`The Green School of Australia’
Report of a Travelscholarship to Eastern and Western Australia to study environmental education in action
By Markus Radscheit
In October I returned from a study tour to Eastern and Western Australia. The tour aimed to observe environmental education in Botanical and Zoological Gardens. I also had the opportunity to study the vegetation in the Kwongan, North of Perth and to participate on the `4th International Botanic Garden Conservation Congress’. A total of 12 institutions was visited and many lasting friendships were established during the six week journey.
The tour started at Sydney, the capital of New South Wales. At the Royal Botanic Garden I was able to spend a day with the education team. One of the most fascinating educational programmes is the `R.B.G.-Goes West Project’.This outreach programme is unique and backed by an extremely motivated and encouraged team of teachers and horticulturists of the garden. New South Wales is a vast State, with large remote areas. Many children from these remote areas of the State very rarely have the chance to travel to the capital. However, if they were doing so, only a minority would visit the Botanic Garden. Staff of the Education Department realised that bringing these children to the Botanic Garden is not possible because of the distances involved. So, why not bring the garden to the children?
The education team had to overcome the problem of distance and twice a year organises an educational expedition to the remote schools of the State. These outreach tours usually last for two weeks and four teachers travel a total distance of some 3,000 miles in order to teach at four to five schools. Plant material is taken from the Botanic Garden at Sydney and used to offer an insight into the fascinating world of plants.
Following the week busily spent at the Zoo and Botanic Garden of Sydney, I travelled on to Canberra, the capital of Australia. The National Botanic Garden was established in the 1950’s and houses exclusively native plants from all climatic zones of the continent.
Education Officer, Julie Foster, presented her work in the `Centre for Horticultural Therapy’. This newly established building is situated in the heart of the wonderfully created botanical collection. The centre aims to use horticulture as a medium to stimulate the senses of the handicapped and elderly people. There are raised beds, wheelchair accessible greenhouses and the tools are especially designed for those with handicaps. The centre is regularly visited by many elderly people from local nursing homes. A day’s work in the garden of the C.H.T. is to brighten up the monotony of the nursing home.
After a couple of days I moved on to the Royal Botanic Garden at Melbourne, where Rod Dunstan and his family generously took me as their guest for a week. Rod is solely in charge of the school education work in the garden and runs horticultural sessions for school classes. During the time at Melbourne I could help him with visiting school groups and preparation of education projects. Rod includes practical horticulture in his day classes, so some school kids find themselves suddenly planting trees or pricking out seedlings. Not all become gardeners in their future career, but practical horticultural skills are part of Australia’s national curriculum.
One of the days at Melbourne was spent at the Zoological Garden. The zoo has one of the largest education departments of its kind and arranges classes for around 75,000 school children every year. In addition, the teachers produce study material for 35,000 self-guided tours. These numbers imply that the zoo-school is an extremely busy department. I am, therefore, most grateful that some teachers took the time to explain their work and allowed me to attend their classes.
The Zoological Garden is known worldwide for its highly advanced and stimulating enclosures. The zoo tries to present animals as if they were in their natural environment. Plants are therefore an important part of the design in and around the enclosures. There are no metal bars, but plenty of `green’ that gives the visitor (and the animal) the impression of being somewhere in the jungle, when observing Gorillas playing in the trees.
I used the last day at Melbourne to travel out to the giant Eucalyptus regnas forests. It was an unforgettable experience standing at the bottom of some of the tallest trees (140m!!) on earth.
Following a night of travel to Adelaide, I visited Steve Meredith at the Royal Botanic Garden. Together with a primary school class, Steve took me on a `bush tucker walk’ through the garden. During this tour Steve demonstrated how the aborigines use native plants for food, shelter, clothing and `glue’! For several years it has been compulsory to teach aboriginal sciences in Australian schools. This is part of Australia’s policy to improve integration of the native Australians into society.
The Bicentennial Conservatory at Adelaide is very remarkable. This egg-shaped structure is apparently the largest and most expensive display glasshouse in the southern hemisphere. The house was opened in 1988 when the Australians celebrated the 200th anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing at Sydney.
From Adelaide I took an internal flight to Perth in Western Australia, where final preparations were taking place for the `4th International Botanic Garden Conservation Congress’. Prior to the conference I joined up with 50 other delegates, amongst whom there were some Kewites, to participate on the Northern Flower Tour.
The four days tour took us to the area north of Perth, where the Kongwan is dominant. Kongwan is found throughout much of the southwest of Western Australia and is regarded as one of the most species-rich habitats in the world.
Our `expedition’ was headed by Kingsley Dixon and Bob Dixon of the King’s Park and took us through heathland and woodland communities with more than 1,000 species in flower! Prior to the tour there was a lot of rain (probably arranged by the Congress Committee) and therefore the spring flower display was most fascinating: carpets of golden Waitzia and pink Helipterum species were scattered to the horizon.The majestic smokebush, Conospermum triplinervum, covered vast areas in white and the first Banksia prionotes started to come into flower.
Every one of the delegates was most impressed by this natural spring flower festival. However, after returning to Perth, the pleasure of studying flowers was over and the hard work at the Congress began. The meeting took place in the Hyatt Congress Centre and was attended by around 350 delegates from 42 countries. The Congress title was `Reaching out into the 21st Century’ and therefore subjects like education, conservation, fund-raising and visitor services were intensively discussed in lectures, workshops and training sessions.
The end of the conference meant the end of my study tour and I had to return to London. During my tour I collected very many suggestions and ideas that are now in the process of being implemented at Kew and elsewhere.
I wish to express my greatest appreciation to the Kew Guild, who generously sponsored parts of this unforgettable expedition to the `Green School of Australia’.