Thursday, 30 October 2014

Day 43 - National Arboretum

Inside The Village
National Arboretum
Canberra turned of a beautiful late spring day for us. Having spent yesterday with my brother and his family and then the evening with friends Amanda and Kevin, today was spent in the warm air ... the warm, pollen-heavy air, as it turned out.

Sue has been cursing hay fever for the past few days.

We spent the morning walking through the north western suburbs and stopping a coffee in Spence. The conversations ranged over our joint experiences in the UK and Ireland in 2012, our families, politics, social change ... just as an artist might daub the sort of brush strokes one paints in washing the background of a new creation, so it is with a developing friendship.

Kevin took us to the National Arboretum for lunch.

What a wonderful place.

Located at the western edge of the city, it's 250 hectares are spread across several hillsides that open onto a new vista of the capital. The site of a pine forest that was mostly burnt and destroyed in the cataclysmic bush fires of the first few years of the Naughties, the land has already been planted with 48 000 trees. The earthworks done to sculpt the central valley which ranges down from "The Village", created steps and paths to manage the potential erosion and fill the dam which provides water. They are the largest earthworks completed in Australia since the 2000 Olympics.

Bonsai and Penjing Centre
A national competition to design the arboretum around the theme of "100 years, 100 forests", was won by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects. "The Village" - the dome shaped building which sits at the apex of the arboretum - nestles into the surrounding hills and provides visitors with a view which is spectacular and previously unavailable of Canberra. Walter Burley Griffin had envisioned the area to be farm land to provide a level of self-sufficiency for the city in his original planning, so it is fitting it is such a superb green space now.

The aim is to cultivate endangered species from around the world that will adapt to Canberra's boom and bust diversity of climate and in the process, learn more about the plants. In this, the staff - many of them volunteers - have exceeded their brief, establishing 104 species. Follow the link for more information ... National 
Arboretum Fact Sheet 

We didn't have enough time to explore other aspects of the place. On a nearby rise, the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion is a function centre with best views of the capital and between sits an open air, grassed amphitheatre where live music may be absorbed in late afternoons and under the stars. Above The Village, Dairy Farmers Hill is the highest point of the arboretum, with its few undaunted trees and Nest III, a sculpture of a large eagle sitting on its nest. It looks across the central valley to the words Wide Brown Land, sculptured onto the landscape from Dorethea McKellar's icon poem, "My Country", which kids of my generation could recite, back in the day. They have been formed to replicate her handwriting style for an even greater homage.

A children play area is nearby, with its climbing structures incorporating huge acorns to be climbed through and over and in and around.

Tucked in beside The Village is the Bonsai and Penjing Collection - one term Japanese, the other Chinese but both for the same tiny, perfect trees. The walkways that wind through here are white pebble and grey slate. As we visited, a volunteer expert was trimming an exhibit with nail clippers and all the care and love with which a mother might brush a daughters hair.

Inside The Village is a large open space, cool on a hot day and warm in the winter. It houses a restaurant, a gift shop and a cafe, all with friendly, go out of their way staff and reasonable prices. The food we ordered was satisfying and the coffees were rich. Its incredible outlook is staggering for visitors, but if I was a resident, I would find myself a coffee table by the window for that mid morning coffee and then stay, perhaps with a book or a pen or just empty thoughts, until it was time for a late afternoon red.

So new, yet already so special and so important, this was all possible because of people with vision in both the ACT government and the then Federal government, who poured in millions to establish the arboretum as "seed grants" - no pun deliberately intended - and have subsequently made the venture fund itself. There is no cost to enter, to wander about or to be staggered by the beauty and as the forests grow, that can only be enhanced. Our volunteer guide, Sue, who gave us the history and the future of the arboretum, laced with colour and passion, which just added to what was a fabulous experience.

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