Walking across the lawns carried a comfortable sunny spring warmth, every step varying birds and fragrances. A fresh river breeze. But once inside the palm stonehenge, perspiration, aching muscles, and a distinct recall of liniment. Ghostly memories of this place pre-date the personal trainers here now. Back over a century and a half to when Brisbane’s City Botanical Gardens was the sporting hub of the young colony.
The gardens were planted by convicts in 1825 for food to feed the then wholly penal population. The grounds were opened as a public park in 1865 by Queensland’s first governor Sir George Bowen. Crests recording his name and Queen Victoria’s reign still adorn the gates to this day.
Queensland’s first organised football match was played here in 1866. It was an early version of Australian Rules. It went for over five hours across two weekends, and finished a draw. The colony’s first organised rugby matches were also played here a decade later in 1876. A newspaper records a common sentiment , ““The game is called ‘football’, but barring the ‘ball’ part, almost any other name would do as well for it, so rough, scrambling, miscellaneous, and unscrupulous is the style…” The Australian Wallabies presently at the world cup may not agree.
Early rugby league was played here during the First World War, before a redesign. Today the northern end of the former football ground is covered by a circle of Royal Cuban Palms planted 96 years ago. Like a tropical stonehenge paying homage to past mysteries. The same trees will mark the spot for another hundred years.
When I visited this week, a cantankerous council sign declared, “The playing of sports on this lawn is strictly prohibited.” Oh how this place has changed since those first footy matches 150 years ago next year. But still the memory of liniment persists. Maybe it’s the tough love of the personal trainers. Most likely it’s the footballing spirits in the spring whispering amongst the palm trees.