The mature Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), has achieved substantial proportions under favourable conditions of moisture, good soils and protection from strong winds. The species was first described in 1843 (Hooker, W.J.). It is a highly ornamental rainforest tree with a distinctive, broadly spreading canopy and dramatic silhouette. This species was a prized and valued component of mid- to late nineteenth century gardens and parkland but is now relatively uncommon within the City of Sydney LGA. It was often planted with other native Australian rainforest pines. By the mid-nineteenth century, the gardens of Macleay’s Elizabeth Bay House estate were widely recognised in the Colony for their exceptional range of native pines (Araucaria spp.), figs (Ficus spp.) and other rainforest species. The Bunya Pine’s large woody cones (up to 30cm long) bearing edible seeds, were a major food source for local Aboriginal tribes in south-eastern Queensland. The size and weight of falling cones however raises public safety issues in a park setting and this needs to be addressed as part of ongoing management.
The group of Washington Palms (Washingtonia robusta) forms an outstanding collection in the park. These tall, exotic palms emerge above the combined tree canopies and reinforce the eclectic, subtropical style of the Elizabeth Bay harbour-side precinct. These are historic and culturally significant components which are consistent with the local architectural character, particularly ‘Boomerang’, the grand Spanish Mission style residence located in Billyard Avenue. These palms are evocative of the southern Californian landscape and the 1920’s Hollywood era, being a landmark species in places like Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
Previously part of a pair, one Hills Weeping Figs (Ficus microcarpa var. hillii) is an individually significant specimens in terms of its massive size and scale. One Ficus microcarpa var. villi was removed and replaced in the same spot in mid 2011. The remaining specimen is amongst one of the larger examples of this species in the City of Sydney LGA. It is possible that it may date from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century following subdivision of the estate, but is most likely to have been planted during reconfigurations of the Park which occurred during the 1930’s. It is supportive and consistent with the overall thematic palette of the park, however, showing signs of decline with considerable defoliation and dead wood evident in the upper canopy. The mature Crows Ash (Flindersia australis) is also likely to date from this period as it appears a relatively small tree in the 1943 aerial photo of the area. This durable, hardy and highly ornamental rainforest species reinforces the lasting legacy of lush evergreen, broadleaf rainforest trees dating from the early to mid-nineteenth century. This species has been used successfully as a street tree throughout the City of Sydney LGA including the Moore Park area and Cumberland Street, The Rocks (refer to listings in this Register).
The mature Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) and Wild Olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana), located in the eastern portion of the reserve, were both introduced as ornamental species in the early nineteenth century but are likely to relate to Tudor’s later garden. These trees may have been planted or self-sown. The olive was a mature specimen in 1949 and situated within the footprint of the former conservatory. Although of historic and cultural significance, these evergreen trees are a vigorous colonising species. They are now considered exotic weeds in most situations and further colonisation should be controlled.
The mature group of exotic Washington Palms (Washingtonia robusta) together with individual native rainforest specimens, the Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), Hills Weeping Fig (Ficus microcarpa var. hillii) and Crows Ash (Flindersia australis) form a significant remnant collection within this public foreshore reserve. They have individual and group significance at the local level in terms of their historic, visual, social and botanical values.
A number of these trees and palms are garden remnants from the grounds of the Elizabeth Bay House estate and gardens, and specifically the grounds of William John Macleay’s Linnean Society of NSW Hall built in 1885 (see ‘Boomerang’ – NSW State Heritage Inventory) and also the gardens of and St Monan’s (later Tudor) which was constructed in 1876 on Lot 54 of the 1875 subdivision of Elizabeth Bay estate and its neighbour Holmesby. These trees relate to a much larger colonial collection of botanical specimens, now scattered across a number of land titles since subdivision of the former estate (refer to 34A Billyard Avenue, 36 Billyard Avenue ‘Berthong’ and 42 Billyard Avenue ‘Boomerang’ and Elizabeth Bay Road listings in this Register and City of Sydney 2006 Beare Park Plan of Management and Landscape Master Plan).
In 1882-84 W Sparke, the owner of St Monan’s, extended the area of reclamation supported by a sea wall and had a large, ornate conservatory and a large bush house almost hidden by vegetation built on the lowest level of the garden, now occupied by Beare Park.The conservatory stood at the end of ‘an avenue of Araucarias and assorted conifers, Jacarandas, Tecomas, Magnolia fuscata and Magnolia grandiflora.’( Morris, Lost gardens of Sydney, 2008, p97) The Araucarias were large open-crowned trees when photographed in 1905 although an engraving of the conservatory in 1884 depicts them as very young trees.