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Speech - Louisa Atkinson Walk at Southern Highland Botanic Gardens

17th August 2023.

Louisa Atkinson Walk at Southern Highland Botanic Gardens.

It is my pleasure today to open the Louisa Atkinson walk, a living memory to her amazing work in the field of botany as well as her conservation work.

Born in 1834, not only was Louisa a botanist but also the first Australian born woman to become an accomplished writer. Writing science articles as well as drawing art for her own works there seems there was very little this woman couldn’t do.

The extraordinary thing about Lousia and her writing is the recognised view that she holds views that are universal, for the Aboriginal Elders who were misunderstood at best and Settlers who had no support, the men and the women, their concerns were universal. Writing as a woman, born into a nation that would have felt as alien as visiting the moon from the community that she was from is an astounding feat. While doing this she wouldn’t shut the door to those unlike her, she was open to the concerns of others. Her writing at the time was set apart as she had an ability to live in her country as an equal and befriend the Aboriginals that she viewed as equals, something that it took many from Europe another 100 or so years to do.

She also had a way to recognise the drought can do to our landscape, writing against the overarching positive commentators of the time of the 1880s. Her description in her final fiction work could be written in any of the summers we have just had, “The heat was extreme, the air was all in a flicker like tiny waves dancing and dazzling . . . while the cracking earth was so warm that the heat reflecting from it seemed greater than that pouring down from the red sun, now drawing towards the horizon.”

Her words too on the doubt of our farmers is something I know too well, “Let us hope that a few good seasons will restore prosperity to the land; but it is very doubtful if the small landholder system can ever be permanent where a drought or over-wet season, reduces the owner to want, unless a far more careful style of cultivation is pursued.”

It was this honesty to not sugar coat, to speak of the concerns and to have an openness that I think we can all continue to learn from.

I’d like to think a walk through her botanical work, in a town with the history of Bowral, opened by a woman and surrounded by people who are all equal is the future that Louisa Atkinson hoped we would all be rewarded. It is my pleasure as the Member for Wollondilly to open this walk and I thank the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens team for their ongoing work towards building an amazing asset for our region.