The background to this web page is the spectacular Pin-cushion Hakea Hakea laurina which can be seen in the Gardens during autumn. Look for the dramatic pink flowerheads with protruding white styles which change to deep red as they age.
Photograph by D Greig

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

March, 2006

For many years Bernard Fennessy, one of the longest-standing volunteer guides in the Gardens, has been writing regular articles for the Newsletter of the Friends of the Gardens. They have now been collected together into a useful reference folder.

A copy of the folder was presented to Bernard (pictured here, centre, with Shirley and Warwick Daniels) by Greg Hunt, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, at a recent ceremony held in the Gardens to recognise those of our volunteers with ten or more years of service.

Copies of the collected articles are available for reference in the Friends' Lounge, the Guides Office and the Library and will be regularly updated as new articles become available.

Many of his articles can also be viewed on this website -
Index : Bernard Fennessy's "What's in a Name"
(this button is also accessible on the Home Page)

The Eastern Yellow Robin
Grasses in the Gardens
Flora Tasmanica
President's Report 2005 - 2006
Schools Photographic Competition

The Eastern Yellow Robin

Tom Green

Member of the Friends of the ANBG

I'm sure we all know someone who is a quiet achiever, an unassuming person who just gets on with the job. Well the Yellow Robin is their bird. Eastern Yellow Robins are one of the more common birds in the ANBG but they are often overlooked.

They usually perch one or two metres up, motionless in the shade, and watch the ground intently for any movement that might reveal their next meal. While in this pose they manage to keep their olive grey back facing the observer and so fade into the background. When they do hop into the sunlight the brilliant yellow of their breast comes as something of a surprise.

                                    Photo : Geoffrey Dabb

When excited they flick their tail up and allow the wings to droop a little. The small area of white under the chin distinguishes the eastern species from the Western Yellow Robin which has more white and an extensive grey band on its upper breast. The western species is a common bird of the Western Australian jarrah country. Two other species of Yellow Robin are found in the northeastern rainforests of Queensland.

Eastern Yellow Robins have a very characteristic habit of perching on the vertical side of a tree trunk with one foot above the other. The territorial call is a double "Tjool Tjool" and is heard most often in spring. They are one of the earliest birds to begin calling, often commencing to call a half hour before sunrise. Mild alarm is expressed by a monotonous piping call.

They prefer a woodland or forest environment but have a specific requirement for a dense under-storey of shrubs above open ground. The ANBG with its beds of well-spaced shrubs and heavily mulched ground is ideal for them. A good place to look for them is in Section 94 and along the north side of the Sydney section gully. Fires that remove the groundcover may favour them for a while, but the controlled burns in the ACT that remove the mid-storey will reduce their numbers.

Yellow Robins build wonderful nests. During the spring months you might find one of their finely woven conical nests in any part of the Gardens. The nest is usually built only one or two metres above the ground in a mid-sized shrub. A favourite site is in a Banksia where a number of branches have sprung from the previous season's growth. The outside of the nest is often beautifully camouflaged with pieces of lichen and slivers of grey bark. As with most small birds the bulk of the nest is made from pliable plant roots rather than stems. They usually lay two eggs and may next several times in each season. Incubation lasts 16 days and the young fledge after about 12 days in the nest.

Numbers build up during the summer and autumn perhaps due to their high breeding rate and decline to low levels during winter due to emigration and death of young birds.

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Grasses in the Gardens

Ros Cornish

Member of the Friends of the ANBG

Cymbopogon species :

From the Greek cymbe (boat) and pogon (beard), referring to the boat-shaped, bearded spathes.

There are about 40 species in the genus Cymbopogon, from mainly tropical and sub-tropical Asia, Africa, New Guinea and Australia. We have 11 species in Australia, 9 of which are native, and the genus is represented in all mainland States.

It is an interesting genus, with many species cultivated commercially for their fragrance and flavour. Most people would be familiar with C. citratus - Lemon Grass - which is an ingredient in many south-east Asian dishes. C. citratus is also used for those 'lemon fresh' odours in detergents. C. flexuosus (East-Indian Lemon Grass) is used in cooking while C. nardus is used to produce Citronella oil. A number of Cymbopogon species are used for scented oils for the perfume and cosmetics industries. As for our Australian species, the leaves, culms and roots of a number of them were used by Aborigines to treat skin ailments, coughs and colds, and headaches.

Cymbopogon species are excellent feature plants. They are perennial tussock grasses and most of them have fragrant leaves. The flowerheads are interesting, up to 1m tall, and very hairy in some species. They are quite hardy plants, particularly in hot climates. The two species pictured are suitable for growing in this area in a rockery or under trees and are fairly drought tolerant.

