The formal gardens surrounding the Werribee Park mansion are stunning to say the least. Trees and shrubs from all over the world set in well maintained lawns are a prominent feature of the gardens. In spring and summer, there are also fragrant displays of flowers. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Werribee Park mansion and walk thorough the gardens. The event was part of the ‘Walk in the Park’ program that was co-organised by Parks Victoria and Rachel from Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria (BSRV). The walks have been specifically designed for visitors from the visually impaired community, volunteers and their support workers.
The perfect day
It was warm and tranquil without a breath of wind, when we met in front of the Werribee Mansion. Even though we were in the first week of winter, the sun was shining brightly through the clouds. Our Parks Victoria volunteer for the day was an animated witty Scottish man by the name of Jock. His enthusiasm for nature was really contagious which made us all eager to get on the path and start the walk.
The sensory expert
Jock really knew his stuff and understood the needs of the visually impaired. We wandered around well laid out paths that curved around multiple garden beds and magnificent trees. Parks Victoria volunteers were planting seedlings in preparation for summer flowering. As we paused in front of each tree specimen, Jock gave a great verbal description. To add to the experience, he encouraged us to indulge our senses as he pulled off twigs and leaves from each species and passed them around for us to feel and smell.
As Jock pulled a single leaf or a small twig from a tree, he explained that some of the trees growing in the gardens of Werribee mansion are unique in this part of the world. By unique he meant, they shouldn’t be growing here. It’s either too hot or too cold.
“This one has a massive canopy, thick dark green foliage and a huge trunk. It’s a Bhutan Cypress” he said, “which hails from the Himalayas”.
According to the National Trust register of significant trees the Bhutan Cypress is in excellent condition and the best example of the species in Victoria. It’s “outstanding for its large height, trunk circumference or canopy spread”.
The Bhutan Cypress was not the only tree that could boast a huge canopy. The Swamp Oaks were just as impressive with giant canopies and massive trunks. And let’s not forget the huge Moreton Bay fig. Not just huge and obviously thriving but incongruous in the cooler climate of Victoria. Jock told us that many of these magnificent trees were planted in the gardens by the Chirnside family over 150 years ago.
The next stop was the Ombu Tree which comes from South America. Jock lined us up like a bunch of school kids so that each of us had a chance to stick a hand (or two) through a hole in a lower branch. To get close to the Ombu tree was a challenge because it had a large knobbly root system that was above the ground. Coming from a small Tasmanian community of tree huggers, I jumped at the invitation to hug this beautiful tree.
Large expanses of perfectly manicured lawns and an artificial lake complete with a variety of ducks also add to the ambience of Werribee Park. The trees are cared for and nurtured by Parks Victoria so despite their age, they are in excellent condition. The property was purchased by the Victorian State Government in 1973 and was opened as a tourist attraction a few years later.
The Chirnside family
The walk ended where it started. In front of the mansion. Jock finished with a brief history of the mansion which was built for the Chirnside family in 1877. Although the family made their fortune as successful wool growers, they suffered deep tragedy throughout their lives.
The mansion consists of 60 rooms across several wings decorated with original furniture and artefacts. We had the opportunity to stand in the entry hallway while Jock gave us a brief lesson in the architecture design of the building.
There are many rooms in the mansion that are open to the general public. However, it was never part of our plan to visit the interior for obvious reasons. Personally, I would have had an anxiety attack wandering around the dining room with a table set for dinner for a dozen or more guests. I learnt a lot about fine, ancient china of the rarest ilk from the Antiques Roadshow. We’re talking second hand here but with a price tag to balk at. Coalport, Shelley, Wedgewood and then you’ve got your Royals. Albert and Doulton come to mind. Amongst all that, on strategically placed side tables, a Beswick Chocolate Labrador or even more likely, a Beswick Merino Ram or two. And let’s not forget the urns and vases in Moorcroft. Perhaps some of the remnants of family ashes might still reside within them.
Thanks so much to Rachel (BSRV) for organising this walk. Also to Parks Victoria for their support and sharing their amazing knowledge. And thanks to Joanna for the beautiful photos.
We acknowledge the Bunurong People as the traditional custodians of the Aboriginal cultural landscape surrounding this area and we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and future.