Jerry Coleby-Williams is Australia’s well known conservationist, horticulturalist, plant curator and ABC TV’s Gardening Australia’s fabulous presenter…
and we were lucky enough to have him visit Ormiston once again to inform us why Ormiston’s culture and environment is significant to the whole of Australia. Who would have thought a place that wouldn’t even show as a dot on the map would have so much importance.
This was the second time I had the pleasure of listening to Jerry in the Ormiston sun. The first time being Dec 10, 2014 when he stood outside Redland City Council to support a protest group with information of the importance of the Ormiston koala trees and our koalas. Reading in the local paper he was here again, I went along to Ormiston House to see why Jerry thinks Ormiston is important historically and environmentally, so much so that he keeps coming back year after year. How many of us know the importance to the Stradbroke Yuggerah people who came across in their canoes arriving at the Ormiston foreshore to collect very valuable Bunya nuts? Certainly not this writer. There are still Bunya trees at the heritage listed Ormiston House where volunteer caretakers traditionally gather the Bunya nuts and give to the Yuggerah people each year.
Why is it Ormiston House have some of the oldest trees in Australia and not other places? The answer is it’s due to the perfect soil conditions and the mixed forest which protect each other from parasites. Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney handpicked Ormiston House botanically for its pioneering agriculture. The oldest known hibiscus, about 100 years old was pointed out to us. The earliest surviving mango trees known in Queensland were most likely planted for chutney for the huge staff that ran Ormiston House, originally owned by Captain Louie Hope.
Ormiston was the birth place of the Australian Sugar Industry and developed on the 1700 acres of land owned by Louie Hope. Travelling up Wellington St, visitors pass the historical St Andrews Chapel built for staff and their families in 1868. It was not only a place of Sunday worship but the first school room for children in Redlands. Louie’s wife was the school teacher. Some staff were ex-convicts and sugar cutters whose origin was very likely slaves. The Hope family had a vast proportion of wealth (comparable today to Gina Rinehart) and commissioned gardeners to give Ormiston House is described by Jerry as “a house with a European influence on steroids”. To do this they had to clear a large area of Eucalypt forest to build a colony that would make a statement about mastering nature for the glory of the British Empire.
Almost all the beautiful statues were stolen during the changeover in 1875 to the new owners, the McCarthy family. Jerry dearly wants to see the large water fountain restored and erected back to the original spot but knows this is dependent on fund raising. If anyone has knowledge of where the original statues may now be or has any pictures or any information I’m sure Jerry would dearly love to hear from you. Louie Hope sold up and returned to England after 20 years in Ormiston after being successfully sued. He died a few short years later.
The estate was about food production as well as beauty and British showmanship. Honey bees are recorded, as well as native bush tucker, Kauri cabinet making trees and softwood trees grown for toy building. Visitors coming to Ormiston House will have no idea they are amongst valuable Camphor Laurels with 40 year old hollows with thousand of microorganisms, a rare Tipuana tree, the second ever Macadamia planted in Australia, one of only two Quadrangulata trees remaining in Australia, various trees brought by ship from South Africa, rare seeds that refuse to germinate in other areas and of course Hoop Pines used by sailors as a land mark.
Jerry’s style of educating and speaking is to take you on a wander to each and every plant, tree, fence and paver telling you all the history and botanical knowledge as if he had done a thesis on Ormiston House. He starts with the first known European arrival to Ormiston of a ship wreck survivor, found 8 months later after everyone thought he had drowned, living on bush tucker. Jerry would have helped me immensely if he’d handed out fact sheets so I didn’t have to write pages upon pages of information in my note book but that’s not his style. A casual walk around the garden with an old friend for a chat, a cup of tea and a jam scone with Australia’s famous horticultural export is Jerry’s style. Why was Louie Hope sued? Jerry will tell you all the details and it’s a darn good story.
We say a huge thank you to Jerry Coleby-Williams who accepted the adoption of Koala Bay’s handmade koala and her super cute joey from Ormiston to travel in his back pack. We chose ‘Koala Bay Koala’ our first born creation, a female with a joey in her back pack because Jerry is an excellent teacher and we need to get his knowledge fed to our youngsters. We’ll be keeping an eye on our little Koala Bay Joey to see what he has to report back to us.
Bunya Nut image – Wikimedia Commons
Ormiston House – https://ormistonhouse.org.au/the-house/house-gallery/