Bush Regeneration Group – 2nd Birthday!

May 29, 2024 | Whats On

The Illawarra Rhododendron and Rainforest Gardens are divided by a deer-proof fence. The more easily accessible Lower Gardens are filled with picturesque, multi-coloured beds of rhododendrons, azaleas and deciduous plantings, many from the northern hemisphere.

However, the Lower Gardens occupy only one-third of the thirteen-hectare site. After a steep climb up the main service road and just one step through the gate of that deer-proof fence, visitors enter the timeless Upper Gardens, a stunning, well-preserved piece of native Illawarra Temperate Rainforest; an area that represents the remnants of the tropical forests which, at one time, occupied vast sections of the Australian continent!

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In the ‘Australian Rhododendron Society (Illawarra Branch) – Newsletter No. 8 May 1970‘, one of the earliest of the volunteer-written newsletters detailing the living history of the IRRG, the original volunteers wrote about their hopes for this Upper Gardens area,

During the clearing of some of the areas in the enclosure, a number of as yet unidentified native shrubs and trees have been noted with pleasure.  It is to be hoped we can preserve all the local rain forest growth that has survived the bushfires, the grazing of horses and cattle, and the competition of blackberries, lantana, crofton weed and kikyu grass.  Many of these plants are rarely seen elsewhere and will give us a wonderful variety to fill our garden.”

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And so started the most recent chapter in the tale of this magical slice of the Illawarra …

Initially, after clearing the weeds and with the thought that rhododendrons appreciated dense shade, the original volunteers tried experimental plantings of ‘rhodos’ in the rainforest!  Unfortunately, this was not a success. David Stanton, son of Don Stanton one of the IRRG’s founders, has written in The IRG Inc. Looking Back – Looking Forward. A fifty year review. 2017′.

“It was also decided at some stage to develop a satellite garden higher up the slope in the rainforest.  This turned out to be an ill-conceived idea as problems existed being, lack of water, access and the rhododendrons would not coexist with the native rainforest.  It was abandoned, which was a shame considering the many person years that went into the project.”

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9. area 4 rhodos in the rainforest early planting
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The 1970’s and 1980’s saw amazing efforts made in the Gardens. But, during the 2000’s, there was a sharp decline in volunteer numbers. Then, after construction of a deer-proof fence to protect the Lower Gardens from these feral pests, a decision was made to cease work in the Upper Gardens. The rainforest was left to its own devices …

However, around 2019, there was a change!

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Newly-elected IRRG President, Bruce Christie, thought to form a group to tend the Upper Gardens’ rainforest. He persuaded Emma Rooksby, (local volunteer bush regenerator and environmental educator, who helped establish the ‘Growing Illawarra Natives’ website), with Leon Fuller, (author of “Wollongong’s Native Trees”), to both come for a ‘quick’ exploration of the site. This turned into a few hours of growing wonder at what was revealed! It wasn’t all good news however, as there were quite a few intruding weeds; the most prevalent being Solanum pseudocapsicum or ‘Jerusalem Cherry’. Everyone agreed that this parcel of Illawarra Rainforest was very worthy of being regenerated!
Since its formation, the IRRG Bush Regen group, led by Emma Rooksby, meets enthusiastically at 9.30am, on the second Saturday and following Tuesday of each month. Nine areas, many of which are clearings in the dense rainforest canopy, have been plotted out and the group moves through these locations, diligently battling the weeds and the ever present seed beds that these invaders have set over the years.
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The regeneration work is not difficult, as the weeds, particularly the Solanum pseudocapsicum, or Jerusalem Cherry, are easily hand pulled.
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Some plantings have been undertaken! Five seedlings of the rare and endangered native White Beech, (Gmelina leichhardtii), which was logged by the early timber-getters for its superb wood, have been donated to the rainforest and will hopefully grow to their mature height of 30 metres or more!


As the members of the Bush Regen group move through each area, the beauty of the rainforest surrounds them. Bird calls echo off the surrounding Mount Keira escarpment and there is even a possibility of catching glimpses of the resident Lyre Birds! Each return visit to an area sees much improvement – half of the areas are now virtually free of weed species. The immediate surrounds of the Giant Fig and the May Barrie sculpture are looking superb!

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However, the weeds aren’t static, often being spread by the birds! They’re always ready to pop up again at any time. The Bush Regen group isn’t static either and is always ready to welcome additional volunteers. Come along and experience the immense satisfaction of working in this breathtaking local environment, regenerating and protecting the remnant rainforest for the generations to come!