Monday, November 16, 2009

Kingsford Smith Memorial Park and Wadi Shaifa, Katoomba

The park sits in a natural gully amphitheater near Katoomba railway station bounded by Gang-Gang Street, Lurline Street and William Street. It covers portions 52 and 53 originally granted to James Henry Neal in 1877-78.

1930s tourist guide entry for Wadi Shaifa
Wadi Shaifa
Until the park was acquired by Blue Mountains City Council in 1921, the area was known as Hudson’s Gully or Hudson’s Park, from the family who had owned most of the surrounding land. Their nearby home, Wadi Shaifa, still overlooks the park at 2 Lurline Street. Mary Davidson Hudson nee Talbot married Ernest A K Hudson in 1900, and with their sons Ron, Kenneth, Cyril and Laurence and daughter Dorothy, moved to Katoomba around 1910, acquired part of portion 52 in 1914 and built the house in 1916. The rate book entry for that year shows the value of the house to be ₤2,100.

Ernest purchased the bankrupt emporium business of Mullaney & Co. in Main Street and soon became known as a live-wire and a fighting force in the Bowling Club, the Jockey Club, the Rifle Club, the School of Arts, the Show Society and other posts, the business however failed to prosper. He had formerly held the rank of Captain in the NSW Lancers and in 1915 re-enlisted in the ANZAC Mounted division, and with his horse Tango, served in Egypt and Palestine in WW1. In 1917, he was posted to Divisional HQ with the rank of Major. Henry Gullett described him in the official war history as “the most effective supply officer in adverse circumstances in all Palestine”, he was decorated DSO and mentioned in despatches three times, he died in Palestine of Pneumonia in 1918.
Subdivision plan, Wadi Shaifa is located on lot 1.
The name Wadi Shaifa commemorates a battle in Egypt about 150 km west of El Alamein described in The War Effort of New Zealand, by W S Austin 1923. The Light Horse was there, with the Kiwis, the Sikhs and the Scots, so perhaps Major Ernie Hudson was too. Major-General Wallace transferred his headquarters from Alexandria to Matruh on December 7th, 1915, and four days later had his first encounter with the Senussi forces. From five to six miles south of Matruh is a tableland some 300 feet high, dropping to the coastal strip in a steep escarpment. The outline of the plateau is irregular, and ten miles to the west of Matruh, it is only two miles from the sea. Intersecting the escarpment at right angles are numerous ancient watercourses, or wadis, which are steep, dry and rocky, and in some cases miles in length.

In one or other of these wadis, the enemy would establish a temporary stronghold. Hudson had been located at Wadi Senaab, eight miles to the westward, and on December 11th, a column moved out to attack his position. The Yeomanry, aided by a squadron of Australian Light Horse, inflicted over 100 casualties and cleared the wadi. The force, which included the Sikhs, camped on the ground won. Being reinforced by the Royal Scots, the column started again on the 13th for a spot 12 miles farther west to engage the enemy, but in crossing Wadi Shaifa, was itself attacked by a force of 1,200, with artillery and machine-guns. The enemy was defeated, however, leaving 180 dead, and was pursued until dark, when the column returned to Matruh.

Following her husband's death, Mrs Hudson ran Wadi Shaifa as flats from the 1920s through the 1950s; she died in 1968 aged 88. It still operates as flats today, one of which was sold in 2009 for $260,000.

Kingsford Smith Park
Hudson’s Gully was in effect the front garden of Wadi Shaifa, when Katoomba Council resumed the land for a park in 1935. After removal of the blackberries and rubbish, it was landscaped by Mr Robert Robinson according to a plan drawn up a Mr Kerr of the Sydney Botanical Gardens. The labour force was composed of men on unemployment relief and the stone for the many retaining walls was carted in from the surrounding bushland. Robinson, originally from Lancashire, also built the gardens at Sans Souci and Leuralla, and was the head gardener for Katoomba Municipal Council.

1940s view of the entry pavilion with scale model of Southern Cross in a pivoting base
The park's first name, in 1935, was Jubilee Park to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. This however was changed only a year later to Kingsford Smith Memorial Park and Playground, in honour of the pioneer Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935).

In 1928, Kingsford Smith, in the aircraft Southern Cross, with co-pilot Charles Ulm, and navigation crew Harry Lyon and Jim Warner, had made the first trans-pacific flight from San Francisco to Brisbane, with refuelling stops at Hawaii and Fiji. Leaving Oakland Field on 31 May, they crossed the coast over Ballina at dawn on 8 June and turned north along the coast for Brisbane to refuel, landing at Eagle Farm. They then flew south to Sydney on the same day, where they were welcomed by a crowd of 300,000 people at Mascot.

