Visitors to the Queensland Acclimatisation Society’s (QAS) gardens in Bowen Park between 1887 and 1956 would have immediately noticed the entrance, an imposing arch made of a beached whale’s jaw bones.
The whale was found stranded at Hervey’s Bay, Maryborough, in October 1872, and its jaws, along with various other bones, were donated to the Society in December 1886 by trustees of what was then the Brisbane Museum.
A different Acclimatisation Society was established in every colony for the purpose of introducing English species to Australia. These societies imported a great number of non-native flora and fauna into the country. Acclimatisation Societies were originally developed throughout the nineteenth century for scientific purposes, testing the ability of non-native species to evolve in unfamiliar climes and habitats. In Australia, however, these societies lost their scientific rationale and came to stand for, and encourage, the simple international exchange of different species.
The QAS was established in 1862 by George Bowen, the first governor of Queensland, who also became its first patron. In 1863, the Society was granted the area which came to be known as Bowen Park after him. Prior to their acquisition, the area was comprised of a piece of rough bushland, far from the city centre and plagued by clay holes, rocky terrain and poor soil. But it was quickly turned into one of Queensland’s most attractive public spots, with publications of the time lauding the gardens’ natural beauty. An English nurseryman, James Veitch, claimed in 1880 the QAS possessed the best collection of tropical trees outside of the tropics.
The whale bone arch marked the entrance to the gardens, which split off into four separate paths around a central fountain. Each of the paths was marked by a neo-classical statue representing the four seasons.
In 1875, the Australian National Agricultural and Industrial Association was formed on a section of 17 acres of QAS land. Over time, they acquired more and more land, and other QAS holdings were sold off, leased, and otherwise lost. Bowen Park today consists of only 1.77 hectares. It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 1999.