CELEBRATION TIME: Garden of Hope Mildura founder Debbie Fitzgerald is calling on the community to help celebrate the local tourism spot’s first birthday on September 1. Debbie has spent the past 12 months transforming the former Snakes and Ladders site into a community space, with next month’s celebration to include a number of activities. Photos: PAUL MENSCH

ONE of the region’s more unique tourism attractions will mark its first birthday on Saturday, September 1, with the community invited to be part of the celebration.

‘Garden of Hope Mildura’ is the brainchild of long-time Mildura resident and artist Debbie Fitzgerald, and has been established in Seventeenth Street at the site of the old ‘Snakes and Ladders’.

The venture has proved an all-in effort for Debbie, who sold her house to purchase the unused, 16-acre site last year, and has spent the past 12 months slowly transforming it into a tourism attraction.

The community initiative is designed to provide hope, encouragement and inspiration to local residents and visitors alike.

Debbie has established Garden of Hope Mildura as a not-for-profit organisation, with its success dependant on community support, volunteerism, donations and other in-kind support.

Since opening the doors to the community 12 months ago, Debbie, who grew up in South Australia and moved to Mildura in 1980 after finishing school, said she had been amazed by how far the site had come.

“I only have to look back at how far we’ve come… when I took it over it was an overgrown patch of weeds,” she said with a laugh. “It’s amazing how far this patch of dirt has come.

“We’ve come a long way in a short time, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“I would say I’ve got the place to about 20 to 25 percent of where I want it to be, but we still have a large area to develop, we still have a tyre playground to develop – the list of ideas and projects still on the go is quite vast.”

Debbie said a big day of celebration was planned for September 1, including a jumping castle, face painting and other activities. The celebration will get under way at 10am, with Member for Mildura Peter Crisp to be on hand from 11am to judge a colouring-in competition.

“Students from The Lake Primary School are taking part in the competition, which is focused on hope,” Debbie said. “The day in general will be a chance to celebrate what’s been achieved and what’s to come.”

A barbecue lunch will also be on offer for $8, with a camp oven dinner to cap off the celebrations from 6.30pm. Cost is $18 with desserts, with bookings essential.

Debbie said there were a number of ongoing projects in the works for Garden of Hope Mildura, adding that she is currently working with Mildura Rural City Council to apply for community grants.

A project to develop a tyre playground at the site has also been shortlisted as part of the State Government’s Pick My Project initiative, which will see the community vote for initiatives they want to see implemented across the State. 

“I’ve applied for $120,000 through Pick My Project, which will also help fence the front of the site and improve safety near the Calder Highway,” she said.

“Community support is also building, and while a lot of people still don’t know that we’re here… word of mouth has carried, and we are starting to see more people book birthday parties with us, functions and family get-togethers.

“We also have our first wedding booked for November!

“Families love coming here because mum can sit back and enjoy a coffee while the kids run around and enjoy the open space.”

Deb said that while she was proud of how far Garden of Hope Mildura had come, she was even more excited about the future.

“Getting the garden up and running has been a highlight so far, as that’s where I want to place pathways and positive quotes so inspire people that wander through,” she said. “The tyre playground, once we get it up and running, will also be a highlight. 

“I also have plans to create a huge 100m long vine archway, which will celebrate all the grape varieties grown in the region. The plan is to keep developing it bit by bit.”

Garden of Hope Mildura is also set to play a part during the Mildura Country Music Festival, with artists to perform at the venue on October 7.

More information about the upcoming birthday celebration is available by visiting www.gardenofhopemildura.org or the group’s Facebook page, or by contacting Debbie on 0427 121 042.

Garden of Hope Mildura is open Thursday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm, or via bookings.