TIP-TOE-ING BOWRAL'S 100,000 TULIPS
ADA Corbett would doubtless get a kick out of seeing what's become today of a one-time paddock in the Southern Highlands of NSW that she wrote of in 1929 as "a tip for old tins, dead cats and a blot on Bowral..."
For that old paddock is now a Southern Highlands' showpiece public park – and home to this month's annual Tulip Time Festival that's grown into one of Australia's most successful gardening events.
So successful that in the two weeks between this September 16th and 28th some 35,000-plus visitors will flock into the Southern Highlands for this now-renowned Festival with its centre-piece 100,000 flowering tulips and 25,000 specially-planted flowering annuals.
The wife of a Royal Navy Commander who spent long periods away from home, Ada Corbett was a feisty lady who never took No for an answer, peppering the press and politicians – in particular the-then Minister for Lands – with proposals from the early 1900's for that disused paddock to be turned into a "carpet square of beauty, a recreation resort and garden, and with a bandstand in its centre…"
And even though the Lands Minister had several times told her that there was no purpose in him visiting Bowral, when Ada finally brow-beat him into doing so in 1911, he confided to she and her hard-working supporters, that he was, in fact, "very favourably impressed."
So much so that on his return to Sydney, he decided that if Ada's committee could raise the first 150 then-pounds of the 410 pounds required to buy the paddock, his Department would fund the balance – a major departure from the government norm of pound-for-pound raised publicly.
After a feverish campaign to get that 150 pounds, Ada finally in late 1911 led the work herself on clearing the paddock of its straggly trees, native weeds and grasses… and those old tins and cat carcases. She also talked the Sydney Botanical Gardens into donating scores of shrubs for the new park, which she suggested be named "The King's Park" or "Edward Park" after the late King.
And while greatly admired by most for her physical involvement, as well as being secretary of the park committee, Ada Corbett's feisty nature made her many an enemy also. Some complained openly of a lack of public consultation over plans for the park after the public had put so much money into it, while others alluded to Ada being somewhat tardy in her book-keeping practices…
And when the park was finally opened in December 1914 – 100 years ago this year – local MLA Mr F.A. Badgery officially opening and naming it "Corbett Gardens," it sent some of Ada's critics into near-apoplexy.
Forty years later in October 1958 Bowral's first "Festival of Flowers" was staged at Corbett Gardens, but foundered just two years later from lack of funds. The local Rotary Club came to its rescue in 1961, donating 500 tulip bulbs that were planted by Rotarians and other service club members in Corbett Gardens, in so-doing launching Bowral's first Tulip Time.
This year's will be the 54th such Festival, with 100,000 tulips in flower in Corbett Gardens and other public areas in Bowral, Moss Vale and Mittagong – after having taken a team of twelve gardeners ten days to plant back in April.
The Festival will also feature a huge supporting program ranging from some near-40 of the Highlands' most extraordinarily spectacular private and institutional gardens open to public viewing (small entry fees go to charities,) a street parade, billy cart derby, street markets, and the Finals Cook-off for the now-famous Battle of the Bangers creative sausage competition.
For a detailed program: www.tuliptime.net.au
FOOTNOTE: Ada Corbett left Bowral in 1912 and never saw her finished park. She died on Norfolk Island in 1943 aged 82 – writing to a Bowral friend some years before her death: "I worked very hard to perfect my idea for the benefit of all of Bowral. Now I am more than repaid (as) my work is appreciated at last; I can forgive all the unkindness, insults and worry. Some day I hope to sit in Corbett Gardens and enjoy an hour there, and think of the time it was the tip for old tins, dead cats and a blot on Bowral..."
Sadly she never realised that hope.
 BOWRAL'S first-time Tulip Festival in Corbett Gardens 1961. (Destination Southern Highlands)
 STREET parade to celebrate 1961's first-ever Bowral Tulip Time. (Destination Southern Highlands)
 TULIP Time more recently… (Destination Southern Highlands)
 CROWDS enjoy the spectacular colours of Tulip Time in Bowral's Corbett Gardens. (Dee Kramer)
 HISTORIC Milton Park Country House & Spa's gardens dating back to the early 1900s are amongst a near-40 private and institutional open to the public during Tulip Time. (Milton Park Country House & Spa)
 BOWRAL has come a long way since its settlement in the early 1800s. (Destination Southern Highlands)
FOR WEEK BEGINNING 08 SEPTEMBER 2014