In 1998 the first Botanic Gardens tree was dedicated to a visiting Friendship Force group, sparking a tradition that has seen the area earmarked as the Friendship Grove.
Tucked away behind North State School, that tradition has continued over more than two decades and has created an area where friendship and native Australian plants are on display.
The Bundaberg Friendship Force group regularly welcomes groups from all over Australia and the world, home hosting them and providing them with an itinerary to explore the region.
Friendship Force member and former biology teacher Neil McCabe volunteers his time to identify native species within the Friendship Grove and donates trees to the area.
“The concept is to acknowledge every group that comes along and have a little ceremony over here where they unveil the plaque and take photographs,” Neil said.
As far as local members are aware, Bundaberg is the only group that offers this unique recognition of its Friendship Force visitors.
“I think it’s pretty special.
“About 4000 photographs get taken every time!”
Neil’s love of biology has inspired him to help improve and expand the Friendship Grove.
“I’ve been collecting native plants and seeds for many, many years.
“I had intended when I retired from teaching to sell them, but I thought ‘that’s work’ so I donate them to people.
“It’s just a hobby.”
Grown from seeds Neil said he likes to keep the trees that he donates to the garden as local as possible, not that he was limited for choice with about 42,000 species to choose from in the Wide Bay area.
“I prefer to collect seeds from this area they’re the ones who grow here, everything else is a bit of a weed.
“I like to give a bit of a talk about the trees and what they’re useful for.
“We try to get plants that are hardy.
“The ones I’m bringing in will grow in any soil, like the candle nut tree.”
The Friendship Grove now features trees dedicated to “up to 30 different clubs” including Friendship Force groups from America, Japan and Vanuatu.
Neil said he was hoping to see more people visiting the area after Council recently undertook some improvements which included constructing a nearby carpark, formalising pathways and installing a new sign.
“They’ve actually done a lot of work on it,” Neil said.