The gardens are tucked away in the lower slopes of Black Mountain, and it is hard to believe that this lush green space was once, in the 1950s, a cleared dairy farm.
Now the gardens are home 70 000 plants, representing over 5 000 species from all over the country. These gardens were one of the first botanical gardens in the world to adopt the study and display of indigenous species, and many plants grown here have never been cultivated before.
The active volunteer ANBG community provide guided tours every day…and I was lucky enough to have a guide all to myself on a cool but clear day in June. We walked, and talked, through paths that led us on a journey of plant life from all over Australia. If you want to see diverse Australian flora and fauna without travelling around Australia, you can do it in day at the Australian National Botanical gardens.
The first story of the day…
The Ghosts of Burke and Wills
In the rock gardens, we found some tiny plants growing beside the rocks…the leaf looked just like a four-leafed clover. I recognized these in our own garden, growing near our crop of garlic….an annoying weed for us, springing up all over the place.
My guide, Harley Dadswell, commented that this tiny plant called Nardoo played quite a part in Australian history, in the story of the explorers, Burke and Wills.
Burke and Wills had run out of rations due to the deaths of their camels. The Cooper Creek Aborigines, the Yandruwandha people helped them by giving them fish, beans called padlu, and a kind of dough made from the ground nodules of the Nardoo plant. Once the Yandruwandha people had moved on, Burke and Wills, it seems, tried to prepare the dough themselves, but didn’t wash/soak the seeds prior to grinding in order to remove the enzyme thiaminase, which depletes the body of vitamin B.
As a result it is likely that the deaths of Burke and Wills, was in part due to the vitamin deficiency disease called Beriberi.
Wills’ last journal entry included the following..
…….starvation on nardoo is by no means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels, and the utter inability to move oneself, for as far as appetite is concerned, it gives me the greatest satisfaction. Certainly, fat and sugar would be more to one’s taste, in fact, those seem to me to be the great stand by for one in this extraordinary continent; not that I mean to depreciate the farinacious food, but the want of sugar and fat in all substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of anything else.”
I will look on that weed in our garden with new eyes from now on…