Author: Brad Pillans, Director, National Rock Garden

Extract from National Rock Garden Newsletter No. 21, June 2021

On Friday 4 June, after more than 12 months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, an agreement was signed with the ACT Government to relocate the NRG to a new site within the National Arboretum Canberra (NAC). The agreement was signed by Scott Saddler AM, Executive Branch Manager of the NAC, and myself, during a small ceremony at the NAC, and witnessed by Christine Callen (NAC) and Mike Smith (NRG).

After acknowledgement of the Ngunnawal traditional custodians, Scott Saddler, himself a proud Wiradjuri man, welcomed the NRG Directors (Michelle Cooper, Mike Smith, John Bain and myself) and representatives of STEP, the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park. STEP has a garden (Forest 20) adjacent to the proposed NRG site (Forest 13).

In his welcome speech, Scott Saddler, noted that the partnership between the two national organisations – the NAC and the NRG – ‘will build on the natural synergies between geology and biology, and provide an important link for increased visitor engagement. Diversifying storylines of geology and flora will help visitors to better understand that trees, soil, water and rocks are all essential and inter-dependent elements of the living world’, he said.

Brad Pillans (left) and Scott Saddler (right) before and after the signing of the agreement to relocate the NRG to the National Arboretum Canberra. Images courtesy M. Cooper.

Forest 13, within the NAC, is about one hectare in area and is located on Forest Drive (the main access road in NAC), just 100 metres north of the NAC visitor centre and carparks. To complement the NRG display of large iconic rocks from around Australia, Weeping Wilga (Geijera parviflora) trees will be planted in an indigenous pattern in Forest 13, said Mr Saddler.

The National Arboretum Canberra attracts around 700,000 visitors annually, including more than 30,000 school students in facilitated programs. ‘It is a place for conservation, education, science research, recreation, reconciliation and tourism’, said Mr Saddler, goals that align very well with the aspirations of the National Rock Garden.

In my reply, I thanked Scott for his warm welcome and noted that while land plants have only been present for around 10% of the 4.6 billion years of Earth history, the proposed NRG rock displays will be able to tell the deep-time story of the NAC trees as part of the evolution of all life on Earth.

Brad Pillans (left) and Scott Saddler (right) watch as Mike Smith (second from left) and Christine Callen (second from right) sign as witnesses to the agreement between the NRG and the National Arboretum Canberra. Image courtesy M. Cooper.

Over the coming months, NAC and NRG will work closely with Canberra-based landscape architects, Harris Hobbs Landscapes, to develop an exciting landscape design for Forest 13, with a view to moving the first rocks on site before Christmas. Forest 13 is only 1 km from our current site, and appears to be logistically straightforward, using cranes and trucks, but we shall see…

More on this in the next Newsletter!

Forest 13, the new home of the National Rock Garden at the National Arboretum Canberra. Image courtesy M. Cooper.