Australian Institute of Landscape Architects holds an Australia’s Best Playground competition which recognises the work of landscape architects who have designed amazing public play spaces.
Here are the 40 best playgrounds in Australia (as submitted by ALIA members) – put them on your bucket list! There were 45 submissions but I’ve omitted five of the entries as they are private play spaces for child care centres/schools or a temporary structure. (Images from ALIA unless otherwise supplied)
And the winner of the best playground in Australia is right here in Melbourne – congratulations Royal Park Nature Play!
1. Bicentennial Park Playground
The quirky spaces include open ended play elements, art works and planting, with the colourful Mount Chelsea slides at its heart. The ‘smurf’ village with its sculptural cow in the village centre randomly farts, burps or moos when triggered!
Bicentennial Park Playground, Thames Promenade & Scotch Parade, Chelsea
Brings to life the children’s book Bollygum by Australian author Garry Fleming. Bollygum is the story of a group of native animals and their distinctive, cool-temperate forest habitats. The design uses the story as an appealing framework for play, using quirky artworks to present the animal ‘homes’ as endearing play settings such as the earthy wombat tunnels, the light and aerial frogmouth home, and the platypus house by the side of the rocky creek.
Bollygum Park, 40 Whittlesea-Kinglake Road, Kinglake
3. Castlemaine Botanical Gardens Playspace
A trip through a ‘tunnel’ on the log train (the regional line runs beside the park) takes you to an accessible Miner’s cottage, with gold candle and creek bed peppered with iron pyrite ‘gold’. Other custom play structures incorporate panels patterned with oak leaves, and round decks reminiscent of a treehouse. The huge oak which shades the site is revered through beautiful new bronze acorn sculptures and leaves on springs, cast at the local foundry.
Castlemaine Botanical Gardens Playspace, Downes Road, Castlemaine
4. Harmony Garden
Part playground, part urban wilderness, part music-sculpture installation. The central installation – an 11-metre wall strung with metal gongs and bells, set beside three drum-seats – provides a diatonically-tuned ensemble that can elicit music from the most untrained hand. Around the park, brightly-painted ‘flower bells’ nestle among their real-life inspirations.
Harmony Garden, Point Park, Point Park Crescent, Docklands
The facility is located adjacent to an ornamental lake and has been designed to re-invigorate the lake and encourage greater use of the park in general. Adjacent to the lake a 40m long artificial stream laid out like a river delta with divergent paths, islands and rivulets was created. Along the length of this watercourse are fountains, programmed water geysers, splash pads, manual water pumps and other play elements. The naturalistic shapes of the waterplay were based on aboriginal fish traps used on the Murray for centuries.
Mildura Water Play, Mildura Riverfront Park, Mildura
*Awarded Australia’s best playground* The seven Wurundjeri seasons of Melbourne are central to this new landscape, informing the structure, planting and play experiences of the space. It centres around active and imaginative play spaces built upon the new landform of hills, gullies, grasslands and creeks, connecting with the existing parkland in two distinct ways.
Royal Park Nature Play, Corner Gatehouse Street & Flemington Road, Parkville
The design is a creative expression of the coastal dune and rocky outcrop environment loosely based on the habitat of the Rakali – children play amongst burrows, rocks, sand and water. The design explicitly aims to provide for unstructured play in this natural setting as well as to provide for various types of physical movement.
Plum Garland Memorial Playground, Albert Park Foreshore – Beaconsfield Parade & Victoria Avenue, Albert Park
The Saltwater Playground is nestled between a series of hillocks, mounds and barrows that act as seating areas, wind breaks and play opportunities; particularly as great embankments for huge slides. The centre piece of the playground is 50m long watercourse that weaves through the playground. The font and spring of the watercourse is a commissioned crocodile created from worked bronze plate and stainless steel.
