A man’s love of the bush has evolved into Australia’s second-oldest native garden. Myall Park Botanic Garden draws thousands of visitors by showcasing the abundant beauty of the bush and the birthplace of the acclaimed Grevillia Robyn Gordon.
The sun’s first rays pierce the canopy of towering gums and gnarly iron barks. Dew drops swell until they lose their grip and splatter onto the loamy soil. Blue bonnets flutter and scatter while kookaburras serenade in the new day.
This is dawn at Myall Park Botanic Garden. The garden, which is near Glenmorgan on Queensland’s Western Downs, has Queensland’s oldest collection of Australian semi-arid flora. It’s an every-changing display of bush beauty, with many rare species.
The 100-hectare Myall Park Botanic Garden owes its existence to amateur botanist David Gordon. Gordon inherited a lifelong fascination for Australian plants from his father, James Gordon.
Through his devotion and persistence, thousands of visitors now take pleasure and learn from the array of plants on display in the garden.
David, the fifth of nine children, was born in Talbot, Victoria in 1899. His father, originally a boot maker, would take his children on walks through the bush, exploring the natural environment, examining and learning every facet of the plants and animals that lived there.
By the age of seven, young Dave was skilled on the subject of propagation, as he watered and nurtured gum tree seeds collected by his father.
In the early 1900’s the family relocated to the Maranoa, in Queensland, during a time when the country was heavily infested with prickly pear.
By the age of 15, due to his father’s death and his eldest brother enlisting for the forces during World War 1, David took over running the family properties. His father’s philosophy that “the bush was a garden” continued to ring in his ears.
In 1926 the family purchased the “The Myalls”, later known as Myall Park. This would become the site for his garden, which he began planting in 1940.
While running the sheep property, Dave was also learning, experimenting and planting his garden. He was totally intoxicated by the heady scent of Australian flora, its beauty and uniqueness. It occupied his thoughts most of the time.In 1952, Dave married Dorothy Curtis Gemmell. Their bridesmaid carried blue native waterlilies collected by Dave from Caliguel Lagoon at Condamine on his way to the wedding in Stanthorpe, Queensland.
The match of artist-cum-teacher and sheep farmer-cum-botanist could not have been better. Dorothy soon became as enthusiastic as Dave in her love for the garden and continued painting, mostly botanical and landscape works, while raising their four children.
The wool industry was on a high and Dave directed large sums of money from the wool clip towards his garden.
Often regarded as an eccentric by others during these years, he collected specimens from across Australia, built a nursery, glass house and started a seed bank and herbarium, from which copies of specimens were sent to the Queensland Herbarium.
The garden became a living book for the couple and their children as they lived and learnt from it.
Grevillea Robyn Gordon
During the early 1960’s, Dave had planted a variety of grevilleas close together, hoping for a hybridisation. In 1963, he was rewarded with a new grevillea’s pristine display of deep pink flowerets, which he named Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ after his eldest daughter.
Three more new hybrid grevilleas were grown at Myall Park and each was named after Dave and Dorothy’s children.
Daughter Sandra Neill, who the Grevillea ‘Sandra Gordon’ is named after, recognises the importance of the work achieved by her parents.
“Their work increased the awareness to other Australians of not only how critical the survival of Australian flora is but also the beauty and variety of our flora.
Dad led the way for acceptance of Australian plants in the home garden – his new Grevilleas were heralded as the turning point in the acknowledgment of Australian native plants by the nursery trade. I am so very proud of what my parents achieved especially Dad’s unwavering generosity,” says Sandra Neill.
Dave generously gave cuttings away to the nursery trade. He was never paid a cent in remuneration. With the Grevillea, ‘Robyn Gordon’ the industry finally had a native that bloomed all year round, was compact and rarely untidy.
It was an immediate hit with gardeners and remains one of the better-sellers today. Both Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ and Grevillea ‘Sandra Gordon’ have shared the title of “best-selling Australian shrub” on many occasions.
The original Grevillea ‘Merinda Gordon’ unfortunately became extinct, however Peter, Dave and Dorothy’s only son transferred the grevillea originally named after him to his sister Merinda.
In 1969, Dave and Dorothy Gordon lost Robyn at only 16 years of age. Then, the boom in wool ended and Dave bravely tried to hang onto his sheep believing the good times would return – they never did.
The importance of the plant collection at Myall Park was officially recognised as a botanic garden in 1984. However, tragedy once again struck Dave in 1985, when Dorothy was tragically killed.
Merinda recalls sadly the toll this deep loss took on her father. The couple had always worked side by side – Dorothy forever supportive of the garden and Dave’s dream. Merinda returned home from Townsville to Myall Park to be by her father’s side and stayed for twelve months.
“Their love for each other was so deep. They shared so much more than just the plants of the garden and dreams. Dad would sit on the squatters chair on the veranda after Mum’s death and study botany books, he plunged himself more and more into his garden during this time, and it was his solace, his way of coping with such a terrible loss.”
The Order of Australia was bestowed upon Dave in 1987, however it was the increase of traffic through the garden gates that pleased him so much – botanists, artists, photographers, wildlife enthusiasts – others appreciating his garden in the bush as a special place.
Dave also placed a great interest in waterlilies, and his work with other landholders is held responsible for saving the rare pink Undulla Lily (Nymphaea gigantea var. neorosea) from extinction.
Tubers were transferred to Chinaman’s Lagoon in Condamine and lagoons on private properties – the result is a spectacular show for visitors during the late summer and early autumn.
Myall Park Botanic Garden Committee
In 1988 a committee was formed with Dave’s blessing to ensure the garden’s continuing role in Australian botany. It later became a non-profit company, Myall Park Botanic Garden Ltd.
Myall Park Botanic Garden Committee, along with Friends of Myall Park Botanic Garden, remains passionate and determined to protect and preserve the garden so future generations have access to an important gene pool of Australian flora.
They plant and trim trees, repair buildings, apply for grants and fundraise. The fireproof gallery, brightly painted in a ‘Cyberflora’ mural, was built to house Dorothy’s collection of exquisite botanical artworks.
Friends of Myall Park have made the garden a fun and informative meeting place
In Dave’s 100th year, the garden was placed on the National Estate Listing. Dave Gordon was a visionary, and his love for the bush did not stop at his garden fence. In the same year, he gave 877 hectares to the State of Queensland and it became Erringibba National Park.
Dave Gordon passed away in 2001 and as with so many men of the bush left behind a lasting legacy – his garden.