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Dr Robert Boden

4 OCTOBER 1995


HIGGINS: Robert, let me say at the outset thank you for agreeing to be part of the project, and I know the Friends are grateful for your participation and I’m looking forward to hearing of your memories and experiences of the Botanic Gardens over a substantial period.

I would like to start by talking about the period when you began with Parks and Gardens in 1955, if we can talk for a while of your memories of the Botanic Gardens during the 1950s to 1960s period. Now I think I read in the files that you actually went to the Gardens on the very first afternoon as a Parks and Gardens staff member. Do you recall what your first impressions were?

BODEN: Well I had known about the Gardens before. I first came to Canberra in 1954 to study Forestry at the Australian Forestry School and it’s a two year course following on from two years at the University of Sydney and as part of the course I had occasion to go to the Gardens. In those days you had to climb over the fence because it wasn’t open to the public, so I was reasonably familiar with where the Gardens were and during my course as a student I became interested in Eucalypts, particularly Eucalyptus taxonomy and breeding. So instead of moving into general forestry, I decided to try to work in experimental forestry particularly with Lindsay Pryor who was then Superintendent, later Director, of City Parks or Parks and Gardens as it was called.

So as soon as the course was finished in December 1955 I went to Parks and Gardens to work with Lindsay. Now in those days there were no public service positions attached to Parks and Gardens other than the directors and possibly a typist and one or two other positions. Otherwise the positions were what were called ‘industrial positions’ and the only way into Parks and Gardens was to be employed as a Gardener. I was taken under industrial award conditions as a Gardener Grade 1.

Now it’s rather amusing in a way as there was even a little bit of concern because I didn’t have a strict horticultural qualification, horticultural certificate, that a forestry degree mightn’t have been as good as a horticultural certificate and whether I should have been a Gardener Grade 1 or a Gardener Grade 2, but that was resolved as a Gardener Grade 1, and I worked in that capacity for three or fours before some professional positions were established.

So, yes I certainly went to the Gardens the first day I started. I think it was about Monday 19 December or something like that to do some work in collecting pollen which Lindsay had suggested was an area we should look at. Eucalyptus pollen to commence breeding experiments with Eucalypts into specific hybridisation trials.

HIGGINS: Could you give me some detail then about that work that you were doing collecting material from the Gardens in this eucalypt work in taking cuttings etc?

BODEN: Well the aim was, Lindsay was looking at the taxonomy of Eucalypts and to divide the various groups up on the basis on their capacity to inter-breed. We also had a horticultural theme going in the attempt to introduce colour into some of the Eucalypts which were grown in Canberra. One of the problems with the highly coloured Western Australian species was that most of them are frost tender and the thought was that if we could hybridise them with frost hardy species we might get a frost hardy, highly floriferous, highly coloured flowered Eucalypts. So that was part of the program.

HIGGINS: And that was ficifolia, was it?

BODEN: Ficifolia was one of them and there’s a whole range: torquata and erythronema and erythrocorys. A whole range of the Western Australian ones but behind it all Lindsay had the basic sort of scientific interest of looking at Eucalyptus pollen to see if it could be stored for any length of time to overcome one of the barriers to hybridisation which is the difference in flowering time and also difference in geographic location. So that if you could store the pollen, you would be able to ship it say from Western Australia to Canberra and use it in hybridisation trials or as we subsequently found, you could hybridise a spring flowering species with an autumn flowering species by storing the pollen in deep freeze over the intervening period.

So the first basic research task, I guess, was looking at Eucalyptus pollen, trying to germinate it in laboratory conditions and then looking at various methods of storing it under laboratory conditions.

HIGGINS: And so the Gardens represented even at that time a collection of different species of Eucalypt which you were able to use?

BODEN: Yes they were a resource of material. We knew that some species there were hybridising naturally and this is one of the whole efforts we might mention later in relation to the Botanic Gardens where you do introduce a lot of species into one place and then natural hybridisation can occur and already there were signs of some particular individuals hybridising within the Gardens with adjacent species on Black Mountain for instance.

HIGGINS: Could you give me some examples?

BODEN: Well Eucalyptus delegatensis which occurs in the high part of the Brindabellas - was hybridising naturally with Eucalyptus macrorhynca which occurs naturally on Black Mountain so we always knew if you went to that delegatensis plant in the Botanic Gardens and raised seed from it, you would show signs of hybridisation in the juvenile population.

HIGGINS: That must make things a bit difficult too, in terms of wanting pure stock?

BODEN: Well it certainly makes it difficult. The Botanic Gardens was much in demand for native seed for export to other overseas botanic gardens in an exchange program.

HIGGINS: And when was this going on?

BODEN: This had been going on before I arrived and is part of the traditional process between botanic gardens but European gardens were obviously very interested in the Australian flora because it is so different, but some concerns were raised that we may not be sending pure material when you have only one individual of a species growing in the Botanic Gardens because an individual may be self incompatible. That is it doesn’t set viable seed on its own it really needs one of the same species growing nearby. Where you have another species you can get inter-specific hybridisation, and this is particularly common with Grevilleas which are quite promiscuous in that regard. So that’s one aspect that needs to be looked at closely in relation to using botanic gardens as seed sources. Vegetative propagating material is different of course because it is unaffected but clearly you can’t shift vegetative material overseas as easily as you can seed material.

HIGGINS: Now the plantings that were in the Gardens at this time, the 50s, had been collected by Lindsay and Erwin Gauba and you knew Gauba reasonably well I believe.

BODEN: Yes, I knew him very well. He was working at Acton in the offices of Parks and Gardens where I set up this small laboratory and so we were working in adjacent rooms and I got to know him very well. He couldn’t drive. Initially I didn’t have a driving licence either but he was a very keen field botanist and in fact, when he was interned in the Mallee Country in Victoria, he studied and made a vast collection of the flora of the Mallee Country around the internment camp.

So he was a great field botanist and he and I, as soon as I learnt to drive, went on a lot of field trips. Often just the two of us, but most commonly with a chap called Jack Moore who was in charge of propagation at Yarralumla Nursery. So the three of us were probably during the spring and summer months be off at least one or two days a week.

HIGGINS: And were those collection trips oriented towards the Gardens as well as Parks and Gardens?

BODEN: Both. At that stage all the plant material was being raised at the Yarralumla Nursery for the Gardens before its own nursery was established. But yes that was the primary aim in looking for material and Gauba would collect the herbarium specimens, identify the plant material and Jack and I would get the horticultural material and bring it back. And that really is part of the genesis of this link between the living and the herbarium collections.

HIGGINS: And those horticultural specimens that you were collecting to grow into the plants at the Gardens they were in the forms of cuttings generally?

BODEN: Cuttings, seeds and sometimes plants, depending on the time of the year, but often the problem with collecting cutting material from native plants the best time is after they have finished flowering when the new vegetative growth has come, probably in early autumn. It’s rather more difficult sometimes to identify plants when they’re not in flower, so it’s really quite important to have a good field botanist working in a team and that’s why the Gardens developed this team approach of botanists and horticulturalists going out into the field.

HIGGINS: Could you give me some examples of those trips? For example, how far afield did you go and you were travelling by vehicle and were you camping out at night and what were the conditions like?

BODEN: We travelled mainly by a Holden utility in those days. A lot of the trips with Gauba were day trips because he wanted to get back at night. He was quite elderly by that stage and wasn’t so keen on camping.

HIGGINS: Was he married?

BODEN: He was married and they lived in Yarralumla but she was alone. They had a daughter who actually worked in the Forestry School.

HIGGINS: What was the wife’s name?

BODEN: No, I don’t remember her name unfortunately. That should be on the record somewhere. So we tended to do day trips and we would go as far as Cootamundra or down Cooma way, Nimmitabel, Brown Mountain. A lot down Clyde Mountain, a lot down Macquarie Pass. Where it was an overnight trip we tended to go a lot to the Jervis Bay Annex where there was the small hut which had been established and it was set up for camping overnight with reasonable facilities and Gauba used to enjoy that so it would be a two or three day trip as far as that was concerned. Lindsay and Gauba went on some longer trips where they camped in the field and I joined them on a couple of those which went well into northern New South Wales and out west and places like that.

HIGGINS: With the day trips obviously you could bring back the horticultural material at the end of the day, but when you were away for longer periods were you dependent on aircraft flying material back?

BODEN: Yes, that was the pattern that was developed particularly late in the Botanic Gardens activities when they went further and further afield, interstate, Western Australia and places like that, they had to rely on shipping material back.

HIGGINS: But during this period?

BODEN: Oh, during this period, we tended to concentrate more on seed rather than vegetative material. I think there were a couple of occasions when I remember shipping material back from Coffs Harbour, but we tended to be away for relatively short periods so it could be still brought back. If it’s kept in a cool box wrapped in moist newspaper it will still survive the required time. But at that stage of the Gardens the main development was the lower terraces, that was about the extent of the Gardens development in about 1955.

HIGGINS: And it was really an unofficial project still at this stage in the sense that it hadn’t had the formal seal of approval from Cabinet or...

BODEN: No, it had had official endorsement I guess by the fact that Chifley and Dr Salisbury planted the commencement trees in 1949. That gave it some endorsement but one of the ministers, his name is somewhere on the records, had decided not to take the matter to Cabinet. It’s always a minister’s prerogative and I think he felt that you took it to Cabinet and it was knocked back, then you can’t go ahead with it, whereas it was possible to absorb it within the Parks and Gardens budget and it was best to get it going rather than take the whole matter to Cabinet and possibly... Yes that was why that in a sense it was unofficial and I guess that was a judgement that was made at the time.

HIGGINS: How many people were employed specifically on the Gardens site at this time, we’re talking about the 1950s. Were there people there full time?

BODEN: There were people there full time. I think there were probably two. I remember Johnny Penders and then Stan Kirby. I think Stan replaced Johnny, but there was probably only one assistant. So I think there was a maximum of two people. Gauba would often want to go. He hated being in the office, he was a real field botanist and would want to go up to the Botanic Gardens and see how the plants were going that had been planted and that sort of thing. It was quite frequent to go to the Gardens once or twice a week apart from my specific activity to collect propagating material.

HIGGINS: And what sort of a man was Gauba? You said he liked the outdoors, obviously he was in love with botany.

BODEN: He was a real character in a way, I got to like him very well and he had some very very specific quirks of character about where we had to stop for meals and what we had to eat and things like this. I remember once we stopped on the way back along the old Hume Highway and a fox was on the road and he got out to cut off the tail for his grandson to make a racoon hat and then later on as we were driving along he offered me some salami which he proceeded to cut with the same knife which I didn’t really find an attractive proposition. He had very special likes and dislikes and he was very deliberate in his way and things had to be done in his way but he was a jovial character and we had some really good times in the field.

HIGGINS: So a strong personality?

BODEN: Hmm, and he got on very well and was very respectful of Lindsay and was grateful that Lindsay had employed him and he enjoyed very much that association. As he got older it was sadder and after his wife died I went to the funeral and then we hadn’t seen him for a day or so, so I went to his house and he had suffered some sort of post trauma shock I suppose, and was completely oblivious to what was going on. He declined very rapidly. I went and got his daughter and I think they put him into hospital for a while then. He had a very commanding role as far as his wife was concerned and it didn’t appear perhaps to some people to be a greatly affectionate relationship because he was an Austrian and he required his wife to do everything for him but quite clearly there was a much deeper relationship which we didn’t perceive and he suffered markedly after her death.

HIGGINS: So he died not so long after?

BODEN: I don’t remember the precise dates but he did spend quite a lot of time in hospital and declined fairly rapidly.

