Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney
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The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, New South Wales, is the most central of the three major botanical gardens open to the public in Sydney (the others being the Mount Annan Botanic Garden and the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden). The gardens were opened in 1816, and are managed by the same trust that manages the adjoining The Domain. The gardens are open every day of the year, and access is free.
Situated east of the Sydney Opera House, and overlooking Farm Cove, the gardens occupy 30 hectares in area, and are bordered by: the Cahill Expressway to the south and west, Art Gallery road to the east, and Sydney Harbour to the north.
The first farm on the Australian continent, at Farm Cove, was established in 1788 by Governor Phillip. Although that farm failed, the land has been in constant cultivation since that time, as ways were found to make the relatively infertile soils more productive.
The Botanic Gardens were founded on this site by Governor Macquarie in 1816 as part of the Governor's Domain. Australia's long history of collection and study of plants began with the appointment of the first Colonial Botanist, Charles Fraser, in 1817. The Botanic Gardens is thus the oldest scientific institution in Australia and, from the earliest days, has played a major role in the acclimatisation of plants from other regions.
After a succession of colonial botanists and superintendents, including the brothers Richard and Allan Cunningham, both also early explorers, John Carne Bidwill was appointed as the first Director in 1847. He was succeeded the following year by Charles Moore, a Scotsman who had trained in the Botanic Gardens of Trinity College, Dublin. Moore, Director for 48 years (1848–96), did much to develop the Botanic Gardens in their modern form. He boldly tackled the problems of poor soil, inadequate water and shortage of funds to develop much of the Gardens in the form we see today. The Palm Grove, in the heart of the Royal Botanic Gardens, is a reminder of his skill and foresight, as is the reclaimed land behind the Farm Cove seawall which added a significant area to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The Botanic Gardens once housed a zoo. The zoo was Sydney's first and operated in the Gardens from 1862 until 1883, when most of it was transferred to Moore Park. During these years much of the remnant natural vegetation of the surrounding Domain was removed and planted as parkland. The Moreton Bay Figs, one of the major elements of this planting, continue to dominate the landscape.
In 1879 a substantial area of the Domain, south of the Government House stables (now the Conservatorium of Music), was taken for the building of the Garden Exhibition Palace. This building, ‘an outstanding example of Victorian architectural exuberance, with towers and turrets deployed around a giant dome 100 feet (30 m) in diameter surmounted by a lantern 200 feet (61 m) above the ground’, dominated Sydney's skyline and covered over two hectares. The International Exhibition held in the Palace attracted over one million visitors. However, the building was destroyed by fire in 1882 and the land, now known as the Palace Garden, was added to the Botanic Gardens.
Towards the end of his time as Director, Moore, together with Ernst Betche, published the Handbook of the Flora of New South Wales, further establishing the Botanic Gardens as a centre for the science of botany.
Moore was succeeded by Joseph Henry Maiden who, during his 28-year term, added much to Moore's maturing landscape. He organised the construction of a new herbarium building, opened in 1901 (today part of the Anderson Building), and made major improvements to the Domain. However, the Botanic Gardens suffered from loss of staff positions during the World War I, and in the Great Depression of the 1930s, the position of Director was lost. Both the Herbarium and the living collections languished. From 1945 Robert Anderson worked to reunify the two. In 1959 the title 'Royal' was granted and the Herbarium and Royal Botanic Gardens were administratively reunified under the title Royal Botanic Gardens. Knowles Mair (1965–70) achieved reunification and the Royal Botanic Gardens began its return to eminence.
Dr John Beard (1970–72) and Dr Lawrence Johnson (1972–85) further developed the organisation, and the Robert Brown Building was opened in 1982 to house the Herbarium. The breadth of activities increased over these decades with the formation of the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens; educational and ecological programs; the Flora of New South Wales; the scientific journals Telopea and Cunninghamia and programs of computerised documentation of both the living and herbarium collections.
Other initiatives, the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden (1987), Mount Annan Botanic Garden (1988) and the Tropical Centre (1990) glasshouses, were opened to the public after Professor Carrick Chambers became the ninth Director in 1986. The Royal Botanic Gardens celebrated its 175th anniversary in 1991. During Professor Chambers’ ten years as Director, the Rose Garden (1988), the Fernery (1993), the Herb Garden (1994), and the Oriental Garden (1997) were opened and the Rare and Threatened Species Garden (1998) was commenced to further enrich the experience of visitors. The Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation was established to seek a wider range of support for future needs.
In 2003 the business name of the organisation, comprising the three Botanic Gardens and the Domain and administered by the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, was changed from the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney to the Botanic Gardens Trust. Professor David Mabberley was appointed as the Executive Director in April 2011 and commenced the role in August 2011.
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The Royal Botanic Gardens are home to a colony of over 22,000 Grey-headed Flying Foxes, a large species of fruitbat. The management of the Gardens holds the bats responsible for killing dozens of trees and, in May 2010, received approval for a plan to move the colony elsewhere.
In February 2011, a Federal Court ruling gave the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust the go-ahead to play recorded sounds in an attempt to drive the bats from the gardens. The sounds, which include engines starting and metal pounding, are scheduled for implementation in May 2011 for two weeks.
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