AS Botanic Garden
Alice Springs Botanic Garden
We jumped up this morning, well after a cup of tea and a breakfast bar, then set off from our motel in search of the Botanic Gardens. The heat was immense but the heat coming from the road was shimmery. I posed by the sign and couldn’t believe the kaka beaks were happy. Perhaps trying to grow them in Cornwall was a tall order for Geoff and Sabby.
Not a botanical we have to consider as the norm, but that’s what makes this place so unique, the vision of Olive Pink.
Miss Pink - as she was always called, worked as the honorary curator for over twenty years to achieve her vision of “....forty nine acres of ground on which to preserve and grow native trees, shrubs and flowers- as a ‘soulfeeding’ antidote to the restless rush and materialism of what ‘modern living’ entails for so many in this isolated town.” Today the garden has over six hundred central Australian plants including forty rare or threatened species.
Garden History: The sixteen hectare area that is now Olive Pink Botanic Garden was gazetted in 1956 as the Australian Arid Regions Flora Reserve after intense lobbying by the Garden’s founder, and first honorary curator, Miss Olive Muriel Pink.
The Garden is part of a substantial area of contiguous Crown Land that extends east from the Todd River on the southern edge of the Alice Springs Central Business District. Prior to 1956 the land was unoccupied and grazed variously by feral goat, rabbit, and cattle populations, such that the vegetation on the floodplain area was fairly modified and devoid of tree and shrub cover when Miss Pink took up occupancy there in 1956.
Miss Pink and her Warlpiri assistant gardeners including Johnny Jampili Yannarilyi, spent the next two decades battling drought conditions and almost non-existent operational funding to develop Miss Pink’s vision for the Reserve. Together they planted a somewhat eclectic collection of trees and shrubs native to the central Australian region as well as various cacti, garden flowers, and introduced trees around Home Hut that could withstand the harsh summers.
After Miss Pink’s death in 1975, the NT Government assumed control of the Reserve and set about fulfilling Miss Pink’s vision of a public area for the appreciation of native flora. During the next decade networks of walking tracks were put in place, the Visitor Centre built, extensive plantings of mulga, red gums and various other tree species established, a waterhole and sand dune habitat created, and the existing interpretive display installed within the Visitor Centre.
The Garden opened to the public in 1985 as the Olive Pink Flora Reserve, and was renamed Olive Pink Botanic Garden in 1996. The Garden is managed by a voluntary Board of Trustees which has employed a succession of Curators to manage the expanding plantings and visitor’s experience of the Reserve.
Olive Pink Botanic Garden was listed on the Register of the National Estate in 1995, and nominated for inclusion on the Northern Territory Heritage Register in 2007, because of its strong links to Miss Olive Pink, anthropologist, campaigner for Aboriginal social justice, artist and visionary gardener.
In early 2007, the Garden joined other properties in the Alice Springs region in being part of the Land for Wildlife voluntary conservation program.
After spending time on Meyers Hill we sat in the shade outside the cafe. Bear enjoyed a savoury wrap, I went for the delicious apple crumble and asked for a dollop of sour cream – heaven. A handsome chap with a fancy hair-do enjoyed a few scraps with me. The crested pigeon is a pretty common sight but we rather like him.
A photograph hanging in the cafe, intense expressions.
Olive Muriel Pink (1884 – 1975) was a fearless champion of Aboriginal people. She fought for years on behalf of the Warlpiri people to obtain a reserve for them in their own country and she supported other Aboriginal people when she thought they had been wronged. Miss Pink waged a dogged war against government departments and officials, particularly the Native Welfare Agency. She had a deep and enduring interest in botany and planted many trees around Alice Springs; she sometimes named trees after prominent politicians, causing them to wither (by cutting off their water) when their namesakes misbehaved and once refused to speak to her driver for 1200 kilometres because he made a light-hearted joke about a tree. Her reputation as an eccentric grew- she caused aeroplanes to be rerouted because she claimed pilots were spying on her and threatened to complain to the Governor General when a worker in a store gave her the wrong sized bottle of tomato sauce, (more about her in her own blog).
Shortly after I took this picture of Bear..........
We met our first wild ‘big red’. Once in rhythm these beasts take on such a fluid stride.
Mallees, the great survivors: Mallees are a distinctive type of Gum tree that has multiple stems rather than a single trunk. Mallee scrub covered a lot of southern Australia prior to European settlement. Many of the Central Australian Mallees grow on the quartzite ridges of the MacDonnell Ranges, often in association with spinifex grass species. On a day’s walk up Mount Sonder you can see five different species of Mallee.
The widespread Red Mallee was of vital significance to Aboriginal people, as water can be obtained from the roots of some plants. However it requires specialised knowledge to select the right tree, and find the right roots. The explorer Ernest Giles noted in 1872: “....an Aborigine, coming to a Mallee tree, will make an exclamation, look at a tree and begin to dig. In a foot (30 cm) or so to a root, which he shakes upward, getting more and more of it out of the ground till he comes to the foot of the tree. He then breaks it off, and breaks it into sections about a foot long, stands them on end in a receptacle, when they drain out a quantity of beautifully sweet, pure water. A fifteen feet long root may give nearly a bucket of water.....”
A Changing Landscape: River Red Gums and spinifex project the distinctive arid landscape of Alice Springs, but over the years new settlers have altered the landscape with new vegetation and land forms. The resultant mix of native and exotic vegetation is clearly seen around the town. One of the earliest imports was the date palm, thought to have been carried to Alice Springs by Afghan cameleers in their saddle bags. Date palms, planted at Telegraph Station, have been moved to the Mecca Date Garden – a curious reminder of Alice Springs pioneering days.
Oleanders, white cedars and peppercorns took their place in the arid environment in the 1920’s and 1930’s. More recently, various palms
have been widely planted throughout town. The tall lush green growth of the Washington Palm is a surprising sight in the dry landscape.
Increased concern over water use and the effect of fertiliser on the fragile desert has seen ornamental gardens give way to more natural landscaping incorporating native plants, sand and gravel. The spectacular colours and textures of native plants and their special adaptations to this arid land do not fail to impress.
Alice Springs draws water from the Roe Creek Borefields, fifteen kilometres south of Heavitree Gap. The borefield was discovered in the 1960’s when droughts and the growing Alice Springs population put pressure on its water resources. The source is twenty thousand years old and its level is being lowered by approximately one metre a year. As this precious resource becomes deeper and more expensive, the community is working hard to use water wisely.
Irrigation water for the town’s sports fields and parklands is drawn from the town basin, Alice Springs’ original water supply. The basin is a renewable source recharged when the Todd River flows. Sustainable use of the town basin helps control the high watertable and salinisation.
ALL IN ALL OUR NEAREST TO A DESERT GARDEN
THE MOST UNUSUAL GARDEN I HAVE EVER SEEN