HIGGINS: It would be pretty true to say I guess that Lindsay Pryor was a strong character too, and so they seemed to be similar sorts of men?

BODEN: Yes, they were. Lindsay is a very very strong character, but again, Gauba because of his Austrian background I guess, was a strong character, but he also accepted authority so he wouldn’t ever query what Lindsay was saying because Lindsay was the Director and therefore that was what was done. So the two characters got on I guess because Gauba recognised what the role was in a sense. But Lindsay, yes certainly a very strong, very strong character.

HIGGINS: Now the Gardens, the germ of the idea for the Gardens can be traced from Griffin on through particularly the Dickson Report 1935, and even the Dickson Report makes some reference to exotics being planted as well as native plants and in fact some of these exotics were planted I understand in the 40s and maybe into the 50s. Can you comment on this evolution of the all native policy because it seems to have come about over the course of a period of time. Was there any thought of exotics say at the time you started?

BODEN: No, there was no thought. By then there was a few things planted around the foot slopes of Black Mountain, exotics but by then it was pretty well entrenched as far as I perceived that it was to be an Australian native garden and the only exotics would be examples of species or plant families from say South America or South Africa which had close relationships with the Australian flora through the Gondwanaland concept and that these would be grown as demonstration material, one or two specimens, but there was never any suggestion that the Gardens from 1955 onwards would ever grow a wide range of exotic material or horticulturally developed material such as roses and tulips and things like this.

In fact it’s quite amusing in many ways, people would often, you would hear visitors wander around the Gardens say ‘We’ve seen the plants, where are the flowers?’ This is one of the images that people have of botanic gardens, of hot houses and begonias and things like this. One of the big tasks we all had was to try to proselytise the idea of Australian flora and show that it was different and something worth cultivating, worth showing.

HIGGINS: Yes we might talk about that a bit more. It’s particularly appropriate that this year at Floriade of course the Gardens has that display of Australian plants in flower.

BODEN: Yes, a lot of those are horticulturally developed ones.

HIGGINS: Just a little bit further, with the all-native policy. Where do you see that stemming from? Did it really come from Lindsay or was it a group thing that came about?

BODEN: As far as I can tell it came from Lindsay. Some reading I’m doing now would suggest that had Griffin had his opportunities he would have been a strong advocate for it as well. In fact we’re finding more and more in the writings that he was a really strong advocate for Australian native plants and an Australian section of his continental arboretum would have fitted quite neatly into what has eventuated but I think it would have to be linked with Lindsay really. I don’t know any other influence because the Society for Growing Native Plants was quite in its infancy in those days. So I think it would have to lie almost entirely with Lindsay as far as I know.

HIGGINS: Now you mentioned the early staff, John Penders and Stan Kirby, so Kirby replaced Penders did he?

BODEN: That’s my understanding, yes, that Stan Kirby replaced John Pender. Now why I don’t quite know the background. I wasn’t involved in that side of that but I remember seeing both of them at the Gardens and Stan was there for a long while.

HIGGINS: And what sort of men were they? Stan was English I believe.

BODEN: Stan was English yes, and fairly rigid in his ways I guess as far as some of the horticultural aspects were concerned but we all were at that stage. Plants were being raised in terracotta pots and we were not appreciating that a lot of the problems of root curling and root distortion resulted from that method of growing plants, but that was part of the learning process. But he became very adaptable to the difficult site because it was very different from an English garden with the limited water availability and the need to mulch plants and it was mainly rock mulching in those days.

HIGGINS: Could you just define what that is.

BODEN: Really using the flat shale-like material on Black Mountain to spread it around the base of the roots of the plants to help suppress weeds and to help to conserve moisture. Rabbits were a major problem and I remember Stan had two dogs and I think one of them was either a Doberman or something of equal size which helped to reduce the rabbit population which was still fairly high on Black Mountain in those days.

HIGGINS: And what about kangaroos, were they a problem?

BODEN: They weren’t at that stage by contrast with the situation now or particularly at Jervis Bay where they are prolific but no I don’t recall the kangaroos being an issue at that stage. I think you’ve got to recognise at that stage there was still intensive grazing going on, Belconnen was not even thought of and so anything to the west of Black Mountain was still agricultural grazing land and I have no doubt the kangaroos were being controlled in other ways at that time.

HIGGINS: And Johnny Penders, what was his background? Was he Australian born?

BODEN: No, he wasn’t Australian born, he was either Dutch or German. I’m not quite sure. I had only a short contact with him and I don’t know much other than that.

HIGGINS: So he was in charge on the site in the same way that Kirby was the Gardener in Charge.

BODEN: Yes that’s right. I think they were either given the designation of Gardener in Charge which was one step below an Overseer. The designation of Overseer was fairly soon applied and Parks and Gardens other resources would be called in for when there was mowing needed or tractor work or tree removals. The Tree Surgery Group was under a chap called Jack Newland and would do any tree work that was needed.

HIGGINS: And that Newland isn’t it?

BODEN: Jack Newland yes.

HIGGINS: So he was the Parks and Gardens tree surgeon?

BODEN: He was the Parks and Gardens tree surgeon and any pesticide control, the pesticide unit would be called in and these were the advantages of the links with Parks and Gardens if you had that resource which could be called upon as far as the Gardens were concerned.

HIGGINS: Now you mention the problem with water, what sort of water supply existed at that time?

BODEN: As I remember it, there was one or two at the most, stand pipes which from a water line brought up from somewhere around Clunies Ross Street and we had to carry water in buckets and watering cans from the central stand pipe. It was a long while before irrigation system into the gardens.

HIGGINS: So the gardeners would be walking quite a few kilometres a day just to do the watering.

BODEN: Yes just to get the water on. In summer the water cart from Parks and Gardens might be called in to assist with this but there were no tanks on site and I can’t even quite recall where the hut of some sort for messing facilities and protection during wet weather was.

HIGGINS: There was this Green Hut that was erected at a certain time?

BODEN: That came later, substantially later I recall.

HIGGINS: Well ‘56 I believe.

BODEN: Oh right. I didn’t realise it was as soon as that. Yes it was situated in what is now the front of the Botanic Gardens between Clunies Ross Street and the fence and it would have been an old depot I guess from somewhere. Lots of things happened in those days by City Parks having a wide ambit around Canberra there were things which would keep cropping up and bits of things which could be moved so sheds would appear and sheds would disappear.

HIGGINS: So Lindsay and co made resourceful use of whatever they could get their hands on?

BODEN: Yes exactly.

HIGGINS: Was that like a Nissan hut with a rounded roof?

BODEN: No as I remember it, it was a normal pitched roof and I think it was either a former hostel accommodation or something like that. It was a bit more than a hut actually, it was rather more substantial than a hut.

HIGGINS: Yes I intend to talk with Domenic Catanzariti a bit more about that, it should be interesting. Now, in past discussions with you particularly from the late ‘50s onwards and the creation of the NCDC, there was shall we say, was there a friction between Interior which had responsibility for the Gardens and NCDC on the other hand in terms of developing the Gardens and control?

BODEN: Well, yes up to the NCDC introduction which was what, about 1957 I suppose, 57 58, prior to that major works had been carried out by the Works Department as it was called or something of its equivalent title and City Parks had responsibility... I keep saying City Parks but it was really still called Parks and Gardens, had the responsibility for both developing and maintaining the landscape around Canberra.

With the introduction of the NCDC there was a trend for them to engage and have the funding to do the construction work which City Parks would then manage and sometimes frictions developed between the commitment of management and the design work of the NCDC which sometimes out stripped the capacity of Parks and Gardens to manage so some problems developed at that stage. And I guess there was a loss of the design function, whittling away at the design function, which was very important to Lindsay, probably slightly less important when David Shoobridge took over in 58. He had a slightly different interest and was not so much involved in design work as he was in other aspects of the development.

HIGGINS: And these sorts of things that you have been talking about, did they come to bear upon the Gardens site in any great way?

BODEN: Yes they had a bearing because, in fact, the further herbarium building, I think the main herbarium building was constructed by Department of Works, Works and Design or Housing and Construction whatever the title was rather than the NCDC. Dave successfully retained the responsibility for developing the Gardens away from the NCDC and they really didn’t take a great deal of interest in the Gardens until sometime later, substantially later actually and that was the reason why Dave was able to get money through other programs for the construction. The NCDC I don’t think started to take a strong developmental interest in the Gardens until probably well into the 70s.

HIGGINS: So it would be the current herbarium building that was built by them. The 1966 one which now contains the Public Programs offices.

BODEN: It was that one and even the existing building up the hill. That was a Works rather than an NCDC building designed by the Department of Works the one which is behind the Visitors Information Centre and that’s of the period of the early 70s architecture. But that was certainly a Department of Works.

HIGGINS: Because when I interviewed David last year he talked about the NCDC being behind that building infrastructure.

BODEN: Well that’s interesting. I didn’t think that was the case but he will be much more familiar because I, as you will gather, towards the end of the 50s moved away from that involvement. I never had a direct involvement because I was working closely with Lindsay on research works. I didn’t have a management role in Parks and Gardens but I was certainly sure that that building was designed and constructed .....

HIGGINS: It could be Dave’s memory’s ....

BODEN: Yes, it would be interesting to get some confirmation of that from ... it should be on the file but people like John Wrigley would be familiar with that.

HIGGINS: Yes, I’ll pursue that with him. Now as we have introduced Dave Shoobridge to the Gardens and he had been working in Parks and Gardens since ‘52 as Lindsay’s assistant director if you like and then took over from Lindsay in about ‘58, could you make some comments for me on their roles in terms of the Gardens development. Lindsay Pryor is one person and David is another, did they have different views and philosophies on the development of the Gardens?

BODEN: I think they did but David as I understand it, didn’t get very much involved in the Gardens at all until after he became Director. Lindsay was really the prime mover and it was certainly Lindsay who brought Erwin Gauba on the scene and Lindsay brought me on the scene and David I hardly even spoke to Dave Shoobridge even though we were in the same building in the earlier part of my work there. Not through any other reasons but there were different roles. Dave was very much involved in organisational things and machinery, he was very keen on that type of equipment fitting out the organisation. My recollection is that his interest in native plants strengthened when he became Director and also strengthened a lot through his wife Molly who was very keen on Australian native plants. But Dave’s own garden in Red Hill was a typical exotic garden rather than a native garden so I don’t think he had a personally strong interest but he did in the concept of the Botanic Gardens. He didn’t have a personal strong interest in his home garden in native plants but certainly in getting the Gardens going and his major contribution was getting funds for what I call the base infrastructure of the Gardens: the paths, the roads, the terraces, the water system and the stone work, a considerable amount of stone work. He and I, I think, differed slightly on the policy when to open the Gardens. I had a feeling that it might be better to open the Gardens earlier and get the public on side but that was just a view I expressed a few times. But I think he felt it needed to be fully established and it wasn’t until about ‘67 I think when it was opened to the public by invitation. It was even generally opened then.

HIGGINS: Yes, it seems that there had a been a plan to open it formally in ‘67 but for several reasons it was put back to ‘70 even though the public were coming in from ‘67.

BODEN: Dave was very active in the history of parks and recreation which Lindsay wasn’t active in. They had different interests in that regard and so Dave was able to use, and he became president and a conference was held in Canberra and he linked all that together to get an official opening of the Gardens.

HIGGINS: Yes that all culminated in 1970. Just related to that, just from reading the files, one of the things that happened in ‘67 which was one thing that David used to say ‘Let’s hold off the official opening for three years’, was the fact that Ross Robbins after not very long as Curator decided to leave, I believe to go to New Guinea. And so you have Ross there for about seven months being replaced by John Wrigley. What sort of a person was Ross? Did you know him?

