In 2002, the Australian Native Plants Society Canberra Region (ANPS) and Friends of Grasslands (FOG) decided to support the development of a new organisation following a one day workshop that explored how such a venture might progress. The workshop was undertaken at the suggestion of the then ACT Minister for Conservation, and was sponsored by the Australian Native Plant Society (ANPS), Friends of the Grasslands (FoG), Environment ACT and the then NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Subsequently, the concept received strong endorsement by the then ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope MLA.
STEP Inc launch at the Australian National Botanic Gardens
The formal incorporation of STEP was finalised and STEP was launched in May 2003. Its membership included ANPS, FOG, the then Department of Environment ACT, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Australian National Botanic Gardens (who strongly promoted the establishment of regional botanic garden with a focus on regional native plants), Queanbeyan Council, several conservation groups, and a number of well-credentialed individuals, and Seeds and Plants Australia (a local native horticultural business).
In the second half of 2003, STEP explored the feasibility of establishing STEP on public land in Amaroo, holding a launch at the Canberra Museum and Galleries. While it was decided later that Amaroo was not a suitable site, the exercise helped STEP to test and develop its concepts and strategies.
2004 – 2005 STEP worked with Birrigai Outdoor School
During mid-2004 to 2005 STEP worked with Birrigai Outdoor School to create a demonstration garden. While it was finally decided not to proceed with this project, it did provide STEP with an opportunity to test and develop its concepts and strategies.
During this period STEP also focused on building infrastructure, developing support and communications networks, and creating data and presentations on local flora and fauna. It published three newsletters outlining many of its ideas and strategies.
In 2005, STEP’s President Cathy Robertson and Geoff Robertson held discussions with Ngunnawal elders about possible Ngunnawal participation and the STEP Committee appointed two members of the Ngunnawal Elders as honorary members.
Also in 2005, the ACT Chief Minister announced the establishment of the Canberra International Arboretum and Gardens and commenced a discussion leading to the establishment of STEP as part of the National Arboretum Canberra; and indicated that STEP would eventually take responsibility for a large area of yellow box red gum grassy woodland which adjoins the northern end of the arboretum, when incorporated into the Arboretum in the coming years.
The ACT House of Assembly Standing Committee on Planning and Environment received a report from the Shaping Our Territory Implementation Group about progress that had been made to include STEP within the development of the Canberra International Arboretum and Gardens. The Committee’s final recommendation was that “the Shaping Our Territory Working Group should assess the feasibility of incorporating key elements of the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park proposal in the Canberra International Arboretum and Gardens”.
In November 2007, STEP wrote to the Chair of the Molonglo Project Team in the ACT Planning and Land Authority with a submission about the Molonglo Plan, stating that it should:
recognise the STEP/CIAG link and proposal for the woodland as an opportunity to protect a sample of an endangered ecological community and develop an educational and recreational resource; and
the Molonglo Plan should show the woodland as part of the Arboretum.
Representatives of the Shaping Our Territory Implementation Group met at regular intervals with representatives of the Southern Tablelands Ecosystem Park initiative to explore the Ecosystem Park proposal and its suitability for the CIAG site. STEP also became a foundation member of the Friends of the Canberra International Arboretum and Gardens and has continued to be active in its support for this community-based initiative.
STEP negotiated the selection of the site for the STEP Garden on the then Block 100 (in 2012 the National Arboretum changed its numbering system and the STEP Garden became Forest 20). STEP held a working bee at Seeds and Plants Australia to pot up the tree species required.
In January 2009, STEP finalised the selection of the 16 Eucalyptus species for the STEP garden with the Arboretum Project Team and the Arboretum Architects. In March 2009, at the inaugural National Arboretum Canberra’s Festival of the Forests, the first suite of trees were planted in the STEP garden by the then Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, members of the House of Assembly Planning Committee, teachers and children from Evatt Primary School and community members at a ceremonial planting.
The Australian Government’s Environmental Impact Statement for the development of the Molonglo Valley made it a condition for the development of the Molonglo Valley Plan that the high value Yellow Box/ Red Gum woodland in the Molonglo Valley adjacent to the STEP site, should become part of the National Arboretum under the management of STEP.
On 1 February 2013, the Arboretum and the STEP Garden were opened to the public.
STEP is pleased to acknowledge the many advantages and synergies that a partnership between the National Arboretum Canberra and STEP has created. They have proved to be even greater than originally expected.