I have just returned from another trip to Orange, Australia. This time it was brief and unexpected but as usual interesting and fun. Orange, in rural NSW, never ceases to amaze me in terms of it's facilities and amenities. It has a substantial and vital agricultural hinterland reliant on apples, cherries and winemaking. Despite the name there is not an orange in sight. The town's name actually has more to do with William of Orange and sectarian rivalries through the ages. Released Irish convicts moved west from Sydney in search of opportunity. After the monumental climb over the Blue Mountains the Irish Catholics decided enough was enough and settled in Bathurst but not before kicking the Irish Protestants out of town. Those evicted travelled further west in search of a suitable place to settle and found the town of Orange and to spite the Bathurst folk named it after the old enemy, William of Orange. Well that is the version I like. Can't recall where I heard that story but I have not been able to find much written or oral evidence. Maybe it is a rural myth. Whatever, I like the story.
Back to present day Orange. During my short stay I managed a stroll through the Botanical Gardens which are quite impressive for a small rural town. What really attracted my attention though was the nice collection of apple varieties they had. By my count there were 54 varieties of apple plus a nice collection of crab apples from Japan an China. The apple collection even had an old Irish variety, Irish Peach, which dates back to the reign of Elizabeth 1. Unfortunately there was no one around to talk to about it, it was 6am after all, but I am sure that the collection is important in the development and history of the apple industry around Orange. I was able to find out that the gardens use the collection to educate the public and schools about the history of growing apples, pruning and grafting and so forth. There is also a children's garden where kids can muck around and a plants and health section planned which will have examples of aboriginal plants important for nutrition. Great examples of what can be done with such gardens in a small rural area.
Before leaving Orange, I took Callum and Imogen to the annual meeting of the Orange Horticultural Society at St Barnabas Hall. There were fine exhibits of cut flowers but hidden away in a corner there was a rather measly collection of back garden vegetables that no one seemed too keen to be associated with. I was left wondering if this is a strong indicator of the decline in growing food in one's back yard.
I think there are many rural towns and councils in Ireland who could learn much from Orange in terms of promoting and enjoying the 'great outdoors'.