BODEN: I didn’t know him well. I only knew him by virtue of going to the Gardens and continuing to use the collecting material and things like this without having a responsibility. Ross was very much an academic I would say and he had worked in New Guinea I think if I remember correctly and then returned to New Guinea. But I didn’t really to get to know him at all but he certainly had an academic approach to the whole concept I think.

HIGGINS: So rather than hands on?

BODEN: Yes, that would be my feeling. I have no comment on any relationship between him and Erwin Gauba or anyone else really. I think his time was really too short to ...

HIGGINS: Well Gauba would have been gone certainly to the ANU because he went in 1960 I think just after Lindsay went across to the ANU.

BODEN: Yes, see there was a period where it was confused because to get the Botany Department established Lindsay again moved another building in behind the City Parks building in Acton and that was used for botany students for at least one or two years and Gauba still occupied his former room but was at some stage transferred to the university. So that became rather mixed there, in fact I remember getting involved in planting what was called a taxonomic garden around Acton which is now under the waters of Lake Burley Griffin which was for teaching purposes so there were examples of the different types of plants used for teaching purposes before the Botany Department was built on campus. So yes I’m a bit vague there about the time that Gauba would have had any direct contact with Robbins.

HIGGINS: I would assume they probably didn’t have much.

BODEN: But when did Betty Phillips?

HIGGINS: She started in ‘60.

BODEN: So yes she would have been having contact with Ross Robbins.

HIGGINS: Did you know Betty very well?

BODEN: Fairly well, I had met her in the Snowy Mountains area where she was working before she came to work with the Gardens. I didn’t know her very well, we tended to go our own separate ways I suppose. Betty was a little bit difficult at times, or I think she had some anti-forestry feelings perhaps and my basic training was forestry but we didn’t have a great deal of contact.

HIGGINS: Because my understanding is that Betty, as the Botanist at the Gardens, had a fair bit of power through till the creation of the Curator position and she also had some curatorial functions. She also had horticultural responsibilities.

BODEN: That’s right.

HIGGINS: And so when Ross Robbins and subsequently John Wrigley came on in ‘67 I’m just wondering how that was received by Betty?

BODEN: Oh very adversely and I think it caused a lot of concern for her in the role... You’re right Dave Shoobridge had recruited her and given her that role and she resented it quite markedly when the horticultural curator position was going to come in.

HIGGINS: So when she was recruited she did have a horticultural role?

BODEN: Whether it was in her duty statement, I don’t know.

HIGGINS: In practice?

BODEN: In practice, oh yes.

HIGGINS: But of course you weren’t really on site much at this time.

BODEN: No, no.

HIGGINS: So you can’t comment much further on this.


HIGGINS: I think in the late ‘60s, was that the time when the Black Mountain Tower was being constructed?

BODEN: No, the Black Mountain Tower was the first sort of test of the new Labor Government’s environmental policies in 1973. By that stage I was working in the Environment Department under Don McMichael and minister Moss Cass.

HIGGINS: The question I was going to ask in that regard was whether that was seen as any threat from the point of view of the Gardens given that from the early stages Lindsay had seen the upper part of Black Mountain as a flora reserve.

BODEN: It was one of the reasons I think, but I don’t remember it as being the major reason.

HIGGINS: Reason for?

BODEN: Well it was one of the aspects of concern the people had but it wasn’t the major reason that people had concern about the construction of a tower. There were other reasons associated with that and also the testing, really, of the Labor Government’s environmental policies which they said were very strong, so it was a real testing of those policies and at that stage the Environment Department was quite small, only about 30 or 40 of us there and the test and the validity of some of the legislation and things like this was the major ..

HIGGINS: From the Gardens point of view? Did the Gardens have a particular view point?

BODEN: I imagine they wouldn’t have been in favour of it but because I was then out of that area I can’t really see that as the major issue.

HIGGINS: I understand that on the more positive side some of the stone that was removed during that building program was taken by the Gardens, Dave Shoobridge I think said, ‘We’ll have it’, and that was subsequently used in the Gardens.

BODEN: Some of it was used in the Rockery. A lot of it is still at the back of the Gardens in what was the Black Mountain Tip. There was an ordinary tip, suburban tip, and then a lot of the material removed from the top was dumped on that and never spread and is a real continuing problem. But certainly some of the rocks in the Rockery as I recall came from the Black Mountain Tower.

HIGGINS: That tip is to the north of the Gardens where the cars were dumped?

BODEN: Yes, that’s right, yes.

HIGGINS: If we could just race ahead to another development which possibly was seen as a threat to the Gardens. That was the John Dedman Parkway in 1987. Now at that time you were Director. How seriously was that seen by the Gardens as an intrusion?

BODEN: Oh it was seen very seriously as an intrusion at that stage and about that time we were getting the first advisory committee established and one of the aims that I had was to have an advisory committee of experts who would be listened to by government and therefore be able to protect the Gardens in that sense. They fought strongly against the John Dedman Parkway proposal. I also saw it was a barrier between ourselves and CSIRO because we were trying to build up links with CSIRO and had done simple things like having gates put in to encourage greater use of the Gardens by CSIRO personnel and getting other people, other than botanists, like the entomologists and people like that, to use the Gardens as a scientific resource. So I saw it as a major disruption to that as well as an intrusion as far as sound and things are concerned.

HIGGINS: And how bitter did that dispute become? Did it get very far before the planners of the Parkway backed down?

BODEN: Yes, there were a couple of meetings there - John Langmore I remember came and there were several marches and things of this nature but why it failed, they had public relations exercises as part of a total planning concept, why it failed I don’t quite know. It was in the broader context of transport arrangements for Canberra and it’s even now left as an easement between them and I have advocated recently that that easement should be added either to CSIRO or the Gardens to kill it off completely. While ever it’s there someone will have some bright idea that it might be useful.

HIGGINS: Do you think that the stand that the Gardens took, that you took, was effective in any way in the decision or was it totally determined, the decision not to go ahead, was it determined by traffic considerations?

BODEN: I think our opposition contributed to it and particularly the Advisory Committee who was very strong and that was the use of the Advisory Committee, it wasn’t the case of someone from within government beating their head against a brick wall because it was all part of the same government which was looking at the transport plan so it was harder within the organisation to be criticising, in a broader organisation. So that’s why we wanted the independent views of the Advisory Committee and they helped and John Langmore’s committee helped.

Probably the other proposal which was of more concern was the proposal for a cable car which would go over the Botanic Gardens. I’m not sure if you’ve come up against that. That would have been after I’d left the Gardens and when I was in the Environment Department and there was a proposal put up to run a cable car from Civic, across the ANU campus to the top of Black Mountain a la the cable car in..

HIGGINS: In Kuranda?

BODEN: Well in Kuranda now, but the one that was in New Zealand, in Queenstown and there was a very very strong case put up for that and the government of the day was very strongly in favour of it and that was meant to be providing ... I mean the arguments put to me was it was going to let a lot of people see the Gardens who would then be attracted to come in. But finally, I think financial reasons, that was probably quashed.

HIGGINS: So that’s in the early ‘70s?

BODEN: Early ‘70s, yes.

HIGGINS: If we can just return to that early period before going on discussing your directorship in more detail. I’m interested in the stage of development of some of the ecological collections at this time in the late ‘50s early ‘60s. For example, the rainforest gully - was that underway in embryonic form say by the mid ‘60s?

BODEN: I would have defer to John Wrigley in that detail, Mathew.

HIGGINS: The misting was put in in 70 and both in my interviews with Lindsay and with David they sort of said it was the other one’s. Lindsay said David did it all and then David said Pryor put in some of the earliest system. I’m just trying to get an idea of when did it start?

BODEN: Well, I can’t attribute it to either one but I think John would be able to clarify that when you speak to him.

HIGGINS: And some of the other more particular areas in the Gardens, for example the Eucalypt Lawn, was that underway?

BODEN: That was well underway, yes, a lot of those trees were collected as seed and raised in Lindsay’s time and more the Eucalypts on the terrace than the Eucalypt Lawn would have come later. The Eucalypt Lawn may have even been, by the age of those trees on the lawn, may be more David. It would be fairly to look at the dates of the development.

HIGGINS: And the Sydney Basin?

BODEN: The Sydney Basin was certainly in the Shoobridge period, post-Lindsay and before ‘79, before I got involved. The concept of ecological plantings was developed before I got there. When I arrived in ‘79 there was the idea we had taxonomic plantings which were botanically related groups. There were horticultural plantings particularly in the front gate which were highly floriferous particularly annuals and things like that. And the ecological plantings, and then there was the geographic planting. So there were some which were geographically-based rather than necessarily ecologically based. But sometimes the line between ecologic and geographic is a bit blurred.

HIGGINS: I think Lindsay got the inspiration for the ecological collections from his trips overseas in the late ‘40s early ‘50s so that idea must have been there from his time. Even though some of the areas might not have been developed until after he had gone.

BODEN: Yes, certainly because of the space that was available in the development the first plantings were based on a strictly botanical basis rather than an ecological basis.

HIGGINS: Now after Ross Robbins left or indicated he would leave in ‘67, you were interested in that position as Curator, but it didn’t go ahead.

BODEN: No, I discussed it with Dave, I said I was interested in doing it and would like to be considered. By that stage I was at an equivalent level to the position as it was being advertised which I think was an Arboriculturist Grade 2, or Class 2, and asked Dave if he would consider my transfer into the position, but he wouldn’t agree to it so the position was re-advertised and John was appointed.

HIGGINS: So you were obviously highly motivated and interested in the Gardens at that time?

BODEN: Oh yes.



BODEN: By the time the position was advertised the second time when John applied, I had started to work on a scholarship so that I then was not available to apply for it and I suppose by knowing that Dave didn’t want me to transfer which would have been a relatively simple thing to do, I suppose I felt there wasn’t much point in applying for the position.

HIGGINS: That was a scholarship for your PhD?


HIGGINS: OK. Now you did become Director twenty-two years later, 1979.

BODEN: Yes, yes.

HIGGINS: Sorry twelve years later. Now that interview process I think you told me the other day that Lindsay Pryor and Ron Murray interviewed you, so obviously Lindsay was still taking a keen and close interest in the Gardens.

BODEN: He was and Ron Murray took a very different approach to a sort of sequence of directors of City Parks, I think it was called City Parks by then. He didn’t have the same interest in the Botanic Gardens as Lindsay and Dave had. Ron’s background was forestry and he became interested in multiple use forestry and urban parks and that type of thing and actually studied in Michigan I think it was but didn’t have the feel of the Botanic Gardens and also I think he found that there were some already quite strong differences and tensions in the operation of the Gardens between John Wrigley and Betty Phillips that was making life a bit miserable for him when he had other interests to do and he found this rather tiresome.

HIGGINS: So did he act as referee between the two of them?


HIGGINS: What sort of issues?

BODEN: Oh a lot of them were very petty day to day issues as to who would determine where plants were planted. It was basically as simple as that, who was responsible and Dave had been quite strong in wanting to have both John Wrigley and Betty working directly to him and he did the arbitration in that sort of area. But Ron felt that it was time to have a director who would take on that responsibility. A lot of them were very relatively minor issues but John Wrigley was a very strong willed person and had some very strong ideas on what he wanted and Betty was equally strong. It was just a clash of responsibilities I guess.

HIGGINS: A clash of personalities?

BODEN: Personalities yes.

HIGGINS: So did Lindsay have a high profile at the Gardens till that time?

