MacDonald Avenue

MacDonald Avenue

In the year 1900 a parcel of land was purchased by the town council, enabling Grey Street to be continued, where the Kmart entrance and the undercover car park is today.  Once opened, it was to become the principle roadway for light traffic between the former railway station and the town. This formed the second entrance to the railway station, the first being on Bay Road. 

The roadway was named MacDonald Avenue after the Mayor – Doctor Colin Coll MacDonald who was in office at the time of purchase. The town council adopted the idea of planting deciduous trees either side of the avenue and a tree planting ceremony took place on 9th August 1901. Dr MacDonald was given the honour of planting the first tree, a Plane tree, and the remaining trees were planted by ex-mayors and councillors, which consisted of 4 planes, 3 oaks, 3 sycamores, 5 elms and 3 white acacias. 

According to early council reports in the Border Watch, due to various reasons the trees planted on that day had to be replaced again and again. Horses and cattle trampled or nibbled at them, lack of water during summer and flooding during winter caused havoc, but none-the-less Dr MacDonald remained positive. His Mayor’s Report quotes:- ‘The Avenue has been found to be a great convenience to, and much appreciated by, the public.  The trees planted last year are not very suitable, and, a number having died, they were all taken up and a lot of beautiful shrubs planted in their place by members and ex-members, and by officers of the town council, and if permitted to grow will be a source of eye pleasure to the public.” (Borderwatch 29/11/1902)

Again, 18 shrubs were bought and were mainly cypress, photinia, strawberry trees, lily-of-the valley and oleanders. The council was very pleased to accept the offer from Mayor MacDonald to pay for the purchase of the new trees. (Borderwatch 20/9/1902)

In 1905, it was reported that, due to poor lighting along MacDonald Avenue, three men were knocked down in the evening by horse drawn cabs and not long after lamps were installed. (Borderwatch 19/8/1905)  In 1919, the road was raised to alleviate flooding. Previously thousands of gallons of storm water had been diverted from Helen Street to MacDonald Avenue and during hot weather a pool of stagnant water settled and became an eyesore.  This pool was used for dumping street sweepings and refuse and became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. (Borderwatch 5/12/1919) 

In 1926, council resolved that the present trees be removed and more suitable ones planted. On the east side cypress, poplar and pepper trees were to be planted and the existing plane trees be lopped. On the west side cypress, canary island pines and pepper trees were to be planted. (Borderwatch 5/6/1926) 

Left is a picture from Les Hill’s collection, of MacDonald Avenue with the first Mt Gambier Railway station in background.

Taken 1930

This roadway was called MacDonald Avenue well into the 1950’s & 60’s. A well-known local who owned a shop on the Avenue, seemed to think the reason for the name change may have been because the residents of McDonald Street (behind the Lady Nelson) complained that their mail was being wrongly delivered.

Dr Colin MacDonald was the elder son of John MacDonald who ran Mac’s Hotel. He was born in 1853 and started his practice in Mt Gambier in 1883.  His gentleness and kindness in manner made him remarkably popular.  He was also noted throughout the district for his generosity and liberality in his treatment of patients. He treated many poor people without fees of any sort. In his younger years he played cricket and football and became a member of various associations. He took an active role in municipal affairs and served Mount Gambier as mayor for a total of 11 years. He married at the age of 62 to Miss Jessie Watson and left her a widow two years later. The procession at his funeral, at the time, was one of the longest ever seen. (Borderwatch 3/3/1917)

Following the opening ceremony of MacDonald Avenue in 1901, Dr MacDonald gave a short speech and mentioned

“a row of trees there (in the avenue) would be an adornment to the town in after years, when most of those present would be slumbering on the hillside (in the cemetery), and when Mount Gambier was a city second only to Adelaide in the state.” (Borderwatch 10/8/1901) 

Today, Mount Gambier is “a city second only to Adelaide in the state”. The horse drawn buggies are no more and have given way to motorcars; the pedestrians are busy shopping and pushing trolleys between car park and shops; the first railway station has been demolished and the second one is closed; the trains no-longer run and a new corridor has taken the place of the railway yards. But the trees, although not original, still stand proud. Today, MacDonald Avenue (now Grey Street south) is a busy but pretty street as it was originally intended in 1901 and many of those present at the opening ceremony have been “slumbering on the hill” possibly for over a 100 years now, silently overlooking and witnessing many changes in our beautiful city.

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