Let me state upfront – if you are coming here to see banks of mature trees as you might find in other arboretums then you will be sorely disappointed. Apart from a bank of mature Himalayan cedars and Cork oaks all the other trees are less than (most significantly less than) 10 years old. Why is this so? You ask. Ok, you don’t but I am going to tell you anyway!
This arboretum is a true phoenix from the ashes of devastating bushfires which raged through this area of Canberra on 18-22 January 2003. In addition to taking the lives of 4 people and around 500 buildings the fire blazed through a pine forest where the Arboretum now stands. One of the outcomes of the review was that pine forests would not be grown around Canberra again. The establishment of an arboretum here also settles a long outstanding component of the Walter Burley Griffin plan for Canberra. The Arboretum was formally opened to the public in early 2013.
Once one understands the youthfulness of everything one can then appreciate that over 35,000 trees have been planted on the 250 hectare site in the past 10-15 years – with species from over 100 countries represented. It is a popular tradition now to get visiting dignitaries to plant a tree.
Given the lack of trees one does get some excellent uninterrupted views of Canberra across Lake Burley Griffin and the mountains in the other direction – best views from Dairy Farmers Hill.
Also within the Arboretum are two interesting sculptures, both worth a look. On top of Dairy Farmers Hill is a large metal – found objects – mostly abandoned farm machinery – sculpture of an eagle on its nest – by Richard Moffat and entitled Nest III (where I and II are, if they exist, I don’t know!). Across on the other side of the visitors centre (Village Centre) on top of the hill near the Himalayan cedar forest, is a metal sculpture of the words “Wide Brown Land’ taken from Dorothea Mackellar’s well known poem – My Country.
I quite like the poem – here is a part there-of. I hope you like it too. Of course, it speaks of Australia.
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!”
The arboretum is well laid out and you can easily get around by car or on foot (only if you like walking – its rather hilly). There are a few worthwhile walking tracks including one through the Himalayan cedar forest and a number of free guided walks leave regularly from the Village Centre.
The Arboretum is also home for the excellent National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia.
The collection contains perhaps a hundred of the finest miniature trees and forests that you will see anywhere and certainly the best I have seen anywhere in Australia.
I am always amazed at the skill and effort the owners put into these living sculptures to have them look so beautiful. One of the amazing things is that the display has even managed to capture Canberra’s seasons – so the miniature European beach pictured below right is not dead! It has lost its leaves, as it’s now autumn in Canberra.
The collection contains a mix of both Australian native and exotic species.
A musician beautifully playing some form of Chinese woodwind instrument was a nice touch during my most recent visit.
So what do I think?
A visit to see the bonsai collection; admire the views which give a new perspective on the city from those you get from Mount Ainslie, Black Mountain and the other traditional viewpoints; see the artwork and have a look around the Village Centre (visitors centre) where you can find a native demonstration garden, a discovery garden, a couple of eating outlets and a souvenir shop provides sufficient to do for a couple of hours while you wait for the trees to grow!
The Arboretum is located at Forest Drive, off Tuggeranong Parkway, Weston Creek – 6 kms for the city centre.
Opening times: Arboretum open daily: 7am-5.30pm and during daylight savings from 6am-8.30pm; Village Centre/ Bonsai Collection open daily except Christmas Day 9am-4pm
Entry Fee; Free to everything but you must pay for parking at the Village Centre
Parking fees: $2.10 per hour to a maximum of $7.80 per day.
Bus Route 81 (981 on weekends and public holidays) – for timetable check the website – http://www.action.act.gov.au/
Address: Forest Drive, Weston Creek.
Directions: Forest Drive, off Tuggeranong Parkway, Weston Creek – 6 kms for the city centre.