BODEN: Not really, no I think he was in the background. He was so preoccupied, if you like, with the establishment of the university Botany Department, and building that up, that he didn’t play a very overt role in the Garden. Certainly once Shoobridge became Director he respected Dave’s role as Director and as I say he had his other tasks to do. I think he was brought onto the interviewing committee by Ron Murray as an outside expert and because of his background in the Gardens. I can’t remember the third person on the committee. It would have been probably someone from the Public Service Board in those days.

HIGGINS: OK we talked earlier about personality conflicts in the Gardens at the time and these sorts of things are seen at some other small institutions. Do you know if they are something that is endemic to the Botanic Gardens particularly or ....

BODEN: Certainly there are occasions if you read Lionel Gilbert’s history of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney there were problems there between the botanical and horticultural side. They are likely to develop probably in any small organisation where you’ve got perhaps competition for resources. I know it occurs in other small institutions where people are totally dedicated to the cause they are pursuing and sometimes are a bit single eyed about it. It’s not unusual.

HIGGINS: Do you think these problems handicapped the Canberra Botanic Gardens at that time?

BODEN: Yes, I think that I would say in hindsight that they did handicap it and it was a very tense organisation in 1979 when I came to the Gardens and, one of my primary tasks that Ron Murray gave me was to try to bring it together as an integrated institution, the botanical and horticultural sides, and there were strong antagonisms at that stage. Arthur Court had taken over as head of the herbarium and he and John were really not on speaking terms and we then started having joint meetings with the three of us to try to overcome a lot of this tension.

HIGGINS: Yes, well you being the first Director not only was it a new position but a difficult situation to walk into, a veritable lion’s den.

BODEN: Yes, well it was a bit and at the first meetings there were long silences but gradually we overcame a lot of that although there were still some residual problems I think which were going to be very difficult to overcome while ever there were personalities there. Now the background to those why they have been exacerbated - The Betty Phillips/John Wrigley problems I don’t know. Taxonomic botanists as a group are trained to be very precise in their work, they have to be and sometimes their level of precision doesn’t allow perhaps the cutting of corners that might be needed in getting things going. It’s the basic training that these people have to have.

HIGGINS: Now you said that your job was to bring the two sides together and you talked about those joint meetings. What was your overall planning? I understand you did restructure the organisation.

BODEN: That came actually after John Wrigley left and Jim Armstrong came into his position. The first task was to move John’s office from what is now the Public Programs building up into the herbarium building so that we were actually in the same building. I would like to make at this point the statement that I was extremely grateful for the way John Wrigley accepted me as Director because he had applied for the position obviously, and I got it over him but both he and his wife Marcia were extremely helpful and held a function in their home to welcome my wife and myself to the position and that made things a lot easier as far as I was concerned.

HIGGINS: And their home being ....

BODEN: Home in the Gardens, yes. I had decided we weren’t going to live in the Gardens. John wanted to stay in the Gardens which he did until he left. So that’s important I think for the record. The idea was to try to get them together and hold joint meetings and to encourage more interchange between the botanical and the horticultural side.

Even at the time when there were some frictions at high levels there was still the concept of field trips where there was a horticulturalist and a botanist who went together because of this constant link which was to be maintained between the living and herbarium collections which was very unusual for a botanic gardens.

Historically a lot of botanic gardens both old ones in Australia and European ones tend to have single specimens of individual species which have been raised from seed going back to the seed exchange program and very little information on the origin of the plants. So that particularly with a wide spread species a specimen which might be growing in the Gardens might not be typical of that particular species. By contrast, with the Botanic Gardens here the idea was to have this strong link between the field and the botanical and the horticultural side to the numbering system and also to grow more than one individual of a species. So that you got some evidence of a variation which exists within the species.

HIGGINS: All right, there are two things now we can talk about at once. Firstly that restructure but perhaps before that you mentioned Arthur Court who replaced Betty Phillips in 1974. What sort of a chap was Arthur? He came up from Melbourne I believe?

BODEN: He came from the Melbourne Botanic Gardens to the position after Betty left, Betty retired. He was a very meticulous person, well he still is a very meticulous person and this goes back to the idea of a taxonomic botanist and very detailed. He was welcoming to me in the Gardens. As I say I occupied a room in the herbarium building, the new herbarium building which he had been responsible for and I don’t think he welcomed John coming into that building in the first instance. But he was also a respector of authority so that by virtue of me being appointed Director, I was then responsible and therefore he would accept that line of responsibility.

HIGGINS: When did Arthur leave the organisation?

BODEN: He left, I think he left about Christmas 1988. I think that was the date.

HIGGINS: Now the restructuring you did after Jim Armstrong arrived and took over on the horticultural side, could you just explain that for me?

BODEN: Yes, well it’s also linked with the educational role of the Gardens. We had a horticultural and a botanical function. John Wrigley had started educational programs particularly with someone called Effie Mullins which were extremely popular with schools in Canberra. The schools would go to the Gardens once a week for propagation classes and these were extremely popular. We then found the demand was increasing beyond the capacity of the Gardens to cope with it and also after a few years Effie Mullins was showing signs of stress with the workload associated with that.

So John had really started education and it was a theme that I was very keen on and it goes back, originally I started training as a primary school teacher so I have always had a keen interest in that and then I got involved heavily in developing the parks and recreation course which was subsequently introduced to the University of Canberra.

I was keen to develop the education component as a third strand within the Gardens on the basis that education at all levels for students and the rest of the public was a way in which you could get public support for the institution. People tend to think these days times are hard financially but they were just as hard then. You had to try to get as much support as you could for the organisation. So I saw it both philosophically I was supporting it but in a practical sense it was assisting the Gardens to have a wider public base.

The aim was to try to get a third level position but Jim Armstrong was recruited after John Wrigley left as Curator of the Gardens. Jim had a background in taxonomic botany from the Botanic Gardens in Sydney where he worked in the herbarium but he expressed at the interview a strong interest in the broader promotion of Australian native plants than the purely botanical side but he wanted to pursue his botanical research activities.

HIGGINS: So he was spanning both sides?

BODEN: Spanning both sides of the Gardens. So it was partly in my mind that when he came and settled in it may be a way to use his skills also to try to overcome this separation between botany and horticulture by dividing it on function rather than horticulture-botanical. So we had the research and education functions being looked after - both botanical and horticultural research and education - and Arthur looked after the management which was the management of both the living collection and the herbarium. Arthur was not a research-oriented person in the same way that Jim was. We discussed this and after getting Ron Murray’s concurrence we decided to try that as another way of managing the institution which might use the skills of the people to best advantage.

HIGGINS: And how well did that succeed?

BODEN: It struggled through a bit, I would have to say. It was an upheaval, it was different from anything any other botanic gardens had done because there were no precedents for this. All gardens tend to be divided botanically-horticulturally - herbarium versus living collections. It became a bit confounded too I think by the introduction of education as a third strand; we got a third position in there which confused it slightly. So it didn’t work out as well as I had hoped it would and subsequently reverted to a more conventional pattern.

HIGGINS: So it went back to that pattern at the time?

BODEN: Hmm, yes. Whether it went back before I left or after, I’m not sure. No, I’m not quite sure about the timing of that. It certainly was able to use Jim’s research skills but it probably was too optimistic. You would only be able to do it I think in a botanic gardens like this one where there was a very close link between the herbarium and the living collection because in places like the Botanic Gardens in Sydney there’s no real link between the living collection out in the gardens in the Sydney based garden anyway and the herbarium because they are working differently. There is now with the Mount Annan annexe. And then if you went to some of the European gardens like Edinburgh for instance, the garden has not much role with the herbarium. The herbarium because the flora of Scotland has been pretty well studied, in fact a lot of the botanical work going on in the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens herbarium is linked with tropical flora which has no relationship with the living collection.

HIGGINS: You mentioned there about group participation in decision-making, at least with the horticultural and botanical sides. Did that filter down to lower levels within the organisation as well, in the way that we now hear of industrial democracy in the Public Service?

BODEN: Yes, we then introduced a concept of, I just forget the abbreviation for it now, but it introduced a group system where people representing the sections and people representing various components in the Gardens would meet on a monthly basis to look at broad policy issues in an attempt to get the involvement of what is now, I guess, called participative work-design and things like this because there was a very wide disparity between the intellectual backgrounds and the training and things of this nature in the staff of the Gardens. Between the gardeners who mostly were, many of them, untrained, and some of the taxonomic botanists, PhDs like Mike Crisp. So there were a wide range there and the aim was to try to get staff more involved in the decision-making process and looking at the allocation of resources. It was also to help with some of the industrial problems which arose because of the large number of unions represented. There were about nine unions represented at that time which had the potential to cause more problems.

HIGGINS: Was there industrial unrest?

BODEN: The major industrial unrest I recall was before my time when it was proposed through a shortage of resources that the Society for Growing Australian Plants Canberra Region would come in and collect seed in the Gardens as volunteers and that caused considerable concern amongst the unions because we seemed to be usurping a role which was the role of staff. But that occurred just before .... Really some bad relations developed at that stage between the Gardens and the Society for Growing Australian Plants which was subsequently healed fortunately.

HIGGINS: Yes because a bad relationship there could not be afforded given the similarity of intent of both parties.

BODEN: Yes that’s right but as I said earlier that the idea that resources are tight now is not new. It was already starting to occur and that was one of the reasons that I in fact stopped the overseas seed distribution role. One was that it was very labour intensive. When I came to the Gardens there were three people fully involved in collecting and despatching seed for overseas institutions and because the Gardens were growing only Australian native plants, the reciprocal seed received from overseas botanic gardens was not of any use to us and it went into the City Parks area. It was not a cost effective activity so that program was ceased. It caused some concern to the people who were there but we were able to redeploy them. That was one of the changes that came about through limited resources and priority of resources.

HIGGINS: And so where did those overseas buyers of seed or the people who normally require that seed get it?

BODEN: Well we would suggest that they got it from commercial suppliers who were starting to build up around Australia at that stage. We still would supply some smaller quantities of species where we thought there was no risk of hybridisation and where they were surplus to our requirements but the effort of producing an Index Seminem - a seeds list - was gradually phased out, probably in the early eighties might have been the last one.

HIGGINS: You mentioned there about reporting to Ron Murray now that was while the Gardens were still part of the Department of the Interior or Capital Territories as it became during Gough’s period. I think you said the other week that Ron Murray was not as strongly motivated towards the Gardens as perhaps earlier directors of Parks and Gardens because there was criticism of the direction of resources towards the Gardens.

BODEN: Yes whether that was his reason or whether it was his own particular interest, but certainly amongst the rest of City Parks as the resources became tighter a lot of them saw the Botanic Gardens as a bit of an academic institution up on the hill, sort of thing.

HIGGINS: When you say they, who do you mean?

BODEN: General staff around, the overseers within the broader Parks and Gardens saw that it had been a favoured child, Dave Shoobridge particularly. It was more evident in Dave’s time. I think that there was that feeling and it was also a time when there was a lot of self-government for the ACT and where would various things go. That was tied up with that whole period. Ron was not a botanist nor was he a horticulturalist really. I don’t think he was a keen background gardener. Dave was very keen.

HIGGINS: He was forestry trained?

BODEN: Yes forestry trained, and so I think the Gardens were seen as it having had a good run under Dave but that wasn’t where Ron was putting his emphasis so did that make things difficult for you in getting resources?

HIGGINS: Unintelligible

BODEN: Well I mean we always cried loudly and liked to feel that we were hardly done by. I had come from a small organisation, from the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, a small statutory organisation where the Director had the powers of a permanent head and in a small organisation things could be done. I found it very frustrating within City Parks to have to go to a whole range of parts of City Parks to get things done.

