This narrative has been lightly edited from a draft written in 1994 by the late Frank Keenan, a co-Founder of the AIPR Trust Fund-Education. It has aged well.
Initial development of the parks and gardens of Australia and the recreation movement was dominated by two major influences. Firstly the British heritage of the original settlers led to the desire that the new colonies would contain those elements of their home country which they most cherished. Prominent among these was their gardens, both private and public, which were the result of the interest in horticulture at all levels of government and the society generally. Thus Australia inherited the skills of the excellently-trained horticultural artisans and garden planners in the same manner as the other British colonies in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So the traditional English landscape including its associated plant species became an integral part of the towns and cities. The environment of the urban areas of Australia has been widely characterised by the contrast between the surrounding countryside and the parks, gardens and street trees of the towns and cities.
Secondly has been the development of recreation. Unlike horticulture, in which the government and community bodies set aside land for public parks and gardens, assisted in the development of these areas and helped finance the procurement of plants, the recreation groups were established by voluntary workers from within the community. In the early years the government assistance was limited to actions ensuring the survival of the colony. Then followed the development of the essential services for community life. Consequently, people themselves using the pioneering spirit common to the early settlers established their own leisure activities, using land, water and any other resources that were available.
Evolution of horticultural styles
With few exceptions the native flora is evergreen with a high percentage of eucalyptus and offering a landscape completely different from that introduced by the British colonists. The first towns of Sydney and Hobart were developed as penal settlements and since their administrators came from military and seafaring backgrounds, they had little knowledge of conservation and horticulture and it was not until the arrival of the first settlers that there was any substantial movement in establishing parks and gardens. Thus as the early surveyors developed the town plans, areas were set aside for public open space and the new settlers began building their new environment using the ingredients dear to their heart. Thus, today in our earliest-developed localities, the prevailing trees are deciduous types which, with the aid of irrigation and the absence of natural predators, have flourished. However by the beginning of the second half of the 20th century many changes to this pattern had evolved. Australians have now begun to understand and treasure their indigenous plants resulting in firstly, conservation measures being taken to ensure the protection of native flora and secondly, the use of these native plants as part of their horticultural planning in new developments. This philosophy is now being put into practice by the introduction of tertiary education in such fields as town planning and landscape architecture, together with Australia-wide training in associated crafts such as apprenticeship schemes.
The development of people’s leisure time activities in the early years was entirely dependent on their own motivation. Those open spaces being provided by government were preserved for environmental and aesthetic purposes with recreation limited to such things as walking, socialising over refreshments in the tea house and listening to the local brass band. All forms of sporting activity were forbidden in such places. Thus as the colonists formed their sporting groups and similar leisure-time community organisations, they either used private land and buildings or lobbied the government, including local authorities, for permission to reserve Crown land for community purposes. It was not until the early twentieth century that financial assistance began to be made available to assist in the development of playing fields and associated buildings. Because these recreation grounds were developed by sporting administrators with little knowledge of landscape design, and without finance to seek outside assistance, these sporting areas contributed little to the community environment. It is only from about the late 1960s that planning controls have been exercised and sports fields have become elements of town plans, complete with landscaping standards and maintenance programs.
The work of organising these sporting groups was performed by members of the public in their own time and at their own expense. This pattern of volunteer organisation in all forms of sport involving every age group has now developed with possibly the leading example of volunteer community action in the western world. As the facilities became more sophisticated and sporting bodies more competitive, the spirit of the original pioneers became the driving force that propelled Australia into world prominence in sporting spheres. Again this movement has been greatly assisted by the accepted practice by which leading sportsmen and women, after standing down from active participation, returned to their clubs as coaches and administrators, thus providing a role model for the younger generation to follow and to ensure that national standards were maintained.
In those cultural fields associated with community leisure, the pattern of volunteers ‘participation was similar to those of sporting activities. However the heritage of the early British settlers ensured that their traditions were followed: a new land with more affluent residents becoming financial patrons of the arts. With this background, successful organisations were established in both the performing and the graphic arts. However as in other western societies, higher taxation on private families saw bodies struggling to exist and in 1968, the federal government established the Australian Council for the Arts. This meant that for the first time in the country, government accepted the responsibility of organising and heavily subsidising the arts movement. These actions also ensured that the artists themselves were given every opportunity of earning a reasonable salary including their employment as teachers and coaches.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, the management of parks and recreation systems has undergone considerable changes. Traditionally the administration of urban public open spaces has been vested in local government. The greater proportion of this land is publicly owned, classified as Crown land with the ultimate control of its use resting with the appropriate state government minister. The local council is commonly nominated as the trustee to manage the land; however in specific cases independent trusts who bypass the council but are still responsible to the minister have been established.
