President's Report

Presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the ANBG
on 13 February, 2007

Andrew Walker

President, Friends of the ANBG

The past year has been another good one for the Friends, largely due to the commitment and enthusiasm of our volunteers.  Once again, our membership has grown, as has the number of people attending the many and diverse high-quality events in our attractive activities program. Importantly we have also been able to increase the level of our support for the Gardens.

At 1 February 2007 we had 1600 members, compared with 1451 at the same time last year and 1309 the year before.  This steady growth can be reasonably attributed not only to the attractiveness of the events organised by our hard-working Activities and Social Events Committees but also to the magnificent efforts of the ANBG staff in successfully maintaining an attractive environment within the Gardens, despite the long period of drought and water restrictions we have all had to endure.  The pleasant and welcoming ambience of the Gardens encourages visitors to return regularly and, as they do so, they become increasingly aware of the benefits available from membership of the Friends.

Our volunteers form the lifeblood of our success.  They come from all walks of life, and willingly use their many skills to actively assist the Friends and the Gardens.  The wealth of talent and experience of ANBG Friends volunteers, and the commitment and enthusiasm they bring to the work they do on our behalf is truly impressive.  However, in common with many other community organisations, a large amount of the work we do falls on the shoulders of a few and we always need more of our members to become actively involved.  Members were invited to indicate their interest in volunteering in the Gardens when membership renewal forms were sent out last October. Those who responded positively were sent a follow-up letter which outlined the various opportunities available and gave the relevant contact details. Some of you may have seen some new faces assisting with Friends’ events in the past few weeks (particularly amongst the friendly and persuasive “bucketeers” at the recent “Summer Sounds” concerts) as a result.  It’s never too late to volunteer and, if you do decide to offer your services, you can be assured of a warm welcome.


Guided walk with John Turnbull in the Gymnosperm Loop
Photo : Alan Munns

The volunteer guides are among our most active volunteers and, bolstered by the 24 new guides who came on stream early last year, they were able to significantly expand the service they offer to visitors to the Gardens.  From the beginning of September 2006 to the end of March this year three walks per day have been incorporated into our regular program of scheduled guided walks.  This means that, in addition to the pre-booked special guided walks offered to tour groups etc, we now offer (free of charge) three regular walks per day for seven months each year (still two for the remaining five months) instead of just from January to March.  Whether this impressive performance can be maintained without further recruitment, in the face of the inevitable slow attrition in the number of our guides, has yet to be determined.  Bruce Chapman, the convenor of the monthly volunteer guides’ meetings for many years, resigned from the service late last year because of his move to the South Coast.  He did an excellent job for the guides and his strident “Order!...., Order!” at guides meetings will be sorely missed.  Don Beer has agreed to take his place as convenor.

Sadly, two of our most respected volunteer guides, Bernard Fennessy and Tom Green, died during the past year.  Both willingly volunteered their services in other aspects of Friends’ work, as well as guiding, and both loved to share their knowledge of Australian plants and wildlife with visitors to the Gardens.  Tom had a special love for birds and was an enthusiastic leader of the popular “Breakfast with the Birds” walks.  He also contributed articles to the Newsletter on birds and was a willing helper at the summer concerts and other events.  Bernard was one of our most active and longest serving volunteers and regularly contributed his “What’s in a Name?” articles to the Friends Newsletter.  To provide a “living memorial” in recognition of his valuable contribution to the Friends and the Gardens, we have established an annual 'Bernard Fennessy “What’s in a Name?” 'award for an article following similar specifications to those adopted by Bernard for his pieces.  Details of this competition will appear in the next Friends’ Newsletter.

Members may have noticed the enhanced appearance and expanded size of the November 2006 Friends’ Newsletter.  This has been achieved despite the reduced level of support from the Gardens in recent years.  While the Friends have always paid for the printing costs of the Newsletter, we are now also responsible for its distribution costs and its graphic design.  The improvements to the Newsletter largely result from the ideas and considerable efforts from Elizabeth Bilney and Anne Rawson, a new volunteer who fortunately stepped into the breach when the services of the Gardens’ graphic designer were withdrawn.  Elizabeth has decided to step down from Friends’ Council and, after many years of efficient service, wind down her role with the Newsletter and I would like to record the Friends’ appreciation for her sterling work over a long period.

The Growing Friends have flourished during the past year and, despite the drought, were once again able to hold two successful plant sales.  After many years of faithful and efficient service, Malcolm Fyfe has decided to step down from his role as contact person for the Growing Friends and the reins have been handed over to the capable Kath Holtzapffel.  Thank you Malcolm; your efforts have helped the Friends enormously.

The Botanic Art Group has also continued to thrive, under the capable leadership of Robin McKeown, to the extent that it has expanded into two sub-groups, meeting on Wednesdays and Thursdays respectively.  At the Growing Friends plant sale held in April, members took the opportunity to mount a small but impressive display of their work.  A larger exhibition is envisaged for next year.

The Friends organise a large and diverse range of events throughout the year and we now have two hard-working sub-committees, the activities sub-committee and the social events sub-committee, which share the considerable effort involved in ensuring the success of their programs. 

