Canberra doesn’t always get a good press, from its main “industry” – politics – or as a tourist destination. But I think it’s over maligned. Despite freezing, foggy winters and scorching summers, and a challenging road system, I enjoyed the years I lived there. I even have a native born Canberran in the family.
I love the setting of Canberra, nestling below the Brindabellas and ablaze in autumn in an array of oranges and yellows, with the Lake Burley Griffin lapping at the doorstep. I love taking in the latest offerings of the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, or Museum and passing the many iconic buildings that feature so regularly in our news bulletins and national celebrations – Parliament House, the War Memorial, the High Court. I also love the parks, especially in autumn. So I always enjoy the opportunity to spend a few days there, to catch up with old friends and to see what new assets have been added to the national inventory.
Ceremonial Aleppo pine grown from the Australian War Memorial’s Lone Pine.
On my most recent trip, which coincided with “the Royals’” visit, a friend introduced me to the 250-hectare National Arboretum, taking shape on rolling hills just west of the lake and overlooking Government House and Black Mountain. Before 2003, when devastating bushfires swept through a number of Canberra suburbs and neighbouring commercial timber plantations, the site was covered in pine trees. I used to drive past nightly returning home from work at the Canberra Times. An arboretum seems a perfect choice to replace the burnt out woodlands.
When completed the parklands will comprise 100 forests planted with 48,000 rare and representative species from around the world. Some have cultural, historical and emotional significance, such as Turkish pines native to the Gallipoli Peninsula, and ceremonial Aleppo pines propagated from seeds from the Australian War Memorial’s Lone Pine. Other species include Japanese cherries, Chilean palm, American yellowwood, Persian walnut, English oak, Chinese evergreen magnolia and 16 eucalypt species. Visiting heads of government and ambassadors – and royal visitors – get to plant ceremonial specimens.
Gumnut fun with Black Mountain in the background.
Big bad banksia men make fun playhouses.
Other features of the arboretum include the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection, barbecue and picnic areas, and self-guided walks. An imaginative playground of giant “gumnut pods”, “banksia seed” alcoves and musical bridges keeps the kids entertained. A massive “eagle” fabricated from scrap metal sits on its “nest” surveying all. A modern interpretive centre educates visitors while the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, offering sweeping views over the arboretum and Canberra, is an impressive venue for special events for private functions. Margaret would be delighted!
Casting an eagle eye over the National Arboretum.
Out of the ashes.
25-year-old saw banksia bonsai.
Japanese black pine with a sparkling Canberra below.
Overlooking all standing 9.5 metres high and 35 metres in length atop a hill are Dorothea McKellar’s instantly recognisable words “wide brown land”. A prefect contribution to the telling of our national story.