The site is thought to be part of the area used by the Gundungurra People, who inhabited land extending from the Southern Highlands, north to Camden, west to the Blue Mountains and south to Goulburn. The Gundungurra people moved around this land in small groups, travelling according to the season, following food gathering opportunities and coming together with other groups according to social and customary arrangements.
It is not known how long the Gundungurra people lived in the Southern Highlands, but it is assumed they or their forebears lived here for perhaps 40,000 years.
History of the site
The site of the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens is adjacent to the suburb of East Bowral. The earliest subdivision of East Bowral was part of the 2400 acres of land granted to John Oxley, famous explorer of the early colony of New South Wales, by the Governor in 1823. That land, together with later purchases extended the Oxley holdings to 5000 acres from Old South Road west to Berrima.
To the east of Old South Road (on which the site of SHBG is located) was the Riley Estate of 3000 acres granted to Edward Riley, an early Sydney businessman, whose son George Riley settled there in 1831.
From 1858 for the next 50 years the town of Bowral, and early suburbs in East Bowral towards Old South Road, were developed on subdivisions of the original Oxley Estate.
The site of the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens is located on Old South Road, formerly Mitchell’s Great Southern Road, constructed in 1819 following early exploration by Hume, Throsby and Wilde. The road is associated with early land grants in the district, which were given in 1829 to veterans of the NSW Corps, some of whom were Waterloo veterans.
The Oxley Estate and surrounding areas was primarily farming land. In the late 1880s a slaughter yard was erected on the site and a skin shed was erected in the early 1900s, where hides were hung out to dry. Next door was a slaughterhouse, where local butchers killed their meat to sell in Bowral. The slaughter yard and skin shed were an integral aspect of the rural and agricultural economy of the Southern Highlands. The skin shed finally collapsed in 2006.
In the late 1990s easy access from Sydney to the Southern Highlands was gained with the F5 and M5 motorways, spurring residential development into East Bowral, east of Old South Road. The development replaced the rural countryside and its initial ‘newness’, with large houses, no trees and no immediate shopping was nicknamed ‘Legoland’.
Following that residential development of East Bowral there remained a dog-leg shape of 33 acres of land on the corner of Old South Road and Kangaloon Road, extending through the Ponds of Reflections created by council. That remaining 33 acres became the site for the newest botanic garden in Australia, the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens.
1998 A small group of local enthusiasts formed, looking to establish a large central garden in the Southern Highlands. A Bowral arboretum was mooted, but finally the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens Committee was formed.
2003 The Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens Incorporated was registered on 7 April 2003.
2009 Following many years of searching for a suitable site on which to establish a botanic garden, the 33 acres (13.4 ha) on the corner of Old South Road and Kangaloon Road, Bowral, was finally selected.
2010 Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of New South Wales, officially launched the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens project on 28 September 2010.
2010 Foundation Walk was planted, with the last tree being planted by the Hon Stephen Jones, MP, Member for Throsby, on 4 November 2019.
2011 The SHBG Committee engaged Taylor Cullity Lethlean to develop a masterplan for the garden with a vision to display the native and exotic flora of the region which contribute to the uniqueness of its seasonal character. The design would provide education and research in a setting enhanced by public art and managed according to environmentally responsible principles.
2011 Wingecarribee Shire Council, in conjunction with the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens Incorporated, developed a Plan of Management for the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens. The Plan of Management sets out the directions and practices council intend to follow to manage the ‘community land’ and identifies issues affecting public open space and outlines how that open space is intended to be used, improved and managed in the future. The POM identifies 14.85 hectares of ‘community land’, comprising eight separate Lots, on the corner of Kangaloon and Old South Road, Bowral, as the SHBG site.
2011 The Volunteer Support Centre (the ‘Shed’) was the first building constructed on the site, built with the first grant from the NSW Government.
2012 Notification of Decision by the (Federal) Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, dated 27 September 2012, made under sections 75 and 77A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, was issued on 27 September 2012 to protect and manage the natural habitat Latham’s Snipe.
2012 SHBG Incorporated registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission on 3 December 2012
2013 The Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens Limited was registered as an Australian Public Company, Limited by Guarantee, on 7 June 2013.
2013 The Development Application for the staged development of the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens was approved by council.
2014 A shade house and toilet block were added to the Shed construction, again with grant money and local donations.
2014 Taylor Cullity Lethlean completed the Sketch Design for the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens.
2015 A lease for 21 years was granted to the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens Limited over the eight Lots forming the leased land on the corner of Kangaloon Road and Old South Road.
2016 A grant from The Paul Ramsay Foundation enabled SHBG to hire its first part-time employee as a Fundraising and Marketing Manager.
2016 The first two SHBG collections of 23 Betula (Birch) and 21 Buxus (Boxwood) were registered on the National Plant Collections Register.
2017 SHBG undertook an architecture competition, inviting six Australian architects to participate in a design for the Visitor and conference centre. The winning architect, John Wardle Architects, was announced.
2017 The Plan of Consolidation of the original eight Lots into one Lot, DP 1231536, was registered with the Registrar General, NSW.
2018 The 21-year lease was amended by WSC and SHBG to include the Plan of Consolidation.
2018 SHBG developed a comprehensive Business Plan outlining the costs and benefits of the development of the Education Centre, Visitor Centre and car park and the garden. Estimated costings were undertaken by a quantity surveyor.
2019 A second grant from The Paul Ramsay Foundation enabled SHBG to hire its first Chief Executive Officer, a part-time job and a part-time Administration Officer.
2019 SHBG commissioned Urbis, a business consultant, to develop an economic and social impact assessment of the full development of the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens. The assessment included a cost-benefit analysis to identify the net economic and social benefits attributable to the potential expansion of the botanic gardens project on the Southern Highlands region. The report included an estimate of the number of jobs that would be created by the construction activity over two years, as well as by the operations of SHBG and in the tourism industry over a period of 20 years.
2020 Two further SHBG collections of Dwarf Cornus (Dogwood) and Narcissus (Tony Davis Daffodils) were registered on the National Plan Collections Register.