Philip Mallis

Victoria’s rocket playgrounds

Googie architecture (1950s, 60s and 70s) has not been preserved as well as other periods in Melbourne and Victoria. Many of the examples of this brief but fascinating time in design have been lost to the winds of time.

One of the lingering and somewhat surprising artefacts from this period is the famous rocket-shaped tower located at Central Gardens in Hawthorn. Many would remember clambouring up the metal ladders as a child at birthday parties and family gatherings, even in the heat of summer when your hands would practically burn from holding onto the metal railings.

The rocket has been cited in several reports and heritage studies, including this 2008-2009 document documenting some of Melbourne’s post-war heritage.

I had no idea about the rocket’s connection with Googie architecture until recently. When I mentioned it to my parents in passing, they talked about another rocket that they remembered playing in when they were children at Forest Hill Chase Shopping Centre (now at Syndal South Primary School). This got me thinking about how many others were constructed.

It turns out that quite a few of these rockets were built and many remain. While the one in Hawthorn is probably the best-known in Melbourne, there is also one located in Benalla at the Adventure Park (built 1966).

But as far as I can tell, these are only the ones that remain today. There is not much information that I can find, but from the snippets and random pieces out there it is clear that there may have been many more.

The park outside the public housing commission towers (Park Towers) in South Melbourne used to contain a similar rocket. This is recalled by artist George Matoulas who grew up there and is also shown in this photo taken in c1969 from urban photographer Alan K. Jordan.

On a related note, the South Melbourne Library currently has a terrific exhibition on Park Towers showing until 27 September that I can highly recommend.

New South Wales seems to have preserved more of these than Victoria, and may have had more installed in the first place. Sydney has a few remaining at parks in Chatswood and Marrickville, with several also in towns across the state (funnily enough most descriptions of these parks all have the word ‘iconic’ in them).

There’s this great series of photos from one located in Mittagong, showing its original delivery and installation in 1968. It must have been quite an event at the time.

It is also interesting to note that these Australian rockets appear to have been inspired (or copied, depending on your point of view) by American examples. Examples still exist in many towns and cities across the United States, including Huchinson (Minnesotta), Boulder (Colorado) and Kalamazoo (Michigan).

Rocket Park, Missouri
A rocket park in Missouri (Paul Sableman [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you remember any rockets that I’ve missed here, or know other information about their design, placement and manufacture? Let us know in the comments below!

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5 responses to “Victoria’s rocket playgrounds”

  1. Peter Parker Avatar
    Peter Parker

    Not a rocket but there was a space ship in Perth that I remember. Probably inspired by the space race, moon landing and UFOs in popular culture. They predate the ‘tiny homes’ movement.

  2. Andrew Waugh Avatar
    Andrew Waugh

    There is, or was, one in the forecourt of a factory/shop at 177 Chesterville Rd, Moorrabbin. Presumably relocated from a park.,145.0594878,3a,60y,270h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1skDTRC96s_xxifgmCKaxXJQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  3. The last time I saw one of these rockets was a Rocket at the seaside Tahunanui Playground in Nelson NZ. That was a few years ago, I hope it’s still there.

  4. I don’t know about a rocket being at Park towers commission flats but I do recall one being at Dorcas Street commission flats in South Melbourne.

  5. Lynette Obrien Avatar
    Lynette Obrien

    The rocket in Benalla Victoria was built when I was five years old. I also took my children there and my grandchildren there and I hope that I can take my great grandchildren.

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