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Walter Hill – Light Reading… Read

May 5, 2010

Each week I dedicate one day to working on my 12-month SignatureBrisbane Seed Grant supported project, Botanica (working title). You may remember in a previous post, I started reading, ‘Walter Hill of Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens’ by Gordon Smith. Well, now I’ve finished and have Post It Notes all over my copy!

It’s been a great read and an interesting recount of some of the high and low points of Walter Hill’s life as recalled by his great-nephew and penned by Smith. It also incorporates some passages from official government documents, such as the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens Annual Reports written by Hill, which I am also looking at for this project.

Did you know…

Before arriving in Australia, Hill worked at the famous Kew Gardens, England, and cultivated a beautiful Victoria Regia water lily for the Duke of Devonshire. Queen Victoria herself told the Duke “your Mr Hill must be the pride of Kew with his devotion and capability”. Hill was extremely proud of this feat.

Hill wrote about his philosophy regarding the Gardens: “In my selection of plants I always kept in view the fact that these Gardens were designed to become not merely a pleasant and instructive resort, but a nursery for the propagation of such as were capable of being turned to profitable account upon more extended cultivation, if found to be readily acclimatized.”

The Avenue of Bunya Pines along the river in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens were the very first trees he planted there and he absolutely loved them.

The sugar cane industry in Queensland owes a lot to Hill. He undertook long research and experimentation on which varieties of sugar cane would prosper in Queensland and scoped out the appropriate locations for planting. He was also involved in experiments to crystalize sugar cane.

Hill felt his biggest failure was his inability to successfully cultivate the cinchona tree, which produces quinine, believed to be a cure for Malaria. In Brisbane in the 1860s, malaria caused more deaths than anything else.

Hill recommended good sources of timber throughout Queensland for logging and in this way, helped establish the timber industry. However, one could argue also that because of this, he is in part responsible for the deforestation of some areas of the Queensland coast and hinterlands.

It’s been great to get to know Walter Hill more closely through this book, even if the main goal of this project is to work with a number of the plants he cultivated in the Gardens as a basis for designs for new works on paper, textiles and wallpaper…

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