The Honourable Mahen Kumar Seeruttun, Minister of Agro Industry and Food Security
The Honourable Soodesh Satkam Callichurn, Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations, Employment and Training
The Hononourable Sharvanand Ramkaun, Parliamentary Private Secretary
Mr Sunael Singh Purgus, Chairperson, District Council of Pamplemousses
Dr Seelavarn Ganeshan, Chairperson Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden Trust
Mr Prabhakar Gokoolsingh, Head, Bilateral Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade
Members of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden Trust
Senior Officers of the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security
Directors of Parastatal Bodies
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for joining us here today as we mark the end of the Australia Week Festival with the planting of this special gift from the Government of Australia to the Government of Mauritius on the occasion of the country’s 50 years of independence – a Wollemi Pine – or Wollemia Nobilis by its botanical name!
While I understand that this is not the first tree to be planted at the Sir See-woo-sa-gar Ram-goo-lam Botanical Gardens by a representative of the Australian Government – our former Governor-General, Mrs Quentin Bryce, planted a Cassinia plant during her official visit to Mauritius in March 2009 – this will be the first Indigenous Australian tree to be planted by a representative of the Australian Government.
Before this, and many years ago – in 1858, I understand young Eucalyptus trees were planted in the gardens here, but perished in 1868 because at the time they could not withstand the violent storms (what we would refer to nowadays as cyclones) that hit Mauritius at that time. Now, I note that the Eucalyptus tree is probably one of Australia’s best known exports – along with Kraft cheese here in Mauritius.
The planting of this Wollemi pine today is made all the more special since it come from a plant family that is 200 million years old, making it one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees. It has been classified as critically endangered (CR) on the IUCN's Red List and is legally protected in Australia. It has been named a “living fossil” because it represents an ancient species, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.
Only a hundred mature Wollemi pine specimens are known to be growing wild. Australia has decided to implement a propagation programme to save this species and make Wollemi pine specimens available to botanical gardens around the world. It is only fitting that Mauritius, as a friend of Australia, would be participating in this propagation effort.
Let me tell you a little about how this Pine was rediscovered. David Noble, a National Parks and Wildlife Officer of the now-called Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales discussed the Pine in September 1994 and it only occurred because of his adventurous bushwalking and rock climbing abilities. Noble, who had good botanical knowledge, quickly recognised the trees as unusual and worthy of further investigation. Returning with specimens, and expecting someone to be able to identify the plants, Noble soon found that they were new to science. The species botanical name was subsequently named after him.
Further studies needed to establish its relationship to other conifers. The initial suspicion was that it had certain characteristics of the 200-million-year-old family Araucariaceae and comparisons with fossilised Araucariaceae proved that it was a member of that family, but it was a new genus.
Before this population was discovered in the Blue Mountains, the most recent known fossils of the genus date from approximately 2 million years ago in Tasmania.
The pine is now proving to be more adaptable and cold-hardy than its restricted temperate-subtropical, humid distribution would suggest, tolerating temperatures between −5 and 45 °C (23 and 113 °F). A grove of Wollemi pines planted in Scotland believed to be the most northerly location of any successful planting, have survived temperatures of −7 °C (19 °F).
And today the plant has its very own club – the Wollemi Pine Conservation Club that many Wollemi Pine enthusiasts worldwide are members of.
At the High Commission level, we are pleased with the work that we have done with local partners - the Ministry of Environment, district councils, the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) on the conservation front through projects such as the restoration of the Grande Montagne Nature Reserve in Rodrigues, training for members of the Grand-Sable Women Planters, Farmers and Entrepreneurs Association in sustainable land and coastal zone management and through Australia’s ‘Clean Up the World’ initiative.
Australians and Australian alumni are also playing an important role in conservation and the protection of the environment. One of the High Commission’s Consular Wardens, Owen Griffiths, who many of you know through La Vanille Nature Reserve, is a dedicated conservationist and recently opened the Ebony Forest Reserve in Chamarel and before this, opened the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve in Rodrigues. He is equally active in conservation projects in Madagascar.
Local NGO, Yes You Can, which is led by one of our Australian Alumni, Jossy Dowlutrao, is actively engaged in conservation projects and in 2016, partnered with students of Western Australia's Landsdale Christian School to plant 50 trees as part of a site rehabilitation project at a World War II historical site in Pointe Canon.
The planting of this Wollemi pine in the Botanical Gardens today not only celebrates Australia and Mauritius relations, but is a symbol of Australia’s commitment to supporting conservation efforts that are being made by the Government of Mauritius, the local NGO community and business. It is only fitting for it to be planted here, among so many other species coming from all the corners of the world. I have walked in this garden with my family, and as my children were playing among all these beautiful plants, I reflected on the effort of conservation that we will need to accomplish to maintain the biodiversity of our countries so the next generation can enjoy it. Conservation will be achieved by all of us and needs strong commitment and partnerships. All actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference.
Planting a tree represents a long-term commitment. There are many trees planted here by past and present dignitaries, they stand as witness to the international network created and maintained by Mauritius. This Wollemi pine will grow as tall and strong, reflecting our enduring relationship. And its many branches will mirror the diverse and ever-expanding facets of our work together from education to science, from governance to FINTECH.
Planting such a young tree in this new environment is also sign of hope and is fitting to mark the 50th anniversary of your nation – an island state. Mauritius has achieved much in this last half century, and Australia will accompany Mauritius to achieve even more in the decades ahead.
While our diplomatic relations started in 1970 with our first High Commissioner (William Landale) resident in Dar-es-Salaam, the links with Australia span several centuries – a relationship founded on shared values that include a commitment to strong democratic traditions and also our membership of the Commonwealth.
Links began in 1642 with Abel Tasman, recognising Mauritius was an important Indian Ocean base for exploration of Australia’s coast. Trading links began in the early 1800s. And over the colonial period Mauritian born convicts were sent to the convict settlements in Australia. Australia’s famous Gold Rush also attracted its share of Mauritians, followed by highly skilled planters and sugar chemists who made a crucial contribution to the establishment of Australia’s sugar industry. Jumping ahead to today, Australia is home to one of the largest Mauritian diaspora communities in the world and we value the contributions they have made to the development of our country.
The Australian High Commission opened in Port Louis in March 1984. I am now the 16th High Commissioner to Mauritius, and we look forward to celebrate our 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2020. And seeing just how far this Wollemi Pine will have grown.
I would like to thank the dedicated team at the Mauritian Plant Quarantine Services for their care of this plant which arrived at the time of our Australia-Mauritius Research and Innovation Forum after being hand delivered by my colleague and the Mauritius desk officer in the Foreign Affairs Department Dr Frank Thompson.
I thank the Minister for his commitment to the relationship with Australia and thank you all for joining us on this special occasion.
11 April 2018