Shoshana Dreyfus uses a mouse wheel with bubbles in the foreground at the launch of a new playground in Wollongong. Photo: Paul Jones

Revolutionary new playground officially opens at North Wollongong’s Stuart Park

Revolutionary new playground officially opens at North Wollongong’s Stuart Park

Associate Professor Shoshana Dreyfus campaigned for years to bring her idea for an inclusive playground to life

It has taken Associate Professor Shoshana Dreyfus many years to bring her unique idea to life: a playground for people of all ages and all abilities. She dreamed of a playground that was innovative and inspiring, a place of joy that was big enough to accommodate her son Bodhi. No other place like it seemed to exist, but she was confident that she could make it happen. 

That dream came to life today (Monday 18 December) when Associate Professor Dreyfus, from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, participated in the official launch of Stage 1 of the All Ages All Abilities playground at North Wollongong’s Stuart Park. 

And Bodhi was among the first to have a turn of the ground-breaking initiative.

The All Ages All Abilities playground was the brainchild of Associate Professor Dreyfus and has been driven by the community and partners from across the Illawarra, including UOW, the Australian Government, the NSW Government, Wollongong City Council, and The Disability Trust.

The playground was finished four months ahead of schedule, after construction began in August, with representatives from all levels of government and all community partners on hand for the official launch.

Associate Professor Dreyfus, a specialist in systemic functional linguistics and language disorders, was inspired by her 28-year-old son, Bodhi, to begin the project. Born with a severe intellectual disability, Bodhi has never been able to talk and uses non-verbal methods to communicate.

Alison Byrnes, Shoshana Dreyfus, Paul Scully, Carol Berry, and Gordon Bradbery cut the ribbon to open the new playground in Wollongong. Photo: Paul Jones Member for Cunningham Alison Byrnes MP, Associate Professor Shoshana Dreyfus, Member for Wollongong Paul Scully MP, The Disability Trust CEO Carol Berry, and Wollongong Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery cut the ribbon to officially launch the All Ages All Abilities playground. 

He loves to use playgrounds, yet Associate Professor Dreyfus noticed that as Bodhi grew older, and bigger, the equipment became too small for him to use properly.

So began The Playground Project, which took several years to come to fruition and has been brought to life with ongoing fundraising efforts, community grants, and support from government.

“The money donated to the All Ages All Abilities playground reflects the importance of this project to the region and to the community,” Associate Professor Dreyfus said. “We have secured fundraising from all three tiers of government as well as many private companies and grant schemes. This is acknowledgement that the playground is a vital and worthy project to support the recognition and inclusion of a marginalised group of people within our society.

“This playground is the first of its kind, one that is truly inclusive to all, where anyone can play regardless of their size, age or intellectual or physical ability.”

One of the most striking elements of the new playground is a giant, sparkly sculpture by Perth-based artist Denise Pepper. Originally exhibited in Sculpture by the Sea, SEQUIN-tial Reflections has found a new home in Stuart Park after it was gifted to the project by Associate Professor Dreyfus.

Shoshana Dreyfus and her son Bodhi look through a sparkling new artwork at the All Ages All Abilities playground in Wollongong. Photo: Paul Jones Associate Professor Shoshana Dreyfus with her son Bodhi and the sculpture SEQUIN-tial Reflections by artist Denise Pepper. 

“I originally saw the artwork at a playground along the river between Liverpool and Casula in Sydney, while we were doing research for the new playground. The artwork was on loan from Sculptures by the Sea but it hadn’t been purchased yet. I couldn’t believe it as I immediately thought it would be great in the playground because it is tactile, visual, auditory, beautiful, and durable.

“I ended up contacting the sculptor and she was thrilled that the artwork would find a new home. She couldn’t think of a better second life for it. So I used some of my own money inherited from my mother and then donated the sculpture to our new playground. My mother loved Bodhi and was a great support to us when he was growing up – she was also an artist and I couldn’t think of a better way to honour her than with this sculpture – and to share the sculpture with people like my son who don’t get to experience such beautiful art very often felt like such a good thing to do 

“People with intellectual disabilities rarely get to engage with public art and this sculpture is perfect.”

A collaboration between UOW, The Disability Trust, and Wollongong Council, The Playground Project worked with young people and adults with disability, including those with intellectual disability, to understand their play preferences and what they would like included in the space.

Children use the play equipment at the new All Ages All Abilities playground in Wollongong.

UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research and Strategic Futures) Professor David Currow was delighted to see the project come to life.

“The All Ages All Abilities playground has truly been a labour of love for Associate Professor Dreyfus. It is her passion and dedication, and her ability to collaborate, that has turned this project from an idea into a reality.

“This is an example of how research can truly have a transformative, real-life impact, and how the work the University undertakes changes lives in the community. Congratulations to Associate Professor Dreyfus, to Bodhi, and to the whole team behind The Playground Project on this tremendous achievement.” 

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM said he was pleased to see the playground open in time for the summer school holidays.

“It is a great moment when we open another playground to add to the many other recreation and play opportunities throughout our city. This adds an inclusive well-designed play space that we can all be proud of as part of our desire to make our city’s facilities more accessible for everyone,” Cr Bradbery said.

“The Stuart Park All Ages All Abilities Playground is an exciting project that has been some time in the making. I am delighted we’ve been able to deliver on our promise and unveil Stage 1 of the new playground for our community to enjoy over the summer. “I think our community, as well as visitors to Stuart Park, will love this new playground that sits alongside the exiting space and creates a level playing field, so to speak, for everyone.”

A woman in a wheelchair and a woman standing next to her look at the new playground while bubbles float in the air. Photo: Paul Jones

The All Ages All Abilities playground has been built alongside existing play equipment in Wollongong’s Stuart Park. Construction included earthworks and foundations, building new footpaths, landscaping, installation of park furniture and playground equipment.

Stage 1 of the completed playground includes:

  • Large sized trampoline, big enough for a wheelchair, adults, and small groups of children
  • Multiple swings to cater to different ages and needs, covered by a large shade sail
  • Wollongong's very first human-sized mouse wheel. This will feature a large artwork created by young adults with disability and Elders Aunty Lorraine Brown and Aunty Narelle Thomas
  • Paperbark Forest Maze that offers a sensory experience through natural elements
  • Rocky Gorge made up of large sandstone slabs
  • Balance beams to master balance and coordination
  • Carousel with an accessible platform to accommodate wheelchairs
  • Sensory garden for people to touch and smell a variety of textual plants
  • Large sensory sculpture, by artist Denise Pepper, donated to the playground by Associate Professor Dreyfus
  • New accessible parking for mini buses and vehicles
  • Updated picnic facilities and new water refill station
  • Accessible toilets down the path