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Interruption to Service

Normal service to be resumed 4 March 2023

The National Arboretum

One of the newest and most delightful parts of Canberra is the National Arboretum. I am going on holiday this week so there will be no bus trips to report on. I thought as I was not going on a bus I would write about a place that does not have a bus that goes to it.

The National Arboretum is a living tree museum. It came into existence after the destructive bush fires of 2003. Jon Stanhope, then Chief Minister of the ACT, had a vision to see the original Burley Griffin design come to life. The arboretum would be a tribute to the resilience of the people of Canberra replacing the burnt out timber forest destroyed in the fires. In the tradition of how Canberra came into being, a competition was organised. The winning entry, a collaboration by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects called “100 Forests and 100 Gardens” started to be planted in 2005. It was another 6 years before the grounds were open to the public, with over 15,000 people attending the opening weekend. The National Arboretum is now a major tourist attraction with over 4 million visitors, well above the number estimated.

The word ‘arboretum’ was coined by John Claudius Loudon in 1833 to describe a place where trees where studied, preserved and use as an educational tool. The National Arboretum is more than just the trees as it brings together spaces to gather, both inside and out. Playgrounds, viewing points, picnic areas, a bonsai house, building for functions, places to eat and of course there is a gift shop.

Tree museums take time to grow, it is in their nature to take time. It is wonderful to go the arboretum and see the changes every time I visit. Seasons are visible with dormant trees in winter that spring into life around September and then blossom and bloom to change colour in autumn and return to dormancy. It is spectacular at any time of year. And there is every type and kind of tree: small shrubs, tall trees like sentinels, trees with bark that sheds, and trees that grows bark so thick it can be peeled off. Trees that give shade, and trees that grow like huge narrow pins. Each with its own small plantation, neatly named and categorised. Driving past the 250 hectare site on the Tuggeranong Parkway, the patchwork of the 93 forests can be admired on the hill. Even this glimpse of the plantings is thrilling.

Driving up Forest Drive to the Village Centre with its Discovery Centre and cafe, (run by Ginger), even the car parking has been thought out. The terrace of tarmac falls away from the building entrance to limit the view of the sea of cars. The amazing POD playground pokes above a hedge with pods of climbable acorns, banksia nests and music making instruments. Built from the original idea of seeds, it has won awards as it encourages children to explore, use their imaginations and create wonder. It is conveniently located next to the coffee shop so any adult, coffee in hand, can admire the view while keeping one eye on the children. With no bus from the city, or anywhere else, this is a privilege given only to children whose parents have cars and drive, or a ride a bike or a horse.

The National Arboretum was officially opened 10 years ago with sticks in the ground, many plastic protection wrappers and much anticipation. I am not sure that any words I use can describe the beauty, majesty or design of this place. It is not just about the trees but about the design of built and planned landscape coming together to become a place that is used by everyone. I have seen all walks of life here. Once a huge groups of Hindus when we visited one Christmas Day. The Village Centre was closed but the car parks were packed. Groups of people admiring the views of the political capital; the whole of Canberra is laid out before under the Eagle’s Nest and at Wide Brown Land (a sculpture that refers to the McKellar poem) both sculptures set on peaks.

We have visited on hot days and freezing days but there is always a vibe; mums' groups with prams, walking groups with Nordic poles, craft groups with knitting needles and people enjoying being out surrounded by beauty and looking for the changes since the last time they visited.

As it is so high it is always windy. Families make use of this to fly kites in the grassed amphitheatre, running up and down tugging on strings to keep their kites airborne. The terracing at the rear of the Village Centre offers respite from the wind in the themed gardens. The Gallery of Gardens are linked together with a path as you are taken from a Children’s Garden with arbors that can be climbed on, richly planted contemplative spaces, through to a labyrinth, a garden planted out like the wings of a butterfly and a moth, both endemic to the east coast with plants to encourage them as part of the design. The AIDS Garden and the Garden of Life both places to sit and reflect with plantings that highlight the themes. The Open Gardens Australia Garden celebrates all things gardening. What joy can be had with dirt, plants and time. Although like many domestic gardens the Open Gardens Australia organisation is no longer, but this garden holds the memory of it.

Even before we moved here to live permanently, we visited the Arboretum on many occasions. I have photos of our son, now 17, at different ages climbing on the letters of Wide Brown Land. I have photos of my crochet on the Eagle’s Nest and at the Garden of Life. Photos of a family of magpies dancing and singing on Christmas Day to entertain us.

All of this on offer in the national capital and it is free, apart from the parking. So why is there not a bus that can take more people to enjoy this place?

Normal service will be resumed 4 March 2023


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