AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
TAPE NO. 3387/5 - JOHN WRIGLEY
INTERVIEWED BY MATHEW HIGGINS
16 NOVEMBER 1995
HIGGINS: This is Tape 1 of an interview with John Wrigley by Mathew Higgins for the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Oral History Project. The interview is taking place in John's home near Coffs Harbour on Thursday 16 November 1995.
John thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the project and I know that the Friends of the Gardens and future readers of the history of the Gardens which will hopefully come out of this project will be grateful to you for your time and your memories this morning.
WRIGLEY: That's a pleasure Mathew.
HIGGINS: Could I start off firstly by asking you about your early interest in Australian plants and horticulture. Now I am aware that you had a role in the Society for Growing Australian Plants and you were involved in establishing the Kuringai Wildflower Gardens at St Ives.
WRIGLEY: I guess my interest in horticulture goes back a very very long way because my maternal grandfather used to grow tomatoes in Guernsey and he came out here in the early part of the century and worked as a gardener and I used to work with him at that stage as a kid just working in his greenhouses.
HIGGINS: Where were they?
WRIGLEY: This was in Lindfield in Sydney. My parents were also interested in gardens and they had quite a good garden themselves in the same area and I used to spend weekends working with them. Also in those early days my father was interested in bushwalking and we used to walk down in the bush and looked at native plants in those days but at that stage I think he believed, as a lot of other people did, that native plants were pretty well difficult to grow and didn't grow many in his own garden.
It went from there and when Marcia and I were married in 1957 we bought some land in Gordon which was on the Hawkesbury sandstone and mostly all native plants were growing on the block. At that stage the Society for Growing Native Plants was formed and I was a very early member. I don't think I was a foundation member I think there were one or two meetings before I actually joined up but my interest in native plants just increased from that point and we grew many of them in our own garden and I started to propagate native plants and the Society for Growing Native Plants sort of moved on from strength to strength.
At that stage I didn't have an office in the Society but shortly afterwards I became editor of their New South Wales journal Native Plants for NSW and in the early sixties, I think it was 62 and 63 I was Federal President of the Society. I started the North Shore Group of the NSW region, part of the Society and it's now a very active group of course many many years later.
As a matter of interest I think at that stage the first federal conference of the Society was held in Canberra in 1961 and I attended as a NSW delegate and at that stage visited what was then the Canberra Botanic Gardens in its very early days. I think at that stage I had no idea of course that I was going to be there some years later but I was very interested in what was happening. I think it was Stan Kirby in those days that showed us around the Gardens although they weren't officially open.
HIGGINS: They would have been pretty hard to find too?
WRIGLEY: I guess they were hidden away on Black Mountain and as I say they weren't open to the public. I think we were privileged visitors to go up and have a look at them but there were still some fine plants in there that had been collected from all over the place by Lindsay Pryor and also Betty Phillips. So it's an early part of the history that perhaps had some bearing on what happened in the future.
HIGGINS: And your role there with the Kuringai Wildflower Garden, how did you get involved with that?
WRIGLEY: As a member of the North Shore Group of the Society for Growing Australian Plants I presented a case to the Kuringai Council in the early sixties, I can't remember the exact date, I think it might have been about 61, proposing that their site in St Ives be made into the Kuringai Wildflower Garden. The Council accepted that fairly enthusiastically through their Parks Director who was Bob Bruce in those days. The Gardens then moved on and the North Shore Group of the Society was very active and I think still is in planting and doing some maintenance out at the Kuringai Wildflower Garden.
HIGGINS: One of the most interesting things in your CV I guess for me is the job that you came from to come to the Botanic Gardens in Canberra. Now you were production manager at Unilever of all things. Could you just very briefly tell me what you were doing there and how you found out about the job at the Gardens?
WRIGLEY: Yes I guess that's an interesting change of occupation. I had ten years with Unilever after a short period with the Shell Company after graduation as a chemist and I started at Unilever as a research chemist because my background was actually in organic chemistry rather than botany. My interest in botany was really mostly self-taught and as a result of some early study in first year at university.
As a research chemist at Unilever I then was given a cadetship with the company and went around through all aspects of Unilever personnel, sales, marketing, accounting and so on. That was a very interesting two years and certainly opened my eyes to the way big business works in many different aspects. Finally I was made production manager of the edible fat, margarine production and then on to foods which included Continental Soups and Puffin Cake Mixes and Mella Desserts and all those horrible things.
I had a staff of about 130 people working for me at that stage and the pressure was on very much on production to meet deadlines and also just generally to toe the line as far as management was concerned. I guess that was a sort of a scenario that didn't really appeal to me and I guess it came to a crunch one Christmas when the general manager of the factory at Balmain which is where I was stationed asked all his management staff to come around to his place on Christmas morning. I thought that was about the end because I figured Christmas was pretty much a family occasion and I was one of the few that knocked it back. Whilst nobody said anything, that was the wrong thing to do. It was pretty obvious that I was in the wrong place.
At that stage I started looking around for other work and plants were definitely the interest. I looked at jobs in nurseries. I even looked at starting my own nursery at that stage and I was talked out of it I guess mainly by my wife very wisely and I'm very pleased she did at this stage. I was interested in propagating all sorts of odd things and if I started my own nursery I would be doing what the public wanted and that probably wouldn't have been my choice anyway.
At that stage the Canberra job cropped up. I guess I applied for it a little bit with tongue in cheek because my background wasn't in botany as I say but I'd been involved with the Wildflower Garden, been involved with SGAP and knew a bit about native plants. So as I say I applied for the job, didn't get the job I might say at that stage because Ross Robbins was chosen. He had a Ph.D., mine was purely a bachelors degree in science and that was all the qualification was. It was a bachelors degree in science that was asked for.
However the circumstances changed and I pressed on with Unilever hoping that something would crop up and received a phone call from Canberra saying that the job was vacant and would I come down and if I was interested the job was mine.
HIGGINS: This was like manna from heaven for you I guess.
WRIGLEY: It was rather yes. I breathed a great sigh of relief and I was down there post haste.
HIGGINS: Could you tell me what your first impressions of the Gardens were? Do you think you could paint for me a verbal picture of just what the Gardens looked like in 1967 when you arrived? Maybe if you could tell me something about the specific areas like the Rainforest Gully at that time.
WRIGLEY: The Rainforest Gully was virtually non-existent in those days. I organised the sprinklers and so on that went in later on after I had arrived. There were some very minor plantings. It was basically a dry gully in those days. Some of the sections of the Gardens though were well developed. The terraced gardens sections, gosh I'm scratching my head now. Probably seven to twelve I think they were in those days. And the acacia sections they were well planted but there were no rock walls. I think Ross Robbins was just about to start the rock walls when I arrived which are still there of course.
HIGGINS: What about the Eucalypt Lawn?
WRIGLEY: The Eucalypt Lawn was well planted. I think a lot of those plantings went back to Lindsay Pryor's day anyway.
HIGGINS: Was there lawn there at that stage?
WRIGLEY: There was grass. They used to call it grass rather than lawn. The top section of the Garden was totally undeveloped. There was no nursery of course. The nursery that was used was Yarralumla. The front of the Gardens was virtually undeveloped, the pools had started to be constructed. They were designed by the Parks Landscape fellow, Otto Rusiger.
HIGGINS: So that's the pools down below the current kiosk?
WRIGLEY: Below the kiosk yes. But they were still being constructed as I came into the Gardens.
HIGGINS: Some of the ecological collections like for example the Sydney Sandstone area?
WRIGLEY: That came much much later. There was nothing there. The Rockery of course wasn't there. Where the Rockery is now was called the Diuris lawn because Dierus??? were growing there naturally. Diuris pedunculata was there and they used to come in flower in spring but it was ill maintained and the obviously something else was needed to make that area acceptable. There were some interesting plants in the Gardens and a lot of those plants of course are still there and they'll be there for a long time particularly the trees, the eucalypts and so on.
HIGGINS: Are there some that really stand out in your memory, individual examples if you can cite them now?
WRIGLEY: One plant that I remember and it goes back to 1961 when I went there with SGAP was the double form of Eriostemon obovalis, a cultivar called J Semmens. I doubt that that plant is still there but it was still there when I arrived in 1967. It was an outstanding plant, one that is very difficult to propagate and I think it was quite a find in my mind. Some of the Grevilleas of course were flowering well but I can't recall too many things as far as individual plants are concerned.
HIGGINS: Sure. Now what did you see as your role when you started in 1967?
WRIGLEY: Well I guess my role was to get the Gardens to a point where it could be open to the public and the scheduled opening was in 1970 so I had three years to do that. There was a lot of work to be done. The public came in sometime in 1967 but it wasn't officially opened at that stage but there was some public use of the Gardens.
This meant that the whole infrastructure of the Gardens had to be upgraded very very quickly. Rock walls were put in along those terraced beds, the Rainforest was developed, misting was put in. The Gardens had to be interpreted and this meant labelling had to be upgraded. Consideration of various labelling techniques was high priority. Installation of a watering system that would do the whole Garden was also a high priority.
Funding in those days I think was a little easier than it is these days and a lot of money was spent on the initial work on the watering system which was a major job. In retrospect it was a shame that it hadn't been put in years before because plants had to be disturbed to construct the watering system, put in the mains in and all the electrical work that was associated with it.
HIGGINS: So what sort of watering system was there when you arrived?
HIGGINS: Still hoses. There was no underground?
WRIGLEY: Taps and hoses that's all. There was no permanent watering system whatsoever. So this was a major job and the plumbing section of Parks & Gardens were responsible for most of that work. An Italian guy, Romeo, who only retired two or three years ago I think, was instrumental in installing all that. Romeo Tomas.
HIGGINS: We will go into some of those things you've just mentioned in a bit more detail as we move on. I'm interested in the culture and ethos of the place at the time of your arrival. Do you think you could talk about that at all? Was there a sense of mission within the organisation, was there an air of excitement?
