In 1801 the site was covered in heavy bushland and a convict gang was sent to clear the bush and to establish a productive Government farm to support the growing colony of New South Wales. The convicts cleared the land, planted crops and built a stone barracks under the instruction of Governor King. The work was arduous and the living conditions poor and the convicts dreamt of freedom which led to the Colony’s first armed rebellion. Under the leadership of rebel Philip Cunningham, a veteran of the original Battle of Vinegar Hill in Ireland, 300 convicts stole weapons from surrounding farms and marched towards Parramatta with a plan to plant a liberty tree in the square and steal a ship back to Ireland. Unfortunately for the rebel convicts the Governor King got wind of the rebellion and the convicts instead headed towards the Hawkesbury culminating in the battle of Vinegar Hill at Rouse Hill on 5 March 1804.
The Government farm remained until 1811 when the site became one of Australia’s first lunatic asylums. It was thought that the beautiful bush setting would be a place of healing for those considered to have troubled minds however the conditions the patients were housed in did little to help and the asylum was eventually shut down. Following this site was used as a church and a school then divided and sold off as farms. By then the increasing land values made farming unviable and land was sold off for housing. The Government of the day purchased the land with the intention of using it to house veterans and eventually the site was given to the Baulkham Hills Council (now Hills Council) to be used as a reserve.
The history of the site has been interpreted through educational signs that bring to life the story of the convicts as well as the early settlers in the district. QR codes on the signs provide further information including videos covering the stories of individuals such as Philip Cunningham. There are also remains of the Government Farm such as the well which was hand dug by convicts and a steel structure representing the stone barracks that once stood there.
The park sits on 20 hectares of rolling landscaped Hills and contains remnant Blue Gum Forest and a bushland setting providing a great place to enjoy the outdoors whilst learning about our history. There is also picnic areas, BBQs, a playground and public toilets making it the perfect place for picnic and if you’re lucky you might just catch local historian Judith Dunn giving a tour of Heritage Park and sharing the stories of the convicts and the early settlers.