I’ve been writing and photographing quite a lot about Mossvale Park over the last few years and what I’ve written and photographed, I kind of equate to the old adage of ‘Can’t see the forest for the trees’. I’ve been looking more at the detail, rather than the big picture, though generally for valid reasons, so I want to rectify that situation and write about the broader aspects of Mossvale Park, how it came to be and where it’s possibly heading in the future. I also want to cover what makes Mossvale Park so important, not only from a local perspective, but from a national and, in some ways, a global one as well.
I’ve been thinking about doing this story for quite some time and, in doing so, I’ve been building up a series of photographs as well as words (purely in my head), looking for a kick start to the story. Well, this kick start happened recently, when the Mossvale Park Advisory Committee held a day out at the park in order to give visitors a guided tour and explain the many significant aspects of its history and especially the noteworthy trees. More importantly, this gave me the opportunity that I’d always wanted and that’s to explore Knockwood Estate, which ostensibly gave birth to Mossvale Park through the original owner Francis Moss. And, as Winter is now almost a distant memory, it’s the perfect time to write about Mossvale Park, as the visual aspects of Francis Moss’s heritage comes to life.
Unfortunately, time prevented us (my good wife and I) from attending the guided tours and providing coverage of the event, because we’d spent far more time than we’d actually anticipated at Knockwood Estate, which overlooks Mossvale Park and the valley. Knockwood Estate hosts Jeremy and Julie were incredibly accommodating and gave us a great run through their side of the history of Mossvale Park, which I’ll be covering in more detail. So, as it stands today, the original Mossvale Park or nursery as it was is now divided into three separate entities; Mossvale Park, Knockwood Estate and another former section of the nursery now owned by a third party.
To that end, this is going to be sort of a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ story; but not what Charles Dickens depicted in his tale, though the time-frame is somewhat similar. I want to tell a story of the park as it is today, what it was, how it formed, where it’s headed and the legacy that Francis Moss left to Australia (and perhaps the world). That last statement may sound a little over the top but, in many ways, it’s very close to the truth, as will unfold. Of course whatever is written about Mossvale Park, you can’t avoid writing about and photographing the trees, because this is Mossvale Park’s raison d’être. So, first off, a potted history of Mossvale Park (courtesy of the Mossvale Park Advisory Committee) and a full story can be found here:
1851 – Francis Moss migrated from England to Victoria, aged 18 and settled at Buninyong, near Ballarat where he established a 17 acre nursery/garden to supply the goldfields. Francis Moss began importing seeds from England, France and Italy, and became expert at budding and grafting fruit trees.
1888 – Through various friends and associations, Francis Moss and wife Augusta eventually moved to South Gippsland and settled at Mossvale Park, on 1,000 acres of virgin forest and began nursery development. Part of the property was originally selected by Mr Bernard Farrell, via the 1878 Land Board. Mr Bruce is the first nursery manager.
1898 – On the death of Mr Bruce, manager of Mossvale Nursery, Mr William Gould managed both nurseries. Gould had been trained at Brunnings Nursery in the 1860s, and supervised for Moss until 1917, with his son George assisting him from 1910 to 1917. He was a qualified nurseryman, apprenticed in the 1860s. It was William George who planted the trees in the area that is now Mossvale Park. These may have been surplus nursery stock, which, for various reasons did not sell.
1916 – Francis Moss died, aged 84, buried at Buninyong. The Buninyong nursery sold, but the Leongatha property (Mossvale) failed to sell.
1916-23 – Thomas Weir, appointed by the estate administrators commenced dairy farming, however as the property deteriorated, it was leased for grazing.
1931 – Farm leased to Les Edey.
1933 – The front paddock became a venue for school sports and public picnics.
1930s – Farm leased to Mr J Hayes. He first suggested Woorayl Shire Council, purchase the front paddock for public use.
1946 – Woorayl and Mirboo North Shires jointly purchase 10 Acres, which is declared a public reserve. A public meeting was convened in the Berrys Creek Hall and the first Committee of Management was elected. Mr G M Hayes, owner of Mossvale farm was appointed caretaker.
1949 – Proposed park open space developed, ploughed, graded and sown down.
1950 – Mr Archie Mason purchased Mossvale farm. He assisted in park development.