WRIGLEY: It was exciting for me. I'm not sure it was quite so exciting for the people that were there. I don't think they really could see what the future of the Gardens was. I think Stan Kirby had been working in that Garden for quite a number of years and he had plugged along without a great deal of assistance. He had teams come in from Parks Department from time to time to help him but he was really almost working single handed and he and Dominic Catanzariti who drove the tractor were an important part of the Gardens activities.
Betty Phillips who was there of course when I arrived didn't really enjoy the prospect of the public coming into the Gardens I'm quite sure. Hers was very much a little empire that was involved with the Herbarium. The Garden was something that I don't think she was particularly interested in anyway.
HIGGINS: So was she really focussed on the Herbarium specimen side rather than the growing collection?
WRIGLEY: Yes very much so. I mean that was her job after all, she was employed as a botanist and not as a horticulturalist and her job was, as she thought, to build up the Herbarium to international standards. When I arrived the Herbarium was in the southern side of the original building in the Gardens. If you can picture that.
HIGGINS: Where Murray Fagg's office is today roughly?
WRIGLEY: Yes that's right more or less. That was her little empire. The general culture of the Gardens I don't think was a particularly exciting place as far as the staff was concerned, but hopefully that was to change rather rapidly as time went on and people could see the potential and the future of the Gardens. I think that was, in fact, achieved.
HIGGINS: You've mentioned there a couple of individuals and of course Stan Kirby's actual position, it was Overseer more or less wasn't it?
WRIGLEY: Yes. He was Overseer. I think his title was Gardening Overseer Grade 1 in those days. I'm not sure what the present classifications are in relation to those. He had a strange relationship in that he was really responsible to one of the gardening overseers outside of the Gardens but at the same time he had responsibilities to Betty Phillips as well who was on the spot. Although not always on the spot because prior to the Herbarium being built in the Gardens the Herbarium was at Downer and a lot of her time was actually spent at Downer rather than in the Gardens so Stan was pretty much on his own in those days.
When I arrived Stan was transferred to another section and I was given an Overseer known as Tony Vandenbroek, a Dutchman, who was pretty wild. Nice fellow.
HIGGINS: Wild in temperament do you mean?
WRIGLEY: Wild in his general attitudes and manner and particularly in his methods of driving motor cars and just an interesting aside which perhaps is worth recording: we were looking for stone for the rock walls and Tony offered to drive me in his car out to Queanbeyan to have a look for some stone that was available in a quarry out there. I vowed that that was the last time that I was ever going to go in a car with Tony because I found out on that trip that he was actually banned from driving Commonwealth cars and he had special dispensation to drive his own car because he had managed to wreck the Commonwealth cars.
There was a later incident that is probably also worth recording in that Tony drove his car around the Gardens pretty much at the same pace that he drove on the roads and one day he finished up down the bottom of the Rainforest Gully and we had to hire a crane to get the car out of the Rainforest Gully. Tony was a nice fellow but he had certain drawbacks and his knowledge of plants was fairly limited particularly Australian plants. He eventually retired. I can't recall what year now. I'm not sure whether Tony is still alive. He must have retired round about 1970 I would think.
HIGGINS: Of course Ross Robbins who we have already mentioned, he got the position originally as Curator but only stayed for I think six or seven months or something of that nature before you came down.
WRIGLEY: I don't think it was even as long as that because I doubt that it was that long. I had three weeks with Ross when I arrived which was very valuable because he could at least tell me what he was planning and what he was about. My job was a total change from what I had been used to and something that I had to get the feel of both from the personalities involved and also the nature of the work and that was a very valuable three weeks. Whilst I probably didn't agree with all the things he had in mind a lot of the things were very helpful.
HIGGINS: Can you tell me what some of those things were? You mentioned earlier that he was just starting to get the stone walls in.
WRIGLEY: Yes, well that was one thing and I continued that pretty much on the basis that it had been started. The Rainforest hadn't been started at that stage, the watering system in the Rainforest. I can't recall too much else of those three weeks. It's a long time ago.
HIGGINS: Sure I understand. What sort of a chap was he? Did you get to know him well enough to form an opinion of him as a man?
WRIGLEY: Yes, I think Ross was an academic, very much an academic and I think my general philosophy was much more practical than Ross's was. Ross had been used to university life. He'd worked in New Guinea and he actually got an appointment in New Guinea when he left the Gardens. A nice fellow but I'm not sure that management of a garden was quite his scene and I think he would have been the first to admit it. I think he was quite pleased to get the New Guinea job.
HIGGINS: Well it certainly seems to me that the position at the Gardens was one that demanded a person who could apply the work that they were doing. It certainly wasn't an academic exercise.
WRIGLEY: No it wasn't and I think this is perhaps something that other botanic gardens may be able to learn also. It's terribly important that a manager of a botanic gardens is a practical person and sure he's got to be intellectually equipped but he needs to have that practical bent as well.
HIGGINS: Of course Ross went off to New Guinea. Do you know where he is now?
WRIGLEY: No I'm sorry I don't. I haven't followed him up at all.
HIGGINS: Lindsay Pryor of course played a very important founding role if you like at the Gardens, did you have much contact with Lindsay?
WRIGLEY: Not a great deal because there was great antipathy between Betty Phillips and Lindsay. They just didn't see eye to eye one little bit. However I had some contact with Lindsay directly because I started a masters degree when I moved down to the Gardens, in Botany. Because my botany was totally lacking in my original training I did a years plant physiology with the Botany Department at the uni and part of a year's plant ecology. At that stage my family was growing and my work at the Gardens was becoming more and more complex and time consuming and I realised that that was a pretty crazy thing to do and I just wiped the masters study totally. In addition I couldn't see that it was going to help my chances in my work or do anything in that direction.
I got on well with Lindsay and I still do. I see him occasionally but fairly rarely these days unfortunately but certainly his work in the original development of the Gardens was very significant.
HIGGINS: Did you ever go to him for advice or sort of ring him up and say, 'What do you think I should do here or do you have any comments on what we're doing'?
WRIGLEY: No I guess I didn't. I went to Dave Shoobridge more in that area. Dave was my immediate superior and a really nice fellow. I guess also the reason I didn't go to Lindsay was the fact that he really didn't have anything to do with the Gardens because of Betty's differences of opinion with him. I figured it was safer to go to Dave Shoobridge.
HIGGINS: So what was your relationship vis a vis Betty? I mean you were on an equal footing in terms of your status in public service terms. Was there something of a power struggle there?
WRIGLEY: Yes there was. Well I'm not sure that power struggle is the right word. I think Betty saw me as being someone that took some of the kudos of the Gardens away from her. Betty initially was very helpful. We talked a lot and we discussed things in the Gardens.
In 1968 which the year after I went to the Gardens we organised a field trip to Western Australia. It was a very long trip. I think it was about fifteen weeks and she was going to take the first part and I was going to take the second part and this is in fact what happened. We crossed over in Perth, had a couple of days together and everything was pretty fine then but I think at that stage Betty had started to go down hill a bit in her health and her other problems. She became increasingly difficult to talk with and got to the stage where really I just couldn't get on with her one little bit and we had some fairly harsh words from time to time.
At one stage there was a conflict with the stocktaking team. She used to employ students a lot, mostly Asian students. Some of these weren't really doing a day's work and they were playing on Betty's generosity and ignorance of what was going on. I can't remember exactly when this was but there was a period when Betty must have been away and the stocktaking team was put under my control and she came back. Previously it had been under her control which was pretty silly really because it was very much a Gardens function rather than a Herbarium function.
The members of the stocktake team had been there for years and they were fairly loyal Betty supporters but this move was made by Dave when he knew that Betty wasn't really coping with her day to day functions and the stocktake team was put under my control. She came back and found that this had happened and from then on the whole thing deteriorated rather rapidly and eventually she was retired sick and that was the end of it.
HIGGINS: She left, I think, in 1973 so obviously for a period of about five years there was a difficult relationship for the two of you?
WRIGLEY: Yes well particularly I suppose the last three years of that period it was extremely difficult.
HIGGINS: Did that affect the progress of the Gardens at all do you think?
WRIGLEY: I don't think I let it do so. I'm sure it affected to some degree staff morale in some areas because everyone knew what was going on. There were no secrets about it. I think generally, certainly as far as the outdoor staff, I had their support anyway and they were a good crowd. In fact I think back in 1972 or thereabouts we probably had the biggest staff that we've ever had in the outside part of the Gardens and that even includes now.
HIGGINS: How many people did you have under you?
WRIGLEY: I'm not sure but I think the outside staff was around about 40 or 45 people and that may have included a few casuals that came here during vacation periods at university. It was a big staff and we got a lot of work done in those days because the whole top part of the Gardens was developed back in that period.
HIGGINS: There was a lot to do. OK, just talking a bit further about individuals at that time. Now David Shoobridge was head of Parks & Gardens from 1958 when he took over from Lindsay through to 1975 when he retired and you have said already that he was your boss and you seem to have had a pretty good relationship with him.
WRIGLEY: Yes, he was a fine person and we still have some contact. He's been up here and we exchange Christmas cards and contact eachother once a year. Dave was very kind to Marcia and I and the family when we got there. He was actually away I think he might have been on long service leave or in India or somewhere. He went to India on some sort of horticultural business. As soon as he came back he invited me and my family down to his holiday place down at Rosedale. We got to know him and Molly in those days and we've had a good relationship ever since. He was very helpful whenever I wanted things done in the Gardens he pushed to get things done.
HIGGINS: How often was he on site at the Gardens? Would he come over on maybe a weekly basis?
WRIGLEY: No not as often as he should have been and I don't believe this was his fault. He was very heavily involved in all aspects of Parks and Gardens. I think he would have enjoyed coming up there three times a week but he just couldn't make it as much as he would have liked. He still was always open. I could ring him up or go down and see him. This wasn't a great problem. If particular problems arose then I would get him up and he would come up and look at particular problems but no he wasn't there all that frequently.
HIGGINS: This is a question that I had listed further down our list but I'll bring it in here because it seems relevant: to what degree were you left to your own devices? How autonomous were you? How much was David telling you what to do?
WRIGLEY: I think I had a great deal of autonomy and I guess I pushed for this as much as I possibly could.
