Former Rockhampton Mayor Jim Webber celebrates the re-opening of the Kershaw Gardens waterfall in 1990. It had to be rebuilt after collapsing the previous year.
Former Rockhampton Mayor Jim Webber celebrates the re-opening of the Kershaw Gardens waterfall in 1990. It had to be rebuilt after collapsing the previous year. Morning Bulletin Archive

Kershaw's hidden past: a body, a bomb and a failed waterfall

WHO could have imagined that a landfill could become Rockhampton's 'big backyard'?

From falling waterfalls and tram rides around the park to murder and bombs, The Morning Bulletin has delved into the archives to celebrate 30 years of Kershaw Gardens.

Iconic Rockhampton mayor Rex Pilbeam was first to suggest the landfill conversion, proposing in 1977 that work be done as the council budget allowed.

Although council started roadworks on the site and built a nursery, construction of the gardens proper didn't start under the 1980s.

 

Kershaw Gardens under construction, date unknown.
Kershaw Gardens under construction, date unknown. Contributed

By then, Jim Webber was mayor and John Broad was the councillor leading the parks and recreation committee.

After 11 years and $3 million, the 50ha Cliff Kershaw Gardens were officially opened on Sunday, September 18, 1988 to a crowd of about 10,000.

WATERFALL COLLAPSE SPARKS CONTROVERSY

ONE of the most controversial elements of the gardens in its early days was the man-made waterfall which collapsed a few months after the official opening.

When the waterfall, inspired by those found in the Blackdown Tablelands area, collapsed on February 4, 1989, it was criticised as a waste of money.

The $1 million project was controversial because many believed the funds should instead be spent on the region's roads.

Council at the time denied the waterfall had been reconstructed at the expense of roads.

 

The collapsed waterfall in Kershaw Gardens, February 1989.
The collapsed waterfall in Kershaw Gardens, February 1989. Morning Bulletin Archive

In a Morning Bulletin report from September 24, 1990, council was criticised for using cheaper materials during the initial construction.

"About 50 to 70 council workers laboured for about 18 months on a concrete waterfall, despite public ridicule," the report stated of the replacement construction.

The new structure was built on reinforced concrete walls bedded into concrete foundations with rock gabions set into reinforced concrete.

The 'waterfall' was finished with a rock facade.

 

WHO PLANTED THE BOMB IN KERSHAW?

POTENTIALLY deadly bomb was found in a creek at Kershaw Gardens in January 2000.

The device, described by police as "professionally made" was found about 100m south of the Elphinstone St entrance to the gardens.

"Whoever designed it must have had some knowledge of explosives and electrics," investigating Detective Sergeant Troy Lehmann said at the time.

"It would have gone off if it didn't malfunction and if someone had picked it up it could have killed them."

Explosives experts were called in to deactivate the bomb.

The bomb was made up of three butane gas cylinders, strapped together with duct tape, a detonator, and a clock timer.

The Morning Bulletin believes the case was never solved.

 

COUNCIL WORKERS' GRUESOME DISCOVERY

TWO council workers made a grisly discovery on the morning of June 9, 2000, when they unearthed a human skeleton in the wetlands area of the gardens.

The workers found the skull and remains and they cleared debris from underneath trees on the High St side of the gardens.

An old electrical cord was found 1m away from the skull.

At the time, there were five high profile missing persons cases in Rockhampton, however all but one would later be revealed as victims of serial killer Leonard John Fraser.

 

Dale Johnny Baker's skeletal remains were found in Kershaw Gardens in 2000.
Dale Johnny Baker's skeletal remains were found in Kershaw Gardens in 2000. Morning Bulletin Archive

The remaining woman, Natasha Ryan, would sensationally emerge three years after the remains were found in the middle of Fraser's trial for her murder.

Forensic testing on the remains revealed they belonged to Dale John (Johnny) Baker who had vanished in March 1985 only a few hundred metres from where he was buried.

His disappearance had always been considered suspicious and there were rumours he was involved with a bad crowd of people and may have owed money.

No cause of death was ever established and no one was charged over his death, despite police investigating it as murder.

A small memorial was created in the gardens in Johnny's memory.

 

Kershaw Gardens, date unknown.
Kershaw Gardens, date unknown. Morning Bulletin Archive

GARDEN TOURIST ATTRACTION SHORT-LIVED

WHEN Kershaw Gardens opened, it included grand plans for a steam tram which would take tourists on trips through the park.

The restored Purrey Steam Tram was another Bicentennial project for Rockhampton, and the gardens seemed like the ideal location to allow people to enjoy the unique form of travel.

The tram started operating in 1990 to mark the opening of the restored waterfall.

However, establishing and maintaining the lines plus safety requirements proved t0o costly and it was removed soon after.

The tram now takes pride of place at the Archer Park Rail Museum in south Rockhampton.

 

The Purray Steam Tram which was originally set to take tourists around Kershaw Gardens. The plan was scrapped when costs for maintenence continued to rise.
The Purray Steam Tram which was originally set to take tourists around Kershaw Gardens. The plan was scrapped when costs for maintenence continued to rise. Morning Bulletin Archive


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