Until recently councils were comparatively small structures with the Town Clerk or the Chief Executive Officer being the General Manager and the City Engineer being responsible for the outdoor activities. This work covered the parks, gardens and open spaces and to assist him the council employed a superintendent of parks and gardens, who performed the role of the city gardener under the British concept of that period. It was only in the state capital cities that the parks departments were operated as autonomous bodies with the chief officer answerable to the council.
Today [~1994] these routines are in the process of change. In several states, including those of the eastern seaboard in which the greater proportion of the population resides, local government is being reorganised. The smaller councils in New South Wales have been amalgamated into much larger bodies and in Victoria a similar exercise is taking place. These moves will have obvious effects on parks and gardens management and staffing arrangements.
Two other changes in the higher echelon of council employment are also having an influence in this field. Firstly is the emergence of the town planner as a major force in the development of new areas and reconstruction of the older cities. This person is now taking over the planning of the open spaces and employing landscape architects, formerly working with the parks and gardens sections. Likewise has been the emergence of the municipal recreation officer. This particular move has seen a change in the city gardener philosophy with a parks and gardens responsibility being limited to maintenance. Today the Australian tradition of reliance of volunteers in organising its leisure activities is now being boosted by the employment of professionally trained staff.
Another change affecting local government is the move to privatise the staff in the construction and maintenance of parks and gardens. Currently  council officers are undergoing educational training to ensure that new policy can be effectively implemented.
Other forms of open space used for specific purposes including zoological gardens, foreshores and cemeteries are not usually operated by councils. As these community facilities were developed in the pioneering days when local government was in its infancy, state governments accepted the responsibility and commonly established independent trusts consisting of leading members of the community, together with those having the necessary professional and technical skills. Such bodies were directly responsible to the minister and many are still in existence today.
There is also a limited number of privately-owned parks, notably golf courses, racing tracks and sports stadiums, usually managed by private recreation clubs. In the main, these bodies have purchased their own land, although in a number of instances Crown land has been made available under controlled conditions.
Finally, in the latter part of the twentieth century, there has been a marked increase in tourist resorts ranging from those centred around the sea and sunshine, to specific theme parks and those built around recreation features with the emphasis on golf courses, many of which are of international championship standard. There is little doubt that these type of recreation facilities will increase as the tourist industry in Australia increases in order to meet the demands of the nearby Asian countries, Japan in particular.
Role of the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation (now Parks and Leisure Australia)
The original moves to co-ordinate the horticultural industry in Australia date from the early days of colonisation. It was then that the first horticultural societies were formed, but it was not until 1926 that the managers of public open spaces met to establish their own group. This new body originally named the Victorian Tree Planters Association, was to set up in that State, its foundation members being a mix of politicians, nurseryman and curators of parks, gardens and street plantations. The Association became the Victorian Institute of Parks Administration in 1955. In 1962 it expanded nationally as the Australian Institute of Park Administration, and in 1965, it was reconstituted to become the Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation. In 1977 it was granted the royal charter to become the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation (RAIPR).
During the latter part of the nineteenth century the planning concept of the ‘garden city’ was introduced to Australia after successful ventures in the United Kingdom. A suburb of Melbourne developed according to garden city principles between 1926 and 1948 still carries that name. Town planners adapted to this movement by specifying the quarter-acre allotment for each individual home and the average Australian used most of this land to develop the house garden. Thus the urban areas of residential use virtually became one large garden in which houses were erected, and the effect has been very satisfactory, particularly amongst the more prosperous and house-proud residents. Thus it was not surprising that in 1975 the State Government promoted Victoria as the Garden State and appointed a Garden State Committee as an advisory body to ensure the development of this character. The most tangible evidence of this action was the words on all motor vehicles registration plates, Victoria Garden State.
In all of these initiatives the Institute has been involved. In its early years, it led by example in organising tree planting schemes bordering major highways, and arboreta in which to conduct tree trials. Further, its annual conferences have had a major influence in the interaction between politicians and park managers.
The Institute was the first group in the nation to recognise the public recreation movement, in 1965, at least six years before all levels of government introduced ministries and departments of recreation and leisure activities. It modified its constitution and changed its name. As such it ensured compatibility between the old and its new disciples operating in the same field, and was well equipped to be represented in those advisory bodies established by both the federal Government and the state authorities.