Two Centuries of Botanical Exploration along the Botanists Way, Northern Blue Mountains, N.S.W: a Regional Botanical History that Reflects National Trends

Doug Benson


The Botanists Way is a promotional concept developed by the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah for interpretation displays associated with the adjacent Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA). It is based on 19th century botanical exploration of areas between Kurrajong and Bell, northwest of Sydney, generally associated with Bells Line of Road, and focussed particularly on the botanists George Caley and Allan Cunningham and their connections with Mt Tomah.
Based on a broader assessment of the area’s botanical history, the concept is here expanded to cover the route from Richmond to Lithgow (about 80 km) including both Bells Line of Road and Chifley Road, and extending north to the Newnes Plateau. The historical attraction of botanists and collectors to the area is explored chronologically from 1804 up to the present, and themes suitable for visitor education are recognised. Though the Botanists Way is focused on a relatively limited geographic area, the general sequence of scientific activities described - initial exploratory collecting; 19th century Gentlemen Naturalists (and lady illustrators); learned societies and publications; 20th century publicly-supported research institutions and the beginnings of ecology, and since the 1960s, professional conservation research and management - were also happening nationally elsewhere. The broader view of the Botanists Way concept is considered to provide a valuable basis for expanded visitor interpretation of science and conservation in and around the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, botany being a significant element of nature tourism.
Funding for public-good science through largely government funded institutions is a relatively recent development. It has been particularly influential in the last 50 years (i.e. essentially in the lifetimes of current researchers). However, despite recognition of its obvious successes, public-good science should not necessarily be assumed to be a permanent feature of our culture, and remains vulnerable to political climate.

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