ARALUEN’S gardens have been drawing tourists from town and beyond since 1990 but despite its flourishing fan base, the future is fuzzy.
The State Government owns the park and provides $850,000 per year to Araluen Botanic Park Foundation to manage it, but there is no long-term contract in place.
General manager Grant Nixon said the uncertainty of year-to-year agreements made planning for the future a struggle for the park and its staff.
“Twenty-seven years later, I can’t honestly tell you whether we’re going to be here on the first of July because at this stage the Government has made no decision on where we’re going. For the last few years, we’ve run basically on a one-year contract with the option of another year,” Mr Nixon said.
“Verbally I’ve been told that it will be a rollover, the same as it has been for the last eight or nine years. But until we actually get it signed, we just don’t know.
“From a long-term vision of the park, obviously it’s very hard. We should be working on a 15-year budget plan, long term plans. We can’t.
“It’s very hard to talk to sponsors, because generally the first thing a sponsor will say is ‘what’s happening next year?’. Sorry, we can’t tell you.”
Araluen is Armadale’s biggest tourist destination. It employs up to 70 people during the busy season and drew in 73,000 people for last year’s tulip festival.
“We’re probably one of the few not for profits that puts a hell of a lot back into the Government. The Government gives us a grant of $850,000. To run the park these days is close to $3 million, so we put in the rest of the money,” Mr Nixon said.
“This year we’re already past where we were last year, with still two months to run.
“We’re growing, we’re successful, we manage our money wisely, and we give a hell of a lot back. All we take out of it is basically wages.”
Mr Nixon said the park had been lucky with some long-term sponsors who understood the situation, but securing any new sponsors was very difficult and it was almost impossible for the park to get a loan.
“An extended agreement would mean we could plan a lot longer term than we do, which seems funny for gardeners because our planning is based around trees,” he said.
“And so when I’m planting trees, these are probably not for your or your daughter’s generation but maybe the kids beyond that. We’re planting sequoias and marris and things that are going to be looking absolutely fantastic in 200 years time. You start now and hand on that legacy.”
The botanic park is owned by the WA Planning Commission and managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. The support we get from the Government is great, I just think there’s easier ways to do it.
“One would be to cut out the middle man, which would be to cut out DPAW and say OK, we’ll fund Araluen and give you a plus 10-year lease,” Mr Nixon said.
“Probably if it was worth $200 million, a decision would be made.
“But it’s actually almost too hard to make these little decisions, they never come to the top of the heap.”
Mr Nixon said he had met Darling Range MLA Barry Urban and Planning Minister Rita Saffioti to try work out the future of the botanic park.