Visit Rhododendron Park and you will find David and Pat Stanton among volunteers working hard to keep a hidden Wollongong treasure blooming.
The garden at Mount Pleasant is a legacy of love for Mr Stanton whose father Don Stanton started it half a century ago. He was a manager at Australian Iron and Steel (BHP Port Kembla) who first experimented with growing rhododendrons in his home garden in the 1950’s.
That became a passion and he traveled the globe to discover more as his vision evolved to create a world-class rhododendron garden for locals and visitors. He persuaded senior BHP managers in Melbourne to make the land off Parrish Avenue available under a lease in perpetuity.
David Stanton said the Mount Pleasant garden attracts interest from Sydney as a wedding location and has no doubt it can be become one of the best in the world.
Mr Stanton said Wollongong needed more attractions and this is one he knows will appeal to cruise ship passengers and many other travelers. “I think it can be one of the best gardens in the world and be promoted as such. I see no reason why it should attract visitors from Japan or America”. With that in mind Mr Stanton asked consultant Dr Andrew Connery to prepare a submission for a grant from the Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF).
The application is for $661,000 to improve access within the next 12 months. An answer is expected within weeks.
The Illawarra Rhododendron garden (IRG) was incorporated in 1969 and has operated as a charity ever since without any funding or financial support from any level of government.
AI&S (BHP) donated the land to the government with the proviso that the lease continue. It is now renewed every 10 years by the Director-General of National Parks and Wildlife.
The 13 hectare site overlays a number of old coal mines and is largely covered in native tropical rainforest. But the lower section immediately adjacent to Parrish Avenue was grassed and relatively flat.
Volunteers with the help of in-kind contributions of local contractors have created the Illawarra Rhododendron Garden which is the setting for around 60 weddings a year.
The site also includes walking trail access to virgin rainforest. There are also massive fig and cedar trees. And there are many other flowering plants and trees in the lower section garden.
Along with poor access another big challenge is deer that roam onto the site and cause damage at night.