So I felt the argument was we weren’t getting our fair share of resources. Whether we were or not might be another story but that was what we were certainly trying to advocate and I was certainly trying - I mean one of the reasons for going to the Gardens was to try to establish it as a separate organisation, having been an Assistant Secretary of a department and then Assistant Director to Derek Ovington, my natural aspiration was to become a Director, run your own show and that was a very strong driving force that I had.

HIGGINS: And so that was a somewhat frustrating experience for you, to find you couldn’t do that?

BODEN: Yes, it was frustrating, it wasn’t happening as quickly. I felt that there were people who wanted the Gardens, in the bureaucracy, the Department of the Interior, that they strongly wanted the Gardens because it was a show place but they really didn’t have its development strongly at heart. People would deny that, but I think it was certainly the place designed to take visitors and dignatories and all that sort of thing. There was no real commitment to the scientific side in the wider bureaucracy.

HIGGINS: Now in 1985 the Gardens were transferred from Interior or Capital Territory to the Heritage and Environment. Did that have many far-reaching ramifications for the Gardens in terms of resources, staffing etc?

BODEN: Yes it did, it was a long time coming and I had been advocating that for some time to follow the model of the larger botanic gardens aspirations to build up the Gardens here.. They changed from being Canberra Botanic Gardens to the National Botanic Gardens. It was 1984 when Tom Uren was minister. One of the advantages at that time was that because we had no specific legislation, those sort of changes could be made by ministers rather than having to go through Parliament but this was all the process of trying to establish the Gardens as an Australian national cultural institution along the lines of the Gallery and the War Memorial and the National Archives and the Film & Sound Archives. But certainly the transfer from Interior to the Department of the Arts, Heritage & Environment was a frustrating exercise and it happens every time there are changes in administrative arrangements and everyone fights over the resources and it happens every time there are changes in administrative arrangements.

So we spent the next two years actually fighting over resources: whether it was that the tractor in the Gardens belonged to City Parks or not; cottages were believed to belong to the ACT Housing Trust – we had to battle to get those – the library was carved up. I don’t think politicians have got the faintest idea of what the implications are of changes in administration arrangements which go on as everyone battles for resources because nobody wants to lose anything. And it’s annoying, all the support which the Department of the Interior said that they were giving to us – which was always the argument for not losing the Gardens because they were providing all this support – that suddenly was no longer relevant when we had been separated through a higher decision. They then said, ‘Well, we weren’t doing that; there’s no reason for you to keep those resources’.

HIGGINS: They wanted to take their bat and ball and go home?

BODEN: Yes. I understand that is not unusual with administrative arrangements. It’s very traumatic and very diverting of resources and energy for Directors and staff generally.

HIGGINS: So after a couple of years – say by 1987 was it calming down and you were starting to get some benefit?

BODEN: Yes. The big success was that by 1985 when we were part of the Arts, Heritage and Environment under Pat Galvin and Deputy Secretary, Alan Kerr who accepted the Gardens as an embryo cultural institution because they also had responsibility for the then national institutions. I was invited to sit with heads of cultural institutions, eg the head of the Museum, Don McMichael, of the War Memorial, the National Gallery and the Library.

I was given a lot of autonomy, although we had no backing legislation, and that was really when I thought the Gardens was up and going. But I was still pressing and a number of Cabinet submissions were drafted about getting recognition for the Gardens and the legislation to give it statutory body status. These either didn’t make, or they got in the line and then Cabinet didn’t meet or there was a change of government or something. Our big hope was actually during the time when Ellicott was Minister for both the Interior and the Arts, Heritage and Environment. He was personally persuaded to transfer the Gardens but he moved on before that was effected. So there were a lot of false starts.

HIGGINS: A lot of it seems to come down to personalities: who is in a particular position at a particular time.

BODEN: Yes! I had a lot of warm contact with Tom Uren, and that was when we got extra resources during the time of the RED scheme and the one which followed it which was another unemployment scheme. That was when we got money for the board walk which is constructed in the rainforest gully. Tom was a very strong fighter for the Gardens, but while the decisions were made and the money was supposedly allocated and the staff increases to go with it, the process then of whittling down which goes on through the bureaucracy – Department of Finance and Treasury – is an exhausting one. So it ended up getting some things done but not the resources and continuing staff to go with it.

HIGGINS: Now, a year after you left the ANPWS took over the Gardens, so it was transferred again, away from the Department and into that Authority. Had you seen that coming? And why was this transfer made in 1990?

BODEN: Certainly it was not going to be on the cards with Derek Ovington was Director of ANPWS. He said he didn’t want me to leave the in 1979. He felt it was a backward step, and it was financially, because I had to drop salary substantially from the SES position back into what was called the third division but the hope was to build it up, which didn’t financially ever eventuate. He had agreed that he had no aspirations for the Gardens. Don McMichael who was then head of the Department of Environment said, ‘right it should be built up as a separate stand alone institution’, and that was what we imagined it was going to be.

The agenda changed dramatically as restructurings occurred in the Departments of Arts, Heritage, Environment and then whatever was its successor. There had been bids for the herbarium from the Department of Science when they set up the Bureau of Flora and Fauna which was originally set up under David Ride in the Department of Science to carry out the biological survey of Australia and one of the bids was then was a bid to get the herbarium separated from the Gardens. That was successfully defeated at the time but subsequently it has come to pass.

A lot of people realise that in the public service bureaucracies that a hunk of real estate is a fairly sort of permanent sort of thing to get hold of because otherwise departments come and go and are cut and divided every time there is a change of government and people looked rather longingly at the chunk of real estate that was the Botanic Gardens. The Gardens was forced, back in Dave Shoobridge’s time, as far as the herbarium was concerned, was forced back into a position of saying the herbarium would only be collecting herbarium specimens for plants which were growing in the Gardens. It didn’t have a wider function or a research function that was to be with the CSIRO herbarium.

Now we have greatly whittled that down by recruiting people like Jim Armstrong. I had a different objective. The objective was to get CSIRO herbarium ultimately into the Gardens so that it became equivalent to Kew and Sydney and Melbourne particularly, places like that.

HIGGINS: Just going back to the early period. Now when all that early collecting that Lindsay Pryor and Erwin Gauba did, their collections essentially went with them to the ANU, didn’t they?

BODEN: Yes, most of the herbarium specimens, or a lot of the herbarium specimens, went to the University to become what is now called the Gauba Collection. Not all, and Betty Phillips who followed Erwin Gauba did a massive collecting program. She was a very strong field botanist so the collections were built up again and they moved in various phases in location from Acton to Dickson, in old buildings in Dickson, and then to this Green Hut which we referred to earlier. The herbarium was moved there before it moved into the building on site which is now the Public Programs building. That was the first building which was really constructed with any sort of temperature control, compactus and proper storage conditions. Then it was replaced by the existing building up the hill.

HIGGINS: The buildings in Dickson or Downer where the herbarium was housed, are they still there, do you know?

BODEN: Some of them were converted into the Downer shops.

HIGGINS: So that’s where it was?

BODEN: Yes, it was one of those. It was in a house. When Dickson was the CSIRO experimental station area that’s where a lot of people who live in that area will find they’ve still got a lot of Phalaris in their gardens resulting from the CSIRO experiments. But no it was one of the houses which was formerly occupied by one of the staff working in, as I recall, in the experimental station of CSIRO.

HIGGINS: I would like to concentrate now on some of your achievements on the ground as it were. Now one of those is the Banksia Centre which is a place for therapeutic horticulture for the disabled. I’m interested in the motivation to get that place going.

BODEN: Yes, it was as we were coming up to the International Year of the Disabled, as it was called, people were asked if they had any ideas about various facilities that might be constructed during that period and I don’t know where I got the idea, but I do now, it’s coming back to me. It had always been suggested in John Wrigley’s planning for the gardens that there would be a garden for the blind as there are in many other gardens where plants are labelled with Braille labels and I guess that was on the agenda so in looking for some bid to put up for a proposal for the International Year of the Disabled, the Gardens put up ‘well let’s get some money to construct this facility’.

And from that it evolved into more of a hands-on facility and I suppose it grew a bit from that. Ron Murray agreed that the primary bid from Parks and Gardens in the IYDP would be a facility in the Botanic Gardens and the NCDC at that stage was keen to get involved in the Gardens. I hope altruistically, but maybe it was an opportunity to start to influence development in the Gardens. So the project actually grew rather markedly from what was originally intended as a small thematic garden with scented plants into a hands-on facility which appealed to my interests in education and in horticulture and also to establishing a public appreciation of the wider functions of the Botanic Gardens. So the project got quite large, it got political support through people like Senator Margaret Reid and ultimately it was opened by Tammy Fraser.

HIGGINS: That was in ‘82?

BODEN: Yes, yes. So that was one of those exercises that grew. There were no strong bids in City Parks for that sort of facility elsewhere and I guess that’s why the Gardens won it in a competitive sense.

HIGGINS: And were you very gratified when that came to fruition?

BODEN: Oh yes, I was very pleased with it and I thought there was a lot of public recognition that the Gardens was not an ivory tower and it wasn’t just dealing with a lot of botanical specimens, that it was an important place to go and we recognised that in dealing with programs in the Banksia Centre we would have to use exotic material there because there were needs for plant material that was easily raised and things of that nature rather than some more complex things. So it was an area where exotic material was used. But I thought it was helping to widen the functions of the Gardens and to get a broader public role and to be useful to the community.

HIGGINS: Now the visitor information centre which was opened by Prince Charles and Diana in 1985. What was seen to be the need for that centre?

BODEN: The need there was again to push the public front of the Gardens, to provide some better accommodation as the place had developed for the so called extra staff we were getting out of 1983. 1983 when that decision was made which Tom Uren supported of getting additional staff, some quite substantial number of staff, which never really eventuated. But that was a sufficient basis for a Cabinet decision that we had staff and facilities and things of this nature and the idea was to ... well the kiosk came before that.

HIGGINS: The kiosk, yes, begun 1980.

BODEN: Yes it came before that. But it was to improve the public front of the Gardens and ...

HIGGINS: To give a focal point?

BODEN: A focal point to it, an entrance. In planning terms the NCDC had then got quite interested in the Gardens. In planning terms they saw there was no public address as people came to the Gardens. There was the end of what is now the Public Programs building which was a small exhibition space and things like this but was becoming too small to meet the needs of the Gardens.

HIGGINS: And it’s a long way from the immediate point of entry.

BODEN: Yes, that’s right. At one stage originally the entrance was to be, which I think they are in fact going to revert to now, almost on the crest of Clunies Ross Street where the Green Hut was and that would be an entrance and I think there’s suggestion that now might be implemented because of the confusion between the existing entrance and the drive up to Black Mountain which is seen as a confusion to tourists.

HIGGINS: They should put a turning circle on Black Mountain road and come back again.

BODEN: Yes, that’s right. But certainly the visitors centre was seen as a push in that direction. A lot of people were unhappy with the design and again there was certain money set aside for it but the project grew beyond the budget and things had to be cut back. The NCDC had the responsibility of commissioning the architects and all the construction of the building. We had little influence over the design. I know some people feel very strongly that the architect went a bit over the top with a post modern approach. But we had no lecture theatre up to that stage so it was one of the important things that I wanted to have in the facility.

HIGGINS: The Dickson Room?

BODEN: The Dickson Room plus the theatrette. The Dickson Room was another component and the display facilities, it was all part of the public approach to the Gardens.

HIGGINS: So that public display area up to 1985 was still that northern end of the 1966 herbarium.


