History of Goondiwindi Botanic Gardens
In the early ‘80s, Grainco approached Waggamba Shire Council for permission to obtain fill from what was then a Crown Reserve to expand their bulk storage pads at the grain terminal directly to the North. Council agreed on the condition that the excavation (which is up to ten metres deep) would be an interesting shape with an “island” in the middle. At that time, there were no firm ideas about what the site might become, although a TAFE College was mentioned as a possibility.
In November 1986 local resident and keen field naturalist, the late Cecil (Tiny) Cameron, called a public meeting to form a Botanic Garden Committee. The concept was to collect and display plants native to the Darling Basin in plant communities as they occur in nature. While there are many botanic gardens throughout Australia, most are on the coastal fringe, very few display native plants only, the plant community approach is rare, and none of them feature exclusively the flora of a discrete catchment. It was envisaged from the start that this would be a unique project, with a combination of recreational, educational and scientific values.
Obviously, a suitable site was of paramount importance. One of the Committee’s earliest actions was to propose to Waggamba Shire that the Crown Reserve with its excavation would be ideal for a Botanic Garden. It was hoped that the “hole in the ground” would hold water when filled, creating a lake as a dramatic focal point.
On 11th April 1987, 22 hectares of the pound reserve was gazetted as a “Reserve for Local Government (Wildlife Habitat, Botanical Gardens and Recreation)” with Waggamba Shire Council as Trustee. The “Botanic Garden of the Western Woodlands” was under way. It was agreed that the flora to be represented in the Gardens would come from the area defined by the Great Dividing Range to the East and North, the Grey Range in the West and Wilcannia in the South. The Committee obtained a Bicentennial Grant, a substantial private donation was made, and preparation of the raised beds in the “landscaped” area near the entrance began. The lake was filled and did hold water, much to everyone’s relief. The ducks moved in as soon as the bottom was covered, and have been there ever since.
After months of planning and preparation, the first plantings took place in May 1988. From this humble beginning, several thousand trees and shrubs have now been put in, representing 27 plant communities. Each plant has been supported by mulching, slow release fertilisation and drip irrigation during its initial establishment phase. Many specimens did not survive, and replanting is a continual process. In a long term project such as this, establishing an over-story of the major plant species is the first priority, to be followed by under-story plantings eventually involving the appropriate groundcover species. The timescale is measured in decades rather than years.
From the very beginning, there was a great deal of community support from local businesses and individuals involving provision of machinery, topsoil, cotton trash for mulching etc, and Committee members began what was to become an established program of working bees. Waggamba Shire Council and Goondiwindi Town Council took on maintenance of the lawn areas, road maintenance, provision of town water, rubbish removal services, weed control and cleaning of the amenities, all tasks beyond the capacity of the volunteers. A membership base rapidly developed, resulting in subscriptions of some $5,000 per year, which is matched by a grant from the now Goondiwindi Regional Council, formed in March 2008 by the amalgamation of Waggamba Shire, Inglewood Shire and Goondiwindi Town Councils. Resources have regularly been augmented by government and community funding programs which have made possible the buildings, barbeques, bridges, boat ramp, fencing etc. Employment programs have provided much of the labour, with supervision by Waggamba Shire.
The Botanic Garden is an excellent example of community vision, commitment and cooperation. It has been made possible by the contributions, in money, time and materials, of a very broad cross-section of the local community. It occupies a special place in the lives of the people of Goondiwindi and district.