Set in a valley surrounded by bushland, with a creek running through the gardens, Araluen Botanic Park attracts thousands of visitors every spring to see its 140,000 tulips.
“Araluen has quite a unique climate nestling in the hills; it’s possible to grow plants that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in other gardens,” Richard Offen from Heritage Perth explained.
The gardens were revived and the park redeveloped in the 1990s by Araluen Botanic Park Foundation — but its origins date to the early 1900s with a close connection to Australian Rules Football.
“It’s a fascinating story and it starts with the Young Australia League (YAL) which was formed in 1905 by local businessman and politician John Simons, whose nickname was Boss,” Mr Offen said.
“Simons was secretary of the West Australian Football League and believed that soccer, rugby and other ‘non-Australian’ sports were threatening Australian Rules Football.
“With the help of a few prominent West Australians, he formed the Young Australia Football League to develop footy among youngsters in Western Australia.
“The success of his venture resulted in the WA Football Association taking over the development of the game and the YAFL became the YAL.”
In 1929, Simons acquired land in the Canning Valley for an outdoor pursuits centre.
By 1931, work had begun on the log cabins and trails that can be found throughout the gardens.
Tulips are now a part of the bush at Araluen during springtime. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
“Much of the stone used to construct the steps and building foundations came as spoil from the Canning Dam that was being developed at the time,” Mr Offen said.
“As they blasted stone out, the YAL came and collected it and used it around the site.
“The initial plan was to preserve all the Indigenous trees and natural features of the bush.
“They also planted maidenhair ferns along the trails that had been trodden by kangaroos.”
The Grove of the Unforgotten stretches up a hillside and is a memorial to the 88 YAL men lost in WWI. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
In 1933, work began on the Grove of the Unforgotten, a remarkable memorial to the 88 YAL members killed in World War I.
It stretches up one side of the valley.
“The grove is a series of terraces descending a steep slope, flanked by pencil pines — one for each of those lost — that form the shape of a lyre, the musical instrument,” Mr Offen said.
“A waterfall cascades through the terraces, settling in a calm reflection pond.”
After three attempts, the league also managed to dam the creek that runs through the valley and create a swimming pool.
The swimming pool at Araluen (pictured in 1959) was formed by damming a creek that ran through the valley. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
“An earlier pool project was a spectacular failure when crayfish ate away the sandbag weir, causing the pool to drain into the Canning River.”
Simons was YAL president for more than 40 years.
After he died in 1948, the league’s activities changed focus and Araluen fell into disrepair.
In 1985 it was sold to a private buyer and then in 1990 the state government acquired the area.
Since the 1990s Araluen has hosted a spring tulip festival — 140,000 bulbs were planted in 2017. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
A group of enthusiastic volunteers formed the Araluen Botanic Park Foundation and extensively restored the gardens, added facilities and planted tulips before it was reopened to the public.
The YAL continues but no longer runs outdoor pursuits. It focuses on giving grants for education to young people, some of which is funded by money made from the sale of Araluen.