HIGGINS: Where Murray Fagg had started his displays way back in 1971?

BODEN: Yes he started his displays way back and that was a small book sales area which was where a few slides and post cards and the Growing Native Plants series was sold. The idea was to get a book shop and then a book shop originally to be run by the Gardens staff but there were no staffing provisions for it so we had to do a swift sort of move to try to get it operating as a concession arrangement and in fact, it’s rather amusing that we were still hoping to run the Gardens book shop ourselves up until about a few weeks before the opening of the visitors centre by the Duke and Duchess and had to actually rush out and buy a lot of books to stock the book shelves so it looked like an operating book shop. Actually the book shop is one of the major successes largely through the sorts of people who have had the lease and the conditions we were able to impose on them.

HIGGINS: We’re just about at the end of this first tape. We’ll finish this tape now then.


HIGGINS: This is tape 2 of the interview with Robert Boden for the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Oral History Project by Mathew Higgins.

Now Robert, if we could just conclude then about the visitor information centre and the bookshop, I think you have some more comments.

BODEN: Yes the ideal I thought was to try to run the bookshop ourselves and partly my view on that was because at that stage any revenue the Gardens generated had to go back into consolidated revenue, could not be used to advantage the Gardens in any way and that was government policy. That has now changed to some extent I understand. It was even quite absurd really because by virtue of the position of Director I was asked on a number of occasions to write forewords for books. Not because it was me, but because of the position and then there was payment for these and the payment theoretically had to go back to consolidated revenue. So I decided completely without any authority, that we established an account at the Co-op Bookshop into which these monies were paid and then we bought books for the library to try and overcome this sort of problem.

So the kiosk and the bookshop were in similar categories. If we earned money from them we had to put it back into consolidated revenue and yet when anything went wrong in those buildings, and particularly in the kiosk, servicing new refrigerators and things like this, they took the first call on the available resources for equipment and repairs and maintenance and things like this. That was, I found, a frustrating system.

We were trying to establish a trust account for the Botanic Gardens and together with Brian Morely, the Director at the Botanic Gardens in Adelaide, we made representations to the Department of Taxation that donations to botanic gardens would be tax deductible and had been successful in getting that through only to find that when we were given the donations they were supposed to be paid into consolidated revenue. I found that whole bureaucratic thing a bit frustrating.

So that was one aspect of relation to management of those resources and how we ended up managing the bookshop.

HIGGINS: Regarding the kiosk which was begun in 1980, perhaps opened that same year, that to me represents to some extent a departure from an earlier philosophy of the Gardens that the Gardens would be very much scientifically and research oriented but they weren’t a place of public recreation so they would be unlike botanic gardens in other centres and in fact in a Canberra Times in 1967 it said ‘that the policy was to have no kiosk at that time’ and yet 13 years later, things change, and there’s a kiosk opening.

BODEN: Yes Betty Phillips took a very purist approach and would even not allow people to eat their lunch, I mean the staff did but I remember once her telling me that I wasn’t supposed to eat my lunch in the Gardens. That was really quite antagonistic to public support and John Wrigley arranged initially for a caravan to come to the Gardens primarily at weekends and later on it was selling food under a hawker’s licence. It was actually parked on the paving area which is now the site of the kiosk.

I think people, certainly by the time I came in there, had realised that eating was part of the function and part of the service which we needed to provide if you were going to get people to come to the Gardens. It was only with getting public support that we continued to develop the institution. The kiosk brought some problems with it and we were at great pains to try and avoid some of these by writing into the first contract no containered drinks, the proprietor had certain restrictions on what he was doing.

HIGGINS: This is from the point of view of littering the grounds.

BODEN: Littering the grounds, broken glass. I was accused of going crazy over health food type things. What I was doing in trying to write the tender documents for that and then going through the interview process to try to convince the Department of Finance that it wasn’t the maximum revenue which was wanted from the kiosk but someone who was going to be in sympathy with the ideals of the Gardens and the objectives of the Gardens. So we had enormous arguments then because someone who submitted a higher price to operate the kiosk and I was convinced that they were going to turn it into something like a Macdonalds with respect to Macdonalds! So they were the sorts of battles that were going on to establish and maintain what I believed to be a different facility, an image of a botanic gardens rather than just a kiosk.

The location in the Gardens has caused some problems with traffic as opposed to a kiosk which would be on the perimeter of the Gardens. Sydney’s is right in the middle of the gardens and causes some problems with access of vehicles and this sort of thing.

HIGGINS: So when you say traffic you mean the supply trucks?

BODEN: Supply trucks and things of this nature particularly when they drive right around. In the case of the Gardens here when they drive right around there’s conflict with pedestrians.

Another sort of conflict which developed with some of the planners was that one group was keen to have cycle riding in the Gardens and I was totally opposed to that and we won out on that. My grounds for that were that people come with certain expectations in a botanic gardens of being able to walk through quietly and safely and because cycles are so quiet, in fact they represent more of a hazard than if something is quite noisy and certainly the steep terrain in the Gardens was likely to cause problems between pedestrians and cyclists if that was allowed so we won out on a few things like that.

HIGGINS: Certainly a good decision not to have cycling.

BODEN: I think so yes.

HIGGINS: Now the Gardens started to take on a particular role in terms of conservation of endangered species during your period and of course today with the plant identification signs, those two bands across the top left hand corner, which indicates an endangered plant, was that your initiative, the conservation of them?

BODEN: I think yes, I think I would be able to say that. I was fortunate to be appointed to a plant advisory group which was set up by the World Wildlife Fund and IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and it was developing programs for the year of the plant. I think it was called the year of the plant. Looking at the roles of conservation. Coming from the National Parks and Wildlife Service where I had been involved in the endangered species convention and worked with John Leigh and John Briggs in CSIRO in writing the book on endangered Australian native plants.

HIGGINS: John Leigh and John Briggs?

BODEN: John Briggs who both at that stage were working in CSIRO. And through committees attached to the nature conservation agencies looking at Australian endangered plants I saw that as a role that the Gardens could play largely in the concept of both cultivation of endangered plants but not strongly, not as a substitute for major conservation in the wild because it is important to conserve ecosystems rather than individual specimens.

Two other grounds - one was to stimulate public awareness with botanic gardens which are, we use the term ‘shopfront of botany’, which was really a term floated around with the idea that people would come and see in a botanic gardens what botany was all about and then be able, through that, to support conservation in the wild. The other was to provide horticultural material of endangered species so that that would take pressure off wild populations because there was a lot of demand for specimens from the wild, so that in fact in a few cases, species have become endangered through horticultural collecting. The idea was that if botanic gardens could raise these you would remove some of the pressures on wild populations.

So I guess bringing the conservation arm into the Gardens, it started off by the Gardens establishing its objectives for botany, horticultural and education and then the fourth strand, conservation, was added into our objectives in the early eighties period.

HIGGINS: Now also in the early eighties, in fact in 1980, the Burbidge amphitheatre was completed. Now that may well have been underway before you started, I’m not sure.

BODEN: No, that was an initiative that I had. I was a very great fan of Nancy Burbidge for her botanical and her conservation initiatives in the ACT. Some people found Nancy difficult to deal with but I always found her very sympathetic and a botanist with a very broad role, a broad interest in conservation and her roles with Tidbinbilla and Namadgi national parks subsequently is well identified.

But after her death someone suggested that there might be a seat placed in the Gardens for her as in a memorial and a bit like the Banksia Centre I suppose, these things grew a bit and we found that there were several organisations which had some financial resources and who wanted to recognise Nancy’s contribution. We wangled some funds of our own and then finally had to go through some great committee to have the amphitheatre named. Something called the National Capital Memorials Committee in Canberra which is responsible for naming any memorial and that was a great bureaucratic nightmare to get that through but we finally got it approved and four or five organisations provided funds and we constructed the amphitheatre.

Again there had been an identified need or actually I had seen Strybing arboretum and amphitheatre which was the concept which was in my mind. Strybing arboretum is in San Francisco in the botanic gardens. This was a lovely little amphitheatre which was used for teaching programs and outdoor things and also we commonly see these in national parks now.

HIGGINS: What was the name?

BODEN: Strybing. Yes, arboretum which is as I say in San Francisco in Golden Gate Park. So it was one of those things that just grew and I felt was a success. We had to struggle to get the right sort of timber, to get ironbark. Someone wanted to use cheap timbers and we insisted on getting ironbark so people wouldn’t get splinters in their bottoms. And then finally persuaded Lady Cowen, when it was completed to do the opening. It was all an attempt I had to get a public profile for the institution and show that it was in broadest terms, a cultural institution not a horticultural institution but had a broad cultural role to play in the Canberra community.

HIGGINS: And for the benefit of the people listening to the tape, of course Nancy was a botanist at the CSIRO and first head of the National Parks Association in the ACT.

BODEN: Yes, one of her great achievements was to force Barry Drive to be diverted around her herbarium building on the CSIRO campus until such time as a new building was constructed. A great achievement on her part.

HIGGINS: That must demonstrate considerable force of personality.

BODEN: Certainly to beat the planners was a remarkable achievement. So that was the sort of thing that went well. Nancy was a Western Australian and somebody in Western Australia agreed then to donate a piece of karri timber which became the lectern for the amphitheatre. Somehow, by encouraging those sorts of things I thought it was useful to see the public front of the Gardens. There was some opposition again at a time when we were short of resources. People thought it would have been better to be putting more money into other parts of the Gardens and an effort into that. Perhaps the Director’s time they thought might have been better spent in the herbarium or somewhere else. But the way I saw it at that stage was to strengthen its public image and public profile.

HIGGINS: Now the new front entrance, or the current front entrance was completed in 1983, the stone wall etc. What entrance had there been prior to that time?

BODEN: The entrance prior to then I think was through, just up from the green hut, if I remember rightly.

HIGGINS: So further north on Clunies Ross?

BODEN: Yes, yes that’s right. Yes I think was the situation. My mind is just slightly vague on that, it shouldn’t be. But certainly the entrance was an NCDC exercise and they had this concept that a person’s perception should change dramatically as they enter the Gardens and that’s why they constructed that rumble strip of concrete. The planners’ theory was that as you rumbled over that you realised you had gone out of one world into another. It was a bit of an overkill I think. The elaborate gates were already there with the coats of arms on them so maybe the entry was in that position and was reconstructed. We had a lot of problems with the terraces in the front with the wrong soil being used and it had to be replaced. I think again some people in the Gardens might have thought that money might have been spent better elsewhere. But we were very much in the hands of the NCDC as to what we got or didn’t get in the way of major new works.

HIGGINS: Well that entrance does give a very definite entrance to the establishment. You know that this is a national institution.

BODEN: Hmm. That’s what I felt, and the sign in the front which has now been hidden a bit by the terrace plantings. The idea was to have a flagpole and we had a flag out the front which was subsequently stolen and the flag pole has been moved further inside the grounds of the Gardens. So they were again establishing the image of the institution. The two areas which were strongly also tied to a major development which didn’t get off the ground were the conservatory at the top of the rainforest gully. We almost had that, in fact Cabinet agreed to it and we had designs done and then someone in the NCDC was looking for more of an architectural feature. What we were looking for was purely a functional facility where you would move on this transect which captured people’s imagination, the idea of walking up the east coast of Australia from the Tasmania floor at the bottom, the coldest part of the Gardens, up the gully and ending up somewhere in Cape York under a protective canopy rather like the conservatory which is now in Adelaide, the tropical conservatory there.

We nearly had it. Cabinet agreed to the expenditure and the planning. We had plans drawn up and then as I say, some person who needn’t be identified, had the idea that we should have an architectural feature. The conservatory should itself be a feature rather than purely functional to service the needs of plants. The whole project and the timing of it, we had lost the impetus and it faded out.