Salt Water Coast Crocodile Park, Saltwater Promenade, Point Cook
This playground appeals to children’s fascination with dinosaurs. Elements include a flying fox covered by a huge 25m long ‘brontosaurus’ dinosaur frame, a 20m long dinosaur climbing frame incorporating climbing nets and a slide, a ‘pterodactyl’ basket swing with tactile steel feathers which form a cubby house and a series of stegosaurus climbing plates with climbing holds that incorporate noise making elements.
The Megasaurus Playground, Newington Drive, Cranbourne East
*Awarded VIC/TAS winner* The main focus of the playspace is a sea of majestic Cypress Macrocarpa posts that signify a clearing in the forest both figuratively and physically. To complement the main climbable tree houses and ropes course, there’s a naturalized dry creek bed and sand area focusing on education and nature play. Climbable interactive sculptures of local wildlife are also placed strategically through the space.
Valley Reserve SPARC, Valley Reserve, Mt Waverley
NEW SOUTH WALES
The play area is located on a large podium adjacent to residential towers and is designed with an organic character to mitigate the large areas of built form. In conjunction with artist Jason Wing, Sturt Noble wove an interpretive, indigenous overlay into the design of Central Park. The fishing theme is repeated in the “fish bone” concrete forms which provide seating and play opportunities within the play and lawn areas, and in the large rope structure which is representative of a fish trap.
Central Park, Shoreline Drive & Gauthorpe Street, Rhodes
Chelsea Street Playground is essentially a communal backyard. The essential elements of swing, slide and climbing frame are supplemented with structures that allow imaginative play around habitation, creativity and nature. The play ‘ground’ extends into the adjacent kitchen garden, remnant copse of mature trees, and the communal shelter, to ensure integration of all people and activities.
Chelsea Street Playground, Redfern, Sydney
The bespoke design of the water play environment includes an array of interactive elements. It promotes socialisation and cooperative play and with sluice gates, switches and steel water elements it references the industrial history of Darling Harbour.
Darling Quarter, 1-25 Harbour Street, Sydney
Jubilee Playground is made up of three distinct but interconnected ‘worlds’. Work included renovating the carousel, providing a play deck and seat beside the cubby for all abilities access.
Jubilee Playground, Northcote Road, Glebe
Taronga Zoo’s Lemur Forest Adventure brings together play, education, interpretation and animal care. The exhibit is divided into the forest play-through – a densely packed, multilayered forest with play areas interspersed at different levels, the observation outpost, a moat dividing the observation outpost from the lemur exhibit, the lemur walkthrough and an island, exposed sandstone cliffs and ledges that provide retreat for the lemurs as visitors walk through the exhibit.
Lemur Forest Adventure, Taronga Zoo, Mosman, Sydney
*Awarded NSW/ACT winner* Features double flying fox, single flying fox, giant swings, slide with climbing wall, water play and recycled timber balancing beams and sand diggers along with a great loop for scooters and bikes. The play area introduces recycled water through a children’s play pump and water course system within a unique play experience that both excites and delights.
Lizard Log Playground, Cowpasture Road and The Horsley Drive, Abbotsbury
The playground is composed of a series of play rings, a deck structure that includes a water feature and floating net and Flying fox.
Paddocks Precinct Playground, Parramatta Park
The design creates a series of “play zones” providing a variety of play experiences and adventures for different age groups and various physical abilities. A sweeping back dune and planting are used to form both discrete and open areas of play, ranging from a maze featuring sound, scent and texture to broad-scale challenging climbing nets. Children contributed to the project through a community art initiative, hand painting tiles for inclusion into maze walls.
Peninsula Recreation Precinct, Sydney Avenue & The Esplanade, Umina Beach, Umina
Adventure play for all ages and most abilities. Play facilities are shaded by existing Fig Trees.
Riverside Park Playground, Riverside Park, Eden Street, Kempsey
20. Water Play Park
The play elements were designed to illustrate how water flows (in nature) and plays with an interesting series of waterplay features including a ‘source’ feature representing the water flowing from the mountains, a ‘rills’ section representing water flowing in a river across plains, and an ‘estuary’ feature which includes a collection of jets and sprays.