HIGGINS: So this is in terms of what you were planting and where and the design? Those sorts of questions?
WRIGLEY: Yes certainly planting and planning. Planting almost total autonomy because that was entirely up to me really, what went where. Major design changes I would certainly bring to his attention or ask his opinion of. Obviously any major expenditure always had to be considered because at that stage the Gardens didn't have their own budget. We had to work with Parks & Gardens budget and it was not easy to budget at all because we didn't know exactly how much money we had.
One thing that probably I stuck my neck out a fair way for in those early days was the idea of introducing education into the Gardens for children. My kids in those days went to Turner Primary School which was the nearest primary school to the Gardens and through one of the teachers there I suggested that it may be possible to get a group of kids up to the Gardens to have a look at growing plants.
It wasn't long after I had been to America with the Gardens and looked at the education system at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Brooklyn being a fairly poor area of New York had a wonderful children's garden and children's education program and I thought we can do that here. I'd organised to get these kids up to the Gardens and teach them how to grow plants. Now I did this without telling Dave until it actually happened and when it was so successful I decided that I had better let him know what was going on. He supported it and that was the birth of kids education in the Gardens.
Now I'm not sure whether that's still going on but I did the work myself initially for probably a couple of years and then another lady who was originally part of the stocktake team and interested in kids and understood kids, she took over that role and ..
HIGGINS: That was Effie Mullins.
WRIGLEY: Effie Mullins and she did it very well for a number of years.
HIGGINS: So what time is this that you're talking about when you introduced this education program?
WRIGLEY: It must have been about 1971 I would think. There may be something on file.
HIGGINS: But around that time early seventies?
WRIGLEY: Around about 1971/72. It was well before Dave Shoobridge retired. Probably about that time.
HIGGINS: After Betty left in 1973, in 1974 she was replaced by Arthur Court as Botanist. How was your relationship with Arthur and were your two roles pretty much the same as they had been, say yours and Betty's before?
WRIGLEY: Well I knew Arthur Court when he was in Melbourne as a botanist. I met him on a couple of occasions. When he arrived I thought this is an opportunity to change things. We've got a new guy let's hope that the relationship is going to be heaps better than it was with Betty.
I invited him up for dinner shortly after he came there because we lived in the Gardens at that stage. He came and my youngest daughter was pretty tiny in those days. She would have been about three. I don't think Arthur was one that really appreciated kids and she sort of raced around the place and doing what normal three year olds do. I'm not sure that he was really impressed with the Wrigley household but we had dinner.
I really didn't ever understand Arthur and I've only got on reasonably well with Arthur since I've left the Gardens. I really can't understand that. I can't explain that. I thought I did everything I possibly could to do the right thing with him but he became very difficult. I got to the stage where we almost didn't talk to each other. This was I believe his doing rather than my doing. I'm not saying I'm perfect by any means but he was a very difficult guy to talk with and he didn't really see that the Gardens had much of a role as such I don't believe. I think he was very much a herbarium person and he didn't spend any time in the Gardens. I couldn't talk to him about the Gardens and so it went on. Things didn't improve.
HIGGINS: About that time I think was when the new Herbarium building was built up the hill and is still there today?
WRIGLEY: Yes that's right. It was around about that time and this was his little empire and it remained his little empire and the Gardens was mine.
HIGGINS: Well there seems to be there, John, from the earliest days or say through Betty's period and with Arthur quite a division, a psychological division, between the Herbarium on the one hand, a very scientifically and theoretically based entity, and the actual growing of the plants on the other and never the twain met?
WRIGLEY: Yes that's right. Very unfortunate. It's not the only botanic gardens in Australia where that has happened. I think you've got almost two different philosophies where you've got a very academic attitude in people who work in the Herbarium and a more practical attitude of the people who work in the Gardens.
It is very unfortunate and I think to some extent this was exacerbated by the fact that the two of us were working on the same level in the same area and the boss, who was Dave Shoobridge originally, was a long way away. I'm sure this was part of the problem. I think the appointment of Robert Boden as Director helped that to some extent but it didn't help it completely. I think Arthur remained fairly, I guess, Herbarium orientated and the Gardens remained separately.
HIGGINS: I was going to go on and ask you about the period under Robert Boden. He was appointed Director in 1979 and then you left in 1981 so there were only a couple of years but from what you just said there the bringing together of the two halves of the organisation didn't really progress much during those couple of years, would that be right?
WRIGLEY: Well yes. I think it helped to some extent. I had known Robert for many years prior to that. In fact we went to university together. I applied for that job when it was advertised, the Director's job, realising that if I had attained the position I would have just about got ulcers because it would have been a very very difficult situation. I also at that stage had planned to leave in 1981.
When Robert got the job, which was really no surprise as far as I was concerned and certainly I had no animosity towards him at all, I told Robert as soon as he was appointed that I was going to leave in two years. I'd planned it that way. I was going to take some long service leave in that last year and at that stage we had bought the land up here in Coffs Harbour and I had sort of planned my future around that.
Robert and I got on very well together and just about every afternoon after everyone had gone home, he would either come into my office or I'd go into his office and we would chat for perhaps an hour about things that were going on. This was great. This was really a very good part of my time at the Gardens. I enjoyed his company. I think he enjoyed my company and I think he realised that my knowledge of native plants was fairly good anyway. He also understood the situation between Arthur and myself and whilst it didn't improve very much, I'm sure the general attitude in the Gardens was improved.
HIGGINS: So from what you were saying earlier, the whole reason in creating this directorship was to try to bring about the melding of these two halves?
WRIGLEY: Oh yes but also to give the Gardens more status. I had a bachelors degree, Arthur had a bachelors degree. We wanted a PhD up there for what good that might be. I think there's a certain status symbol in having a doctor's degree and Robert had that. Robert was a great empire builder. He wanted to build up the management side of the Gardens perhaps to the detriment of the Garden staff which was something that we differed on to some extent.
HIGGINS: The outside staff?
WRIGLEY: The outside staff yes. He in fact achieved that and he was a very political animal. He knew the angles to approach because he had been involved in National Parks and he had been in political aspects of government for a number of years at a fairly senior level. He fought very hard to get various positions upgraded and eventually did succeed. Of course after I left the whole structure of the Gardens was changed considerably. It probably, to some extent, was because I left because the way it was changed was going to be difficult if I had remained there.
HIGGINS: You mentioned earlier about that collecting trip to Western Australia in 1968. I would just like to go back to that because that clearly was one of the major collecting trips out of which the Gardens collection was created. Could you just describe it for me? It was four months long and it obviously was a major undertaking?
WRIGLEY: Yes it was and there were a lot of very good collections made. There were four people on the trip all the time although those two people remained on the whole trip and the other two swapped over. The collections came back in good condition. Of course this also perhaps may be worth mentioning at this stage although you've got it down in the next section here. The nursery was of course created at the Gardens in those early days I was there because I could see major problems in any propagating material coming from Yarralumla. Records weren't being kept properly and plants were being lost and it was a totally untenable situation. So the Gardens nursery was developed in 1967.
HIGGINS: Was that as a result of your impetus or was Ross Robbins already doing that?
WRIGLEY: No, I can't recall Ross ever considering that. It was something that I could see was a major miss and as I remember all that construction was done at my initiative with Dave Shoobridge's agreement of course. We had an Italian guy there, Dominic Minitza his name was, who used to work with Betty at the Snowy Mountains Scheme and used to do her own private gardening in her house. This had a few problems because Dominic whilst he was a very good outside gardener, was quite hopeless as a propagator.
At that stage the Jervis Annex had a Yugoslav fellow in charge, Ivan Colaric, and Ivan was a very good horticulturalist. I managed to get Ivan up to the Gardens as propagator and this was a very good move because he handled propagation of native plants. Whilst his knowledge of native plants wasn't all that good he was a good propagator which was all we needed. He then took over propagation from Dominic who I think was moved outside, moved to Government House actually as a gardener there.
Ivan came with me on the second part of the second part of that Western Australian trip but in the first part he was propagating and he could see the material coming back and very good collections came back. Betty and Peter Zanda were one team and Bernie Starks and Estelle Canning were the other team. They sent back material separately or all together and we got some good stuff.
I went over on the second part and I think our collections were good also and we got a lot of very very good material. Unfortunately shortly after that we had our bad experience with Phytophthora in the Gardens and quite a bit of that Western Australian stuff was lost as a result of Phytophthora contamination. I don't believe that this happened specifically because of soil coming back from Western Australia. I think Phytophthora was in the Gardens anyway and because we weren't sterilising soil our methods of propagation weren't as good as they are now and the fact that a lot of this Western Australian material is very prone to Phytophthora attack we probably would have lost a lot of the stuff anyway.
However a lot of the stuff did grow and I guess some of it is still growing in the Gardens anyway.
HIGGINS: When you were actually doing the collecting on that trip was it basically roadside collecting or would you walk say away from roads for a day with a pack on your pack? How was it actually done?
WRIGLEY: It was mainly roadside collections and if I can use an excuse for that, in Western Australia the greatest variety of native plants is seen on the roadsides and in gravel pits on the roadsides. This apparently is due mainly to disturbance which exposes seed to light or better conditions for germination, run off from the roads and so on. Whilst we did some walking, a lot of it was roadside collections and the volume of species that we collected I think is evidence that that sort of collection is acceptable. I have been on many other field trips with the Gardens and under totally different circumstances when we might walk for a day and collect on the way. At that stage we weren't looking for specific plants. We were looking for anything that we didn't have virtually. That was the philosophy of the trip. I think it was probably the correct philosophy at that stage. Things have changed a lot since then.
HIGGINS: Getting the propagating material back to Canberra, that had to be done pretty speedily. How did you do it?
WRIGLEY: We had car fridges and every few days we packed material and we sent them back by air, air express or air cargo back to Canberra. In general those things arrived in good condition.
HIGGINS: It must have been a bit of a logistical nightmare to have yourself near an airport every few days.
