collaborating and negotiating. “The kids are endlessly entertained, but they’re also working together to block and open the water gates at the different stages.” Eliza’s partner says ‘the rocket park’ has taken on new meaning. “Families identify the park with the rocket,” he says, “but for us, it’s now the rocket ship water park.”

The red rocket and pipe-based play

the famous rocket at blackheath memorial park

Looking up the slope at the water play feature with new toilet block and iconic red rocket. (Hamish Dunlop)

One of the key features of the playground is the iconic red rocket. It’s one of the pipe-based play features in the park. The original had to be removed for safety reasons, but a community campaign supported by Blackheath Rotary led to the return of a new one in 2016.

The other pipe-based equipment was built by Blackheath engineer Dick West.

“Each year after the rocket’s arrival, Dick made a new piece of play equipment,” says Jenny Kelly, a member of the Friends of the Blackheath Pool and Soldiers Memorial Park. “These were paraded at the Rhododendron Festival before being installed in the playground.”

dick west plane in blackheath memorial park

Dick West’s pipe-based play equipment. (Hamish Dunlop)

Jenny says the upgrades to the play area and the duck pond “are absolutely lovely”. It’s a result everyone is happy with.

Local State Member, elected Council and staff, and community members, with rocket cake in front of the upgraded pond (from left): Kirrilly Twomey, Paul Vale, Cr Sarah Redshaw, Jenny Kelly, Blue Mountains member Trish Doyle, Mayor Cr. Mark Greenhill, Lucas Warren (Trainee), Elizabeth Dudley-Bestow, Jamie Bell, Eva Johnstone, Joseph Southers, Mina Howard, David Pinches, Patrick McGuinness, Lee McSorley, Ryan Smith, Daniel Long, Brian Jones. (Hamish Dunlop)

A Triumph of Government and Community Collaboration

Mayor Cr. Mark Greenhill, Cr Sarah Redshaw and member for the Blue Mountains Trish Doyle gathered with community members and Council staff in early December to open the upgrades to Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park.

The successful reimagining of the play area and pond could not have been achieved without the extraordinary collaboration between Blue Mountains City Council and the Blackheath community.

The newly-landscaped pond at Blackheath park

The newly-landscaped pond is home to ducks and turtles. (Hamish Dunlop)

Early planning

In 2018, Elizabeth Dudley-Bestow, Principal Landscape Architect at the Council, started working on a Plan of Management for the park. She engaged with the community by contacting organisations such as the Blackheath Alliance and the Friends of the Blackheath Pool and Soldiers Memorial Park. There were meetings in the Blackheath Hall and two rounds of consultation before the Plan of Management was adopted by Council.

“It was critical that the community had a sense of ownership of the project,” Elizabeth says. “The consultation process enabled people to articulate what is special about the park. That included its social value and the physical heritage such as the pipe-based play equipment and the 100-year-old rhododendrons. We heard wonderful stories about children playing on the red rocket and people quietly resting in the shade of a tree while their children paddled in the pond.”

Community passion for pool and park

blackheath pool

Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park Pool – the perfect place to cool off this summer. (Hamish Dunlop)

Jenny tells me one of the reasons the community is so passionate about the pool and park is because of the long community involvement over decades. “The pool was originally a water source where bullock trains crossing the Blue Mountains could stop to refresh. After that it was dammed and provided water for the steam trains. People swam in the dam, but at some stage the Blackheath Council decided it should become a swimming pool.”

“Locals would shut up their shops on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and donate their time,” Jenny continues. “The dam was drained and a steam roller was used to smooth the bottom. Because it was made by volunteers, the entry was free. In 1932, the state government paid for the change rooms that remain today. It didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor. Every kid could go and swim and that’s where summers were spent.”

The Master Plan and grant funding

In 2016, a master plan process commenced to develop a detailed park plan. The community was again invited to get involved. Individuals and groups including the Friends of the Blackheath Pool and Soldiers Memorial Park, the Blackheath Streetscape Group, Pope’s Glen Bushcare Group and Blue Mountains Rhododendron Society were active contributors. Notable community participants included Jenny and Wayne Kelly, Adele Colman, Eva Johnstone, Paul Vale and Alan Lane among others.

Mina Howard , Jenny Kelly and Eva Johnstone

Mina Howard (previous Governor of the Rotary District that encompasses the Blue Mountains), Jenny Kelly and Eva Johnstone. (Hamish Dunlop)

The park and pool were funded by two major grants secured by Blue Mountains City Council. Initially a City Deal grant was acquired and then a two-million-dollar Legacy Project grant. Jenny says it was marvellous the Council was able to secure the grants. “Without it, the project wouldn’t have come to fruition. It was a great credit to Council staff including Daniel Long (Manager Recreation, Aquatic & Cemeteries), Elizabeth Dudley-Bestow (Principal Landscape Architect) and Kirrilly Twomey (Director Cultural & Community Services).”

After securing the Legacy Grant funding, Elizabeth set up two sounding board groups. There were eight members from the community, Elizabeth and a different specialist designer on the park and pond groups. David Knight from Arcadis consulted on the pond and celebrated Australian park designer Fiona Robbe on the park/playground. David also assisted with the park design because of its boggy nature.

The ANZAC gates that recognise history

The ANZAC gates with the rocket in the background. (Hamish Dunlop)

During the development of the park and pond upgrade, the Blackheath Streetscape Group suggested it would be great to have gates that formally recognise the history of the park. Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park was established after WWI. The community-driven gates project secured a Veteran Affairs grant and members of the local community also contributed. Jenny’s son Owen Kelly and his business partner Sam Trembath designed the gates and the Council facilitated their installation and undertook the landscaping.

The pond and planting days

As part of the project, Elizabeth suggested two planting days. Jenny says community-led park care has been taking place since 2013. “These days are always done collaboratively. The Friends of the Blackheath Pool and Soldiers Memorial Park rally people to volunteer and the Council provides gardeners and crews too. Jenny says that Elizabeth funded a Rotary sausage sizzle to feed volunteers at the most recent day. “The planting days helps create community and a sense of ownership and belonging.”

planting at the pond at blackheath memorial park

The pond planting day (Photo: Jen Hardwick)

Popes Glen is adjacent to the park and the Popes Glen Bushcare Group was keen that nothing got planted that would end up causing trouble downstream. Bush carers Paul Vale and Alan Lane were part of the pond sounding board. The solution was planting natives that are endemic to the area. The turtles were looked after too. An expert removed them while the pond was drained before the upgrade. They are now back and have an island where people can see them out of the water.

Finale

Elizabeth says one of the joys of landscape architecture is that it’s about pulling threads together. “There is a lot to know about a park. Not just its soils and the waters, but its cultural history and social value. One of the reasons community consultation works so well is because it allows these threads to be articulated.”

Jenny’s thoughts about the process are similar. “It’s been a great collaboration with a marvellous outcome. Some really good relationships have been established. It’s taken time for trust to develop, but working together has meant we all have a wonderful park to enjoy.”


This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.


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About Hamish Dunlop

Hamish Dunlop is a writer, visual artist and environmentalist. During his career he has worked in communications, as an academic at UNSW and ACU and more recently in the conservation space. He is currently completing a Diploma in Conservation and Ecosystems Management. He lives on the bush in Medlow Bath and is a passionate bush walker, gardener and cold-water enthusiast.

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