The activities sub-committee, under the capable leadership of Warwick Wright, looks after the varied program of talks by expert speakers, workshops, demonstrations and excursions.  Invariably, he ensures that the educational diet offered by the Friends is both nutritious and well-balanced.  In the past year the program has included two significant events arranged in collaboration with other organisations, the Australian Railway Historical Society and the Open Gardens Scheme.

The first of these was a highly successful trip by train to Bowral and visits to gardens in the Southern Highlands while the other was the open garden, one weekend last November, of two very supportive Friends, Ben and Rosalind Walcott.    Volunteers  from  the  Friends manned the gates and, under the Open Gardens Scheme, Ben and Rosalind nominated the Friends to share in the proceeds of the gate-takings.  We are very grateful to Ben and Rosalind for helping the Friends in such a constructive manner.     They   will   open  their  Gardens again on 17 and 18 March.


 Barbara Daly with poster
 advertising her talk :
The  "What's in Flower?"
19 October 2006

   Photo : Jean Geue

Louise Muir leads the Social Events Sub-Committee, which is responsible for the Friends’ major social events, including the Friends Twilight Dinner, “Grazing in the Gardens”, “Breakfast with the Birds”, the Summer Concerts and “one-off” events such as the official opening of “The Cascades” last August.  All these events involve catering of one sort or another, close liaison with Gardens staff and other organisations, as well as the recruitment and coordination of significant numbers of volunteer helpers.  The fact that all these ventures were so successful is a testimony to the organisational ability and sheer hard work of members of this sub-committee.

This year the popular Summer Concerts, held over the five weekends from January 6, were even more successful than in previous years, with an increase of about 25% over last year in the donations and proceeds from the drinks table. However, the costs involved in mounting these concerts have also risen substantially and the net increase in funds raised was not so high. 


Summer concert
Photo : Alan Munns

While one or two weather forecasts this year caused some anxiety to the organisers, we were very lucky that, unlike previous years, no concerts had to be cancelled because of fire bans or severe weather.

Our volunteer “bucketeers” are often asked by concert goers how the money they donate is used and, as part of our response, we often give them a list of the numerous projects we have funded in recent years.  This year we provided $20 000 for the Cascades project which involved the restoration (including the incorporation of a new Flowform cascade) of the Creek adjacent to the Visitor Centre.  The Cascades were officially launched by Robert Boden, the well-known “tree-expert” and former Director of the Gardens last August.  As foreshadowed in my report last year, the Friends’ Council has agreed to change the funds allocation system for major Friends’ projects from the former annual allocation of $20 000 to a triennial allocation of $ 90 000 to $100 000.  The Gardens are currently developing a prioritised list of possible major projects and the Friends hope to be soon in a position to announce details of a significant new project to fund.

The ANBG Friends Public Fund (to receive tax-deductible donations in order to provide substantial support for projects that will enhance the Gardens) continues to grow, although we have yet to attract significant support from the Corporate sector.  In my report last year I said that progress on the first project to be financed by the Fund, a Public Shelter adjacent to the Rock Garden Lawn, had been frustratingly slow but that we expected the Shelter to be completed within the first half of last year.  I now have to report that the frustration and delays have continued (there’s never been any shortage of reasons!) and that the construction of the Shelter has still not been completed.  However, it will be very soon.  It has to be; Her Excellency, Mrs Marlena Jeffery has agreed to officially open the Shelter on 29 March.

Other projects attracting financial support from the Friends during the past year have once again included the provision of book vouchers for Botanical Interns, and the annual Photographic Competition for High Schools and Secondary Colleges (which is expected to be revamped for the coming year).  Shirley McKeown, who is responsible for organising this competition (and the Friends’ website), has decided to step down from the Friends’ Council but is happy to continue with these responsibilities.  We are all very grateful for the significant contribution she makes.  

The Friends have also provided $3000 for a research project on the characteristics and behaviour of snakes within the Gardens.


by Rohan Thomson
of Canberra College.
Second Prize,
Effects, 2006

We are grateful to the Gardens for making further improvements to the Friends’ Lounge during the year.  It is now air-conditioned, we have new carpet and it now provides a much more pleasant environment in which to meet other Friends and read the variety of material available.

Once again, there have been many staffing changes within the Gardens during the year, the most important being the departure of the former Director, Robin Nielsen, at the end of August to take up a position within the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.  He was always a consistent supporter of the Friends and we wish him well for the future.  Jim Croft acted in the Director position until Robin’s successor, Anne Duncan, was appointed and we thank him also for his constantly constructive helpfulness. Anne has already indicated her strong support for the Friends and we look forward to a continuation of the mutually supportive environment we have enjoyed for many years.  One of the best features of the environment within the Gardens is the friendly, cooperative assistance freely given by ANBG staff whenever we need it; it is something we should all foster and appreciate.

 This is my last report as President of the ANBG Friends because I have come to the end of the maximum 4 year tenure allowed under our constitution for one individual to occupy that position.  I have enjoyed my stint as President, largely because of the consistently strong support given to me both by Gardens staff and Friends’ Council members and I step down with absolute confidence that my successor will attract similar levels of support. I believe that the Friends are very fortunate to have such a good Council working on their behalf.  It has been a privilege to work with such a talented and committed team whose members work so well together and I would like to express my sincere appreciation for their dedication and sheer efficiency in performing the multitude of tasks within their various “portfolios”.

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