When you wander through Wilson Botanic Park Berwick, it is hard to imagine how the site has changed over millions of years. You may not think of rainforest, volcano or fossils, but these are a very important part of the park's history.
Palaentologists have calculated that about 25 million years ago volcanic eruptions caused molten basalt to form basalt columns near Basalt Lake. One of these basalt flows has been dated at 21.7 million years old.
The volcanic activity caused an extrusion of lava which covered the ground. The Basalt Cliff shows cracks which occur as the rock cooled after the volcanic activity.
Wilson Botanic Park has shown itself to be a significant fossil plant site. Fossil plant material has been uncovered in several forms. Macrofossils form tree trunks, leaves, fruits and seedpods. The Macrofossils travel long distances through air and water as they reflect local and regional vegetation.
Fossils from this site are from the Miocene period (22 million years ago). This is the oldest dated eucalypt fossil deposit in Australia. The fossil sites have been studied by universities across Australia.
Periods of sedimentation followed the eruptions, leaving sands and mud on the basalt plain. As a result, large pieces of fossilised (petrified) wood have been found, including fossils of conifers and hardwoods. You will find some of these ancient species have been planted back on this site when you visit.
Our most famous fossil at this site is the only known fossil containing leaves of both Nothofagus (Southern Beech Tree) and Eucalyptus. This is important because it shows a period when this area had Tropical (Beech) and Temperate (Eucalyptus) trees at the same time. This shows a period where this area was changing its climatic conditions.
William and James Wilson bought 632 acres of Crown Land in 1854. This became the 'Olde' Berwick district.
Wheat was sown on the western side of the land after it was cleared of its forest growth of redgum, box and native hop. The land was then used for sheep and dairying. The brothers built Quarry Hills house which is still a private house today.
When William married, the land was divided between the brothers. William kept the homestead to the south and James kept the northern area bordering on Harkaway Rd.
Quarry & Basalt Cliff
The park was a former Basalt Quarry. Basalt is referred to as bluestone. The initial rock was used to construct the railway line to Gippsland, from Oakleigh to Bunyip. The crushed rock supports the sleepers on which the rails are attached.
The quarry was founded by William Wilson in 1859. Mr Wilson recognised a business opportunity and began excavating the site. His quarry would soon become renowned for producing some of the highest quality basalts in the Melbourne region.
The quarry ceased in 1976, 117 years after its beginning. The site was no longer economical to remove the rock with large machinery. The former quarry has left a rock face along the east side of Basalt Lake, which shows the rocks as it was formed as a result of volcanic activity.
The most enduring gift to the people of Casey was made by George and Fay Wilson in 1973. They donated 17 hectares of land (northern part of the park) to be retained in perpetuity as a public park.
The park was to be known as Wilson Park in recognition of the early pioneers and in memory of James Wilson and his son George. The southern section of the park (13.34 hectares) was purchased by the City of Casey in 1985 and so planning for the park began.
In 1992, the Honourable Bill Hayden A.C., Governor General, opened Wilson Botanic Park Berwick, in memory of early pioneers.
The Wollemi Pine was discovered in 1994 by National Parks Officer David Noble. The pine was growing in a secluded gully in the Wollemi National Park, approximately 100km north of Sydney.
Cuttings of leaves from the unusual trees was studied by fossil plant experts. Some pollen was studied and determined to be ‘Dilwynites’ previously thought to be an extinct plant.
Wilson Botanic Park also has similar fossil pollen material at the site. Experts have also found many other species of plants in the material dug up from the site. The topography of the park is most suitable to grow the Wollemi Pine as the hills and cliffs protect the trees from heat and winds.