A recent walk around Sill’s Bend in Warringal Park on a warm and windy Sunday demonstrated the value Melburnians place on their public parks and gardens, particularly in this time of Covid19 restrictions. Sill’s Bend and the neighbouring Fanning’s Bend are evocative reminders of Heidelberg’s agricultural past.
An onsite information plaque notes that Mark Sill (1818-1885) purchased river frontage land from the subdivision of the Banyule Estate in the 1850s where he planted an orchard from which several pear trees remain. The area is also mentioned in the Graeme Butler Heidelberg Conservation Study (Pt 2, 1985), noting the remnants of Sill’s old orchard dating from the 1850s as well as old oaks and willows which were descendants of nineteenth century plantings.
Mark Sill came to the the Port Phillip District in 1849 from England. He bought land in and around Warringal Village, including this bend of the river in the southwest corner of the Banyule Estate. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had ten children and the Sill family kept the land until 1926 when it was bought by the Heidelberg Shire Council.
Peter Fanning (1827-1905) is perhaps best remembered as the gardener who designed and oversaw the development of Heidelberg Park. Prior to that, he was a tenant farmer on the Banyule Estate, whose ongoing struggles with natural elements such as flood and crop disease were documented by James Graham in letters to Joseph Hawdon, owner of Banyule. Fanning became a prominent figure in the area, serving on the Shire Council and Heidelberg Road Board.
Appropriately masked people were everywhere, sitting on rugs or the grass under trees or in the open, walking dogs, reading, chatting or just soaking up the natural life around them. Many were enjoying the shelter of the large old oaks and the pear trees were showing a sprinkling of their spring blossom. Some were picknicking on the edge of the river at what had once been a popular small bathing beach.
Oblivious to all the people, dogs, music and gusty wind, a kookaburra was enjoying one of the old oaks, using a low limb as a vantage point from which to find its next meal; a well-timed swoop and off it flew, prey in beak.
Refs: Sally Graham (ed) A Man About Town: The Letters of James Graham, Victorian Entrepreneur 1854-1864 Images: Sills Bend- J.Rizzetti Kookaburra - K.Torney