Toowoomba Japanese Garden covers 4.5 hectares and truly lives up to its name ‘Ju Raku En’ meaning ‘long life and happiness in a public garden’.
Located near the University of Southern Queensland, the visitor enters via red wooden gates. A cream gravel path between well-trimmed shrubs crunches gently as we stroll. On our left a bank covered with about 2,500 full sun azaleas must be lovely when in flower. They were all carefully trimmed to create a feeling of open space and harmony.
We stroll along the quiet path and turn to cross the first of the gently arched bridges with red handrails.
A duck eyes us quizzically from the lakeside and we admire a camellia nearby with some bright pink flowers. From here there are views of the lake with still water reflecting few white clouds in a blue sky. The peace of these special gardens takes hold.
An official opening on April 29 1989, was marked as a day of unseasonal heavy rain. The history is contained in a book called in ‘Ju Raku En. Celebrating 25 years of Toowoomba’s Japanese Garden’. This beautifully illustrated book gives an excellent history as well as fine photos of the garden.
As with so many human endeavours, it took one man’s dream, his energy, enthusiasm and determination, plus the help from many local people, to create this garden. It is one of the largest traditionally designed Japanese Gardens in Australia, with ideas drawn from the three major Asian religions: Taoist, Shinto and Buddhist.
Dr Adrian Allen left England as a young man and worked his passage to Australia. After many different jobs he took an Agriculture Degree at the University of New England, and then a Ph.D. After several overseas positions, including Singapore, he developed a love of Eastern culture.
Coming to Toowoomba he helped to start a Course in South-East Asian studies at the University. He was keen to give the students a full experience and a Japanese Garden seemed a good idea. But how to achieve it? With no budget but encouraged by many people Dr Allen approached a well-known Japanese garden designer Professor Kinsaku Nakane, who designed the Singapore Japanese Garden.
Normally his fee would be six figures but something about the enterprise must have intrigued the Professor. He visited, met people and viewed the site then agreed to draw plans and his son Shiro would come and project manage when the materials had been collected. This was a huge order for soil, gravel and hundreds of rocks. A great deal was donated and the rest paid for by many hard-working fund raisers.
Crossing a second arched bridge it’s amusing to see some small turtles swimming hopefully towards us. The wildlife seem to know humans are often a soft touch. We walk across another small bridge near a waterfall that offers a view of the lake with its small rock island. The small tree above its seven specially chosen rocks represent the pivotal point in the cosmos. Having walked across three bridges in the material world round the outer edges of the lake.
The well-raked gravel of the dry contemplation garden is worth stopping for some moments. The raked gravel’s constantly changing shadow shapes helps to empty your mind. Near the imposing red main gate a noticeboard lists many individuals and organisations that helped to create this wonderful garden.
Along the path beside the lake is the pebble beach, an important feature in a Japanese Garden. Dr Allen spent many of his lunch hours there on his knees cementing the pebbles. A tedious job, he couldn’t ask others to do though he sometimes had help. The local youth had found a new pastime – throwing the pebbles into the lake. Now it’s a fine sight and much enjoyed by children, wading birds and ducks.
A near miss
The path climbs a little, and a bridge crosses a creek with many large rocks placed carefully to allow a playful flow of water into the lake. Professor Nakane’s son Shiro helped to supervise the placing of these rocks and had a narrow escape when one slipped from its hoist and almost landed on his foot.
Everyone was horrified but he joked ‘Japanese people have small feet’. He and Dr Allen and all those involved became great friends. They were able to pay him a visiting lecturer’s salary while he did the groundwork and stayed with Dr Allen and others.
Strolling back towards the azalea hill I thought about how fortunate for the Toowoomba people that Dr Allen came along at the right time. He was also very fortunate that the whole city was supportive of his project. This was especially true of the Lord Mayor Clive Berghofer. Berghofer was a property developer with some useful earth moving equipment that he loaned to dig the lake and create the hills.
Climbing to the azalea hill, on stepping stones and between high hedges there’s a small shelter at the top. Here it’s possible to enjoy the view overlooking this carefully planned garden. While our western mind is always curious about names such as bleeding heart (Homolanthus populifolius) but traditional Japanese Gardens do not use labels. These gardens are planned for contemplation and meditation. A jewel of a garden, sheltered by its border of tall trees and a joy to visit.