Geoff Walker in the Useful Plants Garden

Long known as the Lismore tip, or even less attractively, the town dump, the facility that manages the city’s wastes is now called the Lismore Recycling and Recovery Centre.

The change is not just in the branding, but in reality, with the well managed facility becoming the envy of many a local Council.

An equally dramatic transformation has taken place at the adjacent Rainforest Botanic Gardens. Here, on a sizeable patch of once unappealing scrub, characterised by weeds, fallen trees, and illegally dumped rubbish, knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers are creating a network of walking paths through regenerated sub-tropical forest.

Such a project was long the dream of Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens, a group formed well before a site had even been identified. A founder member was plant enthusiast and long-serving retired local GP, the late Calder Chaffey (see separate story).

Today, the gardens are a protected space where representatives of all the unique plant species of our sub-tropical area can be grown in an ecosystem where they will thrive.

And thriving they are, thanks to the energy of the Friends and the support of Lismore City Council, and other community benefactors.

The Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens were officially opened on 5 June, 2013, fifteen years after the Friends was founded.  The focus was to be on rainforest and other plant species endemic to an area within 200 km of Lismore. 

“The aim is to support the conservation of local rainforest species, facilitate scientific plant research, educate about this special environment, preserve the history of human interaction with the rainforest, and provide a place for recreation,” explained the coordinator of the Gardens’ guided walks, high-energy octogenerian Geoff Walker.

Only a few steps onto a forest track, the visitor finds it hard to believe that Lismore’s CBD is only two minutes’ drive away, and a huge waste facility next door.

To enable a better understanding of the species mix, the Gardens have a range of information signs and individual tree labels, while seats and picnic areas are conducive to a longer stay. The air is cool, and there’s the added attraction of wildlife spotting. Koalas are regularly sighted, mostly around the barbecue area, and in big old gums at the far end of the Rainforest Walk at the western end of the Gardens.   Wallabies are also regulars and there is abundant bird life, including an active scrub turkey mound. 

When GP Speak visited, Geoff pointed out a lorikeet nest, complete with a curious emergent chick, high in a eucalypt.

So far, more than four hectares have been planted with dry, subtropical and riverine rainforest species, with the volunteers weeding, clearing, planting and doing maintenance for hours every week.

“Visitors ask how long before the work is finished,” Geoff says, with a laugh. “We tell them about three hundred years”

The Gardens were to have been on a site at Wollongbar, near the Alphadale crossroads, but acquiring the land became too expensive, and sights were turned elsewhere, closer to town. In time, Lismore City Council came to the party, supported by the NSW Government and private donors.

The latest project is establishing an easy access Sensory Garden, with wheelchair friendly main paths, and plantings of windbreak trees along the south and north boundaries.  Visitors will be encouraged to enjoy the perfume, colour, shape, surface coverings, and movement of the plants.

Plans are afoot for a Commemorative Garden to ‘Salute the Service’ of Australian military personnel and highlight their ingenuity in the use of plants for food, medicine and other purposes in times of conflict.

An added attraction is the adjacent Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) forest, planted in 1984 by NSW Agriculture and Council to show farmers that camphor laurels could be controlled through poisoning and replacement with this valuable local rainforest species.

The forest is a huge hit with local school groups, many children saying they have never been in a real forest before.

Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens is open every day except public holidays, and access is free of charge. There is a gas BBQ, piped water, toilets and an information centre.