ACT News

Boundless: Canberra's first all-abilities playground

Boundless Canberra, the capital’s first all-abilities playground, is a legacy project built for the long haul.

In 2013 the people of Canberra rallied together to build Boundless Canberra, the city's first all-abilities playground. Gifted to the capital as part of The Centenary of Canberra, the playground has had an incredible impact, not just on families but on the entire city.

Lyle Dahms with his son Alexander, 11, and daughters Lucinda, 9, and Gabrielle, 7.
Lyle Dahms with his son Alexander, 11, and daughters Lucinda, 9, and Gabrielle, 7.  Photo: Daniel Spellman

"It speaks about who we are here and how important inclusion is to Canberra," Boundless Board member Natalie Howsen says. 

"I hope that because we have an all-abilities accessible playground now in the parliamentary zone that it really becomes a showcase for all of Australia about what's possible."

Owen  Smith, 2, enjoys the swing at Boundless Canberra playground.
Owen Smith, 2, enjoys the swing at Boundless Canberra playground. Photo: Melissa Adams

Although the main purpose of Boundless is to facilitate children to help them reach their full potential, it also provides some much-needed respite and a sense of social belonging for parents and carers. 

Lyle Dahms is a father and avid Boundless supporter, and explains that a trip to the local playground was never a simple outing for his family before Boundless was built.

"My 11-year-old son Alex has a very rare chromosomal disorder called Jacobsen syndrome. What that means for Alex is that he's in a wheelchair, he can't walk, he can't talk, and he needs assistance with everything," he says.

"But ever since he was a little boy Alex has always been excited by playgrounds, he just loves being around them and trying to do as much as he possibly can.

"When we finally got to try Boundless, Alex loved it so much that we had his 11th birthday party there."

Dahms says he loves seeing the playground inundated with kids and families, and seeing Alex being able to play with his two sisters.

"There has been so much thought put into this. It's the only playground that I've come across that makes it just that little bit easier for our family," he says.

"For us it's more than just a playground."

When Boundless was being built it triggered a snowball effect of support across the city, and fundraising efforts over the last two years have raised half a million dollars in cash and a million dollars in kind and pro-bono support. 

"The broad range of support makes me feel very proud to be a Canberran," Howsen says.

"There's been no end of support in the building and construction industry, the ACT government, National Capital Authority, public servants, businesses, school children, local community groups and individuals."

Located on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, the state-of-the-art playground is one in which all the equipment can be used by all children, regardless of any vision, hearing and mobility impairments or autism spectrum disorders they may have. 

Howsen says there are also zoned spaces that cater for a range of different age and developmental levels, and the play equipment, layout and setting have been carefully selected and designed to make children of all abilities equal participants in the play experience.

"Being able to play in a space such as Boundless will enable all children to interact socially with others, develop a sense of well being and improve their muscle strength and coordination, language, cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities," she says.

"Children have so much fun that they don't even realise they are developing their strength, or for instance, their ability to manipulate their wheelchair and how to manage it, which means when they go out into other public spaces they will be that much more confident."

The play structure of Boundless aims to deliver interactive play, a concept Howsen says is extremely important as it allows children to support each other and play together, rather than separating children from friends or siblings who do not have difficulties as a result of disability.

"There is a see-saw for example, where children that aren't as mobile as others can be safely secured in the glider and still enjoy the sensation of rocking backwards and forwards," she says.

"There is also a monster swing that parents can safely lift their child into while other children stand around the outside to make it swing."

The playground also offers partially enclosed modules such as a tree house, forts, enclosed secret places, terraces and lawn areas that provide opportunities for picnics and breaks. 

"We got input from therapists, families with children with disabilities and kids in schools like Cranleigh, Woden and Malkara, who gave us opinions on what they thought would work for them," Howsen says.

With stage one of Boundless now completed to great acclaim, Howsen says even bigger plans for stage two and three are in the works.

"This year the board's focus will be to build up a volunteer base to be able to offer parents with children with a disability times when there will be qualified people at the playground to assist with to lifting their child into the equipment," she says.

"The volunteers can also help to manage the parents' other children, and run therapeutic-type game sessions and inclusion activities at the playground so that children learn to overcome any awkwardness in communicating with kids that can't verbally communicate with them."

The board's final ambition is to construct a kiosk in the area to offer more amenities and employment opportunities for people with a disability, and to install more swings, a slide, a sensory garden, and interactive, musical and educational artworks and sculptures.