Ju­nior ex­plor­ers get next to na­ture

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JO KEN­NETT

It’s early morn­ing and the Gold Coast Re­gional Botanic Gar­dens are alive with bird­song. Baby ducks sail behind their moth­ers through an old bil­l­abong, cre­at­ing a liq­uid man­dala of con­cen­tric rings as they dip their heads un­der the sur­face in search of break­fast.

Apart from the buzz and hum of na­ture it is quiet and im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine that we are in the mid­dle of the Queens­land Gold Coast, min­utes away from the snarl of traf­fic work­ing its way into grid­lock. The sun fi­nally bursts through the early morn­ing cloud cover light­ing up towering gums, some which are thought to pre­date Euro­pean set­tle­ment.

It’s school hol­i­days and at the cafe over­look­ing the gar­dens Rana Bag­u­ley, the ed­u­ca­tion co-or­di­na­tor for Friends of the Gold Coast Re­gional Botanic Gar­dens, is pre­par­ing for an in­flux of chil­dren. To­day is Botan­ica Quest Day, part of an Aus­tralia-wide ini­tia­tive to get kids outside and in­ter­act­ing with na­ture. The chil­dren are do­ing Botan­ica Mis­sions. They are given a Na­ture Play “Pass­port to an Amaz­ing Child­hood” and have a se­ries of mis­sions to com­plete.

“Our motto is to swap screen time for green time,” Bag­u­ley says as she leads me down to her Botan­ica Mis­sion worm farm by the la­goon. Friends run other ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties for kids dur­ing school hol­i­days such as “What Bird is that?” and “Grow that Plant day”, which teaches chil­dren about plant prop­a­ga­tion.

I join two fam­i­lies in the na­tive flower gar­den to find out about the at­trac­tion of flow­ers to dif­fer­ent in­sects and birds. There are stun­ning gre­vil­leas with flame- coloured ten­drils and tiny na­tive or­chids. “They’re like oys­ters,” one of the kids says, and she’s right. The chil­dren draw the flow­ers in their passports and get a stamp to put in­side.

“Mis­sion com­plete,” they say and charge off to the next ac­tiv­ity, which is Bag­u­ley’s worm farm. She ex­plains how it works — the kids are “grossed out” by the worm poo and wee — and in­sists the par­ents lis­ten in as well.

The next mis­sion is find­ing a but­ter­fly at the but­ter­fly gar­den. This was built by the Gold Coast Bush­walk­ers — part of the lo­cal com­mu­nity that has done most of the plant­ing of the gar­dens — and fea­tures bird­wing vine that has been prop­a­gated and

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