The cultivation of an Australian dream
‘When one has known the glory of our inland country and has seen and reverenced the scintillating beauty of the plants without number, the desire to preserve some at least of the heritage burns as a steady flame within.’2
G.W. Althofer’s passion for the discovery, collection, and preservation of Australian native flora is evident from his work and his literature. From 1932, with the success of the first plantings of Hakea laurina and Acacia podalriaefolia, the idea grew of ‘a great National Garden.’3
Althofer declared in the opening sentence of his 1956 catalogue, The Story of Nindethana: and new and enlarged catalogue of Australian native plants, ‘We have plants which have no living relatives in any other country in the world.’4
At the time of this publication his collection had grown to 2100 species.
Althofer referred to the 'first pioneers and their descendants' as 'splendid people' who had 'uppermost in their minds their minds the urge to clear the land, to destroy the accretion, the life blood of a thousand years of building.'5
He was inspired by arboretums of the ‘Old World,’ in particular the ‘gigantic’ Arnold Arboretum, located at Harvard University in Boston Massachusetts, which housed plants from the Northern Hemisphere. He recognised the urgent need for a similar endeavour here in Australia and lobbied persistently, and at times frustratingly.
‘The Soil Conservation Service is doing yeoman service on country already ravaged, but their voice and the voices of we who understand to some slight extent the complexities of the situation are but tiny sounds in the wilderness.’6
The Burrendong Botanic Garden and Arboretum opened in 1964, after Althofer and his family were successful in obtaining the 167ha site on the foreshore of Lake Burrendong, near Wellington, New South Wales. It is one of the largest collections of Australian plants in cultivation. Home to 50,000 flowering plants from over 2,000 species, the Arboretum is celebrated for its significant role in the promotion, cultivation, and preservation of Australia’s unique flora. Althofer’s 1936 poem The road to Burrendong is a delightful study of his early regard for the area.
From left to right; Hardenbergia monophylla, Eucalyptus pyriformis, Grevillea rosmarinafolia.8