1950s – First public facilities established – a fireplace, water tank, and playground.
1969 – First ‘Music for the People’ concert, with the Victorian State Orchestra.
1980 – The music soundshell completed.
2010-11 -West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) and Council complete first stage in South West location. Weed species were removed and indigenous endemic species were planted on Tarwin River easement.
From a management perspective, South Gippsland Shire is responsible for the trees, governed by National Trust listings, and assisted by Heritage Victoria and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, who provide expert advice on the welfare and maintenance of the trees. The Mossvale Park Advisory Committee works with the Shire, ensuring the best management of the park. Mossvale Park represents the public face of the old nursery, where anyone can come and enjoy the grounds and the magnificent trees that grow throughout the park. As I’ve shown in previous posts, Mossvale Park changes its appearance all year round as the seasons come and go, unlike native forests that ostensibly remain much the same throughout the seasons. The European trees that dominate Mossvale Park turn over a new leaf on a regular basis, ensuring that there’s always something visually different in the park.
The heritage that Francis Moss has left not only South Gippsland but, as I mentioned earlier, Australia and perhaps the world, is that there now exist rare and exotic trees at Mossvale Park, including three Elms that may be the tallest in the world. Disease has decimated most, if not all, of the Elms in the Old World (Europe). Heritage Victoria has also only recently discovered another rare tree at Knockwood Estate, planted by Francis Moss, and so the discovery continues. Also, with the recent reconstruction of the Leongatha hospital, a very old Weeping Elm (not Mulberry as originally thought) was transplanted to Mossvale Park. The list of registered species of trees is simply astounding, running to 158 as of last count. And looking at the list, there’s little doubt that Francis Moss loved Oaks and London Plane trees.
Knockwood Estate is now the private face of the old nursery and is open to functions and the like, and also retains many unique trees dating back from the old nursery days. Trees found on the estate include Hoop Pines, Redwoods and Norfolk Island Pines. Behind the estate, on the third part of the old nursery, you can find an Oak forest that Francis Moss planted as part of his original nursery, as well as more old trees that have now fully matured. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to stand back far enough to capture the full grandeur of some of these majestic fully grown trees at Knockwood Estate, simply because of their sheer size, where visibility would be lost if you went down the steeply sloping hillsides. Sadly, my extreme wide angle lens also takes away some of the grandeur of these trees.
Surrounded by these magnificent trees, resides part of the original homestead, overlooking the valley and Mossvale Park itself. The homestead has an incredibly pleasing aspect, sitting high above the valley where you have almost 360 degree, unimpeded views of the rolling countryside. I can just imagine myself relaxing and watching the seasons unfold from this location, whether on the balcony or sheltered inside. Wherever you look, the legacy that Francis Moss left behind is amazing, whether by intent or happenstance, it’s something that simply cannot be ignored and most certainly cannot be left unattended.
Now where is Mossvale Park headed? It’s certainly going to remain a most wonderful parkland of historic trees and a solid part of our history, as well as a host for such events as the Summer of Soul and others, including weddings and similar functions. But there also appears to be a drive for additional events such as a newly created Mossvale Markets to run over the summer period. I’m not sure what these new ventures will mean to Mossvale Park, but it appears that there’s a desire to make greater use of the park when the weather is at its best. With good management, I hope that public events that occur at Mossvale Park will not impact on the health of the magnificent trees due to soil compaction and wear through over-use or inappropriate use (the ground at Mossvale Park is very soft). My hope is that these events will be carefully managed and, in turn, that they will make people increasingly aware of the value of places such as these which, most certainly, was the feeling that I got from attendees when I covered last year’s Summer of Soul.
I’m not sure whether I’ve given justice to the history of Mossvale Park, but at least I hope that it provides some context to the frequent stories that I’ve written over the last few years. For anyone that really wants to delve into the history of Mossvale park, you might want to visit your local library for two books about Mossvale by Mrs Blundells and Ellen Lyndons. I don’t think Francis Moss ever envisaged what would become of Mossvale Park, but I suspect that he would be pleased to see how it has evolved and is being used and enjoyed by the public. I also suspect that’s what all nurserymen (and women) strive for with their trade, to encourage the development of magnificent gardens that are actually used and not just viewed from a distance.