August, 2002

  This is a sample of our Newsletter's diverse and interesting content.
Join the Friends to receive your own full copy of each issue

Western Australian Wildflowers and Wildlife

Lake Eyre Calling

Dickson Family Visits Botanic Gardens

New Landscaping at the Gardens

What's in a Name

Guided Walks in 2001

Friends Briefs

has recently retired from the Gardens.

The driving force behind the establishment of the Friends group in 1990,
she was also an inspiration to the Volunteer Guides.
Her enthusiasm and energy will be greatly missed by all at the Gardens.

All the very best, Anne.

Photo by Anne Phillips

 Western Australian Wildflowers and Wildlife

Peter Levett, Volunteer Guide

My wife Anne and I have been known to undertake trips in our car and caravan. On one such trip, we notched up just over 25,000 km in twenty weeks, travelling firstly to Darwin via Port Augusta and Alice Springs and then to Perth via Katherine, Timber Creek, Broome and Geraldton.

While in Geraldton we did a day trip to Eneabba to visit the Western Flora Van and Nature Park. At the Park we obtained a map to do a loop trip to Geraldton to view wild flowers in a fairly remote area of the district. The wild flowers were beautiful, but we were totally unprepared for an emu which rushed out of the only patch of high scrub in the area and crashed headlong into our car. The collision did not seem to hurt the emu, but it didn't do our car much good. We were totally disabled 64 kms east of Geraldton on a very little used road.

Doing the absolutely wrong thing I started to walk for help and about 3 kms along the road I met a Dongara Shire truck driven by Bob Taylor just before he turned down a side track. Bob's greeting was "Anyone walking along this road is either mad or in deep trouble", my response was "How about both". Bob used the two-way radio in his truck to call for assistance for us, and an hour later Mick Keatly from Dongara Smash Repairs arrived and towed us to his workshop. A little over a half an hour later he had the approval from the NRMA for the repairs and had ordered replacement parts from Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. One week later we were back on the road.

During the week our car was off the road, the NRMA provided us with a hire vehicle to keep us mobile. We had heard about a plant called Lechenaultia macrantha, the Wreath Lechenaultia, which we were told could only be found at Mullewa 100 kms east of Geraldton (wrong!). Being careful of emus, we drove to Mullewa past masses of acacias, paper daisies, billy buttons and fringed lilies.

Wreath Lechenaultia Lechenaultia macrantha
Photo by G. Flowers

We found the plant we were looking for at a place called Pindar where several specimens were growing in a disused gravel pit. The Wreath Lechenaultia looks almost too perfect to be natural. It is a circular plant comprised of a mass of green leaves at its centre surrounded by cram and red flowers. The flowers are large and tubular with five expanding lobes appearing in Spring around the perimeter of the bush.

On the road again, we left Dongara and headed towards Perth. About 20 kms east of Three Springs on the way to Perejori, we came across a large patch of Wreath Lechenaultias growing on the side of the road in a gravel area where the earth had been disturbed by a road grader.

The wildflowers of Western Australia in the Spring are wonderful and spectacular but the wildlife should be avoided at all cost.

While it would take up too much space to go into full detail, we were overwhelmed by the kindness, concern, generosity and help we received from the people in the area. Through what seemed a disaster at the time we met some most wonderful people who, except for our misfortune, we would never have known existed.

Bob Taylor and his wife Lorraine visited Canberra some months after our contact in the West, and it was lovely to be able to show them around our beautiful city, including a personalised guided tour of the ANBG.

 Lake Eyre Calling

Pauline Wicksteed, Volunteer Guide

When the monsoons bring record rains over the catchments the northern rivers start to flow towards Lake Eyre. In those years the waters reach the Lake and may even overflow into Lake Eyre South. The flooding triggers a huge influx of birds to breed on the dunes and islands. Also the tourists come by air and land to enjoy the rare sight. Fortunately there are strict regulations concerning the flights to ensure the rookeries are not disturbed.

