Thursday, 22 September 2016

The "Pride of Campbelltown"

In 1881, 22 acres of land on Badgally Road were established as a State Nursery. It was bounded by what is now Blaxland and Johnson Roads, with Bow Bowing Creek flowing prettily through it. The first Superintendent of the Nursery was young Scotsman Alexander Moore. Born in 1855 in Dundee, he came to Australia with his family. His father Charles had trained in the Botanic Gardens of Trinity College, Dublin, and became the Director of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney. Alexander followed in his father's footsteps and was appointed to the State Nursery. Sadly, he would only serve there for 3 years, dying of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1884. His successor John McEwan would work at the Nursery until his death in January 1913. They were followed by a succession of dedicated men, many of whom after their tenure at the nursery, would go on to work in various positions at Centennial Park and the Botanical Gardens.
The role of the State Nursery was to supply, free of charge, trees, shrubs and seedlings to various institutions around the state. These included schools, councils, railway stations and many others. Plants were originally dispatched by rail to the Sydney Botanical Gardens for distribution.


An example of the huge numbers of plants distributed by the State Nursery in one year.
A Superintendent's cottage was erected in 1882. By the turn of the century, an arboretum had been established and the Nursery was connected to Sydney Water. After 1903, plants were packed and dispatched directly from Campbelltown by "rail, coach, and steamer".
The Nursery also played a role in research. The trees in the arboretum were tested for suitability for timber and other uses, and also for adaptability to soil and climate. Early experiments in cotton growing were conducted, and some 50,000 Phylloxera-resistant grape fines were planted. Phylloxera was a huge problem to the grape industry in the area at that time.
The grounds of the Nursery were beautiful, being described as "The Pride of Campbelltown". The entrance was marked by two magnificent Bunya pines and a formal driveway. High clipped hedges acted as windbreaks, and the creek was crossed by several rustic  bridges. The drive was flanked by lawn strips and throughout the garden trees and shrubs of many varieties grew, including some rare species. Over the years more improvements were made including bush houses, a glass house, a carpenter's shop, a propagating house, a seed room, a potting and packaging shed and a mess room. Subsoiling with explosives was undertaken and sprinklers installed for watering.
Ladies in the State Nursery Gardens. Photo courtesy CAHS, Tom Swann Collection
 Many of the men who worked there did so for up to 25 years or more. Twenty men, including Barkley Haydon, George Huckstepp, and Cosmos Meredith. Barkley Haydon worked as gardener there for about 30 years, and Cos Meredith drove a horse drawn cart taking potted seedlings to the railway station. George Huckstepp was head gardener, giving 26 years of service.
Sadly, and abruptly, in 1930 the Nursery was closed. Many of the workers transferred to the Sydney Botanical Gardens. Some employees stayed on to help with the heartbreaking task of removing trees and plants. Fortunately many plants were relocated and trees dug up and taken to Sydney by motor lorry. Although the State Nursery was never intended to be a paying proposition, in 1929 it ceased supplying plants free of charge, and the demand fell rapidly. This combined with the Great Depression was probably the major factors in it's closure.
Campbelltown was dismayed, and the Mayor tried to have the closure reversed. Apart from the loss of jobs, the State Nursery had played a significant role in supplying trees, shrubs and plants for many towns and institutions, parks and gardens. Sadly, the decision had been made, and the land was sold to a Miss Chapman, who then sold it to Mr Alf Highfield. Mr Highfield was a major shareholder in Searls and Jeans, and the State Nursery began the next chapter of it's life as a flower nursery for Searls Florist Shop in Sydney. After initially being managed by Jack Hay, Alf Highfield arranged for his cousin Eric Malvern to take over the management in 1938. Eric and Elma Malvern and their baby Max arrived from Mudgee, and moved into the old Superintendent's residence. The Malvern family made the nursery their home, and had four more children whilst living there. Many trees remained from the early days, and the Malverns planted more. The huge lawn in front of the house was big enough for Alf Highfield to install a mini golf course. Tennis courts from the early days remained, and these were made great use of by Campbelltown residents.
Eric Malvern would cut roses early every morning, and other flowers late in the afternoon. They would be carefully packed in special boxes and taken to Campbelltown Station to make the 7a.m. train to the city. The flowers would be picked up by van from the train and delivered to various florist shops.

1956 - Badgally Rd running diagonally across the photo, with the oasis of the State Nursery centre.

This idyllic setting remained home to the Malverns for about 30 years. The site was eventually rezoned industrial, and although factories now occupy the former State Nursery site, many of the old trees remain. The legacy of the State Nursery lives on through the many thousands of trees and plants that were sent around the state, to parks, cemeteries, convents, churches, court houses, The Domain, Centennial Park, Prospect Reservoir, Jenolan Caves, and the Soldiers Settlement at Campbelltown, to name but a few.

Written by Claire Lynch
Sources:
"Badgally Road : the other side of the line" by Marie Holmes
Grist Mills Vol.1 No.3, Vol. 10 No. 1, and Vol. 18 No.2
Trove

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