WRIGLEY: The airways infrastructure isn't too bad in Western Australia. A lot of the major towns have good small airports and we could get stuff back to Perth and on to Canberra. MacRobertson Miller Airways were the airlines in those days.
HIGGINS: And the bulk of that propagating material, that was in the form of cuttings or was it seeds?
WRIGLEY: Cuttings and seeds. Both were collected. This was a spring trip. I think it finished up in November thereabouts, started in August. Of course at that time of the year there's not a great deal of seed apart from those things that have permanent seed like hakeas and melaleucas and so on that hold onto their seed. So most of the material was cuttings but certainly there was an amount of seed as well.
HIGGINS: Are there any other collecting trips that you would like to comment on at this point that you believe were significant and in which you were involved during your time at the Gardens?
WRIGLEY: Yes there were a number. I had a number of trips with Ian Telford and Ian's interest was mostly in tropical plants. We had two trips to Kakadu and one trip to Cape York with Ian. I believe those trips were very significant in acquiring material for the Gardens. Ian and I get on very well on field trips. We don't see much of eachother outside field trips I have to say but Ian works very very hard on field trips and we enjoy eachother's company. I believe that we worked as a team very well - Ian doing the botanical bits and I was doing the horticultural.
On the Western Australian trip of course I was allegedly the botanist and Ivan Colaric was the horticulturalist but again we worked as a team.
HIGGINS: Would you generally be living in tents on these sorts of trips?
WRIGLEY: The Cape York trip yes. Kakadu was a different exercise in that we were doing it in conjunction with Australian National Parks and we had access to one of the ATCO huts at Jabiru and we stayed overnight in air conditioned luxury in these ATCO huts but went out on extensive field work during the day using a helicopter as well. This allowed us to get to areas which were pretty difficult to get hold of. We did quite a lot of walking also and we had access to four wheel drive vehicles of course.
HIGGINS: This is in the seventies.
WRIGLEY: Yes the Cape York trip with Ian was 1976 no it was 1972. The 1976 trip I did with the Australian Orchid Foundation up there. The Kakadu trips were I think in 1980 and 1981. Just before I left. I think the Gardens staff thought I was permanently away in 1981 because I had some long service leave as well.
HIGGINS: You mentioned there about the importance of the construction of the Nursery and transfer of propagation from Yarralumla to the Gardens both of which took place in 1967. Now that point about soil sterilisation, when did you start sterilising soil at the Gardens?
WRIGLEY: I think that happened probably in late 1968 or 69 and as a result of work that had been done by Ken Baker, an American who developed this UC method - UC being University of California - UC mixes to grow plants. At that stage an Australian branch of what was then an American organisation, the International Plant Propagators Society was formed and I was involved in that early formation of the IPPS. Ken Baker had given papers in conjunction with the Society and the UC mix was then adopted by most of the major nurseries in Australia and we adopted it also and adopted soil sterilisation.
HIGGINS: Problems like Phytophthora that's one particular disease and David Shoobridge has told me how it was a real headache because this is in the lead up to the official opening that this thing breaks out and he said that parts of the Gardens looked like quarries where you had to get rid of the soil and put new soil in etc. Is that how you recall it?
WRIGLEY: No not completely. Parts of the Gardens were fairly badly decimated. I agree. What we did in those areas was mainly put plants in that weren't prone to Phytophthora. We didn't do a great deal of soil moving.
HIGGINS: That might be just my interpretation.
WRIGLEY: I don't think we did very much in the way of soil moving at all and if we had it would have been a pretty useless exercise because I don't think it would have solved the problem.
HIGGINS: He did talk about using Westringia as a graft I think.
WRIGLEY: Well this is what happened. This as an idea I had. It wasn't a new idea because it had been done last century in England grafting of native plants to make them easier to grow. It had been done with Sturts Desert Pea, it had been done with correas, but at that stage our major problem in the Gardens was with prostantheras, the mint bushes. They were going out like flies with Phytophthora.
At that stage Ivan Colaric had left the Gardens and we had a Finn as propagator. His name was Jako Jowiehanan. Don't ask me to spell that. Jako is easy enough but the last bit is very difficult. It starts with a 'J'. Anyhow Jako was a brilliant propagator and he had experience with grafting. We managed to talk him into grafting Prostanthera onto Westringia because no Prostantheras was resistant to Phytophthora but Westringia was as tough as nails and very closely related to Prostanthera and these intergeneric grafts don't always work but we took a gamble and it did work.
I remember the IPPS conference I attended I gave a paper on grafting of Prostanthera and at that stage this was really the birth of grafting of native plants in this century in Australia and now of course it's a major commercial fact that grevilleas are being grafted by most of the major nurseries and banksias are being grafted and other things as well, Darwinias and some other Western Australian plants that are very difficult to grow on their own roots over in the east.
HIGGINS: And it was the Botanic Gardens which facilitated this?
WRIGLEY: We started this yes. I don't know whether this is totally recognised but it was certainly where it all started. At that stage also we had another very good horticulturist with the Gardens, Peter Ollerenshaw who incidentally would be another person if you have sufficient funds would be worth talking to. He's still in the Canberra area. Peter also took some of these things under his own wing and started some grafting work himself. It was very successful and I believe that there are still grafted Prostantheras in the Gardens that were grafted in the early seventies. So it was something that was a major breakthrough for us.
Getting back to this Phytophthora problem, grafting was a way out and still is.
HIGGINS: It must have been pretty nerve-racking making all this progress and this disease suddenly rearing it's ugly head and thinking what sort of opening are we going to have in 1970. Was it a pretty tense time?
WRIGLEY: It was a busy time. I can't recall it being particularly tense. Our major losses weren't so much in the Gardens as in the Nursery because most of these plants that had died hadn't got as far as the Gardens and what it meant was that our hygiene in the Nursery had to be improved considerably and there wasn't a great deal we could do in the Gardens except try and improve drainage where we could and look at resistant plants in problem areas.
HIGGINS: Yes David made that point about drainage and that contributing to the problem and the need to improve drainage.
WRIGLEY: It was interesting because when this was at its peak, this problem with Phytophthora, we noticed where drainage had changed on the Black Mountain Road, the drainage from the Black Mountain Road had been channelled down into the Gardens and Eucalyptus macrorhtnca which is the local stringy bark which is very prone to Phytophthora you could follow the drainage patterns from Black Mountain Road and the dead stringy barks down from it. Fortunately the other major trees in the Gardens didn't suffer.
HIGGINS: The stringy bark are still dying there. I notice. It's very sad to see them.
WRIGLEY: Yes it's interesting how some species seem to be much more prone to it than others.
HIGGINS: Of course you had a range of other natural challenges to your work. The soil quality, water, heat and frost. Could you talk about the ways in which you overcame all these things because to me the greatest achievement of the Botanic Gardens is that you've got plants from all over Australia growing in this one particular environment.
WRIGLEY: Yes I guess it's not the kindest environment in Australia to grow plants. To a major extent plants do pretty well there. I think frost was our major problem. Heat I don't think was a particular problem. We had shade, the Rainforest Gully was developed well at that stage and where plants enjoyed shade and plenty of moisture they would be positioned there.
HIGGINS: Existing Eucalypts were retained as cover as much ….?
WRIGLEY: They were retained as cover with the intention of removing them at a later date and acacias were planted, Acacia binervata and melanoxylon were planted along the gully as quick growing cover for younger plants. Frosts were a major problem and we developed all sorts of fancy frost covers, the most effective ones being the hessian supported by four stakes and another bit of hessian over the top of those four stakes. This was a very time consuming exercise. The gardeners first of all had to make them up and every day they had to remove the top cover to allow the sun to get into the plant otherwise they would rot if the sun didn't get to them. So all in all it was a busy time but we managed to achieve the kind of result we wanted. This was a fairly effective way of preserving plants that were borderline. There are obvious plants that you will never grow in Canberra outside and these are growing in glass houses. Most of the north Queensland stuff finished up there.
Other problems that we had in those days, heat I don't think was really a problem because we had adequate water and watering was a constant job. It was done automatically and this preserved plants during dry periods. Spraying insect control was of course something that we had to be very conscious of and this was carried out by the gardening overseers when necessary. We had a pretty good bird population in the Gardens which probably assisted us in some sort of insect control but nevertheless knapsack spraying was important. I guess they were the major problems that we had.
HIGGINS: What about soil. Now I understand that some of the soil from the lake bed, before the lake filled, was brought up. I think it was put in under the Eucalypt Lawn and perhaps the lawn down below the offices. Where Murray's office is for example.
WRIGLEY: Yes that's right. That happened before my time. It wasn't the greatest soil that's for sure. Drainage wasn't particularly good but we didn't do anything really to improve that and I think again we grew plants that would survive in that situation.
HIGGINS: Of these problems that we have been talking about would you say that frost was the major one?
WRIGLEY: Oh undoubtedly. I think anyone who grows plants in Canberra would agree with that.
HIGGINS: There was a wind storm I think at one time that damaged the Rainforest Gully. Does that ring a bell with you?
WRIGLEY: No it doesn't. I can't recall that happening but I'm not saying it didn't.
HIGGINS: There was also of course a bushfire threat to the site. I mean we didn't actually see that occur I think until 1984 there was a fire that burnt through part of the Gardens. Were you very aware during your period of that possibility?
WRIGLEY: Yes very much aware. We had a fire break right around the perimeter of the Gardens. We could get access for fire trucks around that area but we were very conscious of the fact that fire was a possibility and I guess our contingency was that we had a good watering system and we would put the sprinklers on in those areas where fire risk was apparent if it came to the point. We had a small fire I recall near the CSIRO at one stage but it didn't do any great damage.
HIGGINS: You mentioned there about the practice of grafting and how the Gardens are responsible for that and its contribution now to Australian commercial horticulture, were there other advances which were derived from your work at the Gardens in that line?
