Memorial garden could be named a public highway, concerning its founder

Memorial garden could be named a public highway, concerning its founder
Brendan Rees

A small Carlton community garden that has served for 35 years as a memorial to the massacres of the Wurundjeri people could be declared a “public highway”, potentially putting its future in jeopardy.

The garden covers a small triangular area within Victoria Place but because it has not had a formal land title, the City of Melbourne is proposing to address the “sliver of land” by naming it a road.

According to a council document, should the laneway be declared a public highway, it would come under the council’s care and management and required to be included on the council’s public roads register under the Road Management Act 2004.

But the garden’s founder and current caretaker Donald Smith said the garden, covering a mere nine square metres, should be excluded from being a declared a road.

He said while he did not feel the garden was immediately threatened by the potential change, it could be in years to come if the garden had no protection.


“The garden is not a road. It is a garden. It has been that way for 35 years. To declare otherwise looks duplicitous,” he said in his submission to council.


Mr Smith said he built the garden along with resident Marion Cincotta, and it features a native planting with a variety of indigenous trees and grasses.

“Back in the ‘80s, it was through the work of the historian Henry Reynolds, that we had become aware that there were many massacres of Indigenous people throughout the colonies of Australia,” he said.

“We wanted to commemorate the memory of so many of the original people who had died in the first decades of Melbourne’s takeover and foreign settlement … so we built a massacre memorial garden.”

The laneway garden has not functioned as a road for 35 years since the memorial was established, which Mr Smith has maintained during this time.

At the time of publishing, councillors were to consider updating the legal status of Victoria Place at their March 26 meeting.

“This would ensure it is protected under the Road Management Act and give council responsibility for the road and its maintenance – including the existing garden bed,” the council said in a statement.

The council report noted as most of Victoria Place was already owned by the council, the declaration “will not alter the council’s powers over the area”.

It also said the issue of parking controls and enforcement would not be affected by the declaration, and that the garden bed’s purpose and history “is important” and that the council would be aware of its maintenance responsibilities.

Mr Smith said he was committed to the garden and was keen on a positive working relationship with the council to ensure the garden’s future. He said he regularly kept the area clean and recently remonstrated with tradies from renovation jobs who had washed out cement onto the garden bed. •


Caption: Donald Smith wants to protect a community garden in Victoria Place. Photo: Hanna Komissarova.

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