Heritage

Mt006 : Mount Tomah Botanic Garden

Item details

Name of item: Mt006 : Mount Tomah Botanic Garden
Other name/s: Brunet's Nursery
Primary address: 19-39 Bells Line of Road, Mount Tomah, NSW 2758
Local govt. area: Blue Mountains
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
19-39 Bells Line of RoadMount TomahBlue Mountains   Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Criterion (a) Historical
The site of Mt Tomah Botanic Garden has been exploited by Europeans for a remarkably long period, over 170 years, and the modifications imposed by cattle, sheep, dairy cows, agriculture and finally flower-growing before it was converted to a Botanic Garden.

Criterion (b) Associations
Mt Tomah Botanic Garden is important for its association with botanical explorer and collector, George Caley, who visited there in 1804; with Archibald Bell who with the aid of Aboriginal guides found a route across the Blue Mountains, now known as Bells Line of Road in 1823, and with botanist Allan Cunningham who followed his route in the same year. Of the early owners, the Bowens, mother, son and grandson, have local significance, while Philip Charley, of Broken Hill fame, who built the great house at North Richmond which is now St John of God Hospital, was a figure of State significance.

Criterion (c) Aesthetic
Mt Tomah Botanic Garden is of aesthetic importance at a State level as an accomplished design with magnificent panoramic views over the Grose Valley, which comprises formal compartments and mature remnant plantings of the earlier garden and nursery (1935) of Alfred and Effie Brunet, a three-hectare scree slope and rock garden and local rainforest trees within an overall informal framework. Important elements include the tradition of Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) hedges, used by the Brunets to form windbreaks to protect their nursery stock, substantial hedges of Callitris sp. in the formal garden and old Brunet plantings including Juglans regia, Cornus kousa var Kousa and Pyrus pyrifolia Quillaja saponaria, the Chinese/Japanese conifer Thujopsis dolabrata and the California Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. retained in what is now known as ‘Brunet Meadow’.

Criterion (e) Research
The Botanic Garden comprises 28 hectares, with 34,520 plants many of them of known provenance, over 1,000 of which are botanically significant, and the oldest tree in the Garden is a specimen of Eucalyptus fastigata (Brown Barrel), estimated at over 400 years old. Remaining stands of natural vegetation include warm temperate rainforest dominated by coachwood, sassafras (Doryphora) and Hedycarya in the western gully and eastern boundary. Since 1993, Mount Tomah Botanic Garden has included 186 hectares of sandstone woodland and gullies that is a conservation area, significant in botanic terms for its diversity within the Sydney sandstone group, comprising five vegetation types, including very tiny hanging swamps, with significant species of heath, sclerophyll and Blue Mountains rainforest plants.
Date significance updated: 20 Sep 04
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Branch intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Geoffrey Britton; Oi Choong; David Churches
Construction years: 1970-
Physical description: Mt Tomah Botanic Garden opened to the public in November 1987 and although still maturing in parts, is substantially complete as a design. The rich basalt soil site with rainforest and nursery and cut flower farm was donated to the Sydney Botanic Gardens by Alfred and Effie Brunet in 1972. Initial planning and development for a cool climate botanic garden was undertaken by Warwick Watson, Assistant Superintendent of Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and horticulturist Ron Grewcoe with works partially implemented prior to the project being taken over by the NSW Department of Public Works. The design, which comprises formal compartments and mature remnant plantings of the Brunets’ garden and local rainforest trees within the overall informal framework and with magnificent panoramic views over the Grose Valley, was principally executed by landscape architect Geoffrey Britton, who implemented James Pfeiffer’s concepts for the Rock Garden and designed the Formal Garden and Terrace (his design substantially modified) with Ben Wallace and Tony Rodd, horticultural botanists from the Botanic Gardens. The tradition of Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) hedges, used by the Brunets to form windbreaks to protect their nursery stock, was used in the design of the Botanic Garden and substantial hedges of Callitris sp. were established in the formal garden. Old Brunet plantings including Juglans regia, Cornus kousa var Kousa and Pyrus pyrifolia Quillaja saponaria, the Chinese/Japanese conifer Thujopsis dolabrata and the California Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. were retained in what is now known as ‘Brunet Meadow’. Britton’s and the Public Works Department’s head landscape architect Oi Choong’s design for the Botanic Garden as a whole has been modified and developed by Botanic Gardens Trust staff since the opening of the garden in 1988.

The Botanic Garden comprises 28 hectares, with 34,520 plants many of them of known provenance, over 1,000 of which are botanically significant, and the oldest tree in the Garden is a specimen of Eucalyptus fastigata (Brown Barrel), estimated at over 400 years old. Remaining stands of natural vegetation include warm temperate rainforest dominated by coachwood, sassafras (Doryphora) and Hedycarya in the western gully and eastern boundary. The Mount Tomah garden is one of the few botanic gardens where plants have been grouped according to their geographical origin, with a bias toward plants of the southern hemisphere and Australian species which illustrate links with other Gondwana plants of South Africa and New Zealand. A large number of species within the Garden have been collected in the wild, particularly from China, by Mt Tomah and Sydney Botanic Gardens collectors, some of which form the plantings of ‘Plant Explorer’s Walk’. .