WRIGLEY: Yes there were. I think significantly the tissue culturing of kangaroo paws. We had problems in propagating black kangaroo paw which is macropidia and seed was pretty difficult to germinate and pretty difficult to get hold of. At that stage we had Keith Macintyre and a lass called Glenda whose name I can't remember. They were working in our research laboratory and we had equipment to do tissue culturing bought for this purpose. Glenda was a particularly good manipulator with her fingers with small pieces of plant tissue and managed to do the technique of tissue culture quite well which was really a fairly new technique in those days. I'm not sure what year that was, early seventies sometime.
Because Macropidia was pretty hard to get hold of anyway we started off with ordinary kangaroo paws Anigozanthus and she developed a successful technique for doing this. Ultimately I think it was Roger Ellyard who as research horticulturalist gave a paper at an international conference, horticultural conference I think, on tissue culturing kangaroo paws. At that stage the Israelis heard about it and took it up and they are now tissue culturing kangaroo paws and of course all Australian kangaroo paws that you buy in nurseries now are tissue culture.
So this was something that we started off and certainly resulted in a very important break through for Australian nurseries and horticulture. We also looked at Sturt desert peas doing the same thing again and Hibbertia miniata. Now I don't think these have been followed through. Some of the other things that were done in those early days were trying to break seed dormancy in some of the difficult plants that were hard to germinate. Quite a lot of work was done on this. Papers were issued by Keith Macintyre and a little progress but not massive progress and of course just recently the work done in South Africa and Western Australia with smoke treatment has probably caused that work to be pretty much redundant.
The theory is that a lot of these plants germinate very well after bushfires and most of our work was involved in leaching inhibitors out of the seed and also heat treatment of the seed which would simulate a bushfire. In fact it would seem that it's not the heat so much as some component in the smoke that causes the seed to germinate. This work both in South Africa in the Finbos and also in Western Australia has proved quite successful.
HIGGINS: The use of rooting hormones that must have been pretty substantial in your propagation work and did you make breakthroughs there?
WRIGLEY: Yes. Roger Ellyard , who as I said was our research guy in part of that time, developed a formula and in fact marketed it privately with fairly high percentages of plant hormones which did in fact increase the rooting percentage and the amount of roots on cuttings. I'm not sure what Roger is doing now whether he's still marketing that product but it was quite successful. I think there are probably similar products on the market these days anyway.
HIGGINS: Moving away from that area onto the design of the Gardens and by design I mean the actual decisions about where to plant what, where to make paths, where to make rock walls. Were these sorts of design decisions your own?
WRIGLEY: Mostly yes but not entirely. Some of them were done by gardening overseers who would suggest things and then would bring the problem to me or the suggestion to me. Ian Telford was fairly much involved in plants in the Rainforest and of course in latter years the design of the Rainforest has changed considerably and for the better I suggest. The Rainforest plantings are designed more to match ecological groupings. The Rockery was designed by John Deveson who was a local landscaper who was contracted to do that design and again he did it in liaison with me but the design was definitely John's. John used to work with City Parks in the early days and then went out on his own with a couple of others to form a landscape contract firm. I guess that's mainly the situation.
HIGGINS: With the actual building of the rock walls and I would like to focus on those because they are a major feature of the Garden I mean there's miles of them. Who was actually doing that work? Were they Gardens staff who were doing that or contractors brought in or people from elsewhere in the department?
WRIGLEY: They were done by Parks & Gardens staff. The concreting staff of Parks & Gardens staff weren't actually part of the Gardens staff but were responsible to the overseer of the concreters, a guy called Bob Bender. The fellow that was responsible as far as the team that worked in the Gardens was a fellow called Carl, a German guy, and I can't think of his second name. He was a good concreter and he I think was responsible for almost all the work that was done in the Gardens.
HIGGINS: You mentioned the Rockery there, if we could discuss the concepts behind and the actual work on some of these specific places within the Gardens. Now the Rockery itself, why did you want to put in that rockery?
WRIGLEY: I guess the Rockery was basically my idea because having been to some of the overseas botanic gardens: Kew and Edinburgh, the RHS Garden at Wesley, rockeries were really a major focus of those gardens. We had nowhere in the Gardens to exhibit the small plants of the Australian flora and a rockery was the only way to really do this and I strongly recommended to Dave Shoobridge, I think it was Dave Shoobridge in those days. Anyway to whoever was in charge…
HIGGINS: It must have been ….. Dave had talked a bit about the Rockery but he finished in 1975 and then the Rockery opened in about 1980 so maybe some early work was done. It would have been Ron Murray who would have had his job I think by 1980.
WRIGLEY: It was Ron Murray, that's right. OK well it was Ron Murray and we managed to convince him that it was a good thing and it was put on the program and I think John Deveson did a pretty good job of the design. We then looked at various soil compositions in those rockery beds to allow different parts of the flora to be grown successfully. There was an arid section, there was an Alpine section, there was an area with limestone underlay, some of the Western Australia stuff and generally it worked pretty well. The Rockery was a real show place and allowed us to plant those plants which otherwise we wouldn't have been able to grow anywhere except in pots. I think it has been successful.
HIGGINS: And the rocks themselves act as a heating element do they not?
WRIGLEY: Oh yes very much so. They absorb heat during the day and certainly some of the plants that are growing in the Rockery successfully wouldn't be able to grow in an open situation without that sort of protection. We've still got limits obviously but it certainly improves the frost resistance of the plants.
HIGGINS: The rocks themselves did they come originally from the excavation work being done for the Black Mountain Tower and/or from the Tuggeranong Parkway excavation work?
WRIGLEY: I think they all came from the Tuggeranong Parkway as I remember. I don't think any of them came from the Black Mountain Tower. I'm a bit hazy on that one but certainly the majority of them came from the Tuggeranong Parkway.
HIGGINS: And how did you get on to that? Someone must have had their ear to the ground knowing that there was this rock available.
WRIGLEY: Yes. See the Rockery was originally an NCDC project and that's how major capital works were done in those days. They were done through the NCDC so we had to liaise with them as to what we needed and how the work was going to be carried out and I presume seeing that the Tuggeranong Parkway was an NCDC project that two and two were put together.
HIGGINS: Now some other specific areas. We've talked a little bit about the Rainforest Gully and I think that it was in 1970 that the misting system went in and I saw in the files some fairly critical comment in the press about 'why does Canberra need more mist?' pretty superficial rubbish but obviously that was an important step?
WRIGLEY: It certainly started well before 1970 the construction of that mist. It took a while to get it right through the Gully and perhaps it wasn't finished until just before the opening but Romeo, the plumber whom I referred to earlier, was responsible for the construction of that area and he was a very meticulous chap who didn't like getting his hands dirty because he wore great big gloves and was very much a ladies' man, a nice fellow.
HIGGINS: It must be hard for a plumber who doesn't like to get his hands dirty!
WRIGLEY: That's right. He was a very atypical plumber but a very nice guy and a very thorough fellow. His workshop which he developed at the Gardens was quite a work of art. Everything was in its place and if anything was missing he'd know immediately because it wasn't on its right hook. He did the construction job for that area and I think it started in the late sixties.
HIGGINS: It was in seventy when that press comment was made so maybe that was when the figure was released about what it cost.
WRIGLEY: It would have been finished for the opening.
HIGGINS: The actual walkways, the public walkways through it, I think they were after your time?
WRIGLEY: As they are now down in the bottom of the Gully that's certainly post my time. The tracks were around the Gully and the two bridges, one in the middle down from where the house was and one up the top. They were constructed in my time but the actual walk down the bottom of the Gully was constructed just a few years ago.
HIGGINS: And those bridges were they built by Garden staff?
HIGGINS: Was it you who said, 'We'll put a bridge here'.
WRIGLEY: Yes. We wanted the two crossings because we wanted a circular walk. They must have been put in in about 1968 I think 68/69.
HIGGINS: Looking further at some of these specific places and one of the ecological groupings, the Sydney Basin section, now I guess that would have been an obvious one for you, having come from the Sydney sandstone area?
WRIGLEY: Yes it was one that I supported. The actual construction of that area that was done towards the end of my time. It must have been done in the late seventies I think. It was an interesting one as far as I was concerned but there wasn't a great deal of construction work in it. It was just a matter of putting tracks around both sides of the gully. It went pretty well because a lot of the plants, waratahs and so on, do very well there. I think Ian Telford had some input into that as well.
HIGGINS: Can you say why the Sydney Basin was chosen to ….
WRIGLEY: It was chosen because we figured that that had good drainage, there was good natural soil there, there was no imported soil there it was all natural stuff. It had I guess to some extent the land form with a bit of imagination of the Sydney Basin in that we could put plants in the steep sides of the gullies. It seemed to be an obvious choice.
HIGGINS: So it's these practical considerations that are determining what sort of ecological collection it will be?
WRIGLEY: Yes pretty much so. That's how it happened. Later on that arid area, I'm not sure whether that's still there now near the Herbarium, the second Herbarium. That was mainly a Mike Crisp …
HIGGINS: The Mallee area, section 211?
WRIGLEY: Yes. That happened in my time but Mike Crisp had a fair sort of an input into that too. Again I think that was probably chosen because it was fairly close to the Herbarium and Mike was involved in the Herbarium. I can't remember a great deal of input in that one.
HIGGINS: Now the Burbidge Amphitheatre was being put in during 1980/81, whose idea was that? Did you conceive of it?
WRIGLEY: I honestly cannot remember. I certainly approved of it and I thought it was a great idea to get people into the Gardens. Whose dream it was initially I don't know whether the suggestion came from a member of staff, I don't know.
HIGGINS: So were you involved with the planning of it?
WRIGLEY: I was certainly involved. That was another NCDC project and we had input into the design but fairly limited as these things were. I think it was reasonably successful.
HIGGINS: Of course Nancy Burbidge was a botanist at the CSIRO and I guess for me it's interesting that her name was chosen rather than Betty Phillips Amphitheatre. I don't know whether Betty had died by that stage?
WRIGLEY: Yes she had. I mean Betty and Nancy didn't see eye to eye one little bit but of course Nancy was a very prominent botanist whereas I don't think you could say Betty Phillips was a prominent botanist. As a memory to Nancy I think it was more significant that that be placed in the Gardens than a memory of Betty I guess.
