The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden was officially 'opened' in 1996 but its story actually began much earlier.
The concept of establishing an arid lands botanic garden at Port Augusta was first proposed in 1981 by John Zwar, Parks and Gardens Superintendent at Port Augusta City Council. The proposal was accepted by Council and the new botanic garden was established on its current 250ha coastal site. Located on the shores of Spencer Gulf, this site features significant areas of natural arid zone vegetation including Western Myall woodlands (Acacia papyrocarpa) and chenopod plains together with coastal vegetation dominated by Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina) and samphire.
With support from Council and the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, public support grew and in 1983 a State Government Committee reported favourably but without financial commitment. The following year an active 'Friends' group was formed to promote the garden, seek funds and lobby for its development.
During the 1980s site development was funded by Council and the Friends group with on-ground work assistance from Government unemployment relief schemes. A Management Advisory Committee was established in 1988 by the Council to seek further funding and supervise development.
The 1990s saw the development of a master plan, employment of the garden's first full-time staff member, major infrastructure development and the opening of the environmentally award-winning visitor centre in September 1996. Also during this time, major sponsorships assisted with the development of extensive infrastructure and the Eremophila and Regional plant collections.
Since 2000, financial assistance from the Federal and State Governments, the South Australian mining sector and the Friends group has funded improvements to infrastructure, the expansion of facilities at the visitor centre and the construction of the innovative AridSmart Display gardens. A full-time curator was appointed in 2006.
Annual funding from the Port Augusta City Council together with valuable contributions from volunteers and the Friends group continue to benefit this important facility and its collections.