Lake Eyre has long been the great unknown of the interior. Many early explorers were repulsed by its dry, barren wastes, its silence and desolation. John Gregory in 1901 called it The Dead Heart of Australia. But the explorations of John and Roma Dulhunty in the 1970's and 80's have given us a detailed picture of the lake. They risked their lives to carry out trips over the salt crust, avoiding the dreaded slush zone where the salt is thin over deep mud. They knew it in all its extremes, from sand and dust storms to the great floods of 1974, its dangers and its beauty. They were able to negotiate the surface of the Lake with three-wheeled balloon-tyred Honda buggies and they had radio communication with Muloorina Station. (There is a segment in the National Museum featuring the expeditions of the Dulhuntys).

I was able to join a group for a chance to travel to the Lake. We set off from Longreach, where I arrived not knowing it was the last flight of the airline, Flightwest, before it went into receivership at midnight. Our route took us south through Jundah, Windorah, Betoota and Birdsville. Here the Wet stopped us as the Birdsville Track was closed. However there was plenty to do in town with the huge museum, Blue Poles Gallery and coffee shop, the pub, Information Centre, Flying Doctor Centre and the permanent lagoon with its bird life.

It was a day and a half before we were allowed to proceed down the Track ($10,000 fine if orders were ignored.) Floodouts were frequent and the plentiful water attracted birds to the roadside and resulted in many stops along the way. An overnight camp at Mungerannie Hotel, the only commercial stop on the Track, gave us the chance of more good bird watching at the large waterhole, and hot showers. On to Marree at the bottom of the Track where we replenished our water supplies and bought and mailed postcards. It's a sad little town now that the railway "the Ghan" has been rerouted to the west.

Then we headed out to our next camp on Muloorina Station on the Frome River. This station was originally taken up in 1881, then purchased by Elliot Price and his brother in 1938 and now covers 4,400 sq. kms (compare with the ACT of 2,400 sq. kms). After World War I it was a government camel breeding depot and afterwards had many owners, usually driven off the land by drought. Elliot Price refused to beaten and his family still live there. We drove across gibber plains, through the dog fence, noticing scattered mobs of cattle from time to time, until we reached the oasis of the homestead and beyond the camp area among the coolabahs and acacias close to the river. We had a two-night stay there and the next day we were to drive 40 km to the Lake itself. Lake Eyre covers 8,030 sq.km, Lake Eyre South 1,300 sq. km. At its lowest point the lake is 15 m below sea level.

It was a long hazardous trip with detours around wet patches and over dunes, vegetation of cane grass and saltbush and other low shrubs. Our track followed the Goyder Channel which links north and south lakes until we reached Lake Eyre National Park where an information board maps the area. We were able to walk out onto the Lake for about 100 m until the surface began to stick to our boots as they broke through the thin crust of salt. There were some beautiful features in salt-encrusted shrub skeletons on the Lake and signs of rabbits everywhere around the shoreline. We were standing on the shore of Madigan Gulf and could see Elliot Price Peninsular in the distance.

Next day we were on our way again back to Marree and on to the Oodnadatta Track following the old Ghan line. The line is now only an embankment depleted for firewood and by termites and most of the buildings of the sidings have been vandalised. Coward Springs siding has been bought privately and is being carefully restored. Camping is available and there is an interesting small museum.

We were heading to William Creek where some of the party hoped to catch an air tour. Light planes are based there for several months for scenic flights over the Lake. This was the highlight for us. As we flew out we could see the fresh water of the Warburton River flowing into the Lake, over Hughes and Dulhunty Islands with thousands of breeding pelicans, Hunt Peninsula and Madigan Gulf. Flying lower, we were fascinated by the patterns of the salt crust like ice floes, and in the water there were green, bronze and coppery colours merging along the shore. As we crossed back over the land, lines of dunes stretched away to the west, with ironstone in swales. Mining companies had shown interest at one time but there were no commercial prospects. All too soon we were down on the ground and away for our night's camp.