HIGGINS: We've been talking here about places which are successes within the Gardens. Now were there any failures. Were there any places where you had to just sort of dig it up and do something else and as an example there are some steps in the gully just above the Nursery, some stone steps which sort of lead down into the Gully and then that's it, do you remember what they were for?
WRIGLEY: We were going to put a track down there and I can't recall just why. I think we were going to put a bridge across that gully at one stage. No I'm sorry it's gone. But talking of other failures I believe the Bog Garden didn't ever come up. That was designed down past the Banksia Centre and I'm not sure I haven't been in that part of the Gardens for quite some time. I'm not sure whether it's still there as a wet area or not but it didn't come off for a couple of reasons.
One of the main reasons was lack of maintenance. When that was put in our Gardens staff was cut considerably. I have always been interested in wet area plants and I figured that that was the only area in the Gardens that we could actually grow these. Of course wet area plants being what they are tend to have to be managed very carefully because they can be quite rampant and this is what happened in fact. We didn't have a good enough gardener if you like with sufficient skill or interest to maintain the area. I don't think the area ever came off. That was one of my lesser achievements.
HIGGINS: We are just about near the end of this first tape so we might just stop if I may.
TAPE 2 BEGINS
HIGGINS: Just continuing then John, we just finished off about that Bog Garden, now of course a tropical plant conservatory was planned for just above the Rainforest Gully. Planned but not as yet built.
WRIGLEY: Yes well that was a dream that I had that ideally I would have liked to have seen that happen. We got to the stage of getting designs done by an architect from South Australia and everything was looking fine but funding was never available and I guess that was one of my regrets that that didn't ever happen because I believe the location and the potential of a conservatory in that area was really great and it would have been an incredible tourist attraction as well as being an area where you could grow plants to virtual maturity that you couldn't do so in a glass house.
HIGGINS: Do you think it ever will be built or has the moment gone forever?
WRIGLEY: I hope it hasn't. There's nothing up in that area now in the Gardens and the potential is still there. Goodness knows where the design is these days, but I would hope that some day funding might be available and that it is constructed because I still believe it's got potential.
HIGGINS: Probably the only non-native plant in the whole Gardens is this use of non-native lawns and I remember reading in the files a statement in 1966 that only native grasses would be used wherever there were to be grassed areas but obviously that changed?
WRIGLEY: Yes I couldn't have ever read that particular file I don't think. I think lawn in a botanic gardens is important. People like to sit on a nice lawn, have a picnic or just relax and rest and young kids can wander around on the lawn. I don't believe there is a native grass that can achieve that sort of surface. I know there's been work done on kangaroo grass, on Microlaema stipoides, and various other things as potential grasses that might be used but none of them will achieve that degree of fineness and sophistication that you can with exotic grasses. I believe that it's going to continue that way. I would hope it does.
HIGGINS: I'd like to move onto another subject John, that of interpretation in the Gardens and those early routed interpretive signs, the dark ones that relate to families and genera. Were you the person who wrote the text and who conceived of those?
WRIGLEY: Yes. I did that. I did the text but the routing was done by a Parks & Gardens carpenter over at Fyshwick. He did a pretty good job, I don't think he made too many spelling mistakes which was pretty amazing because he was a foreigner and he didn't have good command of English so he must have followed the text very religiously.
HIGGINS: Do you recall his name?
WRIGLEY: No I don't. I understand he was a Pole but I cannot remember his name, a guy I didn't know terribly well. I believe those signs were effective. I can't remember whether they're still there or not.
HIGGINS: They are.
WRIGLEY: Well obviously someone else must think they're reasonably good.
HIGGINS: What was your aim in putting in this sort of signage?
WRIGLEY: I think the taxonomic sections of the Gardens needed to be interpreted. As you have mentioned there are ecological sections, there are taxonomic sections, and there are other areas of the Gardens which are just a mixed planting around buildings for aesthetically pleasant appeal. The taxonomic sections I think did need some sort of interpretation and that was the idea of putting those in. I think it's probably only really in the last thirty years or so that botanic gardens have become so conscious of the need to interpret their plantings to the public and education has become a much more important function of botanic gardens that it had earlier in the century. This I guess was just part of that philosophy to improve interpretation within the Gardens.
HIGGINS: An element which is pretty clear to me in those signs is an encouragement also being given to the public to cultivate native plants themselves. You know there's a line at the end saying, 'these plants are pretty easy to grow', hint hint so it seems to me. This seems to have been quite a push during your period. It's seen also in the Growing Native Plants publication series and a proposal in 1980 for model gardens which I think were to encourage people to plant natives in their own gardens.
WRIGLEY: That was another idea of mine. I guess this is part of my SGAP background a need to try to encourage people to grow Australian plants. I have never been a person who would grow all Australian plants in a garden in my own personal garden. In fact in my garden in the Botanic Gardens I had roses and a few other things that I grew because I liked them and it's the same with my garden here. It's very much a mixture of native and exotic plants. Gardening is a very personal thing.
I think that's important but as far as the Botanic Gardens is concerned its object is to grow as many Australian plants as it possibly can. To do this you needed that sort of interpretative language if you like to tell people that they could be grown and this was the philosophy behind the production of the Growing Native Plants series and I think it's a real shame that that series didn't continue. It died when I left the Gardens which is a bit sad.
Irene Beaton started writing those Growing Native Plant things. Irene was an English lady who worked at the Gardens for the first few years I was there and then retired. She started writing those. She would give them to me and I would edit them and then they go off and be published. I think I might have written a few of those early ones as well.
From that point on after she had retired the job was then transferred to various people in the Gardens and we used to have a meeting at one stage of the year with people who had horticultural training and I had a series of plants on a list. These species would then be allocated to various people to write a little article about them. I would then do the editing and that would then become the next volume of Growing Native Plants. It worked very well because it gave staff members a chance to be involved and to think that they had actually published something. This was a great morale booster. As I said it's a shame that it didn't continue because it had all sorts of potential in a number of ways. The public enjoyed reading it, the staff enjoyed writing it and they got a degree of satisfaction from doing so.
HIGGINS: Another element in the interpretation of the Gardens is the introduction of walking trails and I'm thinking particularly of the Blue and White Arrow Trails. I understand they were your concept?
WRIGLEY: I think we developed those for the actual opening of the Gardens and it gave people the opportunity to be guided around the Garden by following these arrows to see the most significant parts of the Gardens. We were concerned that people would come into the Gardens, they'd walk around the pools or one of the areas and then they would think they'd seen the Gardens and shoot through.
This gave them the opportunity to do one of two walks or a brief walk which was the White Arrow Walk I think and then the Blue Arrow Walk which got them into the top parts of the Gardens depending on how much time they had. It enabled people to see all the significant areas of the Gardens in the least possible time with the minimum effort I suppose. This was fairly popular. I think it achieved its purpose fairly well. I' not sure whether it's still going.
HIGGINS: Oh yes the trails are certainly still there. I've talked with Murray Fagg about the Aboriginal Trail and also the background to the Nature Trail. Now the Nature Trail was I think thought up originally by the rangers who were working in the Gardens. Were they working to you and what was their job at that time? Were they defacto guides to people or was it purely a security type of position?
WRIGLEY: No it was never really a totally security position certainly security was part of it but we wanted them to help interpret the Gardens. Chris Green and Andy McWirter were the first two rangers and they were good. Andy was excellent particularly with kids and he unfortunately died of cancer before I left the Gardens but he was tops.
Their job was to show kids around the Gardens and I think we've got photographs in the collection of both of them and subsequent rangers showing them around. Neither of those two are there now of course but Kurt Thaler I think is still in the Gardens and the other guy whose name I can't remember I think is still there too. They are still doing a good job of showing people around the Gardens as far as I'm aware. They were responsible to me, yes. I employed the two of them initially and as time went by they became Murray's responsibility which I think is something he has regretted ever since.
HIGGINS: So their work was oriented originally at least towards children. You were saying showing kids around?
WRIGLEY: Yes very much so. Kurt Thaler developed an interest in birds and he took some of the bird watching tours as well. Kurt was an Austrian who had a fairly brusque manner but he knew his birds quite well.
HIGGINS: Now the Banksia Centre was opened in 1982 so just after you left but I understand the antecedents of that perhaps were an idea of yours about horticulture for the blind, is that correct?
WRIGLEY: Yes this started off … I had a trip to the UK and to America I think in 1975. I think it included a conference in Kew actually and part of the brief for the trip was to look at gardens for the disabled in other centres. Brooklyn had one and Wesley had one. Prior to going on that trip Tammy Fraser had shown interest and I had a discussion with her. She was interested in interpreting gardens to unsighted people and I had a session with her before I went supporting the proposal.
Then we put forward this proposal involving the local society for the blind in Canberra. We had a number of meetings and eventually the Banksia Centre was developed. It's had its ups and downs since as you have probably heard but I still think it's a good proposal.
HIGGINS: You also pointed out a report there by a chap called White. Who was he and he came out to talk to you too did he?
WRIGLEY: Yes. I think he was in Australia probably to promote his book as much as anything but he had published a book sponsored by the Readers Digest, Gardening for the Disabled and he certainly discussed various proposals with us in those early days.
HIGGINS: And where was he from? The US or …?
WRIGLEY: He was from England.
HIGGINS: And what was his first initial?
WRIGLEY: A White. I can't remember his first name.
HIGGINS: Just looking at your relations with the gardening staff. Now obviously most of the jobs that you were responsible for were all outdoors sorts of jobs so I would imagine that you were outdoors with the staff quite a lot too?
WRIGLEY: Probably not nearly as much as I should have been. You tend to get desk-bound. I had some good overseers. Peter Ollerenshaw in particular comes to mind as being a top gardening overseer who had two spells with the Gardens. He was initially an apprentice then he worked with us in the Nursery and then he worked with us again as a garden supervisor or Gardening Overseer Class 2 I think they called themselves. He certainly took a lot of responsibility from my shoulders in dealing directly with the gardeners.
