Sowing the seeds for Northern Vic tourism...
Gargarro Regional Botanic Garden – midway between Echuca and Shepparton – is set to be a major attraction for the Goulburn Valley and Loddon Mallee region.
Build it and they will come.
That’s the thinking behind a multi-million dollar, 12-hectare not-for-profit botanic garden. With help from a $50,000 Regional Development Victoria grant towards the designs, this is what has been unfurling since 2012 in the town centre of Girgarre, on a former site of Heinz Corporation.
With an amphitheatre that has been hosting musical performances since 2018, plus a propagation nursery, a “sight, smell, listen, touch, taste” sensory garden, community nursery and a café in the works, Gargarro Regional Botanic Garden is not doing things by halves.
But the economic payoff for the Campaspe Shire is tipped to be huge as the garden incrementally moves towards the completion date of 2032.
The numbers talk
Stage one of the big picture project, due for completion over the coming years, is expected to attract 22,000 local, 84,000 domestic and 1000 international visitors annually. This will deliver 33,000 additional night stays in the area and pump $4.3 million into the Campaspe Shire, which would extend to the Loddon Mallee region, Shepparton and the greater Goulburn Valley.
The success of the project will be based on the fact that most Aussies love an outing in a public garden. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 35% of Australians over the age of 15 visit a botanic garden at least once a year. Victorians are even more enthusiastic, with the figure rising to 40%.
They’re all compelling figures for Girgarre, a dairy farming town that has been struggling economically since 10-plus years of drought started in 2002, and against a backdrop of factory closures and falling milk prices. Tourism could be precisely what the town needs.
“Cost benefit analysis of botanic gardens across the globe show a positive return on investment,” says Girgarre Development Group Project Manager and fourth generation town local, Athol McDonald. “Here, all contractors employed over the past three years have been local and longer term, one gardener will be employed for each hectare.”
Another payoff is that the garden is expected to encourage more people to set down roots in Girgarre, a town of about 200 residents mainly settled by returning World War One soldiers.
“I love Girgarre’s resilience: it’s had its ups and downs over the last century, but it always bounces back,” explains Athol. “It’s a great little community built on hard work and vision. This project is making this town a more desirable place to live and it’s hoped in time this will be reflected by new residents being attracted to the Campaspe Shire.”
A living culture
Indigenous representation will be woven through the garden with a Welcome to Country at the entrance and endangered native plants making up many parts of the site.
The name, Gargarro, was chosen for the project to acknowledge the vast plain stretching south. The present township was known as Gargarro by the Indigenous population; Girgarre being the Anglicised version.
To help bring these messages to life, landscape designers Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) were appointed. They’ve got good form, having twice won the ‘International Landscape of the Year’ award at the World Architecture Festival: in 2014 for the National Arboretum Canberra and in 2013 for the Australia Garden at Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne.
“For this project to be successful it needed to be world class,” states Athol of TCL’s appointment. “Anything less would not bring the benefits that we were seeking that would lead to a transformation of the district. An exemplary garden was required. Only world class landscape architects could deliver this outcome.
“The design of Gargarro skilfully captures the very essence of the region as well as creating a place of great beauty and tranquillity: it will be a world class attraction.”
The years ahead
The Gargarro soundshell and amphitheatre is already a well-loved venue, and it will become even more impressive as the sensory garden evolves around it in coming years. The first event planned at the amphitheatre after the lifting of restrictions – postponed from January to April 2021 – is the 15th Girgarre Moosic Muster, a five-day annual event featuring bluegrass, Irish, gospel, country, bush and folk music.
The next stage of the project, a Gargarro Green Thumbs Community Nursery, is underway and slated for completion early in 2021 with assistance from 20 local volunteers and a $50,000 Regional Development Victoria grant.