Next day we travelled across the Moon Plain where Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was filmed, to Coober Pedy - another unreal place.

Such a wonderful country.

The Coolabah Eucalyptus microtheca

Photo by D Grieg

 Dickson Family Visits Botanic Gardens

Bernard Fennessy, Volunteer Guide

Dr Bertram T Dickson (1886 - 1982) born in England and educated in Canada, died in Sydney at the age of 96. He was Chief of the Division of Plant Industry in CSI, later CSIRO, until his retirement in 1951. He was honoured with a CMG in 1960. He came to Canberra in 1927 and lived there until 1966, and later lived in Sydney. He was appointed to the Council of the Canberra University College (forerunner of the ANU) in 1937 and became its Chairman in 1953.

In 1935 he prepared for the ACT Advisory Council a report about a site in Canberra for a botanic garden. He recommended a site where the Australian National Botanic Gardens is now located, on the lower slopes of Black Mountain. He detailed the purpose of a botanic garden and the requirements for it. He was present at the formal opening of the Gardens by Prime Minister Gorton in 1970.

In the Gardens Dr Dickson is commemorated in the Administrative Building in the Dickson Room where there is an oil portrait of him.

During the Easter weekend this year some of Dr Dickson's family visited the Gardens and were interested to see his portrait. Those visiting embraced three generations : Dr Dickson's grandson Tom (Melbourne), great gradson Geoff (Canberra) and great great grandchildren Georgia and Aimee.

New Landscaping at the Gardens

John Nightingale, Curator, Living Collections

The renovations of the lawn area adjoining the Rock Garden are nearing completion. This area was once a 'highway' on the way to other Gardens locations; now this newest part of the ANBG landscape will become a prime location to visit and enjoy in its own right. Formerly there was a nondescript area of poorly performing lawn between the Rock Garden and the bitumen road to the west of the Main Path, as well as a small crescent of grass on the eastern side of the Main Path. Now there is a new planting bed as well as a renovated and extended lawn area. The new bed, on the western edge of the new lawn area stretches north to south and forms a continuation of the Rock Garden beds. Many large rocks have been used to retain and stablise the steep slope where many metres of soil mix have been added.

Directly in front of the new bed a hard and level path has been constructed. Not only will this path fllow a close up view of the smaller plantings in the bed, it also gives wheelchair access into most of the Rock Garden from the Main Path. Along the length of this gracefully curving path are a number of seating positions that will provide some pleasant long distance views to the city.

The remaining area to the west of the Main Path has been leveled and turfed. This new lawn has been interestingly blended with the rocky edges of the Rock Garden beds and the Friends sundial through a drift of large rocks that have been installed into the turf. A few of these large rocks have also been placed into the renovated lawn area to the east of the Main Path which has been extended to the mulched roadway below and to swerve to the south of some venerable specimens of Eucalyptus nova-anglica.

The main structural plantings of the new bed, to be planted this spring, are forms of Mulga, Acacia aneura, and associated species, displaying their various leaf sizes, shapes and colours. The open, sunny and free draining site should favour the growth of these medium sized desert shrubs so that eventually they will visually enclose the site to the west and provide some welcome shade on hot summer afternoons. Also forming an important structural feature of these beds will be numbers of small, sometimes multi-headed Xanthorrhoea plants. Other smaller plants such as scaevolas and pimeleas, with many from Western Australia, will benefit from the shelter provided by the rocks and larger plants as well as the deeper pockets of soil mix found around the rocks.

Time is still needed to add extra soil mix to the new bed and to plant it up, to establish the new turf and to level out some unevenness in its surface and to deal with some drainage issues in the lawn. Hopes are high for a launch of this new landscape in spring where the contributions the Friends of the ANBG, who provided funding for the development of a concept plan for the site, contractors and staff involved in the project, can be recognised.