I hope I had a good relationship with the gardeners. They were all very friendly people to me and I hope I was friendly to them. I, as I say, I don't think I got around the Gardens as much as I should have but I certainly tried to get around as much as I could. You do tend to get desk-bound and it's something that you've got to make a conscious effort to overcome.
HIGGINS: Did you have a personal policy of putting aside a certain amount of time each day to get out and about?
WRIGLEY: Not really. I don't think the nature of the work really lent itself to that sort of proposal. I guess what happened was that I got out when I had to get out and then while I was out did a few other things that I probably should have done before. That's how it worked. But no I didn't have a regular program.
HIGGINS: While you were out if you saw some staff say pruning something and they were going about it in the wrong way would you talk to them about that or would you leave it to the overseer?
WRIGLEY: No I tried not to deal directly with the gardeners in terms of instructing them what to do. I certainly did that through the overseers wherever possible. I can't recall, maybe I did do that on occasions. I certainly can't recall that happening.
HIGGINS: Now you have mentioned Peter Ollerenshaw. Are there are others that you could briefly discuss with me at the moment who you think made a particular contribution? You might think that everyone who worked for you made a contribution?
WRIGLEY: I think that's probably right. I think they all did whatever they possibly could. When I was first there Peter Zander and Tony Vandenbroek were the two overseers. Peter went on the Western Australian trip with Betty Phillips and he was actually living in one of the garden cottages with his family for a number of years before he moved out into City Parks. Peter was a hardworking fellow who did a pretty good job. His knowledge of Australian plants wasn't all that great. This was one of the major problems.
The other people that made a considerable contribution with their knowledge of Australian plants I believe were Brian Muffet who was in charge of the Nursery for a number of years and also Geoff Butler who only left fairly recently. Both of those had a strong SGAP background and this in fact was what was lacking I guess with most of the Gardens staff. They didn't have a strong backing in Australian plants. This is where these two guys had it over them in that they had a very good knowledge of the flora.
HIGGINS: That name Muffet - M-U-F-F-E-T?
WRIGLEY: Yes. He's now growing plants in South Australia.
HIGGINS: You made the point earlier that it was easier to get funding then than it is today so I would gauge from that you felt the Gardens were fairly well resourced during your time?
WRIGLEY: I'm sure I didn't. I'm sure I always thought that we were hardly done by but in retrospect I'm sure it was easier to get funds in those days than it is now. It used to come in fits and starts. There used to be a government purge every now and then like the Razor Gang was one experience that I had going through government departments and that has a temporary effect but generally and certainly in latter years where I worked with local government I realise that the federal government is really very well funded compared to local government and even state governments for these sort of projects.
HIGGINS: We haven't talked very much about the opening as such. Now there were two openings: the opening of the Gardens to the public in 1967 and the official opening in 1970. Do you have memories of both of those events?
WRIGLEY: I don't remember much about the 1967 opening because it just happened. I can't even recall what sort of publicity was given in the local Canberra Times in those days.
HIGGINS: Did it change your work very much from then on having the public on site?
WRIGLEY: I can't recall changes. Obviously there would have been changes. One thing was we put garbage bins all around the Gardens to collect rubbish. Those sort of minor things certainly happened but the Gardens was very much geared up to that 1970 opening which was done in conjunction with the International Parks Conference. 20 October I think was the date from memory. John Gorton opened the Gardens then and I clearly remember my daughter who must have been I don't know how old, but not very old, probably eight or thereabouts presenting a posy to Mrs Gorton and she remembers that quite distinctly.
HIGGINS: And your daughter's name?
WRIGLEY: Jenny. She's just having her second child at the moment.
The opening as I say was part of a parks conference. All the chairs were set up in the lower deck of the car park, a dais was there and all the regular sound system and so on. You've probably got on record somewhere John Gorton's speech which was really quite a classic.
HIGGINS: Yes, 'This isn't a wonderful garden which I'm sure it is…'.
WRIGLEY: That's right, something like that.
HIGGINS: That must have been very embarrassing for say David Shoobridge for example.
WRIGLEY: Yes well it was really a very strange speech but anyway the Gardens were opened and we had organised guides to show all the visitors around the Gardens in groups of fifteen or twenty or something like that. Various members of the staff were given jobs to do. The exciting thing at that opening was the fact that Dickson was there, the guy who originally proposed the Gardens back in whenever it was.
HIGGINS: Do you remember talking to him on the day?
WRIGLEY: Yes I do.
HIGGINS: What sort of a chap was he?
WRIGLEY: He was pretty old even in those days but he was an interesting guy, a bit of an old rascal I believe from just his general manner but a nice fellow. He was interested to see what was happening at the Gardens that was really not much more than a thought as far as he was concerned. I think he came down from Sydney. That was pretty exciting. Most of the directors of the botanic gardens were there. John Beard was there from Perth and Laurie Johnson from Sydney and I think it was David Churchill from Melbourne in those days.
HIGGINS: How do you think these other major metropolitan gardens felt about the Canberra one considering your specifically native flora role?
WRIGLEY: Well it wasn't too different to Perth in that Perth is mainly a native garden although they have got sections for related floras like South Africa and so on. I don't know. There's always been an incredible rivalry between the state botanic gardens and Canberra. I think they all believe that Canberra was much better funded than the state gardens and any suggestion of a national garden taking over any state responsibilities was always looked at in very poor terms by the state directors. By the same token personally we always got on very well. They were all better academically qualified than I was. I think almost all of them were PhD's but that didn't seem to have a great bearing on things. I think we all treated each other well.
HIGGINS: I'm very interested in the fact that you and Marcia and the children lived on site. Did that have much of an impact on you? How did you get away from work?
WRIGLEY: Murray was always questioning this but I've got the ability to shut off fairly easily and this I think probably saved the day. I developed an interesting hobby with tropical fish and at one stage one of the glass houses that I constructed in the back of my house had sixty aquariums in it which probably most people who walked past the Gardens didn't realise. I guess it was a way out as far as I was concerned.
My second son, Craig, became very interested also and we were breeding tropical fish and I rejuvenated the Canberra and District Aquarium Society and became president of that and I was president of that until I left the Gardens. It started off as a society with about half a dozen members to one that had over a hundred when I left. It was a lot of fun and certainly a welcome relief to plants although plants are still my life. I still enjoy keeping fish as you can see.
HIGGINS: Of course you were locked in there at night with the gates being closed down the bottom. What sort of arrangements did you have to make say if people were to come for dinner and that sort of thing?
WRIGLEY: Only with great difficulty. We had to be pre-arranged. We couldn't be visited after hours unannounced which was a problem. The kids, and we had five kids eventually when we were there, three when we started off but the cold nights in Canberra gave us a couple more I guess, but they enjoyed when the gates were closed at night because they got their push bikes out and started screaming around their hundred acre garden although Dad warned them constantly to make sure they kept on the paths and replaced all the gravel that they displaced when they skidded around the tracks.
HIGGINS: They had a hundred acre adventure playground?
WRIGLEY: They did really and they enjoyed this. Whilst at the same time it was difficult for their friends at school to come up unannounced they quite frequently had kids staying with them and I don't think they were unduly penalised by living in the Gardens. I think on the contrary they really did enjoy it but there were odd problems.
I remember going to school in the mornings that they were always running late and our eldest boy, Ross, who is now 36, managed to collect David Young's car on the way down to the front gate at one stage and did undue damage to a fairly new Volvo. Fortunately David was also a good friend and we managed to resolve that problem. On one occasion I can recall someone running into the front gate which was a very strong gate with their bike and did more damage to the bike than the gate. It had its drawbacks but it really didn't worry us a great deal.
HIGGINS: So had Ross Robbins lived in that house first?
WRIGLEY: No. I was the first and last resident. The cottage was only just completed when I moved down there. In fact we had to stay in a motel for a couple of days, the one that became the Chinese Embassy actually on the main road.
HIGGINS: Now that little area of grass just behind the building I understand that was your backyard or part of your backyard and I would assume that it was fenced off so that you had some privacy. Did you ever have problems with people peering over or wanting to pick one of your roses for example?
WRIGLEY: I think the thing that probably got most attention was the pumpkin vines that I used to grow in the compost heap that used to climb all over the glass houses and pumpkins would appear on the top of the glasshouses. That always used to get a bit of a comment. We had the odd person who would come in but it really was quite private. It wasn't a major problem.
I had designed the tracks so that they didn't go immediately past the house. The entrance when we first came there was actually past the public toilet, the entrance to that house. It wasn't where it is at the moment and that was a bit of an embarrassment and we changed that because they say where did John Wrigley live and the answer would be up past the public toilet. So we changed the route of that and then came up the main road past the Rainforest Gully. It was a nice place to live really. Probably the best real estate in Canberra.
HIGGINS: It is interesting that you had exotic plants in your own garden there.
WRIGLEY: Well it was a private garden. I didn't have too many qualms about doing that. It was mainly natives but we did have exotics and we grew vegetables for our own use.
HIGGINS: Do you think it was necessary for you to live on site? Could you have done the job as well living outside?
WRIGLEY: I think there was a security advantage in having a resident in that part of the Gardens and I'm not sure how that situation differs now because there isn't a resident there. I think there was an advantage. I frequently after hours walked around the Gardens just as a method of relaxing but at the same time something got into your head about things that you saw and you brought them to work the next day. I think there was an advantage and if I had the opportunity again I would probably do the same thing and want to live there. I know Robert Boden was quite interested in living there at one stage but he had problems because he owned another house, I think that was the worry.
HIGGINS: You must have got to know that hundred acres or whatever extremely well, like no other person.
WRIGLEY: Yes pretty well. We knew it very well. It's interesting to walk around it now. I don't do it very often. We get down to Canberra because we've still got family in Canberra. We get down to Canberra a couple of times a year but I don't always visit the Gardens it just depends how much time we've got. A lot of good memories.
HIGGINS: If we could just shift briefly the focus down to Jervis Bay. This project isn't looking in any great detail at Jervis Bay but perhaps you could tell me the extent to which you got down there and the degree of involvement you had with that as a percentage of your work with the main Gardens in Canberra?
