Lake Macquarie History

Mr Bull's Gardens, Whitebridge

Most residents of the Charlestown area would be unaware that part of the current suburb of Whitebridge was once a major tourist spot of the Newcastle area, drawing thousands of people to visit and picnic.

The 1901 Federal Directory of Newcastle and District described Bull's Gardens as being

photo: mr bull's gardens

".... situated off the main road to Belmont and close to Charlestown, being a pleasurable ride from the city … there is good accommodation for man and beast, with botanical specimens and orchard harvests to be reaped. Refreshments can be procured and the misses Bull endeavour to make the outing an enjoyable one, in which they invariably succeed."



Mr Bull's Gardens were situated to the east of the current Bulls Garden Road at Whitebridge, and part of the road outlines the boundary of the original land grant.

Edmund Bull

In 1845 Edmund Bull arrived in NSW from the Isle of Wight aboard the ship 'Herald' with his wife Frances and their 4 children. Frances died in 1846, and Edmund married Mary Jane Sands on the property 'New Freugh' at Singleton in 1849.

It is said that Edmund came from a long line of gardeners who had been cultivating plants in Scotland and the Isle of Wight for several hundred years.

Edmund and Mary took up land in 1854 at 'The Folly' (now Waratah), and set up market gardens there, selling their produce in Newcastle. In an interview with the Newcastle Herald published 17th January 1936, Edmund's son Sidney relates the story of the earliest days:

"… father obtained a livelihood shooting game on the river and catching fish, which he hawked by boat to Newcastle and sold. I believe he grew the first bananas in Newcastle, but nobody would buy them as the majority of the people had never seen such fruit previously, and were suspicious of their taste and worth."

Mr Bull's Gardens

In around 1860, Edmund bought a 60 acre plot in what is now Whitebridge and set about setting up gardens at that location. Again, Sid Bull recounted these early days in the Herald interview:

photo: mr bull's gardens

"From our home at 'The Folly' over a rough track, we travelled by dray or horseback at daylight to reach the selection at dark. Where Charlestown is now was a small wine shanty, the only habitation on the route. In what was then known as Raspberry Gully, the Waratah Colliery was opened the year after we took up the selection. I was 14 years of age, my brother Alf was older. With a supply of corn beef, tea, flour and sugar, father carted us out in the dray. He returned home next day. AIf and I were left alone in the bush for two weeks clearing the land. At the end of that period father returned with two others of my six brothers, who in turn worked a fortnight on the land, while Alf and I went home. So we alternated spells at home with work in the bush, until the land was cleared, and a dwelling erected for all the family to dwell in.

Our bread was damper cooked in the ashes of a gum log. When provisions were short, we caught groper and flathead from the beach. Woonga pigeons, pheasants, parrots and bandicoots were also plentiful, so the tucker box was never empty. Wallabies, koala bears and opossums roamed the scrub, and at night the dismal howls of packs of dingoes were heard as they stalked our young cattle - some of which would, by morning, be without their tails."

The family business thrived, with Edmund tending the gardens and his children organising the transport of the produce. Edmund's deep love of gardening meant that the gardens went beyond a livelihood and were beautifully landscaped with rockpools and waterfalls, and filled with a large variety of plants - many imported from overseas.

"Our land was traversed by a beautiful gully of running water. On the hills we planted an orchard to obtain a livelihood. The gully became "our hobby", and was moulded into a scenic garden. Father imported many seeds and plants unknown in Australia. Seeds came from America and Java, bulbs from Holland. All 24 varieties of camelia from Japan. These, and the new varieties of fruits and flowers we ourselves bred, made the garden a botanical wonderland."

There was also a small coal mine on the property from which the family gathered their own coal.

Public Gardens

Sid took over management of the gardens in 1904, and opened up free access to the public. Sid and his family continued to live in the original house on the property which was called 'Glen Eureka', and they made a good living out of supplying refreshments, flowers and fruit to the visitors. People flocked to the gardens in their hundreds on holidays and weekends, often catching the train to nearby Whitebridge station. Many of these visitors were Masters of sailing ships anchored in the port of Newcastle, who had heard news of the beauty of the gardens whilst abroad. At the busiest times it is said there were as many as 200 horse-drawn cariages pulled up on the green outside.

Edmund and Mary continued to live at the gardens until their deaths - Edmund in 1899 and Mary in 1903. Both are buried at nearby Whitebridge cemetery.

The gardens closed in the 1930’s and Sidney and his wife relocated from Whitebridge to Wallsend in 1937. A Newcastle Herald article from 17th May1947 describes remnants of the gardens still existing between the plots of the now sub-divided land. Today little trace of the once thriving pleasure spot remains, with only the street name of Bulls Garden Road to mark the existence of one of the finest gardens in Australia.

Sources

Pawpaws, Tulips at Bull's Garden / Ian Healey Newcastle Morning Herald 17th May, 1947, Page 5

Looking Back: Mayfield early days:Bull's Famous Gardens Newcastle Morning Herald 17th January, 1936, Page 9

A History of Dudley / Dudley Public School, 1987