What's in a Name?

Bernard Fennessy, Volunteer Guide

In the Australian National Botanic Gardens, in Section 206, downhill from the lawn next to the Rock Garden, are three White cedar trees. One of these has a striking coating of lichens.

The White cedar is one of the few Australian deciduous species - it loses its leaves completely in winter and develops fresh ones in late spring. It inhabits the brush forests of the east coast, extending from the Illawarra district in New South Wales north to the coastal brush forests of Queensland and the Kinberley of W.A. It also occurs in New Guinea.

It is in the family Meliaceae and the genus Melia. This is the classical Greek name for the Ash (Fraxinus) which has similar leaves. The name came originally from Greek meli, honey, as several Ash species have a sweet sap.

Melia azedarach, known as Bead Tree, China Berry and Persian Lilac, is distributed through much of Asia. The specifric name, azedarach is from Persian azad-darakht meaning noble tree. The leaves are used medicinally and the fruits are used as beads.

The Australian variety is Melia azedarach var. australasica. In its natural habitat the tree grows very tall, up to 30 m with a spread of 6 m, but when cultivated it has a shorter and more spreading appearance. The foliage is a bright glossy green. The alternate compound leaves are usually bipinnate with numerous leaflets. Individual leaflets are ovate and prominently toothed on the margins. The flowers are lilac and are chocolate-scented in large sprays in spring.

Melia azedarach var. australasica
Photo by Anne Phillips

The fruits are yellow, globular berries, 10-15 mm. They are poisonous to some livestock, eg sheep and pigs, and to dogs and man. They are very attractive to some parrots.

White cedar is an extremely adaptable tree that can be grown in most soils and even in low rainfall areas. It has been used as a street tree in areas of Australia with an annual rainfall of 350 - 440 mm; most of these street trees originate from India.

A seat near the White cedars in the Gardens helps one to appreciate the seasonal changes in their appearance, and particularly the cool shade they provide in summer.

Melia azedarach var. australasica (close-up)
Photo by Andrew Lyne

Guided Walks in 2001

Norman Morrison, Volunteer Guide

2001 was a 'vintage' year for the Volunteer Guides, with a total of 4663 visitors being shown around the Gardens. The last time swe topped 4000 visitors was in 1997 when 4465 visitors came on walks.

The Guides again added an early morning walk to the regular 11.00 am and 2.00 pm walks in the months of January to April, thus adding over 100 walks for the yar. We had 2772 visitors on the regular walks, which was a very pleasing result, the highest ever! Most months saw one or more bus groups being taken around by the Guides, and in June special Banksia walks were organised in conjunction with the Celia Rosser exhibition held in the National Library. There were four conferences in 2001 either hosted by, or relevant to, the Gardens, and the Guides took delegatges to the conferences on a range of general and special walks.

The Guides have been keeping informal information on the visitors to the Gardens and a comparison of data from 1996 was made with 2001. Visitors from the ACT have remained almost constant ato 20%, while overseas visitors increased from 30% to 40% and conversely intgerstate visitor numbers dropped from 50% in 1996 to 40% in 2001.

Friends Briefs

The New Volunteer Guides Intake

Following the information session on 2 July for people interested in becoming Volunteer Guides, we were overwhelmed with good applicants - over 50 in all - so the selection process was particularly difficult. Aftger much deliberation and agonising, we selected 26 candidates who began training on 30 July with sessions every Tuesday and Thursday for five weeks, ending on Thursday, 29 August.

Subject matter for the training program covers a wide range of material, from Australian flora and communication skills to revelation of 'favourite places in the Gardens' and why potting mix needs to be sterilised. Many Gardens staff as well as current Volunteer Guides presented different areas of this program.

Archive Index

Friends' Home Page

Compiled 7 October, 2002 by Shirley McKeown   -  email : wombats1@tpg.com.au