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Joseph Sayce's plans for Government House Grounds and the Domain Gardens, with William Guilfoyle's amendments overlaid in red
Joseph Sayce's plans for Government House Grounds and the Domain Gardens, with William Guilfoyle's amendments overlaid in red
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Introduction

The beautiful grounds of Government House Victoria have a long history, and play host to many community programs.

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History of the Grounds

Land bordered by the Yarra River, Anderson Street, Domain Road and St Kilda Road in Melbourne was set aside as parkland and for a future Government House in 1841, by Victoria’s first Lieutenant-Governor, Charles La Trobe.  The highest point of the park was selected as the site for Government House, as it provided one of the few vistas visible to Melburnians looking south of the Yarra River, and the site of Government House is of historical significance for its role up to the first half of the 19th century as an important meeting place and camping ground for local Aboriginal people. 

William Guilfoyle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at the time, became responsible for the Government House grounds and Kings Domain.  Guilfoyle arranged the gardens as a combination of clumps of shrubbery and broad sweeping lawns so that 'at every step the visitor finds some new view – something fresh, lively, and striking, especially when tastefully arranged.'

In 1934 1933, the grounds of Government House were reduced by nearly two-thirds. Eighteen hectares of the reserve were transferred to the Domain Park (later named Kings Domain), leaving 11 hectares of grounds.  This change was recommended by horticulturist Hugh Linaker, who was commissioned by the government to prepare a plan for the whole Domain area to coincide with the construction of the Shrine of Remembrance.  The excised land included a polo ground, which was used as a military encampment during WWI, and land which was subsequently developed into the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Peace and Prosperity Kitchen Garden Program

A kitchen garden was established by the Governor and Mr Howard at the commencement of the Governor’s term, in the position where a kitchen garden had previously been in place, as a focus for community programs to further open Government House and its grounds to the Victorian community. The kitchen garden was named the Peace and Prosperity Kitchen Garden, using the language of Victoria’s State motto. After the establishment of the kitchen garden, a program for women of migrant and refugee backgrounds was established in partnership with Community Hubs Australia.

The Peace and Prosperity Kitchen Garden Program involves the women visiting Government House weekly during school terms, to take part in activities together such as cooking, gardening and handicrafts, as well as enjoying tours of the House and garden.  The program provides the participants with an opportunity to enjoy the company of other women in an inclusive environment and to build social connections, develop an increased sense of belonging in their community and to practise their English language skills. For more information about the program, visit this page.

Scarecrow Program

As part of the development of the Peace and Prosperity Kitchen Garden, Special Development Schools from across the State have been invited to create a scarecrow to be positioned in the garden. The students involved have visited Government House to officially hand over their scarecrow, have met the Governor and Mr Howard, and have been given a tour of the House.   The program was developed as a way of opening up Government House to students from Special Development Schools in a creative and fun way.

Beehives

Government House Victoria has two beehives located within the grounds, each housing approximately 50,000 bees in summer and 20,000 bees in winter.  The Government House honey bees are hard workers, typically producing between 50kg and120kg of honey each year in the spring and summer months, depending on the season. The honey from the Government House hives is used in many different ways, including in cooking for community events at the House and bottled for official gifts. As well as producing honey, the bees play an important role in pollinating the trees, flowers and vegetables in the garden and the Domain.

Tennis Program

In a program run in conjunction with Tennis Victoria, the tennis courts at Government House have been used to conduct tennis workshops and skills programs. These programs are run under the Tennis Victoria ACE Inclusion Grants, which are targeted towards people who may experience difficulty in accessing tennis.  Participants are predominantly from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, or from groups supporting people with disabilities.

Garden Tours 

Tours of the Gardens were regularly held monthly prior to COVID-19, and we look forward to once again being able to welcome members of the public to learn more about the historic gardens and grounds.  To learn more about garden tours, including how to book once they recommence, visit this page.