Water Play Park, Steel Park, Illawarra Road, Marrickville
A custom designed play tower referencing the classic Hills Rockets, a raised fort landing, giant slide, ropes and cable climbing apparatus, swings, nature play and tunnels complete this exciting play experience. The design integrates public art by Nuha Saad.
Wulaba Park, Amelia Street near the corner of O’Dea Avenue and South Dowling St, Waterloo
- Demeio Park
While the tower structure challenges users, the smaller equipment is suitable for the younger kids. Birds nest swings and flying fox provide alternate options. Rubber softfall and the concrete path provide easy access for wheel chairs.
Demeio Park, 116-124 Demeio Road, Marsden
The theme of the Arena Play Structure is ‘deconstruction’, in that memories of the iconic Milton tennis stadium remain in symbiosis with the contemporary play space. ‘Deconstruction’ is thus represented by large precast concrete panels of varying heights and angles; suspended concrete slabs; angled steel struts; steel mesh tunnels and barriers; and angular folded roof canopies arranged in an arc facing the park’s picnic facilities and enclosing a central lawn space. Youngsters of different ages can climb all over, through, and around the deconstructed Arena to explore a series of play zones which reflect spaces typically found in a stadium, such as the Grandstand, and the Commentary Box — a steel-mesh box suspended seven metres above the ground.
Frew Park Arena Play Structure, Frew Street, Milton
The 600mm deep sculpture pool is a large area, fed by a sculptural waterfall. The main pool includes a 1.5m deep lap area with a fully accessible beach entry and 500mm high articulated submerged terraces that circumnavigate pool edge, where beach access is not provided. The children’s wading pool is an elongated section of various water play experiences including playful ripples, steppers and squirting elements.
Orion Lagoon, Springfield Town Centre, 155 Southern Cross Circuit, Springfield Central
Inspired by Southbank’s famous Bougainvillea arbour, the active playground bursts with colour in vibrant pinks, greens and blue. There are four challenging yet safe play environments for children of all physical and intellectual abilities.
Riverside Green playground, Southbank, Brisbane
A stand of trees, some aged 150 years and a ‘home tree’ likely to be approaching 300 years have been integrated as iconic natural features. Capturing the shapes and shade of the trees and terrain, this park also provides a structured play environment including a traffic school meandering amongst the trees, a half basketball court, dog off lead park, picnic shelter and play space. The park has a specific toddler play area, teens are accommodated with a flying fox and basketball court.
Stone Ridge Central Park, Stone Ridge Boulevard, Narangba
This accessible playspace is based on the planet’s major Biomes. The creek represents aquatic systems focusing on water play, and the sand pit demonstrates the hot desert environments. The bamboo maze, trampolines and grass chimes recreate the Savannah and the rope climb, walkway and pods allow play in the forests of the world.
Adelaide Zoo Nature’s Playground, Adelaide Zoo, Frome Road, Adelaide
Glenelg Foreshore Playspace
The mounds and precast concrete walls reflect the waves and dune formations, reinforced by the inclusion of a giant 4.0m wide slide and elevated timber platform that form the ‘prefect break’. The climbing wall, cubby and tunnel become a giant sandcastle for children to explore while the bands of the concrete walls and brightly coloured dome net represent an abstracted beach towel draped over the site. The nature based play elements draw inspiration from the pre‐European vegetation of the area.
Glenelg Foreshore Playspace, Moseley Square, Glenelg
Hart’s Mill Surrounds is a revitalised and attractive public realm in Port Adelaide, located adjacent to the wharf with a backdrop of one of Adelaide’s most iconic heritage buildings. The playspace is designed as an integrated part of the whole precinct.
Hart’s Mill, Mundy Street, Port Adelaide
The design is community inspired and on their request, centred on active play; playgrounds to suit various age groups; water play; a skate plaza; and a scooter and BMX triple bowl along with an amphitheatre for community performances and gathering spaces for families and larger groups.
