Built on trash rather than treasure, Horsham's magnificent May Park was once used as a rubbish tip but with its central and highly visible location, it has been a magnet for families travelling through town.
Close to many take-away food businesses and lots of free parking, tables and seats in shady or sunny areas – as well as toilets, a playground and plenty of room for kids to run about – it is an ideal park for travellers to spend time in Horsham.
CHANGE OF USE
The land now known as May Park was owned by John Gillies and sold in 1864 to the Wimmera Shire Council for £77/15/0.
The area was originally used for drainage – including from the May and Millar foundry on the northern side of Victoria Parade (now Dimboola Road) – then became a grazing ground for cows belonging to the town’s residents.
This was followed by a clay pit used in the 1890s by local potter George Abbott, and later a rubbish tip to fill the quarry before becoming the recreation and garden area we know today.
The rubbish tip was then moved to Osborne Road Haven.
Locals have held many events in the park over the years. In 1893, the Horsham Times reported:
Fillis’ Circus and Menagerie gave afternoon and evening performances in a large marquee on the vacant space of ground off the Dimboola Road and opposite Messrs May and Millar foundry.
Stock dealers used the land and in 1901, James Carroll (who was the Wimmera council’s secretary) made arrangements with a local resident to have control of the key to keep the park stock free. The plan was not successful as the person in charge of the key made the park his own private paddock so the council decided to repair fences and lock the gate.
Samuel May, who died in 1914, left £100 in his will for improvements to May Park.
May Park was officially declared open in 1920. A bandstand was erected in 1921 and used for four band recitals. The bandstand was repaired in 1923 and a memorial Anzac Day Service was held in the park. Over the years, many sports days were held at the park. The sports days were sometimes held on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day.
May Park was officially declared open in 1920. A bandstand was erected in 1921 and used for four band recitals. The bandstand was repaired in 1923 and a memorial Anzac Day Service was held in the park.
Over the years, many community sports days were held at May Park.
The 1931 event was on Christmas Day, as was the 1946 sports day, which was the 26th to be held there.
The sports days were sometimes held on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day.
In 1932, the town clerk stated that there was available about £100 from the unemployment relief fund for necessary works.
One suggestion was to put a roof on the May Park bandstand, which was sadly removed after World War II – its roofing was used on the city oval booth, but that structure was demolished during the 1980s.
The park was transferred to the borough from the shire in 1932 and the land was gifted from the shire to become council property in 1938.
A large crowd assembled in May Park on Christmas Eve 1946 for Carols by Candlelight-Christmas Novelty.
This was the first Carols by Candlelight to be arranged in Horsham.
During the years 1947 and 1948, May Park received renewed interest from both the borough and the local progress association and so the Millar fountain – which had stood at the intersection of Firebrace and Wilson streets since February 19, 1902 – was moved to its current park location without the canopy until it was restored in 1994, and then refurbished and re-roofed in 1997.
May Park has been flooded on a number of occasions over the years, as it is in a depression.
It flooded on February 5, 1957 when Horsham had 4.5 inches of rain in 12 hours. It also flooded in June 1968 and March 1969.
During the 1960s, model aeroplanes were flown in the park accompanied by a high-pitched engine noise and the smell of the castor oil-based fuel used.
Some historical society photos of the events at May Park over the years were Anzac Day 1919, Australia Day ceremonies in 1965, 1990, sports day in 1971 and athletics carnival in 1974.
In 2012, the historical society was involved with the design and construction of a double-sided sign near the Millar fountain.
Heritage photos from the historical society’s collection of the fountain in its previous Firebrace Street location on one side and photos of past iconic Horsham buildings on the other side.
The sign next to the fountain could be a good spot for a selfie, as well as the mural on the Coles wall in Roberts Avenue.
A May and Millar wagon, built in their Horsham foundry over the road from the park, was restored and housed in May Park in February 2017.
Researched by Wendy Donald and edited by Rod Jenkinson. The Horsham Historical Society column appears in the Wimmera Mail-Times on the last Friday of every month.
Horsham Historical Society is open every Tuesday and Wednesday from 1.30-4.30pm at Mechanics Institute, 33 Pynsent Street, Horsham or by appointment at other times. Information is available for those interested in local history and family research. Local history books and photos are available for sale.
Annual subscriptions of $25 single and $35 family are now due. For inquiries or research, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the website at www.home.vicnet.net.au/~hhs or phone on Rod 0421 101 267, Lindsay on 5381 0081 and Jim on 5382 1569.