Located in Scott Street in 'The Village', the Buninyong Botanical Gardens are a popular venue for social gatherings and recreational activites. Facilities include playground equipment and electric barbecues and the upper garden area is home to many fish and waterbirds.
Established in the 1860s and designed by the Director of the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, the Gardens are among the oldest in Victoria. Historic features include the Courthouse and Police Cottage (1853) and the Queen Victoria Rotunda (1901).
In 1838, the area was first settled by Scottish squatters as a pastoral run. The first land survey of 1849 described an area of springs and swampy ground which was excluded from subsequent land sales. Following the discovery of gold in 1851, the springs were dammed to provide a water supply for the increased population.
In 1859 the first Buninyong Municipal Council reserved an area of 10 acres for the Botanical Gardens.
The original plan of 1861 showed walks and bridges, fencing and gates and a proposal for bathing facilities. In 1872 Conrad Fegbeitel, a German immigrant, was appointed Curator for the Gardens and Superintendent of the Baths. The famous Ferdinand Von Mueller from the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, the curators of Ballarat and Geelong Gardens, the State Nursery at Creswick and local nurserymen all donated specimens of trees and plants.
The gardens became a popular wayside stop for travellers and picnickers, who admired the 'hilly picturesque countryside' and the ornamental trees and flowering shrubs. Following a devastating fire in 1876, the capacity of the Gong reservoir was greatly increased in order to ensure an adequate water supply in the event of another fire.
Once visitors could travel to Buninyong by train, it became a popular picnic destination. The railway era was the heyday of the Buninyong Botanic Gardens. The service ended in 1937 and the track was dismantled in 1947. Long serving curators who contributed to the development and upkeep of the Gardens until the Second World War as follows:
1872-1889 Conrad Fegbeitel 1889-1898 Robert Allan McPherson 1898-1920 Samuel Livingstone Frazer 1920-1941 John and Mary Ogilvy
These notes were compiled from an article 'History of the "Gong" or Upper Dam' by Beth Ritchie, in 'The Gong Environmental Program' by Christine Rowe, Victorian Environmental Education Council, in August 1993.
In 1974, the Buninyong Gardens Restoration Committee was formed to improve the area, which had become neglected and overgrown. Work continued in the 1980s and by 1985, the major project for the 150th Anniversary of Victoria was completed.
In 1993 the Buninyong Shire Council received a report on the Gardens which recommended plantings for the development of an Acer species (Maples) arboretum at the Gong Reservoir.
From 1993-1995, intensive weed removal was undertaken by the Buninyong Shire Council under the leadership of public-spirited local identity, Derrick Leather.
With local government amalgamation in 1994, the responsibility for the Buninyong Botanic Gardens was entrusted to the Ballarat City Council which has commissioned a Conservation Study and Landscape Masterplan.
During the 1990s, children from the Buninyong Primary School used the area adjacent to their school for environmental science field studies, and in 1999, Heritage Victoria registered the Gardens and the Gong on the Victorian Heritage Register.
With the receipt of Federal Community Program Funds and the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority Waterway Incentives Program Funds, works were carried out in 2001 to improve the water quality of The Gong, Botanic Gardens water features and storm water discharged into the Leigh River Catchment. The Project was a community partnership between the Federal Government, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, the City of Ballarat and the Lions Club of Buninyong - Mt Helen.