Fremantle Stuff > Parks > Masons Gardens

Masons Gardens

For many years now this attractive place situated at the Claremont end of Adelma Road and Melvista Avenue has been known as ‘The Gardens’. What we see today—7 acres 3 roods 4 perches altogether—is actually only a part of the Masons’ original holding in this area. Weeping willows, leafy poplars and gleaming water today make it like an oasis amongst the red-roofed residences of suburban Dalkeith.

Mr Fred Mason, Sen. had been a businessman and jeweller who once owned a shop in High Street, Fremantle. He represented himself as a goldsmith as well as jeweller and the words ‘By Appointment to the Governor’ were at the top of one advertisement.

Mr Mason evidently made money as well through buying and selling property; in the 1900s he owned a gold mine, the Southern Queen, near Kalgoorlie, he built the Swan Hotel at the corner of Swan Street and the Perth-Fremantle Road, also helped to build the Queens Hotel in Swan Street and acquired further land in North Fremantle towards Mosmans. 13

He appears to have bought the Masons Gardens area for his two teenage sons, Wally and Frederick. The swampy ground there appealed to any pioneer who had had any experience of our hot dry summers. There were excellent possibilities to develop the place as an orchard and market garden.

In the 1890s when the Masons moved onto the property, an old cottage was there already, made of clay bricks believed to have been dug and wood-fired near Armstrong Spit on the Nedlands foreshore. Originally the cottage had been built for a man named Waters—a former Pensioner Guard (or warder) in charge of convicts working the quarry at Point Resolution. 14

The Masons, after they had established their market garden and orchard on their property, often employed local labour to help them. Then labourers occupied this cottage. One Chinaman named Lum Kay lived in it for many years, before going to the Old Men’s Home where he died. 15


The Mason family at Masons Gardens.
In the 1900s their cottage was built from bricks made at Crawley.
Front Row: Mrs Dora Mason, Evelyn, Stella, Vera and Mr Frederick Mason (owner).
Back Row: Charles Mason (brother) and visitor.

[The man on the right of the photograph is Frederick Mason, 1872-1961, son of Frederick Mason (1839-1921).
Photo provided to Williams by Mrs Jean Mason. ]

As soon as possible, the Masons built their own home, situated near the corner of Adelma Road and Melvista Avenue. It had four rooms, a verandah back and front, an iron roof and belowground cellars. A windmill was nearby and a hand Douglas pump operated in the kitchen. 16

Eventually there were seven Mason children living in the house — three girls, Evelyn, Stella and Vera, and four boys, Walter, Charles, Thomas and Frederick.

Wally Mason turned out to be a wonderful horseman and would think nothing of riding his horse to Lake Grace where he became a farmer. He was a confident trick rider who, on Saturday nights, would even take his horse into the Claremont Picture Theatre foyer, scattering scared patrons far and wide. 17

Old family records relate that one day Mr Fred Mason’s father arrived home happily with two cases of champagne. But the teetotaller son decided to bury the cases deep in the market garden. Unfortunately he could never remember afterwards exactly where the spot was; perhaps they lie somewhere in Masons Gardens today. 18

Before the 1900s the Masons enterprise was a flourishing concern, which even exported prime grapes to Singapore. There was one huge pear tree which the family called The Vicar of Wakefield, no doubt because it gave forth good fruit so abundantly. Over 400 dump cases of luscious fruit came off it in some seasons. 19

Unfortunately, as the land around the gardens was cleared for houses and many of the huge tuart trees in the bush were felled, the watertable gradually rose, causing most of the good fruit trees to die. Then vegetable growing became a Mason mainstay. At first they delivered their produce to the Perth shops; later it went to the West Perth produce markets.

In time the Mason family dispersed far and wide. 20 The business became unprofitable and in 1939 Mr Fred Mason decided to put it up for sale. Perhaps this seemed a blessing to some Dalkeith residents, who, listening to the frogs croaking each night from the swampy area, called it derisively Frogs Hollow. The strident chorus was also known as Masons Band.

On 14 April 1939 the family house was finally demolished. For some years its doors had been left open for all to enter — it was derelict and half-forgotten. The old brick cottage built by the convicts was also knocked down.

Mr Fred Mason gave the Road Board the first option to buy the whole property, anticipating that it could be turned into a beautiful parkland for the future public enjoyment, perhaps with a tree-lined lake established to encourage the breeding of birds. On 29 September 1939 the Board decided to buy the property for £790. 21

It then asked Mr Percy Hope to resurvey the whole area, as a result of which two new roads were made and four more new residential blocks created.

On 6 February 1940 the minutes of the Nedlands Road Board record ‘that the new road in Melville Sub-lot 135 be called Stephanie Street, and the new road through Swan Location 116 by called Kathryn Crescent’. This motion was moved by Mr Alan Bennett and seconded by Mr T.F.W. Kendall.

Stephanie Street took its name from Stephanie Hatton (nee Mason), Vera Mason’s daughter and granddaughter of Fred Mason. Kathryn Crescent was named after the daughter of the Chairman of the Road Board, Mr J.C. Smith. 22

A reserve of £175 was placed on each of the blocks and the Board sold them off without any difficulty. These four blocks form part of Kathryn Crescent today.

For some years Masons Gardens was converted into a sanitary fill and rubbish tip. It was of easy access, and Albert Mathews and Andy Barber—two reliable Board employees—worked it with a horse called Tom. A scoop (like a wheelbarrow without legs or wheels) was used for sandfilling. This dumping of rubbish continued right up to the 1950s, and in the 1960s Mrs Jean Verschuer drew up a landscaping and beautification plan which the Council carried out. 23

Among pioneers of the City of Nedlands, the Mason family must rank high. Mr Fred Mason, for instance was a member of the Claremont Road Board in 1899. He succeeded Mr H.G. Stirling as Chairman in 1903-04 and remained a trustee of the Board’s property until his resignation on 13 December 1907.

He owed much of his success to his wife Dora, who was a worthy helpmate. Her sulky was a well-known sight around the area; often the needy families were given free vegetables and fruit.

For some years Masons Gardens had strong claim to being the second biggest market garden in Western Australia, after Gallop Gardens.

Mr Fred Mason built a house at 115 Adelma Road, where he lived in retirement for many years. He died in 1961 at the age of eighty-nine.

References and Links

Williams, A.E. 1984, Nedlands: From Campsite to City, City of Nedlands.

Garry Gillard | New: 30 September, 2018 | Now: 14 November, 2019