Noelene Drage grew up on a farm at Yuna east of Geraldton. It had a winter garden as there was no water, but friends of her parents had water and grew Polyantha roses. Noelene was always given a bunch of Polyantha roses when they visited these friends and loved them. When Noelene married she moved to a farm with an old house which had water and twelve roses, she says she spent the next thirty years finding out their names with the last one being “Elite”. Her rose collection on the farm grew to between 50-60 with roses from Charlie Newman and George Melville as did her love and fascination of heritage roses.
Noelene moved to Boya garden which eventually held 500 roses. In 1986 Noelene joined Heritage Roses in Australia and two years later was appointed Coordinator of the Perth region.
In 1990 Noelene became involved in attempting to establish Araluen as a botanical park. She stated “ I lost control of my life for five years.” It all started when Mary Hargreaves rang and said that Araluen was going to be sold so they went to the Chalet for lunch.
Noelene rang Cyril Ruston, Member for Armadale, to see whether anything could be done. They went to the Chalet for lunch; the park was “completely over grown and completely magic.” The consortium that owned Araluen had approached the Armadale Council with a development proposal, which was dismissed. As a result, Araluen was put to the market on Valentine’s Day 1990 and as Noelene said “an auspicious day to start to buy a garden.” In complete ignorance of the politics involved, Noelene wrote to the Premier Carmen Lawrence on 19th February, hoping that the government would step in and save the historic park. The reply referred the issue to the Minister for Racing and Gaming, Pam Beggs. Other ministers were also written to, not one showed any interest.
To garner some support, a meeting was arranged at Kings Park with Noelene, Anne Cullity, Chair of Friends of Kings Park, the Director of Kings Park, Dr Paul Witcherley, and the Real Estate Agent. The Real Estate Agent had rung her prior to the meeting to say that a cash buyer was interested in the park. Noelene and the group were petrified that Araluen would be sold - the asking price for Araluen was $1.4 million. They were informed that a small holding amount of $8000-$10,000 would give them for 45 days to find a solution. This was discussed and Noelene, who had inherited a small amount of money said she would write a cheque for $8,000.
Friends were astonished at what Noelene had done and advised her to see a lawyer, Peter Thorn the President of the Tree Society suggested their Lawyer who said they needed publicity and rang the West Australian Newspaper there and then.
On Friday 11th May Michael Zedelic and Nic Ellis put together a Page 3 spread for Saturday’s West. Noelene’s first grandson was born that day in Geraldton, and that together with response to the newspaper article, meant that her phone didn’t stop ringing. Returning the calls took hours, the response and the lobbying was completely unexpected and it took over. It was the start of the next five years.
A meeting had already been arranged at Araluen for the following Monday - 170 people were present including members of the Tree Society and Heritage Roses. The meeting agreed to establish the Araluen Foundation. John Colwill was appointed President, and Kay Hallahan came on board. The public response meant that a further $10,000 could be used to take out another holding option on the sale of Araluen. On the 1st September 1990, Kay Hallahan announced that the Government was purchasing Araluen.
As a gardener, whilst you were confronted by the park that was overgrown, you could see how beautiful it could become. There were planning sessions in which John Colwill contacted Yates to sponsor the Tulip Festival, but interest in roses relied on Heritage Rose members and Bob Melville. It took three years to have roses planted. Bob Melville was discarding an overgrown section of his old roses and offered them to the Foundation. Four truckloads of tip-bound roses created a lot of interest – some flourished and some didn’t. The pots were full of weeds some pots had lost their labels; but Teas and any roses identified as precious went in first. HRIA members and Araluen staff carried out the planting. There was not enough time to coordinate colours, size etc, so planting was higgledy-piggledy, but it was a start. A Heritage Rose repository was in place and embedded for the future.