Macquarie Lake Variety Playground – The Oz Blogfest Begins

27 February 2015 · 11 comments

in Community Involvement, Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces, Outdoor Play, Technologies, Urban

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It is hard to believe that I’ve been in Australia over a week. For those of you who don’t know, I’m spending the next couple of months working and travelling, doing training, talks and workshops on behalf of Inspired EC, an early years consultancy. You can find my programme here and I can take on extra bookings if your school or early childhood establishment want to host a bespoke event.

ML Sand play

See the large low metal table/platform? I’ve seen these in a couple of playgrounds here in Australia and rather like them as they seem so multi-functional.

I’m starting to write a few blog posts and to set the scene, there are going to several about Lake Macquarie Variety Playground. Greg Harvey, who writes a super blog, Males in Early Childhood, kindly drove Niki Buchan and myself there. He has already blogged about this community-friendly playground and it’s worth hopping over to his blog to read all about it here.

Greg - MIECE

Thanks Greg for your friendship! It’s always good to meet virtual friends for real.

This large community, all-abilities playground aims to cater for children and their families to play and interact together. It was deliberately designed to appeal to a diverse range of users and to be a social gathering place. Very often, adults are not welcome in a playspace. Some even require adults to be accompanied by children. So to be able to freely wander around this playspace was a quietly joyful experience.

ML Mine shaft

The frame is filled with choices about entrances and exits. The helter skelter slide is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

The main focal feature was the multi-storey climbing frame. Whilst it was probably designed with older children in mind, whilst I clambered up, I encountered many very young children and a gang of teenagers. It is great to see a structure that appeals to all ages. The design is a reminder of the local heritage – the mining industry – and this shaft looks as if it disappears into the ground below.

ML Cave

Naturally, any mineshaft has tunnels underneath the ground. Whilst the play structures don’t go underground there are dark tunnels above ground for children to run through. On the outside, traversing climbing walls of varying degrees of difficulty are to be found.

ML Cave 2

Immediately beside the tower are two huge flying foxes. There was a constant queue of children waiting patiently for their turn. By providing two flying foxes, children can do more together, e.g. have races or compare and contrast the runs. In my experience usually one works better than the other.

Flying Fox

The water zone was another hugely popular area. The attention to detail is quite incredible and is the subject of another blog post. The archimedes screw feature really worked!

Water play

The park was very well-maintained. There were almost no broken structures other than one of the jumping harmonicas in the music section in the photo below. This was probably my least favourite areas as I felt it lacked the imaginative touches of the rest of the playspace.

ML Music area

The zones were full of attention to detail. There were contrasting surfaces, as illustrated below. Sand, bark chips, grit, grass, rubberised surfacing and concrete were but a few of the surfaces to be found. The curves of the paths and zones helped soften the landscape. Local natural materials such as sandstone were used for other design features such as seats.

ML Surfacing

The maze was landscaped with native plants. It was located close to the wheeled toy area, so that children could continue riding their bikes and scooters from here into the maze.

ML Maze

As well as new plantings, the big old trees provided welcome shade. And also a natural climbing opportunity for those able and up for this. Again, there were lots of children to be found simply hanging in and around the big trees.

ML Climbing tree

The playground has clearly gone through several developmental stages over the years. The music area was clearly one of the older parts of the space. Nevertheless there were still fun features – check out this clambering spider’s web. The ramps around this are wheelchair accessible and end up at a double slide.

ML Spider web

A 3-D approach was taken too. In some places coloured perspex above provided shadow patterns on sunny days below.

ML Shade Panels

The mosaics featured local wildlife and have been designed to be felt as much as seen. Upon closer inspection, you could see Braille inlaid into the mosaic totem poles.

ML Mosaic Panel

Two pairs of giant green dishes provided another interesting sensory experience. These were salvaged from Telstra – an Australian telecommunications company. They are parabolic listening dishes. If you stand in front of one dish with your back to your friend who is facing the other dish you can whisper to each other and still be heard – even on the pair which were placed tens of metres apart.

Listening Dishes

Other curiosities could also be experienced. In the photo below is a spiral performance space. It looked like it was built upon the principle of the Golden Ratio. The walls were perfect for walking along.

Lake M  2

The wheeled toy zone was an area full of detail. Please look out for the next blog post which goes into detail about this particular area and why it is a useful springboard to thinking about bike play in schools and nurseries.

Macquarie Bike 2

All-in-all this playground – the first I have visited in Australia – has set a good standard for more child-friendly spaces to come. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to visit two childcare centres with naturalised playspaces. The Oz Blogfest begins… 🙂

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen Alexander February 27, 2015 at 18:09

This was a great post! I love seeing playgrounds in other countries and this one looks much better than most of the playgrounds we have in the US. I think the “traffic park” is an interesting phenomenon – I have never come across one at a playground in the states, but I saw several in India.


Juliet Robertson February 27, 2015 at 21:22

Hi Jen – The traffic park particularly interested me. I think part of the attraction was that the place was very well maintained and careful thought had been given to add sufficient interest through the design of the layout and addition of several interesting features.


mummy m's memories February 28, 2015 at 07:53

Wow, what a fantastic opportunity. This park looks amazing, and if it was ALOT closer, I think we could easily spend a full day exploring and having fun. #countrykids


Juliet Robertson February 28, 2015 at 08:33

Agreed!I am tormented by the 12K distance between this playground and my home!


North East Family Fun February 28, 2015 at 08:44

Wow this looks like the best playground I have ever seen! Love the helter skelter slide – looks like so much fun #countrykids


Juliet Robertson February 28, 2015 at 08:50

For a public playspace it was really well done. Also I liked the amount of vegetation – this can so often be lacking.


Coombe Mill February 28, 2015 at 09:34

Wow, what an amazing play parks, full of so many different areas. It’s great that they’ve designed it to work for people of all ages and abilities we often find play areas designed just for kids under 10 it’s great that this was for the teens who wouldn’t like to admit that they feel left out. I love the idea of braille in the mosaics and wheelchair accessible ramps, a great way to include people of all abilities. Thanks for linking up with Country Kids.


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