The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum has curated an exhibition to feature a very special community project – the exquisite handmade book created by the Coffs Calligraphers in 2007 on the occasion of their 20th anniversary and presented as a gift to the city.
This unique book recounts the transformation of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden from a night soil depot to the stunning garden it is today – all beautifully inscribed by our city’s talented calligraphers. While the Botanic Garden is a well-known attraction, perhaps not so well-known is the fact that Coffs Harbour has one of Australia’s most active calligraphers’ groups, whose members include some of the country’s best calligraphers.
The group formed in 1987 and is still going strong as a hub of calligraphy. The book project began with a vague idea of “a community -based ‘something’” that would celebrate Coffs Calligraphers’ first 20 years and at the same time, give something back to the City. Successful in securing funding from Coffs Harbour City Council’s Community Arts and Cultural Development Small Grants Program in September 2006, the project began in earnest early in 2007. A further sum of $1000 was made available from the Council to commission local craftsman Neil Scobie to design and create a special display cabinet to permanently house the manuscript.
The book was developed in consultation with the Friends of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden. It includes a time line of events, Gumbaynggirr history, special areas and plant collections, as well as the birds and fauna that inhabit the Garden. Members who worked on the book included Paivi Ranta, Carol Hellmers, Gloria Rigby, Judith Kilburn, Barbara Austin, Colleen Little, Maxine Kohlhagen, Lexie Arlington, Lynne Arnold and Robyn Lawrence. A truly local effort, the special interleaving papers were silk screened by Insight Screenprinting and the book was bound in suede and embossed by Nigel Lovett of the Coastal Bookbinding Co.
The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden
The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden was officially opened on 17th September 1988 as the centrepiece of Coffs Harbour’s celebration of Australia’s bi-centenary. The opening was the culmination of decades of vision and sheer hard work by many members of our community.
The site was first identified as a location for a botanic garden in the 1959 Coffs Harbour Planning Scheme, developed by Roy McRae, a Sydney town planner. At that time the area was known as Wilson Park and had been used as a rubbish dump from 1938. Prior to this it was used as a night soil depot – the place where the town’s “dunny cans” were emptied before we had a sewerage system.
Unfortunately the proposal for a botanic garden was forgotten and it was not until 1973 that the potential of the site was again recognised. Following a canoe trip along Coffs Creek, local conservation group the Ulitarra Society came up with a concept for a botanic garden. They spent three months intensively consulting with local community organisations to gain their support and in November presented a well-documented and researched submission to Council. The Plan for Management of Natural Areas, Coffs Creek prepared by Alex Floyd, Peter Roberts and Lloyd Jones was hailed as “a visionary plan” by the Coffs Coast Advocate. “If we let this opportunity slip through our fingers it may never come again”, the paper declared. Two years later in 1975, Reserve 89558 was gazetted for the Botanic Garden.
Such a visionary plan took time to implement. A conference held at the University of New England in May 1980 led to a development plan, which was then adopted by Council. John Wrigley, curator of National Botanic Garden in Canberra was engaged as consultant. In the same year, the Friends Steering Committee formed at a public meeting leading to the inaugural meeting of the Friends of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden on 9th April, 1981. A small and dedicated group worked tirelessly at weekly working bees to clear the site of weeds and remove years of rubbish, then built paths, planted new areas and created the extraordinary and beautiful green space now in the heart of our city.
This post was written by Jo Besley, Gallery and Museum Curator, Coffs Harbour City Council
The exhibition is open for viewing at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum from 6 April until 12 May 2018.