Playford Alive Town Park, Cnr of The Parkway and Peachey Road, Munno Para
Designed to include senior, junior and nature play elements. These zones were blended and connected by a looped path that allows disability access to permeate to all the elements of ‘the enchanted garden’. Nature play is the linking element and epicentre of the play space.
Prospect Memorial Gardens Playspace, Menzies Crescent Adelaide South
Draws its inspiration from the historical agricultural references of the area. The theme has been transformed into a fun light-hearted farm themed playground featuring a giant pig incorporating a part climbing frame and slide, a windmill climbing frame and a range of life size animals and farm machinery sculptures.
Adventurescape Playground, Austin Lakes Estate, South Yunderup
Integrates a nature play space in existing trees to activate the parkland. The integration of a flying fox and an elevated climbing net provides challenge and risk for older children. For smaller children, elevated timber decking that is nestled around the existing Peppermint trees is connected with a rope bridge thus creating a platform for imaginative role play whilst providing the sensation of being within the trees. In addition, the play space incorporates mounds, tunnels, slides, water play and a nest swing.
Braithwaite Park Nature Play Area, Cnr Scarborough Beach Road & The Boulevard, Mount Hawthorn
An inclusive nature play area with a bush cubby leading to stepping stones through a bush garden (including lily-pily snack stops) to log steps leading up a hill to a polished concrete slide which can accommodate any size and number of bottoms. A drink fountain provides water for play; running off into a steel channel and a concrete ‘creek’ into the sandpit.
Carawatha Park, 10 Archibald Street, Willagee
Series of recreated streams and ponds. Complementing this experience, five distinctive activity areas have been created each focusing on an underlying theme from cubby building, tree climbing and storytelling to mud pie making.
Rio Tinto Naturescape, May Drive, Kings Park
The Common Playground
From the northern toddler areas of hard and soft surfacing, to the mid-ground accessible and tactile provision to the southern climbing and sliding opportunities designed towards older children and a greater sense of challenge. Tactile experiences have been spaced throughout the playground with natural elements, a tiled wall created from a resident children’s painting workshop as well as a specially commissioned artist’s embossed tile installation.
The Common Playground, Mayfield Drive, Brabham
The playground sits amongst mature trees and includes a variety of built and natural features to support a diverse range of play experiences. These include log and rope challenges, a climber, a puppet theatre cubby, journey pathways, sand and water play and a mound slide.
Theatre Gardens Playspace, Bagot Road, Subiaco
Yokine Regional Inclusive Play Space
*Awarded WA/SA/QLD winner* Features include accessible sand and water play area, Sensory play: musical instruments and sensory trail, diverse graduated balancing, swinging, rocking, climbing, sliding and spinning experiences, loose parts/imaginary play provided as sand, bark/sticks/nuts and water play spaces, imaginative bespoke mythical creatures and curious items, spaces for respite, watching, and working up to a challenge and teen focused zone with multi-sport space, giant swing, hangout spaces and parkour elements (future construction stage).
Yokine Regional Inclusive Play Space, Yokine regional open space, Wordsworth Avenue
Located within the 100 forests at the National Arboretum, The Pod Playground introduces children and their families to the wonder of trees. Using the idea of seeds as the beginning of life amongst the forest, children and their families can enter an imaginary world of fanciful scales, a play space with giant acorns floating in the sky, and enormous banksia cones nestled on the forest floor.
The Pod Playground, Forest Drive, Canberra City
Includes equipment that can be easily accessed by children of all ability levels, ‘natural’ or ‘sensory’ play zones, flexible play spaces, opportunities for creative, physical, social and cognitive play, zoned spaces to cater to a range of different age and developmental levels and an artwork master plan.
Boundless Canberra, Kings Park, Parkes ACT
How many of Australia’s Best Playgrounds have you visited? What playgrounds do you think should have been on the list?