The Friends and the Gardens
Eastern Hill, on the edge of Corio Bay, was set aside in 1851 as the location for Geelong’s botanic garden. The Wadawurrung (Wathaurong) people had cared for this land for 60,000 years, and it had provided food, medicine, tools and clothing. Near the Gardens, middens provide evidence of a diet rich in plants, seafood and land animals.
The gardens have evolved and developed over time. Today, the Geelong Botanic Gardens occupy seven hectares at the heart of Eastern Park. Unique in layout, they are compact, yet provide extensive displays of plants and gardens of the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries in a pristine environment.
The Beginnings 1985 – 1992
The Friends of Geelong Botanic Gardens (FGBG) were founded at a public meeting at City Hall on November 7, 1985. Ten people attended the inaugural meeting. The aim of the Friends was to promote the Gardens. The first project was the training of Volunteer Guides who would be able to enthuse the public about the remarkable history of the Geelong Botanic Gardens, the people involved in its establishment and cultivation, and the diverse collection of trees and plants. A further aim was to support the establishment of a Teahouse so that visitors could appreciate the ambience of the Gardens while enjoying a cup of tea.
In 1987, The Friends became an Incorporated Association. The Friends’ logo, Jubaea chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm) was designed by Robert Ingpen, AM, and our newsletter was named Jubaea.
In 1989, The Growing Friends began working on Wednesday mornings on a roster basis. The incorporation of a significant Perennial Border into the Gardens was an initiative of the Friends to attract plant enthusiasts and garden lovers into the Gardens. The Border is a popular feature today, with a dedicated band of Friends maintaining a dynamic and diverse display of plants.
In October 1992, the long awaited Friends’ Teahouse opened. Our volunteers were required to staff it from 11 am to 4 pm, seven days a week – a huge commitment from a voluntary group – and one which would continue for 20 years.
Working for Development at the Gardens 1993 - 2002
In 1994, it was announced that, as requested by the Friends, a comprehensive study of the Geelong Botanic Gardens would be undertaken and the City would contribute $10,000 to this study by Chris Dance Land Design Pty Ltd. The Friends also contributed $10,000 to the project. The Conservation and Management Study and Master Plan for GBG and Eastern Park, which was accepted by CoGG in 1995, described many actions that needed to be undertaken for restoration and rejuvenation of the Gardens. The Friends became actively involved in carrying out the recommendations of the Master Plan, which would guide reinvigoration of the Gardens and provide the opportunity to link the Gardens to Corio Bay and the City. Some of the significant mileposts were:
- A promotional video and new GBG brochure were launched - funded by the Friends
- The Friends supported the restoration of the Japanese Bronze Cranes and the Cabmen’s Shelter
- The Gardens and Eastern Park were placed on National Trust Heritage Register
- The FGBG Gift Fund was launched.
- CoGG agreed to provide a building for our use. The Friends paid for its relocation and refurbishment, as well as staffing and upgrading the GBG library.
- The Friends ran a public subscription campaign to raise money for the Daniel Bunce and Lady Visitor Bollards.
- Throughout 1998/99, the Friends constantly lobbied CoGG Councillors and the CEO for funding for Stage One of the Master Plan and for a Curator for the Gardens. In 2000, the Friends were delighted with the creation of a new Department of Recreation and Environment within CoGG, the appointment of Rob Small as Manager and the subsequent appointment of John Arnott as Curator of the Gardens to carry out the implementation of Stage One of the 1995 Master Plan.
- The 21st Century Garden was officially opened with much fanfare in September 2002 by the Governor of Victoria, John Landy. This event marked the culmination of years of effort by the Friends, to implement Stage One of the Master Plan. A sharp increase in the number of visitors to the Gardens and Teahouse became apparent. FGBG Volunteer Guides played an important role in interpreting the new environment of the 21st Century Garden. It was designed to be challenging, telling a story about botany, plant ecology and the vital role of water in a region that knows drought very well.
Ongoing Support for the Gardens 2003 - 2014
- The Friends contributed to the restoration of the Pelargonium House and the Pit Glasshouse
- The Friends initiated the restoration of the historic octagonal shelter in Eastern Park
- Plans to restore the Ladies’ Kiosk in Eastern Park are currently being pursued by the Friends
- Plans for a new café in the Walter Conservatory were funded by the Friends in 2006 after a business plan was developed. The issue is still to be resolved. We still await decisions about a visitor centre, a new café and a dedicated area for education.
- New bench seats have been purchased for the Gardens, funded by the FGBG Gift Fund
- To celebrate our 25th Anniversary in 2010, a Silver Border was planned and planted by a number of our talented Friends, with GBG staff. The planting provides an illuminating pathway through the 20th Century garden.
The Friends have now been an integral part of the Geelong Botanic Gardens for 29 years, working closely with management and staff to provide an outstanding environment for all to enjoy.