Fronting the Old Hume Highway next to St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Mittagong is Winifred West Park.
The park was opened in 1954, named as a tribute to Miss Winfred West, MBE, then headmistress of Frensham School, Mittagong, who was widely known for her association with the school and for working tirelessly for the betterment of the district.
At the official opening in December 1954, Mittagong Shire President Victor Bradman stated that the park’s facilities had been made possible by a Government grant and it was the only park on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Goulburn that boasted such facilities. He introduced Mr J B Renshaw, NSW Minister for Works, who declared the park open. At the time 3,000 vehicles passed the park every 24 hours.
In 1969 an ‘ultra-modern’ Tourist Information Centre was opened in Winifred West Park, fronting the Highway, with an ‘autumn-leaf’ shaped roof and walls of glass from floor to roof. This eye-catching structure served the district until its demolition in 1997. It was replaced by the current Destination Southern Highlands Centre located a few blocks away.
The ‘autumn leaf’ was not the only structure that made the Park special, as the following by historian Linda Emery reveals.
Fifty years ago the Mittagong Moon Rocket landed in Winifred West Park! Most of us who grew up, or had children growing up, between the 1960s and 1980s would have memories of the local playground where metal monkey bars and swings, often along with brightly painted old tractors or trophy guns from two world wars vied for the attention of the adventurous youngster. But was there ever a more popular piece of playground equipment than the Rocket Ship climbing frame and slippery dip?
Mittagong was lucky to have its own Rocket Park much loved by locals and visitors alike. The Berrima District Historical Society recently received a donation of photographs and slides from Stuart Hawkins, son of former Mittagong Shire Mayor, Len Hawkins. Among them were several photos of ‘our’ moon rocket taken on 23 November 1968 showing the bright red and silver rocket, accompanied by bikini-clad girls and a ‘spaceman’ (Peter Elliott), making its way along the Bowral Road on the back of Alf Ellis’s low loader, ready for ‘launching’ in Winifred West Park.
The Mittagong Dahlia Festival Committee submitted the plans for the 10 metre high rocket which were approved by Mittagong Shire Council in June 1968. Dunlop Steel Fabrications of Bowral were awarded the contract to build the structure at a cost of $705, paid for by Mittagong Bowling Club.
The story of the playground rocket ship in Australia goes back to the early 1960s when plans were acquired from the United States by Blue Mountains City Council engineer, John Yeaman. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Blackheath, the first rocket slide in the country was made by Blackheath engineer and metal fabricator, Richard “Dick” West and erected in the Blackheath Soldiers Memorial Park. Such was the popularity of the Rocket Slide that Dick went on to build another 37 of them for use in parks all around Australia.
The spread of space-inspired playground equipment was a by-product of the amazing era of the ‘Space Race’ of the 1950s and 60s between the USSR and the USA, when we were all enthralled by the wonders of space travel and in 1969, by the first moon landing. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, playground rocket ships and satellites were designed to foster children's excitement and curiosity about space.
By the 1990s playgrounds like the Rocket Park were falling out of favour, as Councils became increasingly conscious of safety concerns. On the recommendation of Shire Engineer, Ken Halstead (now Mayor of Wingecarribee Shire), the Mittagong Moon Rocket was removed in 1993 amid concerns about its structural integrity. However, the tide seems to be turning, with a couple of rockets, suitably rebuilt to meet current safety standards, returning to public parks. Notably, Blackheath Rotary Club raised the funds to reinstate their rocket, removed more than 20 years ago. In partnership with Blue Mountains Council, the official ‘re-launch’ took place on 25 March.
Where is the Mittagong Rocket now? If anyone knows what happened to it, please let us know.
Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton