Our History

From left : Joanna Gash, Robert Stewart, Gareth Ward, Paul Green and Roger Tilley who were instrumental to initiating the Curtis Park Arboretum project.

A Brief History of Shoalhaven Heads Native Botanic Garden and its evolution from Curtis Park Arboretum ...

It all began in 2006 when some seeds were brought back to Shoalhaven Heads from a holiday trip to far north Queensland and were germinated away from their normal tropical environment. Two neighbours living next to Curtis Reserve - Roger Tilley (a plant enthusiast) and Rob Stewart (a horticulturist) - spawned the idea of developing an Arboretum. This was to comprise Australian east coast native trees to show what can be grown in Shoalhaven Heads and what does well here. Surprisingly several different trees began to grow, first in pots and later in grower bags. They thrived in sheltered conditions, but would they survive a winter out in the open?

The proposal was scrutinised by Shoalhaven City Council and after much investigation, in February 2009 it was agreed to set up a volunteer Parkcare Group to manage the project. The founding members were Charles Butcher, Nigel Coleman, Clayton Lee, Ron & Robyn Prowse, Rob Stewart, Roger Tilley, Ron Traynor, Kim Trood, Matt Vout, Alan Walker, Jim Wallace and Abe Westerly. In May 2010 they formed the incorporated association Friends of the Curtis Park Arboretum Incorporated to raise funds for development of the project and to work as the volunteer Curtis Reserve Parkcare Group. On 29 April 2011 Curtis Park Arboretum was officially opened by the Mayor Cr Paul Green.

Robert Stewart, Gareth Ward and Roger Tilley
Plaque in grateful recognition of Robert C Stewart and Roger Tilley. Whose inspiration and pioneering work have made the curtis park arboretum a reality

At this early stage Curtis Reserve was largely an open grass paddock with a few Bangalay Gum trees and some old children’s playground equipment. Garden beds were soon laid out to provide walking paths. Trees that had been advanced in grower bags were planted out in prepared locations. A major planting of shrubs took place in September 2010 and additional trees and shrubs have been added since then. The Bush Tucker garden, in the shape of a hunting boomerang, was laid out in 2011 after consultation with the local Jerrinja Land Council. A small Plant Nursery was established to propagate trees and shrubs for our own use, and to supply local Bushcare and Rivercare groups.

The Arboretum’s theme was Australian native plants, initially from eastern Australia experimenting with specimens from Queensland down to Tasmania. In 2016 this was expanded to also experiment with native plants from Western Australia.

As the project evolved, and with nearly 300 plant specimens in various stages of growth, it became clear that botanic garden rather than arboretum better described what was happening at Curtis Reserve. After community and professional consultation, it was agreed that on 6 August 2017 the name would be changed from Curtis Park Arboretum to Shoalhaven Heads Native Botanic Garden. This was accompanied by the incorporated association’s name being changed to Shoalhaven Heads Native Botanic Garden Incorporated on 1 September 2017.

Shoalhaven Heads Native Botanic Garden moves forward as a work in progress. People come and go, but the seeds have been sown, the plants grow, and the structures are in place to carry this community project forward. New volunteers have joined and to a large extent have replaced the original pioneer group. Local people enjoy a wonderful amenity, and increasing numbers of visitors come from far and wide.

... And a Visual Record of how Curtis Reserve was transformed from a bare paddock to a flourishing Botanic Garden. The following slideshow captures this: