WHEN Tom Wood Senior, then the supervisor of parks and gardens for Wagga City Council, conceived the idea of the botanic gardens for the city little would he have realised its worth in terms of their value to the city in so many ways today.
Now in their 50th year of operation, although it took Tom and his dedicated staff some eight to nine years to get the gardens ready for operation, the 20 hectare site is the city’s premier tourist attraction which encompasses other facilities such as the music bowl, zoo, model railway, tree chapel (which has recently also had a renovation), Chinese pavilion and the Museum of the Riverina, the latter due to also go under refurbishment soon and which houses the sports hall of fame.
While the council owns the botanic gardens it is operated by the Friends of Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens who have given sterling service to this icon. What’s all this got to do with a facility that continues to give immense pleasure to so many locals and visitors day in, day out? The gardens are free for those who call Wagga home, their out-of-town guests and visitors.
There are some facilities of a similar horticultural nature and standard within our nation where admission is charged. Wagga, as the column has reminded us a number of times in the past, was once called, The Garden City of the South.Much of that was due to Tom Wood and the supervisors before him and who followed.
Now in their 50th year of operation ... the 20 hectare site is the city’s premier tourist attraction.Graham Gorrel
Not everyone was happy because Mr Wood liked his lawns to be lush and thick; that did not always please our cricketers who used the city’s ovals that came under his control. A very talented NSW cricketer, Geoff Davies, who played 73 matches for NSW, toured New Zealand with an Australian team but was 12th man in his one and only test selection came to Wagga to work after his first class career finished. He was a powerful driver of the ball and relished the closely cropped, fast Sydney ovals.
At Robertson Oval soon after his arrival Davies pummelled a cover drive which he assumed would go straight to the boundary but as he strolled back to the crease after the longer-than-normal grass (cut to Tom Wood’s length) significantly slowed the ball, Davies was run out. He was not amused.
Some discussions after that between the then sports facilities council and its councillor delegates led to a more severe trimming of the ovals’ grass cover in summer. However, the point is, as Mr Wood’s current successor Henry Pavitt, said in a recent The DA article, “Mr Wood had a vision for this site at the bottom of Willans Hill and from then on it has developed into what it is today”.
Where to now for the city’s parks, gardens and ovals? The column raises the issue because it is plainly obvious that as national sports bodies look to provide amenities for the expanding national and state sports events, Wagga - handy to Canberra but also by air travel to the three south-east Australian capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide needs to be ready, willing and able to provide and maintain first class sports and recreational amenities.
That means, in our view, council’s financial planning ability to provide sport, recreational and horticultural expertise may need a timely and futuristic increase in expert staff, facilities and resources.
Two things come readily to mind from suggestions to the column. Robertson Oval lighting must soon be upgraded while horticultural standards so handsomely provided by staff at the Botanic Gardens, Victory Memorial Gardens, Collins Park and more recently the excellent work done at the Bathing Beach might be duplicated, initially, on the eastern side of Lake Albert where, it is noted, remedial work is already under way.
There are other suggestions of merit; Willans Hill itself or its summit in particular might be considered for some botanic renovation not to mention the innovative suggestion made through this column some years ago about a cable car from Bolton Park where, significantly, we now have the Michael Slater, Mark Taylor and Geoff Lawson ovals, to the summit with an array of walks and trails to further capitalise on the beautiful Botanic Gardens and the associated other visionary themed gardens.
What Tom Wood envisaged for the gardens’ 20 hectares central-city site thus far deserves further recognition personally (the main drive is named after him) but also the hope that council and the city’s many community organisations may have further inspirations to make greater use and contribute to the development of the remaining areas of Willans Hill precinct and recreation facilities generally.