In 2015, Stan Maley had an idea: convert Maitland Park into 23,000sqm of native botanical garden. Six years later, the only thing holding it back is the season.
The 83-year-old farmer from Mingenew moved to Geraldton in 2000 after a long stint living in Bunbury.
Working as a landscaper, Mr Maley quickly rediscovered his love of Mid West plant life.
“Geraldton has some of the most unique flora you could imagine,” he said.
“I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if visitors could see it first-hand?’.”
As the foreshore became further developed, Mr Maley saw Maitland Park slip by the wayside. Events that would normally be held on the large open lawn had, understandably, moved for ocean views.
There, he saw an opportunity.
He gathered about 50 people at the Geraldton Polocrosse Club to lay out his idea. Local dignitaries, business owners and gardening enthusiasts were convinced and Friends of Geraldton Gardens (FrOGGs) was born.
The one party they needed on side was the City of Greater Geraldton, which owns and manages the park. It was reluctant at first, worried about upkeep costs and vandalism.
“For years, Geraldton had a bad run of getting vandalised whenever they built anything but for some reason, we don’t really understand why, this one didn’t,” Mr Maley said.
In an attempt to convince the council, an official plan was drawn up. It took design cues from the landscapes of the Mid West, with its circular salt pans, linear geographical patterns, and lengthy highway systems.
It allows for vast native gardens, while preserving the existing open lawn and skate park.
It attracted funding from Lotterywest and the Federal Government, as well as a memorandum of understanding, signed with the City in November 2016.
Mr Maley said the grant money, totalling more than $50,000, was enough to start but not enough to finish the massive project. But with people getting impatient, they had to get moving.
Stage one was to build a “demo garden” in the park. Earthworks were slow to start with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but once complete, a crew of 40 volunteers planted 160 seedlings, including Geraldton wax, banksias and assorted wildflowers.
With the success of the demonstration, FrOGGs is looking forward to stage two, which involves a collaboration with the Friends of Chapman River.
They plan to simulate the river in the botanical garden, with plants and landscaping that can be found on its banks.
“Once the next stage of earthworks starts up, it’ll make a lot of difference,” Mr Maley said.
While the garden presses on, Mr Maley has had to take a step back. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with cancer, which has since spread to his liver and brain. While he still gets out in his own garden when he can, treatment has involved numerous trips to Perth and tremendous pain.
A seizure while in hospital recently means he can’t drive for the next six months.
Mr Maley’s absence means even more responsibility for FrOGGs chairperson and fellow founding member Irene Ghannage, especially as the group has taken on a role as caretakers of the Wonthella Bushlands Reserve.
Cleaning up after the bushfire and maintaining the reserve is expected to keep FrOGGs busy long after the botanical garden is finished, which Mr Maley hopes to see complete in the coming years.