The Cubbies

The Battle for Australia's First Adventure Playground

Monash University Publishing
Joan Healey
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This is the rollicking tale of Australia’s first true adventure playground, when children were allowed to use a patch of public land as their own backyard, to play in freely as they wished, not as adults directed them. They chased their dreams and escaped their everyday lives by scavenging materials, building cubbies, experimenting with fires and gardens, launching boats and never giving up their conniving efforts to keep pets.

It’s also a slice of life in the exciting Whitlam days of the ’70s, when change was in the air, hope sparkled and Fitzroy, in the heart of Melbourne, was emerging from run-down shabbiness into a hip neighbourhood.

The Cubbies is told through personal experience and observations by Joan Healey, who brought the idea for the playground to Fitzroy from London and lived through the adventures of its early days, while confronting ‘those who know best’ who tried to stop it from happening. It’s a tale of battles with local police and the Catholic church, but also shows visionary politicians and bureaucrats on both sides supporting children in this venture, while others made devious attempts to close the place. Playground workers, struggling with on and off funding, steadfastly continued to support children in their right to play freely, while becoming entangled in defending the cubbies. After trials, tribulations and questionable adventures, it became Australia’s first true adventure playground, inspiring the rise of others in the country.

Throughout it all, the children thrived.

Today, in our risk-aversion time of bureaucracy, rules and regulations, the now-unimaginable story of the cubbies is a reminder of just what kids can do when trusted, supported and given the freedom to follow their dreams, and the fun they can have along the way.

Contributor Bio

Joan Healey, born in Melbourne in 1934, worked various jobs, including pressing shirts in a factory, as a lingerie salesgirl, clerk telephonist and assistant librarian, until she was offered a journalism cadetship at Murdoch’s Woman’s Day magazine. She went on to work at Adelaide News Ltd and ABC Sydney radio news.

Joan then hitchhiked and camped around Australia for six months, before heading off on overseas adventures for several years, and found herself in London. Looking for work, she discovered adventure playgrounds and landed a job in a rough part of the East End working at one.

After deciding to return home to Melbourne, Joan brought back information about adventure playgrounds with her, and reluctantly agreed to try one as a short holiday program in Fitzroy.

Joan currently lives in Altona, Melbourne, with her foster grandson, Haylen.