Wistaria Garden - History

Being laid out 1906-07, the Wistaria Gardens are an Edwardian/Federation style landscape with romantic elements such as once hidden spaces and winding paths, enhanced by the modification of the small watercourse of Domain Creek into a serpentine shape running through the gardens to the Parramatta River. (Photograph William Cotter Williamson Terry Smith Collection)

This watercourse also has two small dams thrown across it to create ponds. Undoubtedly the original layout of the gardens was influenced by Japanese landscaping, especially evidenced by the inclusion of Torii (traditional Japanese) gates within the gardens.

At the time of the construction of the gardens, all things Japanese had become fashionable, in part due the defeat of the Russian Navy in the “Battle of Tsushima” by Japan in May 1905. This was enhanced by the visit to Australia of a Commander of the Imperial Japanese Fleet Admiral Shimamura, who came to a luncheon to meet the leading citizens of Parramatta on May 23rd 1906. It is entirely probable that Dr. Williamson was invited and attended this event at nearby "Gowanbrae" (now the Kings School) in North Parramatta.  

The labour for the construction of the gardens as well as the landscaping of the entire hospital grounds was undertaken by patients. Dr. Williamson was quoted as saying, “All this has been made possible by the patients themselves.” He justified the use of patient labour as he believed in;  

…the Gospel of work…No man here need work if he does not want to, but, as a matter of fact, he stands a much better chance of recovery if he will accept occupation, and we do all we can to make it worth his while. (Photograph of famous black swans Glengarriff  in background  H. Phillips Historic Parramatta)

By May 1902, Dr. Williamson had laid out an efficient irrigation system that allowed for the watering of the gardens throughout the grounds as well as the multitude of vegetable plots and fruit trees planted on the river banks and the acres of crops planted on the western side of the river. Dr. Williamson wanted the hospital to be as self-sufficient as possible with vegetables and fruit and, to some extent, with milk as meat as well. To build up the soils for this verdant paradise, patients dredged thousands of loads of sandy loam from the river. This loam was enhanced by six-ton truck-loads of sweepings from the Darling Harbour stock pens which were brought to the hospital once a week. To this was added at least 1000 loads of manure from the hospital stables and cow-sheds. 

In November 1907 Dr. Williamson was appointed as a Trustee of the neighbouring Parramatta Park. The appointment was announced in the press in a brief statement that effused. The appointment has given general satisfaction, as this gentleman is recognised as a particularly progressive man. Dr. Williamson was able to provide the labour for several projects within the park over the next few years, sending teams of patients with outdoor attendants to construct minor works for the community’s benefit. 

In early 1908 he convinced the Park’s Executive Trustee Committee to purchase the iron railing fences that were being removed at the time from Sydney’s Hyde Park. By October 1908 the existing iron railing fence separating the park from the Wistaria Gardens was being erected. It is likely that Dr. Williamson used his influence with the Committee of Park Trustees to be allowed to place the entrance to his new residence from the park. This allowed private guests to arrive or leave through the gardens and the park, thus avoiding the asylum grounds and patients. (Photo c 1948 courtesy of  Joyce Compton)

Dr. Williamson’s programme utilising the labour of patients to beautify the hospital grounds did not go unnoticed and in 1911 it was described as; 

...one of the show-places of Parramatta; and this is not at the expense, but the material benefit of the patients... Dr. W.C. Williamson may honestly claim that he has more than fulfilled his predecessors’ highest ambitions.  He has turned the grounds into beauty-spots. Knowing well how occupation in the preparation of attractive landscapes is as beneficial as the contemplation of them, he has achieved a two-fold triumph: he has given pleasant employment to his patients and - incidentally, as it were - he has made the surroundings of the old Factory a joy to the eye.  (Photograph Bridge over Domain Creek 1970 courtesy Reg Paull. 

Dr. William Cotter Williamson also wanted to be remembered within the gardens. On the Western side of the Bridge over Domain Creek can be discerned W.C.W. 1907. He also had a stone engraved in the wall of the creek W.C.W. 1907.


Copyright Terry Smith 2017

Historian and Author.