Wild women

9th November 2020

Two women

THIS STORY BEGINS somewhere around the middle of the last century.

One bright, spring day, two women alighted from the train at Ringwood station with the aim of walking and botanising their way to Warrandyte.

Although there were some rewarding Indigenous plant finds along the way,  it was when they finally reached the corner of Tindals Road and Warrandyte-Heidelberg Road, they found a hill top of extraordinary wildflower complexity.

Jean and Winifred bathed in the glorious richness of Indigenous plant biodiversity.

Jean Galbraith was a gardener, writer and long-time champion of Australian native plants.

When Jean’s book, Wildflowers of Victoria, appeared in 1950, it was the first accessible field guide published on Victorian flora.

Combining botanical knowledge with evocative descriptions, her writing skills made her field guides accessible (Encyclopaedia of Women and Leadership).

Winifred Waddell shared these interests and skills and co-wrote the book Wildflower Diary with Jean and Elizabeth Cochrane in 1976.

Jean and Winifred petitioned the local council with the assistance of local residents to buy the newly discovered site and set it up as a Wildflower Reserve.

Dorothy Rush assisted with raising funds to fence the Reserve.

I found the Tindals Road Wildflower Reserve in the early 1980s and spent many hours there identifying the wildflowers using my very worn-out copy of A field guide to the wild flowers of south-east Australia (1977) written by Jean Galbraith.

However, the Reserve was in a sad state, and threatened to be over-run with weeds.

Through the Friends of Warrandyte State Park, we petitioned the local Doncaster Council, and Val Polley and I met with the Engineer John Prince about getting some weed work done there.

I pointed out a cactus that I knew had been dumped in the reserve several years ago.

John responded wonderfully and decisively and soon had a botanical survey organised which was completed by Ecology Australia.

The report in particular noted the invasion of the Reserve by introduced weedy grasses, Quaking Grass and Panic Veldt Grass in particular, which were threatening the survival of its Orchid populations.

But which way forward from here?

Bushland management or ecological horticulture (where ecology meets horticulture) as it was becoming known, was in its infancy.

The first Course in Ecological Horticulture in Victoria was run in 1982 at Latrobe University.

It was only in the previous decade that National Parks managers had accepted that fire was an intrinsic part of management.

There was much to learn.

To be a practitioner of ecological horticulture, an enormous amount of knowledge is required.

For a start, there are the 400 or so plants that consist of the local Indigenous and introduced flora, their growth periods, flowering patterns, physiological dynamics, their response to weather and management actions.

What long term strategy does one employ to remove the weeds?, what tools, what techniques?

What planning and coordination skills are required for this new profession?


Enter another two women

Systematic observers of the natural environment the Bradley sisters, Eileen Burton Bradley and Joan Burton Bradley, observed in NSW during the 1960s attempts to control weeds by slashing and clearing resulted in rampant weed regrowth, and they formulated an alternative strategy.

The sisters were keen gardeners and hand-weeded where they walked, doing less than an hour a day and being careful to replace the bush litter which — they believed — contained the seedbank for new growth.

They waited for the bush to regenerate.

They developed the three principles of the Bradley method of bush regeneration: work outward from less infested to more seriously infested areas; minimise disturbance, and replace topsoil and litter; allow regeneration to set the pace of the work.

Selected hand-tools were the only implements permitted.

The Bradley’s opposed the use of chemicals and criticised the controlled-burning programme begun in 1971 by the State’s Forestry Commission (Australian Dictionary of Biography).

It’s one thing to have the basic principles of ecological horticulture, quite another to be able to look at a piece of bushland that is a complex matrix of the ecological functions of people, plants, soils, seeds, wind, weather, insects, fungi, birds, mammals and fire, and devise a strategy to heal the land and to be able to work on country and peel back the degradation that has occurred through weed invasion, tree clearance and neglect.


Then two Warrandyte women

Jane Pammer, a keen gardener had spent a year in Japan as a horticultural exchange student, before working in ecological horticulture with Save the Bush.

Then during the recession of the 1990s, lead a Green Corps Team through the L.E.A.P. employment programme at the then Doncaster and Templestowe Council.

Jane successfully applied for the permanent position in bushland management working with the Council in their Parks and Gardens Unit as Certified Gardener — Bush Regenerator.

Jane was managing the day to day work in the Manningham managed reserves: Warrandyte Walk, Tindals Wildflower Reserve, Zerbes Reserve, Mullum Stage 1, 100 Acres and others.

Jane began a systematic programme of weeding and observation keeping a diary of work completed in each site.

Jane’s tight control of ecological maintenance programmes, re-visiting each site on a 10 week rotational schedule, quality control and conscientious thoroughness, brought back the bushlands from the brink of oblivion, rescuing our priceless natural heritage.

Today, Tindals Road Wildflower Reserve is an absolute credit to Manningham.

This year in particular, it has produced an exceptional flowering display that has brought many people the simple and profound joy of bushland magic.

This was something that could hardly be imagined in 1985.

Manningham has been a civic leader in municipal environmental programmes over the past 25 years; with a range of integrated programmes to assist residents protect our natural heritage, as well as its own management of bushlands for which it has responsibility.

The ecological horticultural work along the Yarra River below the village called Warrandyte Walk, is the best example of environmental restoration of riparian (waterway) vegetation along the entire length of the Yarra River.

It is by far more successful than anything agencies or other shires or Councils have achieved.

Manningham should be extremely proud of that achievement.

It is also a tribute to Jane for her dedicated vision and skills.

In the most difficult of vegetative zones, they have produced a world class result.

Many walk past the native grasses and shrubs without actually appreciating the difficulties of the site and the vision and skill required to unearth and maintain its intrinsic qualities.

Sharon Mason was an intrinsic part of the bushland management journey with Jane. Sharon for most of this time has led a Bushland Maintenance Crew of skilled ecological gardeners to implement Jane’s programming and to join in the discussion, development and refinement of Jane’s programme of bushland rejuvenation.

Together, they implemented an incredibly successful operation.

Jean Galbraith put her money where her mind was and donated the land to establish the first wildflower sanctuary in Victoria in 1936, in Tyers, in the LaTrobe Valley — the first privately donated reserve in the State of Victoria.

The Latrobe Valley Field Naturalists recorded an extensive list of flora in the Reserve in 1967, but over time, many species were impacted by weed invasion and a loss of interest in maintaining the site.

This changed in 1999 when an enthusiastic group of residents in the Tyers township formed to resurrect the Reserve and highlight its botanical and historical significance.

Winifred was responsible for securing the first wildflower sanctuary at Tallarook, Victoria, in 1949.

Throughout her nearly 70 years of garden writing, Jean wrote about all aspects of garden-making but remained an indefatigable champion of Australian flora, ignoring fashions in plants, and like Winifred, Eileen, Joan, Jane and Sharon, kept working in the wild garden that she loved.