Toowoomba Art Gallery Park

by John Mongard Landscape Architects

A year of intense community planning with over 1000 Toowoomba residents led to a streetscape strategy to put 'the garden' back into the Garden City.

John Mongard Landscape Architects (JMLA) found that only 3% of the town's public spaces were devoted to pedestrians. A series of reclaimed territories were plotted, and a park next to the new Art Gallery was one of the first to be built in the city.

A Blank Slate

Some old shopfronts were demolished for reasons of safety, leaving a bare patch of earth next to the cities newest cultural icon, the Art Gallery.

JMLA reclaimed this blank site as a place of potential mediation and acceptance between white and black cultures in the town.

Nearby, aboriginal people gathered in another park, sometimes drinking, their presence a reminder of an unresolved cultural rhythm throughout Australia's country towns.

JMLA teamed up with artist and ironworker Steve Weiss, who had obtained a group of unemployed aboriginal men as part of a work training grant.

JLMA ran a workshop with museum and Council officers and developed a collaborative concept which would enable Council to fast track the park's construction in a five week period.

The park was blessed by Council with the princely budget of $50,000, and Council requested that the dirt 'be covered over' promptly.

It was decided that the park would be designed with a diagonal desire line which would tie into the adjacent park, with its itinerant aboriginal users, and in so doing, build a symbol for the reclaiming of aboriginality in the context of the city's public realm.

The fifteen young aboriginal men went to work in Steve Weiss' factory with the brief of producing a series of totems representing their individual dreams and visions. Steve taught them ironmongery, and together they produced an amazing sequence of totems which JMLA sited along the diagonal path. These totems grab your attention and reach out for the skies in a manner which defies the conventional symbols of a wealthy rural town.

The park then becomes a setting for these totems, a background for a symbolic gesture.

The flowers of the Garden City are there. So are the autumnal trees, which will one day frame the greenery. But in between these and the functional trappings of seats, tables and shelters lies a new symbol not expressed in the city before. This, if anything, is the achievement of the Art Gallery Park in Toowoomba. Our role was to build something out of nothing - with a miniscule budget, the landscape became a setting - for the exploration of symbols, and in this tangle of vertical steel sculptures and forms, painted lovingly with car paint, the 'cultural precinct' of the town took a new dimension, unleashing the naive but potent visions of some young men who represent a silent voice in this community.

For Further Information Contact:
John Mongard Landscape Architects
mail@mongard.com.au
Ph: (07) 3844 1932
Fax: (07) 3844 3250