Adam Johnstone was a highly respected and well known river boat captain who operated along the River Murray and settled in Edwards Crossing at Murray Bridge in 1891.A carpenter by trade, Johnstone purchased 35 acres of scrub where he built the cottage known as Woodlands on the outskirts of town. At that point, the town had a population of around 50 people. By 1892, Captain Johnstone, his wife Mary-Anne and daughter Alice moved in to what became the family home for many years. Captain Johnstone died in 1905 at the age of 71. His widow remarried Mr John Thomas Medwell in 1911.
The estate of the Medwell family sold land to the state government in around 1956. At the time, the state government agreed to give a parcel of land to the Municipality of Murray Bridge for community recreation. In July of 1956, at the request of the family, the Corporation of Murray Bridge named the community recreation land Johnstone Park, after the riverboat captain who had been a fine member of the community and family man.
The community ponders a second oval………
Through the early 1960s, several newspaper articles called for a second oval for the town. An article on November 16, 1962 reported that representatives of both cricket and football from Imperial and Rambler clubs attended a meeting with the Ovals Improvement Committee. They expressed their willingness to become involved in development of the second oval but asked the corporation to take up the initiative. There was some discussion around the need for liquor licensing. One comment was made to the effect that, "footballers would never set about helping build another oval without enthusiasm unless they had some rights as to how it would be used".
Imperial Football Club president Mr SJ Cawte moved a recommendation to the corporation that it establish the second oval at Johnstone Park on the understanding that, with the assistance of clubs concerned, facilities would later be built there. On Friday, December 14, 1962, front page headline read, "Council moves towards second oval". This appears to have been a milestone in the commitment to building a second town oval at Johnstone Park. One of the terms of the lease was that the club had to spend no less than £2000 on improvements over the ensuing five years. The year 1964 appeared to be a quiet year on the news front as far as the oval development went as no newspaper articles were collected on the subject. On February 8, 1965, the Corporation of Murray Bridge granted a 21-year lease to the Imperial Football Club for a section of Johnstone Park on which the club proposed to build a dressing shed.
Let’s do it……………
Some follow-up articles mention donations and fundraising towards the oval construction. The council applauded the offer that the ovals committee made to grass the playing arena. By Friday, November 1, 1965, another article reported a healthy cover of grass on the marching girls and oval areas. Imperial President Bryce Clarke, accompanied by Ovals Improvement Committee Secretary Mr Dudley Rabone, tabled a sketch plan of the dressing sheds, which included dressing rooms for players and umpires, a committee room, showers, toilets, a canteen and even an area of hardwood floor for social activities and dancing. Provisions had been made for a grandstand, but due to finances this could not be started within the required five years. The application for the lease comprised of an area of 140 x 100 feet and it was to be located on the north-west side of the oval.
The Imperial Football Club would be responsible for this while the Ovals Improvement Committee would erect a fence and goal posts. A report dated September 3, 1965, was published, along with a photo of the dressing shed foundation being poured by Imperial Football Club volunteers at a working bee. Another photo appeared in on March 25, 1966, showing club president Bob Rice and John Leahy Snr applying finishing touches to what appears to be wet areas of the building. On July 8, 1966, headline was "New oval in use on July 16".
Field of dreams is realised…
The final piece of the development story appeared on the front page of on July 22, with an aerial photo of the oval in all its glory. The headline read, "Our biggest sport boost".
An opening cabaret was held on August 13, where the club rooms were named after Mr FJ Cawte, who had spent 29 years as Patron from 1941-1970.
One of the driving forces behind the project was Mr Syd Cawte, who was club president from 1953-1959 and 1961-1963. He later became Patron from 1971-1984.
The Johnstone Park story continues to this day where the most recent activity, the Johnstone Park Oval Entrance Project, has been completed and in perfect time to celebrate the 50th year since organised sport has been played on the land.