HIGGINS: Was that person within the Gardens staff?

BODEN: No, within the NCDC, a planner architectural concept. I would be very surprised if that conservatory ever goes ahead now. It had lost the impetus and it was also I think set up in a political time when Labor lost in 1975, we lost a minister who was pushing it and we then got Michael Hodgman who was pushing but he wasn’t a total commitment to the Gardens the way Tom Uren was and funding was getting tight.

HIGGINS: So that has died?

BODEN: In the mid seventies, but then we revived the concept as a conservatory even after that.

HIGGINS: Uren was minister in the early eighties.

BODEN: Early eighties that’s right sorry.

HIGGINS: Hodgman was prior to that.

BODEN: No Hodgman came after ..

HIGGINS: No he couldn’t have because we’ve had Labor government since ...

BODEN: No, oh . Well when was Hodgman there then?

HIGGINS: He was in until the Hawke government came in in 1983.

BODEN: Right OK sorry. He preceded Tom Uren, right? My timing is getting a bit out.

HIGGINS: Maybe it was Ellicott before Hodgman?

BODEN: Yes, that’s right. I think that’s right. Yes well we got the money but then it fouled up with this other concept of a conservatory and I’ll be very surprised if it ever goes ahead.

HIGGINS: While we’re talking about that rain forest gully area, the boardwalk for it was begun in 1983 and then the other section was done in ‘89 so that whole boardwalk was put in during your period.

BODEN: Yes the first part ‘83 was again one of these, it’s amazing how sometimes things happen. You can work and slave away and get ideas and try and develop them and write Cabinet submissions and they get tossed out and you re-draft them and things can come up as ideas which can suddenly catch on.

I remember being called into Ron Murray’s office, he had been asked to respond quickly as the government wanted to get employment programs going and we had to put in submissions very quickly and what could we put in. So we said we would like to get a boardwalk in the Botanic Gardens. There had been no planning, no design for it or anything. It went up on the list of projects and got support and then we went ahead and did it. That just sort of happened.

Similarly I guess getting Charles and Diana to open the Visitor Information Centre. I happened to be in the office of John Enfield who was then Secretary of the Department of the Interior when it was announced there was to be a royal visit and people started scratching their heads, what can we do? It was just a fluke that I happened to be there and said, ‘Well look our building, the Information Centre, should be ready by then’. He grabbed hold of it and got in touch with the Prime Minister’s Department and they put it on the agenda. That was a great impetus then to get the building finished I must admit. So it was a strategy but some of these things are pure chance things that happen by being there at the time as opposed to the laborious processes, cabinet submissions and things like this. They never see the light of day but do occupy a lot of time.

HIGGINS: Yes, serendipity does play a role.

BODEN: Yes that’s right.

HIGGINS: Were there any substantial new areas of planting undertaken during your time or was it a continuation of earlier ...

BODEN: Well the rockery was planted up. The concept of the rockery had been introduced by John Wrigley and the construction was underway when I arrived. So the design and everything was all fixed but collecting the planting material and planting it up went on under John Wrigley’s supervision but after I was Director. Ah, what other areas were there?

HIGGINS: The Mallee section?

BODEN: Yes that’s right the Mallee section came, I think the Mallee section might have come about that time.

HIGGINS: Is that section 211 near the Visitors Centre?

BODEN: Yes the original one at the back of the Visitors Centre. There was the Sydney sandstone area which was under development at that stage. Then subsequently the lower section of the Tasmanian section which was opened after I left the Gardens.

HIGGINS: Did you, as Director, have a role in these sorts of decisions, or was that totally in the hands of the horticulturalists?

BODEN: Again it was something which we tried to develop through this participation, staff participation in decision making and priorities and putting up bids for minor new works. Each year you were asked to put in bids for minor and major new works and there was a financial limit, a cut-off between the two of them. We would put in various things which I tried to get developed with staff support. And then the theme of endangered plants around the Visitor Information Centre was something which was developing as part of the theme on conservation of plant material.

HIGGINS: Was your management style one that saw you out walking around the Gardens a lot with the gardeners, you know, talking to them on the ground as it were, or did you find that you were in the office more because of the time needed to write the cabinet submissions etc?

BODEN: No well I certainly went around the Gardens at lunch time and tried to get around the Gardens with the staff and it was always a problem then with lines of responsibility. If you saw something on the ground which was going wrong whether you corrected it on the spot or then in fact through lines of responsibility because some people don’t respond very well or you can get divisions. It certainly was very much hands on as far as those areas were concerned. I was very much involved in the promotion and educational writing programs of the Gardens, pushing that side of it. I didn’t get out into the field collecting as much as some other people might have if they had a stronger botanical rather than horticultural leaning or public front so I didn’t do much field collecting on field trips that ....

HIGGINS: What as director ...

BODEN: Yes some of the directors, like in Sydney Laurie Johnson is a taxonomic botanist. He was very keen and got out in a lot of field work, but I didn’t do as much as that.

HIGGINS: And what was happening at Jervis Bay during your period. Now this project doesn’t allow us to talk much about Jervis Bay, but some reference to it would be useful.

BODEN: Yes Jervis Bay was progressing, building it up. It was bringing it to a point where it could be opened to the public. When I got there there was a suggestion that because of the fluctuating level of Lake McKenzie, that it be linked with the adjacent lake which provides a water supply for Jervis Bay with a channel and there was actually money allocated for that. I was very touchy about that sort of thing because I didn’t think there would be enough done on the hydraulics. We could end up with real problem with the sandy conditions, so I said no we shouldn’t go ahead with that project. I think that was a disappointment to some people but there had been no adequate studies done. We overcame the fluctuating water level in other ways.

We got funds for a visitors’ centre in the Jervis Bay Annexe but then found to our horror that Defence who run the Jindivik non-piloted aircraft had had a number of prangs, one of which had landed in the Gardens. So we got from them a lot of, a bit like isohyets, you know lines which draw up areas of the same rainfall or contour lines around this airstrip. They were contour lines with frequencies of prangs and this was all hush hush confidential stuff.

HIGGINS: Did it show that you were really in a dangerous zone?

BODEN: Well, yes there was sufficient probability that if you had sixty people or a hundred people in the visitors’ centre and the thing landed you could end up in real problems, so I guess being fairly cautious I had to reluctantly agree, based on that evidence, that we couldn’t go ahead with the visitors’ centre. Now maybe we were being conned, I don’t know but that was again a disappointment for the staff at Jervis Bay but I thought we had no other option.

HIGGINS: And certainly the reason for it was nothing that anyone could have foreseen.

BODEN: No. Some people thought I was too cautious in that regard, not prepared to take risks. I think one of the fortunate things in the whole time, the ten years I was at the Gardens, we didn’t have one litigation against the Gardens for personal injury which was very fortunate because there are a lot of dangerous trees and things of this nature in the Gardens.

HIGGINS: Yes especially on a windy day. One dramatic event was the bushfire in 1984. Can you recall that for me.

BODEN: I can recall it only by the fact that I was overseas at one of the meetings of this Plant Advisory Group, the IUC and World Wildlife Fund, and arrived back at Sydney Airport and I opened the paper and found the Gardens threatened. Arthur Court was acting Director at the time and I was extremely alarmed and immediately got on the phone to find out what was happening. It was really a pretty close sort of shave.

HIGGINS: Did it enter the Gardens?

BODEN: It entered the Gardens yes, it came up from the southern side and entered the Gardens. Actually some of the mulch around the herbarium building caught alight and it was put out. As a result of that we got funds for better fire protection of the herbarium itself, again with halon gas which is now out of favour but that was the technology at the time and also a ring main which was to go around the Gardens so that we could be protected from fire in the event of a fire coming from the north west.

HIGGINS: So did you have a series of sprinklers going as well or was that just a main under the ground with access?

BODEN: No with sprinklers on it. Sprinklers on about the fence line and these to come on ...

HIGGINS: So you could turn them on at a central point?

BODEN: Yes and it would give a sort of wall of water which would hopefully help to stop a ground fire, it probably wouldn’t stop a crown fire under really severe conditions. This was also linked with the broader problem which is going on in Canberra at present of hazard control burning on the city hill reserve which is current now even with discussions going on whether they control burn or not.

HIGGINS: Yes there was a recent burn around it at Aranda.

BODEN: Yes that was one and then when the fire went on through Dryandra Street because there hadn’t been controlled burning on Black Mountain that caused a lot of public concern with the houses there a few years ago. That was pretty alarming.

HIGGINS: Especially for you, seeing it in the paper.

BODEN: Yes and not being there and feeling you’ve been away from the place when something bad happened, but Arthur handled that very well. Arthur was a very loyal deputy and when he was acting in my absence. He was very loyal and supportive in the difficulties which emerged when Ann joined the Gardens as an education officer there was a lot of angst arose from that. Arthur was a moderating influence.

HIGGINS: Could we talk about that now, about your wife Ann’s role. Now she was appointed as the head of education ...?

BODEN: She was appointed as an Education Officer. In those days the big issue was not money, but ASL or average starting level, or staff ceilings. In getting resources you had to have staff ceilings, money automatically flowed so you were allocated a certain number of staff positions. The pattern in many museums, galleries and botanic gardens was for education departments to have positions outposted and particularly zoos, outposted into those institutions but the position was responsible to the Education Department and didn’t come off the ceiling of the institution itself. So that Taronga Zoo had four or five people who were Education Department staff but working in the zoo. The War Memorial had two people.

So I thought maybe here’s another way to try to get more resources. I persuaded the Department of Education here to allocate one staff ceiling to the Gardens and to get a position permanently involved with education and it was advertised and recruited and the person stayed about six months. I wanted to have a lot of public contact, she didn’t like a lot of the public contact. She was more concerned about writing curricula than public contact with students.

So the position was re-advertised and Ann, who had been bringing students to the Gardens from St Clare’s school for many years and had a long botanical interest, applied for the position and was successful in getting it. I was not involved obviously in the recruitment and interviewing phase and we made an active decision that we wouldn’t hide any fact that she carried the same surname as I did and it was all to be upfront. And naively, as it turned out, imagined that we could effectively pursue both our career interests in the one institution, but as history will say, that really didn’t work effectively. I think probably it can’t work in an organisation where one of the partners is perhaps the Director. Maybe it could work if people are at comparable levels but inevitably, the Director, even though you’ve got participative design and all these sorts of things, is seen to have the final responsibility. In these days of shrinking resources there were accusations of favouritism, all that sort of thing ...

HIGGINS: From within and without?

BODEN: From within, primarily from within. I don’t think there were great concerns from without. People from without wondered whether it was a wise decision to make but it was all done above board and the Department was aware of it in the recruitment phase and it was not concerned about it, there was no impropriety in the recruitment and saw it again as a way of getting more resources for the Gardens. Staff ceiling was the real problem. It was very difficult. It became more difficult when Ann was working to one of the assistant directors.

HIGGINS: When did she begin at the Gardens?

BODEN: She began, I thought it was in about 1984 perhaps. It would be in one of these annual reports. We can check that date. But it became difficult and I decided it was far better if she reported directly to me rather than through an assistant director. Can you just stop there.

HIGGINS: Now just continuing after that brief interruption. We have checked the annual report and Ann’s name is shown as Education Officer in that 84/85 report, so she was there by then.

BODEN: Yes, that’s right so we decided that it was a better arrangement to work that way. Even so there were continuing difficulties because of the shrinking resources and the problems associated with that I think.

HIGGINS: You mean criticism of the decision ...?

