The Price of a Park
The driving force behind the acquisition of nine acres for the Park was Cr. John Clinch, who was never backward when it came to claiming credit, especially as the purchase was hotly oppose by councillors from the Northcote Riding. (Northcote Park was a rare example in the northern suburbs of public land being set aside for recreation in 1863 and not offered for sale - the Shire of Jika was appointed as Trustee in February, 1873).
The price paid by the Shire for Preston Park varies between different accounts (as does the date, some suggesting it was in 1876), but the historic decision to purchase land for a recreation reserve came at a regular Council meeting at the Shire of Jika offices on Monday, 5 April, 1875 when it was agreed that £40 be allocated as a deposit on the nine and a quarter acre site and a balance payable of £15 per acre (£175, a total of £215).
"The site fixed up (four allotments of the land known as Shepherds Run) is very suitable for the purpose. It possesses the advantages of central position combined with a pleasant situation. With a little draining and the planting of a few eucalyptus trees, the spot might be made a very pleasant retreat" The Argus, 7 April, 1875
In two or three later interviews, Clinch suggested that the price paid for the land was considered extravagant by many ratepayers, and not long before his death in 1904, he lamented to the Leader that :
"… every house in the electorate was against him and that he lost his seat because he had the sagacity to buy for a song the central Preston Park where present day citizens gather in their 1000s to witness football matches".
In advancing age, many of us perhaps resort to the melodramatic when recollecting things that happened in the past and Clinch was no exception. The reality was that he retained his Council seat, albeit by a narrow margin, and was in fact elected President of the Jika Shire in 1876-77 and 1877-79 (and again in 1890-91)
The real reasons for his near-defeat at the following election was two-fold, but neither involved the Park.
There were other Councillors that lost their seats and even the drop in Clinch's support may have had reasons unconnected to the purchase of the Park : a scandal surrounding a mysterious fire that destroyed all of the Shire's rate records had led to an unsuccessful court case by the Shire against the rate collector, and it was also revealed that funds set aside for the approaches to the new Merri Creek Bridge had been used for other road-making in the district
In January, 1892, Preston Council released their financial figures for the previous year, the Balance Sheet including Preston Park at a valuation of £4,600, by far the biggest asset the Council owned with the then-undeveloped land for the Shire Hall next at £3,800.
Based on the purchase price of £215, that represents a capital growth since 1875 of a fraction under 20% per annum.
The same report showed the Council paying 5% on funds it had borrowed!
In later years, the Shire and later City of Preston (and the equivalent municipalities in Northcote) was forced to purchase from private owners virtually all the land now used for recreation and schools, the only exceptions small parts of Ruthven and Sullivan Reserves which were assigned to the Council by the Housing Commission after the control of most of East Preston and East Northcote was transferred to the Commission in 1946.