Since 1993, Mount Tomah Botanic Garden has included 186 hectares of sandstone woodland and gullies that is a conservation area. Known as Mt Tomah Spur, rock outcropping contributes to its aesthetic significance. Although previously logged, the Conservation Area is significant in botanic terms for its diversity within the Sydney sandstone group, comprising five vegetation types, including very tiny hanging swamps, with significant species of heath, sclerophyll and Blue Mountains rainforest plants. This contrasts with the vegetation associated with the neighbouring basalt-capped soils of the more formal Botanic Garden. [Note: Mt Tomah Spur is the area incorrectly identified as Cave Hill, MT 001, in the present Heritage listing.]
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Good
Date condition updated:20 Sep 04
Current use: Botanic Garden
Former use: Nursery; Grazing Property

History

Historical notes: Bells Line of Road, opened in 1823, offered a route across the mountains to the north of the Grose Gorge, running from North Richmond over Kurrajong Heights to the Darling Causeway, presented travellers with an easy traverse of a fairly even plateau until it reached Mount Tomah. Mount Tomah defeated wheeled vehicles until the 1870s and as a result Bells Line remained basically a drove-road for cattle and sheep throughout the nineteenth century (Jack, ‘Bells Line of Road’).

Mount Tomah itself was granted in 1830 to an English lady, Mrs Susannah Bowen, the daughter of a vice-admiral and the widow of a naval captain. She had arrived in New South Wales in 1828, a year after her son, George, a soldier who had settled in the colony as a surveyor and obtained land in Berambing close to Mount Tomah in 1829. The square mile of land (1280 acres, 510 hectares) granted to Susannah , which incorporates the whole of the present Botanic Garden, was described by her son in his autobiography in terms reminiscent of later reactions to Mount Wilson:

The character of the vegetation there is superb. There is nothing else
like it in the Colony except in the small district of Illawarra. The soil
seems too fertile for the brown green Eucalyptus; for there are but few
of them, and they are giants. The ground is chiefly in the possession
of various trees of the laurel kind, many of them covered with blossoms
in the summer. The graceful and beautiful tree fern, some as much as
forty feet [13 metres] high, are there in thousands. The soil is occupied
by a great variety of splendid and rare specimens of fern, moss, and
lichen, while the trees are oppresses by parasites, and almost strangled
in spots by enormous creepers climbing up to the sun-shine and mingling
with their branches. Here and there, the foliage is so thick over-head as
to make the place gloomy under a midday sun, while underneath the
ground is bare. There seemed to me something awful in the silence.
(Bowen, Autobiography, 72; quoted Hungerford, Bilpin, 36)

Susannah Bowen returned to Britain in 1836, leaving her son George with power of attorney. George sold his own property at Berambing at once and moved to Windsor: in 1838 he then auctioned his mother’s Mount Tomah land, which was purchased by a friend, a serving officer, George Bartley paymaster of the 50th Regiment at Windsor. Bartley seems to have held the property for George Bowen, who lived in Berrima from 1839 until 1843, for in 1854 it was Bowen who readvertised the Mount Tomah land for sale. It failed to sell and it passed to George’s son George Bartley Bowen (named after George Bartley who had bought the land in 1838). It as George Bartley Bowen who in the 1860s built Mount Tomah Cottage, a wooden cottage with a large stone chimney, within the area now occupied by the Botanic Garden. (Hungerford, 37, 74-5, 86)

Although George Bartley Bowen lived primarily at Bowen Mount near Kurrajong, he continued to exploit his significant holding on Mount Tomah, running his cattle there and planting orchards. In 1893, he sold his beef cattle and his Clydesdale horses and built up a dairy herd on Mount Tomah, with a cream separator and a butter factory, under the management of Julius Kitson. This seems to have been unsuccessful and the dairying was withdrawn to Bowen Mount in 1895. Soon afterwards, in June 1895 Bowen sold the Mount Tomah farm to Philip Charley, who had made his million by being one of the original syndicate at Broken Hill and was now living at Archibald Bell’s former estate at North Richmond. Philip Charley bred horses and exercised his animals on the rugged slopes of Mount Tomah to enhance their stamina. (Hungerford, 122-5)

During the lengthy period of absentee ownership by G.B. Bowen and Charley, there were resident employees on Mount Tomah. Bowen’s cattleman, Henry Poole lived in Mount Tomah Cottage; it is not known where the dairy manager, Kitson, resided.. Under Charley, an early manager was called Berridge, and a later one in 1906 called George Kepplewhite: it is likely that they too lived in Mouht Tomah Cottage. There were also employees from Kurrajong who stayed on the Mount, presumably occupying the ‘fencer’s cottage’, already old in 1901, and the ‘caretaker’s cottage’. In the Jungle area, outside today’s Botanic Garden, Charley established a sawmill, run by Frederick Peck. (Hungerford, 123-4, 154-6)

