The “fun police” are conspiring to rob your children of monkey bars. This is “simply a bridge too far” in a “World Gone Mad” and if we do not rise as one to save human society from compliance with Australian safety standards, “the freedoms we loved” will be forever lost to cubic tonnes of rubber mulch. And, so on.

As proud mum only to needy houseplants, I have held no strong opinion on the safety of swings, roundabouts or monkey bars. But there is no opinion so strong it could wrest the monkey bars from the grip of the “fun police” who have policed playgrounds for as long as playgrounds have existed. The history of the playground in Australia owes nothing to the “priceless sense of freedom” beloved by Fairfax columnists. It has always been done at the cost of children’s freedom.

Public playgrounds are not an Edenic fact of life for children but a response to late industrial capitalism. The “risk-reduced, sanitized and safety-proofed childhood” that our columnists worry will be created by bureaucrats was created by bureaucrats from the start. The Playground Movement of the late US nineteenth was not the sort of “libertarian” thing a host on 3AW might fancy, but unambiguous social engineering.

The West’s first public playground was not opened in 1886 to permit “kids to be kids”. Back then, urban planners had not yet learned to bury their practical agenda in liberal language, so when they wanted to create a particular kind of child, they said it. Sand Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts was founded, as was our nation’s first playground, in the hope of reducing youth crime and of creating fit future workers.

Carlton Gardens was not created out of Fairfax fondness for “precious little people”, but a disdain for larrikins, a reformist hope that poor scum could be put to use as labourers and, throughout the especially racist period between the wars, as a form of “racial hygiene”. Strong white Australians would conquer the “dysgenic”, i.e. Aboriginal, elements in this proud new settlement!

Playgrounds were founded in eugenics, worker exploitation and the need to have panoptic control of “precious little people” then considered entirely expendable. So, don’t give me “free to be kids” and certainly don’t bring me claims that the monkey bar “occupies such a special place in the inner child of generations of Australians” when this cannot be substantiated. The phrase “monkey bars” does not enter use until 1940.

The monkey bar’s predecessor, the Jungle Gym, was not patented until 1924. Had I chosen to collect children instead of native orchids, I might get on the Jungle Gym rebirth bandwagon, as I’d likely be the sort of snotty parent all giddy about its space-time backstory. Charles Howard Hinton was a US mathematician who developed the now forbidden thing to give children a sense of the fourth dimension about which he’d theorised while Albert Einstein was a child, not playing on playgrounds, as they had yet to be invented. Physics buffs can still visit the original structure and persons gifted of good spatial awareness may see that the safe geodesic gymnasiums appearing in playgrounds today reprise the Hinton intention.

And, data buffs can google for a minute and find a wealth of studies on the fractures produced by monkey bars. And, “freedom” buffs can continue to write the same article, year in and out, on how Our Children are Being Robbed of their “natural” liberties, which may include being dressed like boys as god intended or swinging from a money bar with a frock above one’s head, as has been done since Genesis.

Peter Fray

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