Apex Park: Ulverstone, Tasmania

by John Mongard Landscape Architects
Location: Ulverstone, Tasmania
Project: Apex Park
Client: Central Coast Council
Landscape Architect: John Mongard Landscape Architects
Artists: Julie Payne, Julie Stoneman, Ray Norman
Budget: $350,000.00

Tasmania's smaller regional towns are facing negative population growth coupled with the highest unemployment rates in Australia. Ulverstone is a town in the middle of the north-coast of the island. John Mongard Landscape Architects undertook a cultural plan in 1995 which identified the urgent need to create a living heart in the town in order to attract visitors and business back into town.

Apex Park was the first stop toward this regeneration of the town centre. Built by well-meaning club members in the 1970's, the park had degenerated into a dark place where youth went to drink and pick up drugs.

The Brief

John Mongard Landscape Architects began by asking the unemployed youth in the park what they would like to change. A series of sketch-interviews followed by a group brainstorm led to some key concepts, such as creating long communal benches oriented to the sun.

The concept plan was refined and a brief written for creating artworks in the park as a means of engaging with the town youth. A grant from the Australian Council allowed John Mongard Landscape Architects to collaborate with Artist Ray Norman and Julie Stoneman. A new type of collaborative contract was invented, to acknowledge the shared ideas and the blurring between landscape and art.

The Context

Sandwiched between a modernist bank and a site for redevelopment, the park was opened to the street and the sun by the creation of a circular plaza with a performance stage and broad lounge style seating.

John Mongard Landscape Architects negotiated with the adjacent Post Office redevelopment to achieve shop fronts into the park and a zero lot-line development, in exchange for the developer paying for $70,000.00 of shaded public sitting area.

A bakery has popularised the front shop and tables and chairs spill into the square, providing life and activity. At the back of the park, John Mongard Landscape Architects negotiated with State Parliamentarians to get joint usage of a building for the creation of a new community information centre. This will act as the town's hub for events, tourism and community gatherings. The tall blank wall of the Commonwealth Bank has been turned into a community notice board and is the backing for a public stage, which now regularly features local 'grunge' music played by surf culture youth of Ulverstone.

Craft and Local Values

The park was designed by John Mongard Landscape Architects to provide a range of sitting niches which are covered by an innovative translucent pergola which allows light but keeps rain out.

Plantings celebrate the seasonal variations of Tasmania. A central deciduous tree is to be pruned yearly by the Artist Ray Norman as a ritual reminder of nature in the city. Timber seating in the park is recycled timber from a local mine shaft, re-crafted by local artists as a reminder of Tasmania's past dubious tree felling practices.

The pavement features a jigsaw puzzle of mosaics by Julie Stoneman, working with primary school children. These ground images are rubbings which come together to form a bigger picture.

The central tree is surrounded by cast works, and in the back of the park, aluminium plaques depict children's drawings of the Wolfe dinger, a mythical beast invented in a story by Artis Ray Norman and tuned into a wind vein floating high above the square.

Change in the Wind

The park reintroduced a culture of craftsmanship, which was nearly lost in the region. John Mongard Landscape Architects worked with stonemasons Council workers to teach them these dicing skills, and they have since gone on to use these skills in other parks.

The furniture has been designed by John Mongard Landscape Architects with the maintenance workers, with the objective to make their jobs easier. The litterbins accommodate a miniwheelie bin and are designed to withstand a fire.

The precast concrete and recycled timber benches are made at the Council depot. John Mongard Landscape Architects designed these and Ray Norman the Artist trained the Council workers in making moulds and pouring the seats.

A New Start

The construction of Apex Park was a controversial event due to the amount of capital invested. Ulverstone had never spent money on its public spaces.

Since opening, the park has been an overwhelming success. People of all sorts now use the space. It has been reclaimed as the central focus of the town, without displacing the youth subculture that originally territorialized it.

The park gave the town the confidence to rebuild itself in a better way. Already, Ulverstone has rebuilt its Main Street and created entry parks and treatments. The making of town squares and parks is a cultural event. Apex Park shows that even a small town with a lot of problems can make joyful spaces for sharing.

For Further Information Contact:
John Mongard Landscape Architects
Ph: (07) 3844 1932
Fax: (07) 3844 3250