The bush-fire of Christmas 1909 seems to have burnt the dwellings on Mount Tomah. Certainly only the stone chimney of the Cottage was standing by 1918. (Photograph in Hungerford, 86) Charley began to subdivide the mountain property and in 1935 he sold the central area of the present Botanic Garden to Mrs Effie Brunet. She and her French-born husband, Alfred Louis Brunet, had already establised a flower nursery at West Pennant Hills: now in the late 1930s they created a cool-weather nursery at Mount Tomah, which grew around the site of the original Mount Tomah Cottage. The Brunets built a corrugated-iron house for themselves and iron sheds for a variety of nursery needs. Their assistant gardener, a former associate of Alfred’s in England, George Tunbridge, also had a cottage on the property. (The Mount Tomah Book, 43-4)

Brunet was a good friend of Robert Anderson, the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney from 1948 until1964 and they discussed the possibility of the hill-station nursery becoming an outlier of the Botanic Gardens. Anderson’s successor, Knowles Mair, shared Anderson’s enthusiasm for the transfer and after Alfred Brunet died in 1968, his widow formally offered the 28 acres (11 hectares) to the state: the crown bought the property for a token $1 in 1970 and it was handed over to the Royal Botanic Gardens two years later.(Mt Tomah Book, 44)

Under the founding director, Ron Grewcoe, efforts were made to conserve original vegetation and on the areas already cleared for the nursery and the earlier farming enterprises low-maintenance cool-weather plants were introduced. Additional land was purchased from the Charley family and a new dam was constructed in 1977. Large injections of funds came after 1983 as a joint Commonwealth and State Bicentennial project and much of the present layout was designed by the landscape architect, Geoffrey Britton and by David Churches and Oi Choong, architects with Public Works. Collecting policy concentrated on assembling flora from cool areas throughout the Southern Hemisphere, creating a specialised educational precinct unrivalled in Australia. (Mt Tomah Book, 45)

The large Visitors’ Centre was constructed in 1985 on a high point with spectacular views from the restaurant verandah and an elaborate programme began to implement the architects’ designs (with modifications) from 1986 onwards. (Mt Tomah Book, 46)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Pastoralism-Activities associated with the breeding, raising, processing and distribution of livestock for human use (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The site of Mt Tomah Botanic Garden has been exploited by Europeans for a remarkably long period, over 170 years, and the modifications imposed by cattle, sheep, dairy cows, agriculture and finally flower-growing before it was converted to a Botanic Garden.

Mt Tomah Botanic Garden is important for its association with botanical explorer and collector, George Caley, who visited there in 1804; with Archibald Bell who with the aid of Aboriginal guides found a route across the Blue Mountains, now known as Bells Line of Road in 1823, and with botanist Allan Cunningham who followed his route in the same year. Of the early owners, the Bowens, mother, son and grandson, have local significance, while Philip Charley, of Broken Hill fame, who built the great house at North Richmond which is now St John of God Hospital, was a figure of State significance.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Mt Tomah Botanic Garden is of aesthetic importance at a State level as an accomplished design with magnificent panoramic views over the Grose Valley, which comprises formal compartments and mature remnant plantings of the earlier garden and nursery (1935) of Alfred and Effie Brunet, a three-hectare scree slope and rock garden and local rainforest trees within an overall informal framework. Important elements include the tradition of Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) hedges, used by the Brunets to form windbreaks to protect their nursery stock, substantial hedges of Callitris sp. in the formal garden and old Brunet plantings including Juglans regia, Cornus kousa var Kousa and Pyrus pyrifolia Quillaja saponaria, the Chinese/Japanese conifer Thujopsis dolabrata and the California Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. retained in what is now known as ‘Brunet Meadow’.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Botanic Garden comprises 28 hectares, with 34,520 plants many of them of known provenance, over 1,000 of which are botanically significant, and the oldest tree in the Garden is a specimen of Eucalyptus fastigata (Brown Barrel), estimated at over 400 years old. Remaining stands of natural vegetation include warm temperate rainforest dominated by coachwood, sassafras (Doryphora) and Hedycarya in the western gully and eastern boundary. Since 1993, Mount Tomah Botanic Garden has included 186 hectares of sandstone woodland and gullies that is a conservation area, significant in botanic terms for its diversity within the Sydney sandstone group, comprising five vegetation types, including very tiny hanging swamps, with significant species of heath, sclerophyll and Blue Mountains rainforest plants.
Integrity/Intactness: High
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanLEP1991MT00627 Dec 91 183 
Heritage study MT006   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Blue Mountains Heritage Study1983MT006Croft & Associates Pty Ltd & Meredith Walker  Yes
Heritage Study Review, Blue Mountains1992MT006Tropman and Tropman  Yes
Blue Mountains Heritage Review2003MT006Jack, Hubert, Lavelle, MorrisRIJ, CM Yes
Technical Audit BM Heritage Register2008MT006Blue Mountains City CouncilCity Planning Branch No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenMerdeyth Hungerford1995Bilpin, the Apple Country: A Local History
WrittenMount Tomah Society1987The Mount Tomah Book
WrittenMount Tomah Society1973Mount Tomah
WrittenR Ian Jack2003Bells Line of Road

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1170621


Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

All information and pictures on this page are the copyright of the Heritage Branch or respective copyright owners.