WRIGLEY: Probably again not as much as I should have in retrospect and even at the time I realised that time was very very difficult to make to go down there because you went down early in the morning and got back late at night or sometimes stayed down there overnight but mostly it was a one day trip and it was a long trip down and back. Ivan Colaric was the first guy that was in charge down there when I first went. He was a good reliable fellow who worked on his own quite well. Bernie Starks followed him and Bernie wasn't ideal for that job really. He didn't know much about native plants. He was German and his attitude with the Aborigines down there wasn't all that crash hot but eventually Fred Howe was appointed down there.
Fred used to be an apprentice with City Parks and was a pretty wild apprentice but he turned out to be 'the' guy for Jervis Bay. A very very reliable bloke who worked on his own, got on very very well with the Aborigines who were the main part of the staff down there and developed a real interest in Australian plants. Of course he's still there. Fred was the best thing that happened to Jervis Bay.
I used to try and get down there at least once a month and it didn't always happen that it was once a month but I certainly had that object to try and do that and when I was down there we would spend the whole day with the overseer just walking around and trying to sort any problems that he might have had and talking to the staff and so on down there.
HIGGINS: How big was the staff?
WRIGLEY: Five I think.
HIGGINS: Were they mainly Aboriginal?
WRIGLEY: All Aborigines I think. There might have been one white guy there for a period but they were all Aborigines and I think they were all called McLeod.
HIGGINS: Were they all from Wreck Bay?
WRIGLEY: Yes they were from Wreck Bay. There were some good guys amongst them. Some of them were a bit wild but Fred used to get his pound of flesh out of them.
HIGGINS: Coming back then to the main Gardens, the Gardens have played a role in producing cultivars over the years. One that springs to mind is the Braidwood Brilliant waratah and of course I'm sure there would be many others that I'm not familiar with. Were you pursuing that with any sort of vigour?
WRIGLEY: It's something that I had a great interest in because I figure that if Australian plants were going to hold their own in world horticulture, cultivars had to be developed, both hybrids and selecting good forms of species. Braidwood Brilliant was actually done by Doug Verdon which was a hybrid between mongaensis and Telopea speciosissima and it did quite well.
But I don't think you're right in saying that the Gardens had developed many cultivars because I don't think there were very many actually developed at the Gardens because we just didn't have the staff to look at plant breeding. Plant breeding was something that I always had in the bottom drawer and reckoned it was always something we had to do but didn't ever have the staff to do it. There were too many other urgent horticultural problems that had to be solved like propagation and so on.
Most of our horticultural research work was designed to overcome propagation problems and plant breeding was something that we just didn't get around to but I still believe it is something that should be looked at. Now of course that plant breeders rights are available and have been legislated there's much more incentive to do that sort of breeding work than there was in those days when you really wouldn't get a great deal out of it financially. Of course after I left horticultural research died and it is only just in the recent appointment of Ian Dawson that it's coming back as far as an active part of the Gardens work is concerned and that was a major disaster in my view. It was an important part of the Gardens that I think should have had much much higher priority than it did have.
HIGGINS: We mentioned earlier about the Growing Native Plants series and perhaps more well known to the public at large is the book that you've done with Murray Fagg, Australian Native Plants which has gone through several editions all in huge print runs. Would you like to talk about that? Now I understand that had to be worked on outside of work time but obviously that took up a fair bit of your spare time?
WRIGLEY: 1977 was quite a year. That was the year I wrote Australian Native Plants and it was done entirely in my own time every night of the week and every weekend for the whole year virtually because it took the whole year to work in its first edition. Murray and I became firm friends I guess at that stage. We knew eachother and got along well before that but I asked him if he would be able to do the drawings for the book and he agreed and we had a contract arranged along those lines with Collins. Collins actually approached me to see if I would do the book, it wasn't my idea initially although it was something that I had in the back of my mind and needed some sort of a catalyst to develop it. I agreed, Murray agreed and we worked flat out for the whole year.
We had five kids at that stage and Marcia typed the whole manuscript herself at the same time as looking after five kids so it was a pretty testing time. We still finished up good friends at the end of it but it was a very very busy year and I legitimately didn't do any work in work time at all for that year on the book. I don't think work suffered in any way. If anything suffered it was my eyes because that's when I had to wear glasses from that point on. I'd set up a little office because the house was pretty small. It's only a government house and I'd set up a little office in our bedroom where I managed to write away each night in long hand. No computers in those days.
HIGGINS: It must have been gratifying for you to have such a huge success with the book being reprinted so often.
WRIGLEY: Yes I guess it went beyond our expectations and even beyond the publisher's expectations. The book was launched in October 1979 it must have been, and it sold out before Christmas so it was a rapid reprint and I think in total we've sold over 120,000 copies and I'm just doing a fourth edition now with a different publisher incidentally so we'll see how it goes. Murray is still involved of course.
HIGGINS: I guess there's some connection here between the success of the book and this sense of mission on the part of the Gardens to try to spread the word about Australian flora to the Australian population.
WRIGLEY: Yes I'm sure that's right. I drew very heavily on my experiences at the Gardens in writing the book and a lot of the information that is in it is as a result of things we did in the Gardens so that was certainly an important part of it. I think too at that stage my name had got around a little bit in gardening circles particularly with SGAP which is a very big organisation Australia-wide and I'd also made some contacts overseas and John Simmons who was curator of Royal Botanics Kew at that stage whom I had become friendly with had written the framework for the book. I think all of those things helped to sell it. At that stage Australian native plants were running pretty much on the crest of a wave too.
HIGGINS: Perhaps the Botanic Gardens played a part in producing that wave?
WRIGLEY: Oh yes undoubtedly it did for sure. It had good visitation and I'm sure the fact that it was there ….
HIGGINS: Looking back on the way that the Gardens role has changed over the years, there was an early emphasis on it being a place of scientific research rather than a place of public recreation and at one time it was stated, in fact I think in 1967, in a Canberra Times article that there would be no kiosk but of course a kiosk was subsequently built and today we have sculpture displays and other sorts of cultural events. So in that sense the original vision of the Gardens has evolved. What do you think about that changing role?
WRIGLEY: I support it in general terms. I believe that any botanic gardens should have four functions and those should be fairly well balanced. They're not always well balanced. Those functions are recreation, education, scientific function and the conservation function. The conservation function is perhaps one that has been much apparent in more recent years when there's been more an awareness of rare and endangered plants but those other three functions I firmly believe have got to have equal emphasis or as near as equal emphasis as possible.
For a garden to succeed the public have got to be interested in the Garden. It has got to attract people to it and you attract people into it by making it aesthetically pleasing and by making it interesting to them. The recreational function sort of overlaps with the educational function here too I guess because people come into the Gardens to learn more about plants that they can grow in their own gardens so that you've got that bit of cross fertilisation that occurs there. But by the same token people can come into the Garden just to have a quiet walk away from roaring traffic or any other worries that they might have in their normal life.
As far as other functions are concerned the Burbidge Amphitheatre of course started the development of other functions where we had folk groups and various choral concerts in the Gardens in those early days after the Burbidge Amphitheatre was built and the statue exhibits that you are talking about in more recent years is sort of part of that. I think I'd tend to temper those remarks for recreation in the sort of recreation has got to be on a fairly low key.
I can recall a time, I think it was probably in the late seventies, when the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney had a jazz concert in the Botanic Gardens and there was untold damage because of the volume of people and the nature of the clientele that came to the Gardens. I think you've got to be careful to ensure that the nature of any recreational activities are in line with the general function of the Gardens itself and don't cause damage to the gardens.
The educational and scientific functions are equally important. The educational one being a great range of activities from trying to explain to kids about plants and the environment and how to grow plants to bird watching and the correct labelling of plants is all very vital. The scientific function of course I think should be more equally divided than it is in most cases between horticulture and botany. Botany is sort of getting a bit of getting a bit of an over treatment I believe. I'm not denying its importance by any means but it's just that horticulture tends to get forgotten at botany's expense. Botany gets the major part.
HIGGINS: All right just the final question John and a more personal one. When you go back to Canberra and you walk around the Gardens today do you have a favourite part of that place?
WRIGLEY: I guess my favourite parts are the Rockery and the Rainforest Gully. I feel sad when parts of the Gardens have been closed down because of the lack of staff because I believe that the management side of the Gardens has become too heavily built up at the expense of the Gardens staff and that I think is a pretty sad state of affairs. I get concerned about this. Business services have been pushed very hard and Murray has pushed these very hard too and he has sort of won the day because I guess there's something concrete that you can show for this. But it shouldn't have been done at the expense of the Gardens themselves which have deteriorated I believe in recent years. I still enjoy going back there.
HIGGINS: Why is it the Rockery and the Rainforest Gully?
WRIGLEY: The Rockery I think because of the diversity of plants. I have a personal interest in small plants, water plants and plants of that sort and the Rainforest because again that's a group of plants that I enjoy growing and I've developed here of course too in our own garden which is a much kinder environment than the one in Canberra. I think Canberra have done a great job.
HIGGINS: Well that brings me to the last of the questions I had in mind. Is there anything further you would like to add at this point, anything significant that you think we have missed out so far?
WRIGLEY: I think you have covered things pretty well. When I read your series of questions I thought gosh you've done your research pretty well. A few things there that I would certainly have forgotten to talk about.
HIGGINS: Any particular anecdotes you would like to add about things that happened?
WRIGLEY: Well I guess there was another case that's probably worth mentioning at the expense of my eldest son who had learnt to drive while he was in the Gardens and he had bought his own car but he was driving mine at the time. He had parked it in the driveway of our house and not put the handbrake on and rather like Tony Vandenbroek some years earlier he rolled down into the gully but fortunately there was an enormous eucalypt just opposite our house which stopped the car and we managed to get it out with a four wheel drive pulling the thing over. It didn't do too much damage to the garden fortunately. That was one of the near disasters.
Just off the cuff I can't think of anything else that would be worth mentioning.
HIGGINS: OK we might end it there. Thanks very much for your time today John. It has been great talking with you.
WRIGLEY: Thanks Mathew.