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Affiliate Profile: Hunter Region Botanic Gardens

Our Network in Action

​Affiliate Profile: Hunter Region Botanic Gardens

By Alison Rogers, EcoNetwork committee member.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens on a crisp sunny Saturday afternoon. I had specifically come to look at the Sculpture in the Gardens exhibition and learn more about the collaboration between The University of Newcastle’s Watt Space Gallery and The Gardens.

Sculpture in The Gardens are available for viewing until this Sunday 17 September 2023!

I was impressed by the exhibition which includes sculptures by 19 prominent artists from Newcastle placed in a circuit in the lower corner of The Gardens. I saw families discussing the meanings behind the sculptures and met some other people discussing which pieces they felt most strongly connected with the setting.

However, what really drew my attention that afternoon was the level of noise and variety of bird song that came from the tall tree canopy above. The number of different calls and songs that floated down from above may have been able to be recognised by a bird watcher, but I just enjoyed tuning my ears to the multitude of calls and responses. I sat next to one of the sculptures and spent a few minutes soaking up nature’s symphony. I took time to reflect upon the words of patron of The Gardens, Emeritus Professor Tim Roberts, AM, who said,
To me Hunter Region Botanic Gardens is a magical place. A place where science and imagination come together. A place where the Hunter Valley meets the world through the various endemic and exotic plants on display.

I was also impressed with how many volunteers were working on a Saturday afternoon. The café was open and I was warmly greeted by someone very willing to explain how I could find the sculptures within the expansive gardens. When I asked Chief Executive Officer Robert Beautement how many volunteers were engaged by The Gardens, he told me that there were over 200 volunteers who come from all over the lower hunter.

I was astounded to learn, considering the large expanse of land, the scale of the non-profit enterprise and the absence of recurring funding, that ever since The Gardens opened in 1985 they have always been managed and maintained by volunteers. Robert said volunteer roles included gardening, managing the herbarium, maintaining the archives and library, maintenance of buildings and vehicles, working in the café and gift shop, providing community education, and also supporting fundraising, administration and accounting requirements.

Robert shared that some of the reasons why volunteers want to work at The Gardens was because they wanted to gain and share new skills, improve their employment prospects and build their sense of self on a personal level. Many of the other reasons Robert included were very similar to those mentioned in the 2022 EcoUpdate article The Value of Volunteering that looked at recent research. These were benefits such as enjoying a sense of achievement and fulfilment, enjoying better physical and mental health and meeting new people and making friends.

To keep volunteers engaged, The Gardens ensures that all roles are flexible in terms of time commitments. They offer ongoing training and mentoring, as well as discounts on food, gifts and plants. They also have a work, health and safety committee and offer the volunteer coordinator as a point of contact to raise any concerns. Most importantly, The Gardens also holds regular social activities, such as barbeques, and recognises volunteers for their long and valuable contribution.

It is no wonder that The Gardens was recognised as the Hunter Region’s Volunteer Organisation of the Year. Everyone who contributes should be so proud of the fact that The Gardens were included in Australian Geographic’s Top 10 Regional Botanic Gardens of Australia. I will be returning soon to listen to the bird song again and explore the different aspects of The Gardens that I did not experience on my first visit.

For anyone interested in volunteering, please head to the website below where you can read some of the impressive success stories. You can follow The Gardens on social media.

Sculpture in The Gardens are available for viewing until this Sunday 17 September 2023, extended by popular demand!

The popular Spring Fair will be on the 15th of October.

Useful Links:

Welcome to the Gardens – EcoUpdate November 2021

Published: 8 Sep 2023