BODEN: Criticism within the organisation. I think people felt it was hard to have free conversations and talk about how difficult the Director was if the Director’s wife happened to be nearby or something like that. You know, it seemed to cause more difficulties than I thought it would have done, that we thought it would have done. Yet within any organisation I have to say that there are people who have great attachments for each other. There were certain relationships, not of a familial nature but of a very personal nature between various staff members in the Gardens which could have been seen to influence their activities. But because they carried different surnames were not as readily observable and they also weren’t Director I suppose in the long haul. Particularly also I think when Ann got a promotion that made them feel it was worse.

Even little things like maintaining the desk at the weekend was always a difficult task particularly at holiday times because it had to be a roster system and people didn’t like to do it. Ann worked quite closely with Murray who had this responsibility of keeping a 364 day a year service going and Ann would do a lot of weekend overtime on the desk. Now this was often in many many cases against my, I didn’t want her to be doing that because it meant she wasn’t at home as far as I was concerned at the weekend and I felt she was working too long hours, but she was actually helping the institution because we couldn’t get anyone else to man the desk. But because someone is appearing to be on overtime ... one of the most disrupting activities in the organisation is how much overtime people get. That seems to cause enormous sorts of concerns.

So because Ann was seen to be there at weekends it was thought that I was favouring the fact that she was getting paid overtime. I think people looking objectively, and Murray may well have comments if you want to pursue this although I don’t think it’s really important, would see that Ann was contributing quite significantly to the efficient running of the public program section.

HIGGINS: And was it this unrest that had been aroused by the appointment, was it that which led you to retire in 1989.

BODEN: Not entirely, there was a whole sequence of events. I suffered from depression, clinical depression in the late eighties. I’m not sure if it was associated with the pressure of the job or what it was, and had some time off when Arthur was acting Director and did that very efficiently. So there was pressure associated with that and then as changes occurred within the department, when the Gardens was then to report to the First Assistant Secretary responsible to the Bureau of Flora and Fauna area to be combined with that ... that was Peter Bridgewater. The writing was on the wall as far as the autonomy of the Gardens was concerned and that associated with stress, and the opportunity for early retirement came up, so I left. . There were very strong stressful pressures in the Gardens. It just all came together which was unsatisfactory.

There was one situation of a complaint made to the Department of nepotism from one officer who left the Gardens and then there was an investigation of that and it was found not to be substantiated so really strong factions were developing and it was best that I left and Ann decided that it was best that she left also. Also they were about to abandon the position of Education Officer because ceiling was no longer an issue and money was the issue and people were arguing whether financial resources should be put into education or not put into education. I think, in hindsight, it might have been better had she stayed, had I left earlier as I had been offered positions outside the Gardens, left earlier and enabled her to stay on and pursue the education role for which she had a lot of acclaim but it was clouded by the fact that I was Director.

HIGGINS: Your relationship with the Gardens today is hopefully a happier one in that when you go back there is it with a good feeling?

BODEN: It is now. It took some time to go back but I got over that and have been back now and enjoy going back to the Gardens. I have done some work for them in relation to slide evaluations, I am a qualified valuer for donations to the Gardens, I am a supporter of the Gardens. I am sad that a lot of the aspirations for independent legislation didn’t get off the ground because I think the institution had and certainly has enormous potential but it needs to be an integrated institution with the herbarium and horticultural sides strongly integrated. I think the physical dislocation now represents a risk to that.

HIGGINS: The herbarium collection having gone to the CSIRO?

BODEN: Yes the herbarium collection going to CSIRO and that really ought to be all on one site and running efficiently with a trust. The aim was to have legislation following the pattern of Sydney where there’s a trust which is responsible or a board like the Gallery here or the Library. I was arguing strongly that an institution like Botanic Gardens should get on with the task its got and not be involved in policy and be removed from the impacts of policy activities which are going on in other parts of government. It’s got nothing to do with those areas.

HIGGINS: They tend to be mill stones?

BODEN: Yes that’s right and I can never quite understand why we couldn’t get the push. Obviously the National Gallery through a range of reasons but it’s got a much higher public profile but the Gardens also has a strong public profile. I’ve got nothing but the best wishes for its continuing future.

HIGGINS: We’ll just cover the final questions. In this reflective vein you are someone who now has forty years of acquaintance with the Botanic Gardens, what do you see as its greatest achievements?

BODEN: I think its greatest achievements, were achievements of stepping stones as it went along in the various phases of public awareness of native flora and its importance, and the general increasing environmental awareness in the community. So there were major steps where it led in relation to publications, the Growing Native Plants publication which was a great achievement and it had a lot of popular appeal but we moved on from that I guess as people wrote privately and John Wrigley and Murray Fagg’s book in a sense overcame some of the need for the Growing Native Plants publication series but I think the Gardens establishing or maintaining an awareness and appreciation of the Australian flora has been its primary achievement.

I think this was epitomised very well in a letter I got from David Attenborough, Sir David Attenborough now, and a lot of people think we’ve got a bit overdone with that, but it was a very supportive letter which I used to help in establishing the Gardens. He said it was a highly significant institution with a microcosm of the Australian flora which international visitors could see readily in a relatively short time when they really didn’t have the time to travel around the continent and that’s what he saw as its main advantage and I would support that.

Since the Gardens has become established and flourished there have been a range of other native plant gardens established around the country, Kings Park Perth was about the same time as the Gardens here but it concentrates only on the Western Australian flora. Mt Annan is a big push in Sydney to have Australian flora and it’s in a very strategic position now where’s its located on the edge of Campbelltown. And a lot of regional botanic gardens like the Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens and regional gardens established throughout the country some of which were established as a push from 1988.

HIGGINS: So the Canberra Gardens has been a springboard for all that activity?

BODEN: A springboard for a lot of that. It’s played an important role I think in helping other gardens to become established, providing plant material, supporting institutions like Burrendong Arboretum and things like. But in the national capital it’s got a very distinctive and specific role to play in encouraging the development and greater use and awareness and understanding of the Australian flora. As I see it that’s its primary role but it must also be backed by strong scientific endeavour in investigating and understanding Australian plants. So I see the blending within the one institution of botanical and horticultural science and education and conservation. That was the big challenge to get an integrated institution like that and I think it’s going to be around a lot longer than any of us which is important.

HIGGINS: And finally, do you have a favourite part of the Gardens? A place that means the most to you personally?

BODEN: Not really. I’ve got a couple of trees in the gardens which I am particularly fond of and one is actually the hybrid of Eucalyptus delegatensis and Eucalyptus pilularis which was one of the first hybrids I produced; pilularis is a coastal species and delegatensis an inland species and we were able to hybridise that by transferring the pollen that was my research work. Those couple of trees which are planted are very pleasant ...

I think the Burbidge amphitheatre is the one area which I feel most comfortable with. It’s got the most pleasant memories because it was an achievement which everyone endorsed. I think it was recognising a person who made a major contribution and the organisations behind it were all very pleasant to deal with in the National Parks Association and the Federation of University Women. Really it was a very pleasant achievement to get that up and going and it doesn’t have some of the unhappy memories that other parts of the Gardens I guess do have. Sitting up there in the Burbidge Amphitheatre is really a very pleasant place to be.

HIGGINS: And those hybrid eucalypts, whereabouts are they planted?

BODEN: I can’t quite tell you the section number, but they are about a hundred metres above the amphitheatre. There’s just the two parents and the progeny growing side by side so you can see the three of them together.

HIGGINS: Well that brings me to the end of my question list. Is there more that you would like to have if you think that there’s something significant that we haven’t covered.

BODEN: Well the only one we didn’t cover in this discussion, I think it was mentioned previously was getting the approval for the proposed extensions to the Gardens, getting that through the environmental impact process. Having had experience in the Department of the Environment, I was aware of what was required for the EIS. While the early task was to get that document through and get public comment on it and get it endorsed by government so that extra land would eventually be incorporated as part of the Gardens.

HIGGINS: This is the land to the south of Black Mountain Road?

BODEN: Yes, immediately to the south about equivalent in size to the existing Gardens. A much more difficult site to develop because it’s steeper. It may never be developed but it was fortuitous that having gone through those processes when the carve up of land occurred with self government for the ACT that was then designated as national land as part of the Botanic Gardens ... to some time in the future, way way down the track perhaps. But it is designated and indicated as part of the Gardens.

HIGGINS: It always had been seen as part of the Gardens but it didn’t have formal tenure?

BODEN: Yes that’s right. It was always a risk because there was competition for Black Mountain Reserve. Conservation people as to whether it should be in the Reserve or not. But it was earmarked for the Gardens.

I think another aspect which we haven’t touched on



BODEN: ... is the decline of the annexe at Mt Franklin, the alpine annexe. The Gingera annex. It was one of the problems again of resources and also partly a bit of a concern I had of establishing botanic gardens within national parks and the risks that could occur there of invasive species because there are some examples where native species can be as invasive as exotics.

HIGGINS: Now Lindsay had set that up I think about 1952.


HIGGINS: Was there any activity still there in the seventies or had it died by then?

BODEN: It had pretty well died by then. I got involved in the early fifties. In the early period City Parks did some early plantings there with Lindsay and actually planting some exotic pines which came from the Snowy Mountains Scheme at the stage when they were still looking at some plantings.

HIGGINS: Was that the Scots Pine next to Pryor’s Hut?


HIGGINS: So you helped plant those?

BODEN: Yes. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that now.

HIGGINS: When was that? Was that still in the fifties?

BODEN: Yes certainly while Lindsay was still around so it would have been fairly early in the fifties. They came from a chap called Ray de Roche who was working in the Snowy Mountains Scheme with Betty Phillips on erosion control work and rehabilitation and they came and we planted them up there.

HIGGINS: Lindsay has talked a bit about that annexe in a previous interview but I am just interested in how long activity there continued for because my initial impression was that it died after a few years but from looking at the files there was still something going on in the mid sixties.

BODEN: Yes there wasn’t much going on, certainly by the time I took over. There was a bit of planting but really it was realised that there were moves for the national park. It was realised it was going to be difficult to maintain and I think the shrinking resources again meant that it wasn’t pursued. There was never any decision as of such and such a date we no longer maintain it but it just sort of died a bit on the vine I guess. The conservation image which developed in the conservation activities around the ACT, anti-pine plantings, all those sort of things were linked with it, the use of the Brindabellas, the creation of Namadgi. Parks and Gardens and Yarralumla Nursery, even when I was there in the late fifties, would always go out and bring soil back, mountain soil for the propagation facilities and no one would dream of allowing that now.

HIGGINS: Well David Shoobridge was telling me how some of the tree ferns, the Dicksonia antarctica, in the rainforest gully came from the Brindabellas.

BODEN: Yes, and certainly some of the Xanthorrhoeas which are planted were brought from Mt Macdonald. That sort of thing probably wouldn’t go now. A lot of the other tree ferns did come from areas of forest towards Parkers Gap near Captains Flat in areas that were being cleared for pine plantations.

HIGGINS: Well the Brindabellas had been disturbed by hardwood logging too.

BODEN: Very much so, yes. But the opposition to things like grading the fire breaks and replacing grading with mowing to prevent soil erosion, restrictions on further pine plantings and the controversy over planting the pines at Gudgenby which is now a burden as far as the management of Namadgi is concerned. They were all part of the growing environmental awareness I suppose in the early seventies period.

HIGGINS: All right Robert, I think that brings us to the end. I would just like to say thanks again for your time today.

BODEN: Thanks for the opportunity and if someone will write the full history of the Gardens I will be interested in reading it from on high somewhere probably.

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