Australia is known for the diversity of its untamed landscapes, and the playgrounds found in this iconic locale are a reflection of its wild beauty. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects recently completed a nationwide search for Australia's best outdoor playground -- and when the 45 entrants were winnowed down to one, Nature Play at Royal Park was named the victor. The visual and play elements are stunning and include a variety of terrains, combining basic playground equipment with open and inspiring free spaces. Beyond the kid-friendliness of the final product, however, it's the meaning behind some of the elements as well as the accessibility of this natural play area within an urban center that caught the eye and sensibilities of the judges.
Part of a larger partnership between the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the playground serves as an effort to re-establish green park space on the site of the former Royal Children’s Hospital. The expansive play spaces include slides, climbing structures, and rope areas, but the designers left plenty of open and imaginative spaces so that kids could create whatever type of play and fantasy scenarios they could dream up.
One of the most special design elements was the integration of the seven seasons of the Wurundjeri: Kangaroo Apple Season (December), Biderap Dry Season (January and February), Eel Season (March), Waring Wombat Season (April-July or August), Orchid Season (August-September), Tadpole Season (October), and the Grass-Flowering Season (November). The aboriginal tribe, which has lived in the area including present day Melbourne for up to 40,000 years, granted Nature Play permission to incorporate their stories into the park itself to illustrate the natural changes that signified a transition between the seasons.
The greater Melbourne community and beyond became engaged in the project, and the resulting Nature Play is an attempt to be an inviting place for the city’s citizens and visitors. The playground was designed in the spirit of inclusion. Although there are plenty of hills, gullies, and creeks for kids to traipse around and explore, the space was set up so that people of a variety of needs could enjoy the park. Apparently, even patients at the nearby medical facility are occasionally brought out to areas including the water play space to experience the healing and soothing powers of nature. Whether used for play, therapy, exercise, multigenerational activity, or all of the above, Nature Play at Royal Park is a treasure for anyone who comes across this stunning display of thoughtful, kid-friendly design for families today — with a nod to the past and the land’s longtime residents.