During World War One, seventy seven  men from  the small Blue Mountains community  of Blackheath, NSW   volunteered to serve.  Their names are engraved on the local war memorial. Six were killed in action; H. CULLEN, R. MURRAY, J. SKEEN, D. SPRAGUE, J. STEENSON, & R. THOMPSON.

Men who served in WWI from Blackeath
Men from Blackheth who served in WWI
Remembrance Poppy

After hostilities ceased it was decided to create a park  honouring  those volunteers, to be named Memorial Park.  Mr Green, the town clerk,  organized  an art union to fund the project and stated;

‘We don’t want the desolate-looking, bald-patched affair, with rickety seats and uninviting shrubbery which many townships exult by the name of ‘parks’…….This it to be Blackheath’s  last effort to perpetuate in suitable manner the names and memories of fellow citizens who faced death for us.’   

The site chosen was a natural drainage basin, and the site of  the old golf links. The first sod was turned by the NSW Governor Sir Walter Davison, during the first official visit by a governor since Lachlan Macquarie named the town in 1815.

In 1923, local residents raised £1,000  for the purchase of 77 rhododendrons, to beautify the park and to create a Remembrance Walk. It was the perfect plant choice, as rhododendrons suit the cool climate of the Blue Mountains. More importantly, the peak of their blooming coincided with Remembrance Day,  November 11.  (They seem to flower  slightly earlier now, which may be a sign of global warming.)  Finally, rhododendrons can live for several hundred years, creating a permanent memorial.

By 1950 the shrubs were well established. The Sydney Morning Herald  published the following paragraph by a correspondent called ‘Waratah’;

The Memorial Park planting has advanced far since those days of 30 odd years ago, when  I remember them as gawky small plants in a rough setting. They were received with amused toleration. Now they have blossomed into belles of shrubland.

The rhododendrons  continued to thrive, until they can no longer be described as shrubs. They are now imposing trees. I am fortunate enough to live so close to the park that it is almost an extension of my own garden. My husband walks through it every morning, diligently picking  up any rubbish he spots.

In  October 2012  and 2014  we had very late, heavy snowfalls. Because new foliage  held the snow,  damage in local gardens was extensive. However  Memorial Park, transformed into a fairyland,  with the unusual sight of snow on the giant rhodos.   Visitors were enchanted, especially very young visitors. There were soon sledders and snowboarders enjoying the slopes in idyllic surroundings.

Snow in Memorial Park, Blackheath
A sight to behold in October 2012.
Snow in Blackheath
Winter fun in spring

2019  has been a bumper year for the rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons in Memorial PPark, Blackheath
Admiring the trees.
Rhododendrons in Memorial Park, Blackheath.
Truly in full bloom
Memorial Park Blackheath
A fine place to sit.
Late bloomers
Rhododendrons in Memorial Park Blackheath
Here, eucalypts form a  beautiful backdrop.

The paths through the 26 acre park were named after World War One battles. As the blossoms fall they take on a beauty of their own.

Floral carpet at Memorial Park, Blackheath.

There is another body of water for us to enjoy….along with the ducks and other wildlife. The pond!

Cherry tree in Memorial Park at Blackheath.
Pied cormorant drying off in Memorial Park.
That delicious morning sun.

Behind the swimming pool complex are the Gallipoli Steps.  If you walk up, then follow the bush track, you will exit in Robertson Lane. From here (on the way to the village),  there is a lovely view down into the tops of the rhodos.

Gallipoli Steps, Memorial Park, Blackheath
Gallipoli Steps.
Rododendrons, Memorial Park, Blackheath
Looking into the canopy from Robertson Lane.

What a fitting tribute to those who served not just in WWI, but in all wars.  It is a classic demonstration of what can be achieved when  local authorities use vision and foresight in their planning. Additionally, it is  a reminder that residents themselves can play a huge role in such projects.

The flowering of the rhodos heralds the start of  the annual Rhododendron Festival.  

These little boys, Fergus and Luke,  had a lemonade stand in the park  during the  2018 and 2019 festivals. They are utterly delightful.  To me their presence honours the old soldiers. Their enterprise and interest in the history of the Park gives me hope for the future.

In Soldiers' Memorial Park at Blackheath.

  1. A lovely tribute , sadly a couple of weeks ago some pohutakawa trees were cut back , The trees had been planted in remembrance for our North Shore soldiers. The reason , the new owners who moved over the road couldn’t see past the trees !! an inquiry is being done .

  2. It’s always a worry with a ‘living’ tribute that over time it will become degraded or unsuitable in some way. These Rhodos are absolutely stunning though, and I hope they continue to bloom for many years to come. It must be heavenly to walk by them.

    • Pauline

      My husband asked this morning how long the rhodos would live. Apparently several hundred years, so that’s good.

  3. They are magnificent trees when in full bloom. The snow turned it into a fairyland. It’s a lovely way to commemorate our brave soldiers.

    • Pauline

      Yes, makes me feel very proud of Blackheath and its early residents.

  4. A fitting tribute indeed, as well as a beautiful park for the benefit of all.

  5. A just and poignant memorial

    • Pauline

      It’s a beautiful place. I walk through it on the way to the village nearly every day.

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