Smith and Ulm had spent over 83 hours in the air in an open cockpit, numbed by cold and lashed by storms, without sleep and deafened for several days after the flight by the engine noise. Being unable to hear, the only way they could communicate with each other and with Lyon and Walker in the cabin behind was via pencilled notes passed between them, these jottings on scrap paper are now preserved in the State Library of NSW. On 8 November 1935, Smithy, at the age of only 38, was killed when he crashed into the sea near Aye Island in the Bay of Bengal, while making an attempt on the England-Australia speed record in the Lady Southern Cross, only the nose wheel of the plane was recovered.

Panorama of the park in 1938
On 7 March 1938, Lord Wakehurst, Governor of NSW, dedicated the entrance pavilion with a slate plaque, the lintel bearing the words Kingsford Smith Memorial Park. This was topped with a hemispherical metal dome showing a relief map of Australia, with a two foot scale model of Southern Cross, constructed by Mr Evan Cork of Randwick, mounted above it . In 1939 Katoomba Council constructed the band rotunda and public lavatories at a cost of ₤329 in time for the official opening on 1 January 1940, by the Hon. L. O. Martin, KCMG, Minister for Works and Local Government, a brass plaque on the pavilion commemorates this.

The entrance gates are particularly striking - four stone pillars supporting a dome in the form of a map of the world fixed on a pivot on top of the dome is an aluminum model of the famous Southern Cross so finely is it adjusted that the model turns with each puff of wind, and it takes little more than a puff to put the twin propellers in motion. Ref: SJ Bentley, Springwood Hist Soc Bulletin July 1978
1940s view of rotunda and early plantings
The park is one of many memorials throughout Australia to its courageous pioneer aviator, an unparalleled breaker of long-distance records, a trailblazer and remarkable visionary, and a man whose party trick after singing and playing the ukulele, was to drink a glass of beer while standing on his head.

The inaugural Carols by Candlelight was held 8.00 pm to midnight on Christmas Eve 1947, under the auspices of radio station 2GB with proceeds going to Blue Mountains Hospital. By then the park had an ornamental pond and a children’s playground.

1947 Carols by Candlelight program
Over the next 40 years, the park gradually fell into disuse and disrepair until local residents began to lobby Council to fund improvements and maintenance. In July 1987 high winds tore the dome from its base on the entry pavilion, it was repaired and replaced five months later. At the same time a scale profile of Southern Cross replaced the scale model, which had been vandalised and removed some years before. The original model was located in pieces and missing its two wing motors, in the old Albion Street Council depot in 1985.

In 1991 a friends group was formed and a carnival and parade were staged. Restoration of the gardens and rotunda was commenced in 1993, and since the inception of the Winter Magic Festival in 1994 and the Blue Mountains Music Festival in 1996, it has regained some of its earlier popularity as a music venue and picnic spot, weather permitting.

In 1998, a landslip caused by a leaking water main resulted in extensive damage, and a $300,000 repair bill. Around this time, there were also numerous complaints from nearby residents, of anti-social behaviour and drug dealing in the park, which were addressed with tree and foliage thinning, security lighting and police patrols.

In 2001 the entry pavilion became unstable and was dismantled and re-erected on new foundations and reinforced pillars with a rebuilt retaining wall.

Kingsford Smith Park is one of three aviator memorials in Katoomba, the others being Bert Hinkler Park in Lurline Street and Melrose Park in North Katoomba named after Charles James (Jimmy) Melrose (1913-1936) the only solo flier to finish the 1934 Melbourne Centenary Air race.

Images from top:
1. 1930s tourist guide entry for Wadi Shaifa
2. Subdivision plan, Wadi Shaifa is located on lot 1.
3. 1940s view of the entry pavilion with scale model of Southern Cross
4. Panorama of the park in 1938
5. 1940s view of rotunda and early plantings
6. 1947 Carols by Candlelight program

See also a set by Merryjack

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
Blue Mountains City Library, 2009

3 comments:

sydneyharbourevents said...

Really a great blog regarding the Kingsford Smith Park . I love the great history behind it.

Paul Bisby said...

Absolutely outstanding priceless research - a wonderful legacy - thank you so much.

Paul Bisby said...

Absolutely outstanding priceless research - a wonderful legacy - thank you so much.