C. ambiguus (Latin for uncertain, referring to a species which can be readily confused with others) is the most widespread species of Cymbopogon in Australia. It is commonly known as Scent Grass or Lemon Grass because of the strong lemon aroma of the crushed leaves. It has an erect habit with bluish-green leaves, aging to red. The mature inflorescence is very hairy (white) and quite long-lasting. Examples of C. ambiguus can be seen in the rock Garden (Section 15c) and the Mallee Section

Cymbopogon ambiguus

Mature specimen of Cymbopogon ambiguus

Cymbopogon refractus

C. Refractus (Latin for curved back abruptly, referring to the spikelet branches which turn downwards as the spikelets mature) has the common name of Barbed-wire Grass. This is exactly what it looks like with the downward pointing spikelet branches at maturity. I like this grass because it flowers later than most and provides an attractive feature during the summer when many other grasses have passed their best. If forms quite a large tussock and the leaves have a strong scent of ginger when crushed. The inflorescence is tall, green and red and quite an unusual shape. It is a local grass and can be found on stony slopes in woodland and grassland such as Mt Taylor, Mt Rob Roy, Molonglo Gorge and Wanniassa Hills.

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Flora Tasmanica comes to the Gardens

Flora Tasmanica will be on Display at the Gardens' Visitor Centre from 5 April until July 2006.

This exhibition features the works of renowned Tasmanian wilderness photographer Peter Dombrovskis, and Les Blakebrough, regarded as one of Australia's greatest ceramic artists.

Les Blakebrough's porcelain plates depict six endemic Tasmanian plants - Eucalyptus coccifera,
    Eucryphia lucida,
      Brachyglottis brunonis,
         Nothofagus gunnii,
             Lomatia tasmanica
                Telopea truncata
and are accompanied by the original paintings by botanical illustrator Lauren Black.

Nothofagus gunii   2004
Maker :
Les Blakebrough
Illustrator :
Lauren Black

The Exhibition also features a selection of large and medium format photographs by the late Peter Dombrovskis, renowned for his images of remote and inaccessible areas of Tasmania.

Flora Tasmanica is on loan from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Hobart, where it was opened in March 2005 by Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

Les Blakebrough will speak at the ANBG opening.

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President's Report

Presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the ANBG
on 14 February, 2006

Andrew Walker

President, Friends of the ANBG

Once again the ANBG Friends have enjoyed a successful year, thanks to the untiring enthusiasm of our volunteers. Our membership has increased, the many activities we have organised have attracted more people and we have been able to maintain our support for the Gardens at a high level.

At 1 February 2006 we had 1451 members, compared with 1309 at the same time last year and 1291 the year before. IT seems likely that the main reasons for this increase are the higher profile that events in the Gardens have attracted in the media and the greater number and diversity of high-quality activities we have been able to offer our members. Considerable effort can be required to organise the wide range of services and activities offered by the Friends and much of the work involved falls on the shoulders of a core of willing stalwarts who share a common love for the Gardens. These are the people who have given the Friends the strength that underlies our success. Late last year a ceremony was held in the Gardens to recognise those of our volunteers with ten or more years of service. Greg Hunt, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, officiated at the ceremony and awarded certificates. He also presented to Bernard Fennessy, one of our most active and longest serving volunteers, a special folder containing a compilation of Bernard's "What's in a Name" articles which have appeared in Friends Newsletters for many years.

However, while it is good to be able to properly acknowledge the achievements of our long-standing volunteers, we still need more of our members to become actively involved in the running of our organisation. Not only would we benefit from the new ideas and enthusiasm they can be expected to contribute but we would also be able to spread the load more equitably and ease the burdens carried by some of our well-known 'willing horses'. A constant infusion of healthy new blood will ensure that we remain a strong and dynamic organisation which can be relied upon to make a worthwhile contribution, not only to the Gardens, but also to the wider community in which we live.

The 24 new volunteer guides who received 'graduation' certificates at the end of their training course late last year were a very welcome addition to our ranks. They were very much needed to maintain our capacity to run our regular scheduled program of guided walks (two every day of the year except Christmas Day and three from January to March), as well as a significant number of special walks. It seems that some of these new guides have already succumbed to the charms of the attractive Gardens environment to such an extent that they have already volunteered to help with other Friends' activities.

We have maintained our commitment to provide funds each year to the Gardens for agreed projects. During the past year an amount was allocated to the restoration (including the incorporation of a new Flowform cascade) of the creek by the side of the Visitor Centre. In view of the healthy financial situation of the Friends we have agreed to substantially increase our contribution to the Gardens beyond the current annual funding for the Friends' projects. Appropriate mechanisms to implement this are currently being developed, taking into account that, at present, there appear to be fewer opportunities for relatively small, worthwhile projects. Rather than simply lifting the annual ceiling, it may be preferable to incorporate a provision whereby we can save for a larger project over a three year period.

