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 a 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 were spewing out molten basalt over the area to form the spectacular basalt columns near Basalt Lake. One of these basalt flows has been dated at 21.7 million years old.
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.
In addition, 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.
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 eventually built Quarry Hills house which is still a private residence 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.
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 basalt in the Melbourne region.
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, officially opened Wilson Botanic Park Berwick, in memory of early pioneers.