Canberra’s Aboretum


I passed through Canberra recently and visited its newly opened Aboretum. It’s in its infancy, really, the majority of the trees too small to cast much shade. The project has had its detractors: it’s a major investment, features non-natives, and will use plenty of water … but I love it. Forty thousand trees in a hundred forests!

Canberra’s aboretum fills the space once occupied by pine plantation and burnt out ten years ago in Canberra’s bushfires. I lived in Canberra then, though I was away with work at the time. It was worse, if anything, to watch it all on a TV screen, making and receiving worried calls, and unable to get home. My place, in the inner north, was fine in the end, but plenty weren’t, and Canberra was much changed. I used to ride around the lake to Scrivener Dam and fly down a winding section of track through part of that pine forest most evenings in summer. It was one of the best things about living there. I only did that ride once again, to find miles and miles of blackened wasteland. It was lovely to see something new and wonderful growing in its place.

An aboretum was included in the Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin’s original design for Canberra, which they envisioned as a city of trees. So it’s nice to see their plans come into fruition. It’s not quite where they intended, but in a fitting spot, two hundred and fifty hectares with wonderful views over the lake and out to the Brindabella Mountains.

But the point is the trees – ‘every tree has a story’ as the brochure puts it. There are lots of rare and intersting species from around the world, like the Monkey Puzzle, as well as plenty of locals, including the wollemi, bunya and hoop pines, with genetic memories reaching back to the jurassic period.

The aboretum is to be a centre of tree education and research as well as a tourist attraction.

I took the Himalayan cedars walk and sat by the bbq/picnic area provided, which is high-set and relaxing, catching lovely breezes and views.

The sculptures are a highlight, particularly the eagle’s nest; everything seems to come with a forest and a vista!

I also checked out the visitor’s centre, which is a looks a bit like a giant armadillo rising out of the landscape. Its insides are large-scale timber and steel – gorgeous and high quality. There are tasteful displays with quotes from John Muir and others, talks from Indigenous guides, lots of information about trees and the site, and interactive bits for kids. There’s a bonsai display – one of the best I’ve seen – featuring plenty of Australian natives.

In something of a Canberra public institution tradition, despite getting nearly everything right (except perhaps pay-parking miles from the city) the centre’s cafe is all wrong. With all that space, atmosphere, and dramatic views, it’s poky one-counter service, average everything, and a mile-long queue clogging up the main entrance on a Monday morning, are a joke. My tip: pack a picnic.

Canbera’s aboretum is a work in progress, but what a wonderful vision for the future.


“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”  ~John Muir


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