National Arboretum Canberra

Spanning over 250 hectares, the National Arboretum in Canberra is one of the world’s largest living collections of rare, endangered and significant trees.

Mar 17, 2024

The National Arboretum Canberra is a vibrant mix of forests and gardens, home to over 44,000 rare and endangered trees spread across 250 hectares.

Our Arboretum is not just a place of beauty, but also a hub for conservation, scientific research, education and it’s a great place to walk around.

The 2003 Canberra Bushfires: A Tale of Devastation and Recovery

The devastating bushfires in 2003 resulted in a 70% loss of pastures, forests, and nature parks in the Australian Capital Territory, leading to significant damage to wildlife habitat.

The National Arboretum Canberra stands as a symbol of renewal and growth, sprouting from the ashes of devastation.

Established in the wake of the devastating 2003 bushfires, the Arboretum was envisioned as a living museum and parkland to celebrate the world’s diverse forest heritage.

Prior to its creation, this area was cloaked in a dense pine plantation, which fell victim to the raging fires.

The Arboretum’s inception marked a transformative chapter, turning a scarred landscape into a sanctuary for over 44,000 trees from across the globe, fostering conservation, research, and education for generations to come.

Take your time as you walk through the National Arboretum. There is plenty to see and you’ll enjoy breathtaking vistas back over Canberra and Lake Burley Griffin. 

2003 Canberra Bushfire

Photo above was taken by the author at Mt Rogers, to the north of the city, it shows Canberra engulfed by smoke and flame. Note the trees bending in the wind on this 40C day.

In the summer of 2003, Canberra faced one of its most devastating natural disasters. The bushfires that ravaged the outskirts of the city began on January 8th caused by lightning strikes in the Brindabella Mountains.

Over the next ten days, the fires intensified due to extremely hot weather, low humidity, and extreemily strong winds.

On January 18th, what is now known as “Firestorm Saturday,” the fires reached their peak. Four lives were tragically lost, and over 490 people suffered injuries. The city was engulfed in smoke and 470 homes and numerous businesses were lost.

Take the alternate path arboretum

Above: The 24km Aussie Peace Walk route winds along the path. (Don’t cheat by following along the road on your right.) Take your time and enjoy your suroundings.

Telstra Tower from National Arboretum Canberra

Above: Avid photographers will find many oportunities for creative expression. 

Sculptures

The National Arboretum Canberra boasts a captivating collection of world-class sculptures set amidst its lush forests and gardens.

These iconic artworks celebrate the intersection of nature, creativity, and human expression and make for excellent backdrops for creative photography.

See how many you can find when you walk through the area.

Inset: Aussie Peace Walk trial walkers testing the routes for the 24km walk. The author took all the photos on this page except for the aerial photo at the top, which is courtesy of Australian Tourism.

creative photo walkers at arboretum
wide brown land National Arboretum
by Dorothea Mackellar

The Wide Brown Land

The phrase “the wide brown land” is deeply rooted in Australian literature and evokes a powerful sense of national identity.

The expression comes from the poem “My Country” (originally titled “Core of My Heart”) written by Dorothea Mackellar. At the time, she was a young Australian living in England. The poem was first published in the London Spectator in 1908 and later widely circulated in Australian newspapers.

In this heartfelt poem, she contrasts her experience of the green, orderly English countryside with the extremes of Australian geography and climate. The second stanza, which has become iconic, reads:

“I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror –

The wide brown land for me!”

The phrase “wide brown land” encapsulates the vastness, ruggedness, and unique character of Australia. It speaks to the sun-scorched earth, the expansive plains, and the harsh beauty of the Australian landscape.

Since the 1930s, it has been used to refer to Australia itself, becoming an enduring part of our cultural lexicon.

Marcus Tatton, Chris Viney and Futago Design Studios collaborated to create the iconic “Wide Brown Land” sculpture at the National Arboretum Canberra.

The sculpture, measuring 35 meters in length and standing 3 meters high, was crafted from corten steel and steel rod. It pays homage to the profound connection between the poem and the Australian landscape, evoking the spirit of the wide, sunburnt plains described by Mackellar.

Telstra Tower from National Arboretum cloudy

The Cork Forest

The planting of the first cork oak seedlings at the Arboretum site took place between 1917 and 1920.

By 1920, there were 9,600 cork oaks planted in an area covering 8 hectares, then known as Green Hills. Unfortunately, the construction of roadworks in the early 1980s destroyed some of the forest.

Over the years, these cork oaks have been periodically stripped for their valuable cork. In 1948, the cork was used to insulate refrigerator doors. Subsequent harvests were used for engine gaskets, cork tiles, heels for shoes and bottle stoppers.

Currently, as part of the National Arboretum Canberra, the collection comprises 2,604 live trees.

Inset: At the top of the Arboretum, walkers fill their water bottles before continuing on the walk down to the Cork Forest in the 24km Aussie Peace Walk.

Top up your water at the arboretum
Himalayan Cedar forest
A spectacular feature of the National Arboretum Canberra

Himalayan Cedar Forest

The 24km walk will take you through a majestic Himalayan Cedar Forest.

Fortunately, the 2003 Canberra bushfires, which devastated the rest of the commercial pine forests in the area, skipped this cluster of trees.

The larger Himalayan cedars in this forest were planted between 1917 and 1930 in the early days of the construction of Canberra.

Himalayan cedars were valued for use in everything from construction to incense, soap, perfumes, household sprays, floor polishes and insecticides.

These impressive conifers can live up to 600 years.

Bonsai Collection Rotary Checkpoint

Don’t forget to stop by the National Bonsai Collection when you get to the Rotary checkpoint.

Visit the National Arboretum Canberra.

National Arboretum book

Win This Fabulous Book About The Arboretum Collection

The good news is that if you have entered the 24km walk, you’re already in the draw for this excellent 178 page book about the National Arboretum Collection.

This is a ‘must have’ for anyone interested in plants, gardening and spending time in our natural wonderland.

All entrants are in the draw for this lovely momento of your visit. The winner will be drawn at the closing ceremony in Albert Hall on Sunday 24 March. Don’t forget to hang around for the draw.

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