Napier Park, located at the corner of Napier Street and Woodland Street, is indicative of what the whole Strathmore area was like prior to European settlement (Photograph).
The history of Napier Park is interesting and slightly unusual. Originally Woodland Street was the boundary between the Municipalities of Broadmeadows and Essendon and therefore the land for Napier Park was located with the Broadmeadows Council area. However in 1920 Theodore Napier chose to give the park to the Essendon Council rather than Broadmeadows.
Consequently for a long time there was the anomaly of Essendon Council owning and maintaining a park within the boundaries of the Broadmeadows municipality. This anomaly was not fixed until the Essendon Council annexed Strathmore in 1979.
One of the stories regarding why the park was given to Essendon rather than Broadmeadows is as follows:
"Theodore Napier was a great lover of trees and had carefully preserved a woodland block in the corner of his property, the present site of Napier Park. Theodore had originally intended to give this 10 acre block to the Broadmeadows Municipality. However he changed his mind when he found out that the Broadmeadows Council was planning to remove a giant red gum which was standing dead centre in Woodland Street, opposite Noble Avenue. At this time Woodland Street was little more than a country lane. However traffic, including horse drawn carriages and the increasing numbers of motor cars, was growing and had to detour around the tree. Broadmeadows Councillors considered the tree to be a menace and proposed to Essendon Council that the tree be removed. This proposal incensed Mr. Napier and also Mr. Salmon, owner of property to the South of Woodland Street, who were able to exercise their influence with the Essendon Council and prevent the destruction of the tree at that time. Theodore Napier became dissatisfied with Broadmeadows Councils attitude and subsequently in 1920 gave the 10 acre block to Essendon Council." (E.W. McCarthy).
While I haven't been able to confirm this story, the existence of the large tree in the middle of Woodland Street is well known and confirmed by the photographs of Woodland Street from the 1920's.
At the time of the hand over Mr. Napier suggested the name "Victory Park" (to commemorate the recent World War I victory) or "Northern Park" for the park however the Council had already named a park in the Municipality "Victory Park" and suggested that the grateful residents would insist on calling it "Napier Park"
The terms of the transfer of the land were that there was to be no destruction of any trees on the block and the area was to be left in its natural woodland state.
One of the consequences of the terms of the land transfer and the grass slashing within the park was that for a long time no young tree regrowth was being allowed to emerge. It was recognised that if nothing was done, over time, all of the original trees in the Park would die leaving a bare paddock. This is now being overcome by the implementation of the Napier Park Management Plan (December 1992). The plan includes a policy of fencing off sections of the park to allow regrowth.
The large trees in Napier Park are River Red Gums (Eucalyptus Camaldulensis#). These trees are protected under the National Register of Significant Trees. There is only one other such stand of Redgums in the Melbourne area.
One part of the history of Napier Park which many of the older residents will recall is the near tradition of Carols by Candle Light under the stars in Napier Park. The flat top mound near the north east corner was used as a stage at least in the later years of the festival. The carols festival occurred every Christmas for 24 years from 1948 to 1972. And we are informed that it never rained on the event during the whole 24 years. Carols by Candle Light in the park has recently recommenced.
This popular event was originally organised by Keith Robinson, a former Broadmeadows Councillor, until 1958 . He had Eric Pearce as compere, supported by the Salvation Army Band and choirs from local churches.
In 1958, Ernie Angel, another Broadmeadows Councillor took over and Wally Munro from Waverley Street, Moonee Ponds was compere.
Carols by Candle Light recommenced in Napier Park in 1989.
Another part of the history of the park that may be familiar to the older residents is the popularity of the park in earlier times for Picnics. Church groups use to travel out to Napier Park from Ascot Vale and other locations for a picnic on the bushland block. It was particularly popular on Melbourne Cup Day for Sunday School Picnics.