The National Arboretum in Canberra is a wonderful example of how we can build back better after a devastating natural disaster. If you live in Australia, you might remember the horrific bushfires that impacted Canberra in 2003. They were caused by a combination of extreme weather conditions, lightning strikes and gusty winds and were the most destructive fires in recorded history in the ACT. I remember hearing how significant parts of the ACT were destroyed and that the fire ripped through a pine forest. Here I am, almost 10 years later, standing on that very same site, looking out at an amazing landscape. After the horrific fires, the Territory government consulted the community and experts and decided that the best use of this land would be to establish a national arboretum rather than plant another pine forest. Today, it is a wonderful place for families or groups of friends to spend a day but it is also a place of healing for those who lost so much in those awful fires.
We badly need places like this in our cities. Places that inspires us to stop, reflect on the past and rethink the future.
If you are wondering what on earth an arboretum is, it comes from Latin and means a place of trees. It’s an outdoor museum for trees really and enables a variety of trees to be grown for research, education as well as ornamental purposes. Funnily enough, an arboretum was part of Walter & Marion Burley Griffin’s original plan for Canberra but as often happens in the implementation of designs, we run out of funding for the most visionary bits! Today, the arboretum is home to the largest cultivated collection of living Wollemi pines in the world as well as three pre-existing forests which survived the 2003 Canberra bushfires. I enjoyed our walk through the Cork Oaks but there were so many people we couldn’t find parking at the Himalayan Cedars. There are some stunning views to be had, if you take the time to hike up the hill.
We took a guided tour of the area from the information centre as we were both keen to learn more. The information centre itself is a treat built to simulate the forests outside. We learnt that the design theme here is 100 forests, 100 gardens from over 100 different countries. The site currently has ~94 forests of rare and endangered trees. It is a place where you want to take your time, as you wander through some of the forests. As the signboard informs you, each forest and tree has a story to tell. Spend some time listening to the trees and have a conversation with them as you drink in the view and reset from the stresses of this world.
As you do, remember that you are standing on Ngunnawal Country and honour the ancestors and their customs.