Discovering Bowen Park was one of those “wow” moments that prove once again that Brisbane is full of surprises.
There I was, wandering aimlessly on a warm and sunny day, when all of a sudden I found myself in a glorious park right opposite the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
How could I have it missed it the thousands of times I have driven down Bowen Bridge Road?
The only explanation is that attention is usually diverted by the hospital rearing up on one side and the city skyline looming up ahead.
The Ekka ferris wheels also poke up above the stone wall further along, while the four pillars at the iron gate announcing Bowen Park have slipped into the background.
In any event, it’s there (as I expect thousands of hospital-goers already know) and it’s peaceful, pretty and interesting with walking and cycling paths, a bandstand, seating and a delightful old toilet block.
A little research has revealed that although it seems small, it actually has an area of 1.7ha or just over 4 acres and was heritage-listed in 1999.
It is also only a shadow of its former splendour.
In the mid 19th century it was 40 acres and was the pride of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society which had acquired the land in two parcels, in 1863 and 1866 when it was well out of town and a brickworks site:
“The Bowen Park of 1862 consisted of a series of clay holes and rough bush with a wretched bush track leading from the city across the Fortitude Valley”.
The QAS turned it into a “picturesque and exuberant tropical garden” and named it after the Queensland Governor.
It was the site of the first Ekka in 1876 and then its area was gradually whittled away by extension of the Ekka grounds, the railway line to Sandgate and widening Bowen Bridge Rd.
The QAS moved on to larger fields and in June, 1914, Brisbane Municipal Council took over the gardens and reopened them as a public park, one of the first in the city.
Its Parks Superintendent Henry Moore oversaw construction of the bandstand, entrance gates and toilet block as well as landscaping in 1914-15.
The next big changes were in 1950-59 when Brisbane City Council Parks Superintendent Harry Oakman organised additional paths, added drinking fountains and redesigned the garden beds for tram travellers and hospital patients to admire.
Alas, many of the flower beds have now gone but the trees are well-established and paths still wind through tropical foliage.
It remains a peaceful little retreat on the corner of O’Connell Terrace and Bowen Bridge Road in Bowen Hills.