Help celebrate the history of Ballarat's beautiful gardens

Floral Festival: Huge crowds lined Ballarat's streets for a parade in 1938 celebrating the town's centenary. Picture: Max Harris Collection.

Floral Festival: Huge crowds lined Ballarat's streets for a parade in 1938 celebrating the town's centenary. Picture: Max Harris Collection.

As part of the Ballarat Gardens in Spring weekend program, the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is opening its doors to the public with a display of rare items from their heritage collection on November 12 and 13.

One of the most rare and exciting opportunities for the public will be a chance to see plant specimens collected by Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller in the 1870s.

Baron Von Mueller came to Australia from the north German Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1852.

He was one of Australia’s best-known 19th-century scientists, earning a considerable international reputation for his work in describing the Australian flora.  

An astonishingly hard worker and brilliant botanist, he was responsible for identifying the economic value of many of Victoria’s trees and plants, and helped establish the eucalyptus oil industry.

He was Victoria’s Government Botanist (1853-1896), the director of Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens (1857-1873), and designed Castlemaine’s botanic gardens as well.

Von Mueller was involved with the Ballarat School of Mines, examining the subject of botany here in the 1880s. He also donated collections of medicinal and leguminous fodder plants seeds for gardens - one collection still exists at the SMB campus.

You can peruse a volume of his Educational Collections of Australian Plants this weekend, alongside associated books about plants and gardens in the Heritage Reading Room. In the lending library, there is a display of images and footage from the 1938 Ballarat Centenary Floral Festival.

The floral festival celebrated the arrival of the first white settler in Ballarat, who allegedly camped on the banks of the Wendouree swamp in 1838. Men who were still unemployed following the Depression were engaged in preparing the city for the celebration, including making planter boxes and tending gardens.

The festival was a huge success. The city was transformed with thousands of paper flowers dipped in wax to complement real plantings. A street parade saw vehicles transformed into ships and other vessels, mingled with horse-drawn drays and buggies. A floral carpet was rolled out and a Festival Queen crowned. A specially-chartered steam train brought 5,000 visitors to Ballarat for the day.

The display is open Saturday and Sunday November 12 and 13, 10am to 4pm.