FOR many visitors to Mornington and for many of its residents, Alexandra Park is the place at the top of Main Street to play footy, cricket and netball.
Most people drive past Alexandra Park on the way to sampling the delights of “the street”, or to drop off the kids for their weekend sport. Few, if any, give a second thought about the history that permeates every sod, every blade of grass, every brick and every plank that make up the community space.
For those lucky enough to remember before World War I, Alexandra Park would mean more than bristling local derbies or the crack of willow on leather.
In the minds of these senior residents, there may be recollections of thundering hooves, or the glint of axe heads being raised to meet the sunlight before crashing down to splinter wood. Or, it may be memories of army pageantry and the pomp and ceremony of bands that led processions from Main Street to the park for afternoon tea and a recital.
While the very earliest history of Alexandra Park is sketchy, including its naming, records held by the Mornington and District Historical Society show the then Shire of Mornington bought the area now known as Alexandra Park in 1896.
For millennia before that it was part of the territory inhabited by the Bunurong people, part of the Kulin nation, whose descendants live among us today and whose interests are represented by the Boon Wurrung Foundation.
So, while footy and cricket play a big part in the story of Alexandra Park they are by no means the only sporting endeavors to have been staged there over the decades.
There were also wood chopping competitions in the 1950s and even boomerang and spear throwing exhibitions by Aborigines, although to which tribe these individuals belonged is not mentioned in the historical records.
As part of a Boxing Day carnival in 1934, nine camels from central Australia made up a picnic camel race meeting at Alexandra Park. A tennis tournament on the park’s grass was also part of the same carnival.
And then there was the Mornington Athletics Carnival of 1945 where the shire provided for up to 5000 spectators and prepared a world class track at the park. The feature race, the “Mornington Gift” was one of the richest and most prestigious foot races in the country at that time, alongside the Stawell Gift.
Alexandra Park has also been used for some of the biggest events and camps on the Mornington Peninsula, including gymkhanas.
Gymkhanas were popular on the peninsula from the early to the mid-1900s; they were essentially an event to celebrate horsemanship although there were also motorcycle varieties as well.
Alexandra Park was also the setting for some of the biggest camps on the peninsula.
On Boxing Day 1931, about 280 men of the 24th Battalion representing Camberwell, Croydon and Surrey Hills set up camp for 10 days engaging in activities such as inter-company cricket matches.
The Alpha Social Club used the park for Christmas holiday camps in the 1940s on more than one occasion, some of which were attended by more than 400 people, as did the Presbyterian Young Men’s Fellowship in the late 1920s and the scouts on regular occasions.
All of which shows how valuable an asset Alexandra Park has been, and still is, to the local and wider community.
Thanks should be given to the Mornington football and cricket clubs for the work they have done in maintaining and developing the area for more than a century.
The Mornington Shire (1894 to 1994) and now the Mornington Peninsula Shire should also be acknowledged for their investment and management of the park.
At the end of the day, as history has shown, although people from far and wide have used the magnificent field and amenities of Alexandra Park for many purposes, it will always be a place for all the people of the shire to enjoy.