For many Mornington residents and visitors, Alexandra Park is the ground at the top of Main St where people play footy, cricket and netball. Most Morningtonians drive past Alexandra Park on their way to sampling the delights of “the street”, or to it so they can drop off the kids for their weekend sport without a second thought of the history that permeates every sod, every blade of grass, every brick and every plank that make up the much-loved community space.
For some residents lucky enough to have memories of the shire going back before World War II, a walk past Alexandra Park may evoke more than just memories of bristling local derbies or the crack of willow on leather. In the minds of these senior residents, there may be recollections of thundering hoofs, or the glint of axe heads as they are raised to meet the sunlight before crashing down to splinter wood. Or it may be memories of army pageantry and the pomp and ceremony of city bands that led processions from Main St to the park for a spot of afternoon tea and a recital.
While the very earliest history of Alexandra Park is sketchy, including its naming, records held by the Mornington and District Historical Society detail the purchase of the area now known as Alexandra Park in 1896 by the Mornington Shire as a freeholding. And for millennia previous it was part of the territory inhabited by the Bunurong people, part of the Kulin nation, whose descendants live among us today and whose interests are represented by the Boon Wurrung Foundation.
So while footy and cricket play a big part in the story of Alexandra Park, they are by no means the only sporting endeavours to have been staged on its fields over the decades. There were also woodchopping competitions in the 1950s and even boomerang and spear-throwing exhibitions by Aborigines.
As part of a Boxing Day carnival in 1934, nine camels from central Australia made up a picnic camel race meeting at Alexandra Park. As part of the same carnival, a tennis tournament on the grass of Alexandra Park was also well attended. Then there was the Mornington Athletics Carnival of 1945, where the Shire made provisions for up to 5000 spectators and prepared a world-class track with the feature race, the Mornington Gift, one of the richest and most prestigious foot races in the country at that time alongside the Stawell Gift.
But Alexandra Park hasn’t just been an arena for sports — it’s a venue that has held some of the biggest events and camps on the Peninsula. The regular gymkhanas are a good example. Gymkhanas were enormously popular on the Peninsula from the early to mid-1900s; they were essentially an event to celebrate horsemanship, although there were also motorcycle varieties as well.
Alexandra Park was also the setting for some of the biggest camps on the Peninsula. On Boxing Day in 1931, about 280 men of the 24th Battalion representing Camberwell, Croydon and Surrey Hills set up camp for 10 days, engaging in activities such as inter-company cricket matches. The Alpha Social Club used Alexandra Park for Christmas holiday camps in the 1940s on more than one occasion, some of which were attended by 400 people or more, as did the Presbyterian Young Men’s Fellowship in the late 1920s and the Scouts on regular occasions.
All of which goes to show how valuable an asset Alexandra Park has been — and still is — to the local and wider community. Thanks should be given to the Mornington football and cricket clubs for the work they have done in maintaining and developing the area over more than a century. The Mornington Peninsula Shire should also be acknowledged for its investment and management of the area on behalf of its residents.
At the end of the day, as history has shown, though people from far and wide have used the magnificent field and amenities of Alexandra Park for many and varied purposes, it will always remain a place for all the people of the Mornington Peninsula to enjoy.