The ANBG Friends Public Fund (to receive tax-deductible donations in order to provide substantial support for projects that will enhance the Gardens) is well and truly established and its Committee of Management has met regularly. During the past year, Professor Frank Fenner resigned from the Committee and was replaced by Dr Robert Boden, a former Director of the Gardens. Progress on the design and construction of the first project to be financed by the Fund, a public shelter adjacent to the Rock Garden Lawn, has been frustratingly slow for a number of reasons, including the need to refine the design in order to met the project's budget. At this stage, we expect that construction of the shelter will be completed within the first half of this year. The official opening of the shelter will provide a good opportunity to further promote the Fund and attract additional donations. The publicity material on the Fund, displayed on the cover sheet for the Friends Newsletter, appears to have had some success in attracting donations, but we still need to explore new sources, including those in the corporate sector, if we are to achieve significant growth in the Fund.

Once again, projects attracting financial support from the Friends have included the annual Photographic Competition for High Schools and Secondary Colleges (last year there were 197 entries from 9 schools and colleges) and the provision of book vouchers for Botanical Interns.

Our hard-working and creative activities committee arranged a full and diverse range of high quality activities for Friends during the past year, most of which were well attended. Apart from an impressive program of talks by expert speakers, events on the program have included workshops, demonstrations, 'behind the scenes' tours, the very popular series of 'Breakfast with the Birds', the weekend excursion to Young and Cootamundra, and the Friends Twilight Dinner. The development and management of many of these events involves considerable effort and organisational ability and we are fortunate in having a core of very capable people willing to contribute their time and skills. However, we cannot reasonably expect the same people to be available whenever we need them; they have other commitments too. Last year we simply did not have the people available to mount 'Grazing in the Gardens', a popular (but very resource-consuming) event in previous years. In an attempt to spread the workload involved in organising such events we have decided to establish a Social Events Committee which will be responsible for the development, management and co-ordination of Friends' major social events throughout the year.

The Summer concerts were a very popular feature of the five weekends from January 7 and raised substantial funds for the Friends.

Photo by Alan Munns       

The publicity was excellent this year and attracted large crowds. Indeed, so popular have the Sunday concerts become that on some occasions, there was barely enough space for them on the Cafe Lawns and, in future, we may have to consider moving them to the more spacious Eucalypt Lawn. Only one concert had to be cancelled, owing to a sever weather warning.

The Growing Friends gained several new members and held a successful plant sale last April. Unfortunately, potting mix problems once again prevented sufficient plants being available to make a Spring Sale worthwhile. Happily, it appears that these problems have been overcome and there will be a sale on 1 April 2006.

The Friends Botanic Art Group is now well established and up to a dozen members meet each month to paint and share their skills with each other. Some of the work produced by members of the group will be on display at the next Growing Friends plant sale.

Many Friends have expressed their appreciation for the refurbishment of the Friends Lounge carried out during the year. The new furniture and fresher appearance of the Lounge have made it a much more attractive place in which to meet other Friends and to relax and browse the material on display.

Despite the considerable extra pressures arising from major staffing changes within the Gardens, particularly in the Public Programs area, Gardens' staff, both new and old, have continued to be helpful and co-operative whenever Friends have sought their assistance. Invariably, they find time to assist the Friends with their expertise when it is needed and their constructive support is paramount in maintaining the strong and mutually supportive environment that benefits us all.

I have enjoyed working with members of the Friends Council during the past year. All members have worked well together as a team and have made significant contributions to the management of Friends' business. When individual members have been unavailable at times during the year, others have willingly and spontaneously agreed to 'back-fill' their positions. It is a pleasure to work in such a cooperative environment with a team of competent and well-motivated people and it augers well for the future success of the Friends.

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Our Nation's Garden

Photographic Competition for A.C.T. High Schools and Colleges

Shirley McKeown

Co-ordinator, ANBG Friends' Schools Photographic Competition

This annual photographic competition is a Friends-sponsored activity, initiated in 1997 by the Friends' Beverley Fisher. It has proven to be a very popular annual event, with entry numbers each year of about 200.

As well as the photographic results, the competition also provides an opportunity for the students to gain an understanding and appreciation of the plant life within the gardens. The students' mix of creativeness and technical ability are overwhelming to say the least, and judging is no simple task, as the 2005 judges, the Gardens' Barry Brown and the ANU's Denise Ferris, will agree.

The criterion for the competition is that the photographs must be taken within the Australian National Botanic Gardens by High School or College students only. Schools currently involved in the competition are those within the A.C.T. The competition has six categories - Black and White, Colour (for both high schools and colleges), and two open categories Digital/Photographic Effects and People in the Gardens for all students. Cash prizes are awarded for winning entries, and also to the high school/college whose student has won a first prize.

 "Ever Dream"

First Prize -   2005 Open Digital/Photographic Effects
awarded to Sam Barling, Canberra College.

All entries are on display during the weekend of the prize giving in October, with the winning entries displayed for a further period of up to two months.

The photographs are of extremely good quality and easily scanned for uploading onto the Friends' website, so if you would like to view the winning, highly commended and commended entries since 1997, this link will take you to the current series, and this link will take you to the earlier entries (these links are also accessible from the home page).

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