In 2001, Brisbane was transformed by the addition of Roma Street Parkland, Australia’s newest contemporary display garden – a vibrant collection of gardens rooms, lawns, and walkways – but the story doesn’t start there. While many locals can remember a time before the Parkland existed, visitors might not be aware of the many different uses of the area prior to 2001.
Before European settlement, the area now known as Roma Street Parkland was used as a meeting place. Here, the Turrbal Aboriginal Nation gathered to hunt, camp, and mingle with others. In the early 1840s, the area played host to a major gathering of Aboriginal peoples from around South East Queensland.
In 1874, the area became a focal point of Brisbane, when the Roma Street railway station was constructed to connect Ipswich and Toowoomba to the capital city. In fact, the iconic, sloping hills of Roma Street Parkland are actually a result of its role as a railway yard! To make the yard level, a total of 554,300 cubic metres of rock and soil were removed from the area in 1920. That’s the same as removing a metre of soil from 110 football fields!
From 1884 to 1964, part of the area was also used for the Brisbane Markets where people could buy fresh produce and live animals. During World War II, air raid shelters were constructed in the Upper Parkland formerly known as Albert Park, and the American Army occupied a purpose-built clubhouse here. Other uses have included the Diamantina Orphanage, municipal tennis courts and the Brisbane Grammar School.
In 1991, the railway yard moved to Acacia Ridge and the once-bustling area for commerce lay empty. A hot debate ensued: while some members of the community wanted to use the space for a football stadium, others – such as Colin Campbell – lobbied to transform the area into a world-class garden.
In 1999, the Queensland Government announced that Brisbane would receive an all-new parkland – Roma Street Parkland. Construction of the $72 million development began in January 2000, and over 100,000 shrubs, 1200 mature trees, 1800 unique species of plants, and 250 ferns were planted, with a massive area excavated for the parkland's new man-made lake.
After a huge construction project, Roma Street Parkland opened to the public in April 2001, winning an award for urban design from the Royal Architecture Institute of Australia. Roma Street Parkland has continued to astonish locals and visitors since opening with its world-class gardens and luscious green space as well as a year-round calendar of events, making it a must-see destination in Brisbane.