Melbourne: Birrarung Marr Park

1 12 2009

Birrarung Marr, on the north bank of the Yarra River next to Federation Square, is Melbourne’s newest major park.

I was able to meet with Eamonn Fennessy from the City of Melbourne and Scott Adams, a landscape architect who worked on the project. They both provided me with great information on the park as well as other developments around the area.

The Yarra river is a major river system that comes from the mountains and winds its way down.  Melbourne went through a period of industrial trade and commerce backing up on the river, some noxious. The river was black and not something to be celebrated. Even up until the mid-80s, a lot of the river had massive at grade car parks and rail infrastructure. There is a history of the city turning its back on the river until the last 25 years. There was a major arterial road that ran up to the city where the park is now. In the mi 80’s, there was a big public campaign to reinstate the relationship between the city and the river and it has driven a lot of revitalization from Birrarung Marr to the new Docklands. The city is still evolving in its relationship to the water and will be changing in the next decade.

The park’s name comes from the language of the Wurundjeri people who originally inhabited this area, ‘Birrarung’ means ‘river of mists’ while ‘Marr’ refers to the side of the river.

Opened in 2002, Birrarung Marr provides a link between the Central Business District and Melbourne’s main sporting precinct and contributes to a continuous green belt of parkland around the city. It was the first park built by the city in over 100 years. Most of the other park were built in the Victorian era 100 years ago and had European composition and tradition. The goal at BM was to reflect the landscape an geology of Australia and celebrate its aboriginal roots.

Plantings of more than 200 young trees and hundreds of smaller native plants identify this contemporary park design as distinctly Australian. Hundreds of new trees and native plants enhance the park, particularly on the sides of the middle terrace. This includes a variety of hardy Australian natives, including an embankment of evergreen cycads, which means the park will continue to take shape in the years to come as they mature. Mature trees that formed part of the site before the park’s construction have been retained and 36 elms in Speakers’ Corner are listed on the Heritage Register.

The park is a great pedestrian space and event area. It creates a connection from Federation Square to the Sporting Complex. In 1996, the State and the City of Melbourne jointly sponsored an architectural design competition for Federation Square. The site for this project had been the subject of civic improvement for decades. The finished project now includes the new museum of Australian art, a base for film and media-related institutions, a mixture of retail facilities, a major civic plaza and various smaller public spaces, all built on decking over railways.



Eamonn Fennessy is the Team Leader Parks Planning for the Design and Urban Environment for the City of Melbourne.


Scott Adams was the Design Manager for Birrarung Marr for the City of Melbourne. He is currently working on a waterfront development in Auckland NZ which involves a couple of seawall edges. He is also doing another waterfront project in Geelong and is currently looking at a part of Melbourne’s dockland waterfront.




One response

15 12 2009
Pat Nunnally

Great post, Cristina, and welcome back (now that you’ve been back a while).

This park follows the same dynamic that we’ve seen all over the US on riverfront (and waterfront more broadly) cities, where after using the water very instrumentally, as an engineering component of the city, we are trying to face the water again with a more broadly multi-functional landscape.

I love the art, which adds expressive richness to so many landscapes.

Question: aside from the name, were aboriginal people involved at all in the creation of the park? Any ongoing relationship? We’re trying to foster that kind of relationship here on the Mississippi, and any models help!


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