History of Arthur McElhone Reserve

History of Arthur McElhone Reserve

Arthur McElhone Reserve

Arthur McElhone Reserve is at the corner of Billyard and Onslow Avenues, Elizabeth Bay, in front of Elizabeth Bay House. Elizabeth Bay House was built for Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay in 1835-1838, but even before it was built work began on the landscaping and elegant outdoor entertainments were held here from 1829.

Indeed the cost of the landscaping works was so heavy that it served as a constraint on the completion of the House. This was the lawn area within the carriage loop, which provided clear views out to the Harbour, while at the same time enabling Elizabeth Bay House to be viewed as an elegant marine villa in a wild, picturesque setting from the Harbour. The scene featured in several Conrad Martens paintings and the lawn was famous from the 1840s for its massed bulbs from the Cape of Good Hope, brought by the Macleays and visiting botanists. These included ixias, sparaxias and freesias.

At the time of the 1927 subdivision of Elizabeth Bay House.this was lots 4, 5 and 6 which remained unsold. They were acquired by the Sydney City Council in 1948, and the garden was designed by Council employee Ilmar Berzins, an immigrant from Latvia who was reputedly the first formally trained landscape architect in Australia. It was named in 1950 after Arthur McElhone, an alderman for 44 years who died in 1946. The reserve features an ornamental lake with a stone bridge, and enjoys panoramic views down to the heads of Sydney Harbour.

Main image: Arthur McElhone Reserve, 1964. (City of Sydney Archives, SRC2810)

Further reading

Scott Carlin, “Elizabeth Bay House: a history and guide”, Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 2000

Mayne-Wilson and Associates, “Draft Heritage Study and review of Proposed Landscape Master Plan of the McElhone Reserve”, 2001

Last updated: Thursday, 27 October 2016