Thank You Miss Pink!
Red and yellow and green and blue, this garden is a dream come true…
Story by Elizabeth Mueller, images by Helmut Mueller
Within cooee of Alice Springs’ busy Todd Mall is a little pocket of paradise called Olive Pink Botanic Garden. There’s no way this little patch can compete with the mighty gorges of the West MacDonnell Ranges or even attempt to overshadow the glory-charged features to the east of Alice. But what Olive Pink’s garden does have is a centre of calm, and a wealth of underlying treasures to be found.
Naturally, the focus here is on flora, specifically trees, shrubs and flowers that grow in the arid regions of Australia. In turn the plant life attracts birds, insects and other animals, so the garden is a celebration of the biodiversity of Central Australia.
The garden is named after its founder, Miss Olive M. Pink, who first visited Central Australia in the 1930s. It seems Miss Pink was a bit of a character; an eccentric with a moral strength that led to her being described as “indomitable”. Apparently she preferred an Edwardian style of dress, sold flowers and fruit to help makes ends meet and, at the age of 72, lived for several years in a tent on the site that would become the flora reserve. But Miss Pink is best remembered for her achievements as an anthropologist, botanical artist, Aboriginal rights activist – and as a gardener.
The Olive Pink Botanic Garden is now listed on the Register of the National Estate. Over the years the eclectic collection of plants has evolved and, just as in nature, it continues to transform as the seasons roll on. Within the grounds any hint of the nearby city is quietly quashed.
A network of walking trails winds around shrubs and under trees in a seemingly haphazard way. In reality, the trails explore gardens within the garden. And the current curators of Miss Pink’s vision are doing a wonderful job. Eremophilas are grouped in one section, with a range that hints at the diversity of this desert-loving plant (there are more than 200 species of eremophilas in Australia). The flowers are bright sparks of colour on both bushy ground-huggers and taller shrubs, while intricate markings decorate some blooms. Nearby, a wire-wrapped emu sculpture reminds visitors of one of the eremophilas’ common names – the Emu Bush – which seems quite appropriate. Emus, it seems, like to eat the seeds produced by different eremophila, while insects and birds are attracted to the nectar.
There’s little in the way of formality here, and each sub-garden blurs within the whole. The tangled branches of flowering lignum – another of the eremophila species – borders part of the car park and leads visitors under towering casuarinas draped with beautiful grey-green needles. Some of the trees in the botanic garden are quite unusual and the waddy trees here represent a species that grows naturally in only three places in the country. Others are notable for their oddity, and the curling bark that peels from the trunk of some red mulga adds a decorative yet bizarre touch to these trees.
For many visitors, flowers are the main attraction. Though the flora of Central Australian is rarely gaudy or flamboyant there’s always some colour to be found. Reds might be seen in the holly-leaf grevilleas, with blooms peeking through needle-tipped leaves. Shades of purple might leap out from bush tomatoes or other solanum species, or peep from a corner in the form of a tiny daisy.
Wattles can display a whole gamut of yellows and a large section of the gardens is devoted to this abundant species. A walk around the wattles is quite a wonderful experience, with all manner of insects busy with the fuzzy blooms. Add to that the myriad green of foliage and a huge blue-bowl of the sky, and a veritable rainbow appears.
Of the walking trails, some are well marked while others blend with the landscape and it’s easy to be led off the garden path (so to speak)! From the wattles, it’s a natural progression to explore some of the boulder-strewn slopes where mulla mullas, seeding spinifex or perhaps poached egg daisies might be seen. A longer walk leads up Annie Meyers Hill. Miss Pink insisted “Annie” be included in the official name of the hill so it couldn’t be confused with a male dignitary.
The Arrernte name of Tharrarletneme expresses the cultural heritage that’s woven throughout the gardens, and from this northern ridge the views are a reminder of being just a stone’s throw from the city. It can be a bit of a scramble to the top but it’s an interesting untamed – and unplanted – location that gives yet another perspective to the landscapes of Central Australia.
Throughout the gardens, benches and other seats are scattered in a number of settings for visitors to simply sit and enjoy. Many of the spots are perfect for a bit of casual bird watching, and with a bit of luck one of the resident western bowerbirds might make an appearance. With a bit more luck it’s possible to spot the males arranging shiny things in their messy, though functional, bowers. There are quite a variety of birds to see, of course, from parrots to miners to babblers.
An on-site café is an excellent addition to the botanic garden. Named presumably for the bat’s wing coral trees loved by Miss Pink, the Bean Tree Café has just enough touch of the gourmet to be fabulously delicious. Breakfast is served from 8:00 am every day and lunch from 11.30 am. There’s coffee and a range of cakes on offer for morning and afternoon tea, plus a small gift shop showcases local handcrafts.
With a jumbled rock face at one end of the open dining area and shady trees overhead, the setting is superb. It’s not unusual to spot a euro hopping around the rocks, or a lizard out soaking up the warmth of the day. Birds fly through as well, with the cheekiest on the lookout for a free feed. It all blends well with the idea of a botanic garden.
There is a subtle education to be gained here, from personal observation as much as from absorbing information that’s presented on boards here and there throughout the garden. On occasions guided tours meander through the gardens, with some concentrating on bush tucker and others on different points of plant ecology. The garden also plays host to a range of other events including festivals, fairs, workshops and musical extravaganzas.
Thanks to Miss Pink’s dreams and determination, the botanic garden is a place for all to enjoy. In one of those rare “good” seasons the floral show would be breathtaking. But no matter the season, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden is a place to appreciate the colours, textures, shapes and smells of those hardy plants that survive in the arid zones of Central Australia.
Olive Pink Botanic Garden is on Tuncks Road, Alice Springs. The grounds have plenty of parking and there are bicycle and walking paths nearby. Entry is by donation, with an honesty box located near the entrance. The garden is open from 8:00 to 6:00 daily (except Christmas Day and Good Friday); the Bean Tree Café is open from 8:00 to 4:00.
For more information and details on upcoming events and garden tours see www.opbg.com.au. Recommended reading to find out more about Miss Pink’s life is an excellent biography by Professor Julie Marcus: The Indomitable Miss Pink: a Life in Anthropology.
For the full article and more photos download Issue 73 of iMotorhome eMagazine by clicking HERE