The elm carriageway in the South Park Lands is something of a lost treasure, but one well worth discovering, particularly in autumn. It reflects the work of John Ednie Brown (1848-99) a passionate advocate of tree planting in the mid-nineteenth century. Born in Scotland, Brown learned about the cultivation of trees through managing nurseries and forests in Aberdeenshire, Yorkshire and Sussex. In the 1870s he visited the United States and Canada, winning awards for his writing about forestry there.
Brown was offered the post of Conservator of Forests by the Government of South Australia and arrived in Adelaide in 1878. The Mayor at the time, William Buik, engaged Brown to prepare a “Report on a System of Planting for the Adelaide Park Lands (1880)”, much of which was implemented and is still in evidence today. The Report was so well received that the subsequent Mayor, Edwin Smith, then engaged Brown as Conservator of Plantations (1882-83). Brown’s Report is now considered an important work in the history of landscape architecture in Australia, with its emphasis on the Parks and appropriate planting. The carriageway in Tuthangga (Park 17) of English Elm is consistent with Brown’s 1880 Report except that his plan recommended Radiata Pine be planted.
It is possible that the avenue was planted by City Gardener William O’Brien in the late 1860s and was then reflected in Brown’s Report. The design connects Hutt Road with a graceful curve to the east through the Park to meet with another proposed, but not planted, drive to the south, with both drives opening into Beaumont Road (now closed) in the south-east corner of the Park.
The Carriageway led to the inaugural Australian site for Arbor Day which took place in Victoria Park/Pakapakanthi. This initiative originated in Nebraska in 1872, with the first event in Adelaide being held in 1887. Governor and Lady Kintore attended, together with about 5000 school children. Arbor Day was the forerunner to tree planting days and instrumental in raising an awareness of the importance of trees in the environment. The Elm Carriageway comprises around 90 specimens, many of which suffered during recent droughts but are now benefitting from irrigation.