Sharing The Peapod's Travel Adventures...

The Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne

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This entry was posted on 5/18/2007 8:25 PM and is filed under Australia.

Melbourne has a magnificent and vast park right in the heart of the city known as the Royal Botanic Gardens.  They were founded in 1846 and their first two directors, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, acclaimed as one of the greatest botanists of the 19th century and William Guilfoyle are credited with creating their magnificent landscape design and beauty.  Here is one view of it...

Mother's Day happened to be an unseasonably warm summer-like day, and the park was full full full - it's always so great to see a park so well loved and utilized.

The Royal botanic Gardens extends over 36 hectares (that's 89 acres!) and has more than 52,000 individual plants.  The Gardens are home to The National Herbarium of Victoria - one of the oldest scientific institutions in Victoria renowned for its research into plant systematics, taxonomy and biodiversity.   The Herbarium houses the State Botanical Collection which consists of over one million dried specimens of plants, fungi and algae from around Australia.  Australia is so huge that it still has countless unidentified plant species in the bushland still waiting to be discovered.

One of the things we love about the gardens are the numerous statues and monuments scattered throughout.  Many of them are war veteran memorials, like these...

This shrine was the site of the dawn ANZAC day memorial parade, in honor of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp that died in WWI, particularly those that died at Gallipoli in 1915.  The Battle of Gallipoli left marks in the psyches of both Australia and New Zealand.  ANZAC Day is commemorated in Australia and New Zealand on April 25th, and it was this battle that marked the birth of the  national identities of both these nations, as separate from the Commonwealth.  We watched the ANZAC Day parade from our balcony, and thousands of people walked in it.  Lots of grandchildren with the grandparents and lots of bagpipe brigades - they honor their veterans well here...

Another great find in the garden was the Observatory.  Here is a picture of part of the building...

What struck us most was the signage next to us, which we've transcribed for you here.  Check it out - how time itself was variable in early Melbourne...

The Reliable Science of Astronomy

"Every well-determined star, from the moment its place is registered becomes to the astronomer, the geographer, the navigator, the surveyor, a point of departure which can never deceive or fail... as available for regulating a town clock as for conducting a navy to the Indies."
-Robert Ellery, Melbourne's First Government Astronomer, 1878

The restrained Italianate grandeur of this building tells us something of the status of astronomy in 19th century Melbourne.  In the decade before its construction in 1863, Melbourne's population had grown rapidly from 77,000 to 540,000 as people poured into the region lured by the prospects of gold.  Suddenly Melbourne had become unthinkably rich.  And there was a concern that it should also become "Civilized" - a centre of learning, not simply a colony of itinerants.  Science could be a foundation and no science was more reliable tat that of astronomy, founded on the certainty of the stars.

Hard as it is to now imagine, for most of the 19th century time itself was unstable in Melbourne.  Before the invention of accurate, affordable time-pieces and without a public clock, the people of Melbourne were unable to work to an agreed time, meet at agreed times, sail at agreed times.

"Never was a city so doomed to having great varieties of or variations in time as Melbourne; the truth being that there is no true, recognized or proper standard of time in the place"  - Argus 1853

From their precise nightly readings of star positions, the Observatory astronomers fixed local time and set the chronometers of ship's captains.  Knowing the time was  critical to accurate navigation.  They also telegraphed local time directly to a public clock in Melbourne's busy Bourke Street.  This was an innovation.  Work could now start and finish at agreed times.  Railways, beginning to link the country, could set timetables.  Melbourne could be synchronized to the time of the outside world.

The Observatory also provided important practical information useful to the developing colony.  For example, Melbourne's astronomers were determined that local newspapers be provided with forecasts of tomorrow's weather, not jut yesterday's reports.

Time and the weather, the elements that were so influencing yet strange and variable to Victoria's early colonists, could become known as a result of the work of Melbourne Observatory.

So, while Sydney's Botanic Garden is bordered by Sydney Harbour, Melbourne's Garden has the Yarra River, as well as a good size lake in the garden too.  One thing we miss though in this park are the flying fox bats.  They've found a way to chase them away and encouraged them to take up a more rural residence somewhere else because of the damage they were doing to the trees.  We also miss the wild cockatoos and lorries that Sydney has, but that has more to do with the weather than any fault of Melbourne's park system. 


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