Larger than life fun

By Jane Garcia

When I was in primary school my friend Jasmin and I used to imagine ourselves inside our favourite TV show and play ‘Land of the Giants’ while waiting for our parents to pick us up from school. There was no fancy equipment involved, just a set of climbing frames, some swings and a lot of imagination.

This makes me slightly envious of the children living in the City of Burnside in South Australia whose Burnside Adventure Park not only has a giant’s theme but was the winner of the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Manager’s ‘Overall Best Commercial Design’ award and ‘2005 Allan Correy Award for Design Excellence’.

The judges commended the park’s clever use of standard and non-standard playground elements, how well the design integrated into surrounding area and how innovative design was complemented by an easily supervised environment that complied to government safety requirements.

The council entered the project aiming to create an environment that promoted social interaction and experience between families and friends, encouraged active play and created a sense of place and community.

Burnside’s general manager of planning and infrastructure, Bruce Williams, says adventure playgrounds are based on the philosophy that children should be offered a safe place where they can create and manipulate their own environment. Although the Burnside Adventure Park is not a traditional adventure park, it share many of the same principles and can be easily distinguished from a ‘regular’ playground.


“To compete with computer games and television, an adventure park or playspace has to be attractive and well maintained,” Mr Williams says.


“Children of today are not satisfied with bland, risk-free playgrounds. They are longing for natural spaces, where they are able to meet one-another and be challenged physically, psychologically and socially.


“The design draws inspiration from the surrounding parkland landscape with its towering trees and winding creek bed. This environment has been interpreted through a whimsical giant’s theme where elements of the landscape are playfully distorted provoking curiosity and encouraging imagination and discovery.”


The design aims to provide three forms of stimulation and experiences:


  • physical stimulation through active movement, coordination and challenges;


  • mental stimulation and interpretation that invokes the imagination of children (and adults) with interpretative signs, trails, visual and tactile experiences; and


  • passive spaces that are comfortable, restful and contemplative and wide lawned areas for open movement and ball games.


The choice and design of play equipment were carefully considered. Innovative play elements include two swing sets catering for different age groups and abilities, uniquely sculptured timber elements creating a giant piece of art for play and a weaving platform wedged between massive angled timber columns which invites children to clamber up, over, between and shimmy down poles.


Landscaping complements play elements, extending the adventure parks experience, and integrating it with the wider reserve through turfed earth mounds, additional trees, planting of hardy native grasses and open lawned areas.


Mr Williams says that since the Adventure Park ’s opened in December 2004, its patronage has been high.


“A number of user surveys have been undertaken to establish a profile of the public using the adventure park,” he says.


“Previous studies indicate that children become bored with ‘standard’ playgrounds after 13 minutes. Results of the surveys indicate that children are staying at the adventure park for an average of 55 minutes.


“More often than not, they have visited the playspace more than five times and are traveling an average of nine kilometers to visit the site. These results are an endorsement of the vision developed for the adventure park.”



Bruce Williams’ advice for councils considering their own Adventure Park project



An adventure park or playspace can be a much more stimulating and enriching experience for our children than a fabricated, multi-coloured, hard structured, level, synthetic surfaced playground that is placed throughout so many of our open spaces today.



Play equipment can be part of a design and should be incorporated into the overall plan. When play equipment is to be included in the overall plan, it needs to be carefully designed or chosen to ensure that the experiences it offers children are diverse, and complement what is already available, both in other local reserves and also within any one reserve.



Don’t feel obligated in providing a swing and slide and claim to be providing adequate play provision for your community. Challenge the way you and your community think about play and develop a concept that will provide a recreational facility and an investment in their future growth.



The landscape that the ‘play equipment’ sits within can be just as important that the play equipment itself. They must complement each other.



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