The University of Western Australia

The Sunken Garden

Further information

UWA Archives Collections

The Sunken Garden is an intimate amphitheatre with gardens, ponds and terraced lawns and is a beloved feature of the University's beautiful campus.

For most of the year the Sunken Garden is an idyllic retreat for staff, students and wedding functions.

The setting is one of the most beautiful in Perth. By the Swan River in Matilda Bay and nearby Kings Park, the Sunken Garden offers a stunning setting for all manner of events including wedding ceremonies, photographic sessions and filming. Because of its popularity as a wedding venue, the Sunken Garden is not normally available for hire at weekends in the summer months at less than nine to 12 months' notice.

The gardens and buildings of UWA are listed on the Register of the National Estate.

  1. Digging of the hole
  2. Sandpit to Sunken Garden
  3. Dramatic ideas
  4. Acknowledgements

Digging of the hole

It is hard to imagine that the location of the Sunken Garden was initially used as a small sand quarry.

The construction of the Hackett Memorial Buildings in 1932 resulted in contractors being given permission to excavate sand from this area. At the close of construction, the hole was three times as large as it is today.


Sandpit to Sunken Garden

Official documents and gardeners time sheets indicate that this area has been referred to as the ‘Sunken Garden’ since about 1936.

Construction started in 1946 on the new University Library saw the sandpit undergo another facelift, but for an entirely different reason. Whereas in the 1930s, construction needed sand, now they needed to get rid of it!

No policy on the use of the sandpit had been developed, so it was decided that the sand would be moved to this site – ;so much so that it was thought that they might have to remove the Shann Memorial.

Luckily this was not necessary. Instead a steep bank was created on the north side of the pit. Dowell again stepped in and established a retaining wall to hold a grassed slope.


Dramatic ideas

The town planner of the time, Mr D. Davidson, was the first to put forward the idea that this area would be put to far better use as an amphitheatre.

Instead, in 1936 a University committee elected to erect a memorial to the first Professor of Economics, E.O.G. Shann, halfway up the slope of the pit. The Head Gardener of the time, Oliver Dowell, was given the task of providing a flat area for this memorial and subsequently established the beginnings of the garden as it is today.

Ultimately, the Sunken Garden was used for dramatic purposes. The first performance held in the Sunken Garden took place in 1948, the Greek drama 'Oedipus' produced by Miss Tweedie of the English Department.

Its continued popularity as a venue saw that it was redesigned again with the terracing replacing the grassed slope to allow seating for up to 500 people.

The Sunken Garden has been the location of many performances, including participants of the Festival of Perth, and is now also a favourite location for weddings and photographers.



University of Western Australia. (1991). There’s another hole in the ground. UniNews, 10(22): 1.
Somerville, W. (1954). Somerville auditorium and its stage and the Sunken Garden. Perth: Pilpel and Co.

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