At a meeting convened by the WA Horticultural Society, held in the Soldier’s Institute Building on Wednesday 2 December 1931, it was agreed to form the Western Australian Horticultural Council. The WA Horticultural Society was established in 1885 and was already holding flower shows at the Town Hall and one can only presume that they saw a need for an umbrella organisation better representing the many groups already established, many of them district organisations under the umbrella of the Royal Agricultural Society of WA. Affiliation fees were declared at ten shillings per annum.

The inaugural meeting was presided over by Mr Sutton, Director of Agriculture, and attended by representatives of the WA Horticultural Society, the Royal Agricultural Society, the Darlington Progress Association and various district horticultural societies.

The list of affiliated members in June 1932 records: Bassendean Horticultural Society, Cottesloe Beach Horticultural Society, Darlington Progress Association, Fremantle Horticultural Society, Midland & Districts Horticultural Society, Northern Suburbs Horticultural Society, Northam Horticultural Society, Railway & Tramways Horticultural Society, RAS, Subiaco Horticultural Society and Victoria Park Horticultural Society.

Council was fortunate in attracting patrons who were keen gardeners and were community leaders. The first patron was His Excellency the Lieut.-Governor, Sir James Mitchell (June 1944), followed by J S Beard (1969), The Rt Hon The Lord Mayor, T E Wardle, later Sir Thomas Wardle, JP (1970), The Hon J T Tonkin, AC (1996) and our current Patron, The Right Hon Richard Court continues his patronage today.

They didn’t mess around and at a meeting on 13 January 1932, a Constitution was adopted.  Early meetings were chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Mr P W Ferguson and dealt mainly with the Constitution and by-laws of the Council as well as establishing standards and classifications of dahlia, rose, carnation, chrysanthemum, gladiolus, sweet pea and floral work. Others were to follow.

They also moved quickly to produce The Gardener’s Handbook, which continues today and provides the standards and classifications applying to horticulture in Western Australia. The handbook has been revised twice following contributions from specialist horticultural groups and relies on the relevant genera groups to provide amendments. The handbook assists exhibitors, judges and societies in all aspects of horticultural competition.

Metropolitan and country groups were encouraged to include in their show schedules championships for various genera. Applications had to be made prior to a show and Council awarded the various championships to affiliated member organisations. Various enterprises, from 1937 and in the main politicians, provided handsome perpetual trophies for each championship but trophies were replaced with ribbons and certificates retained by the winner from February 1957. Trophies were permanently donated to affiliated members relevant to the winning genera when the decision was made not to continue the tradition.

Specialist societies continue to provide names of their judges for inclusion in the list of judges and general judges are graduates from two year courses conducted by WAHC. These judges make themselves available to judge country and metropolitan horticultural shows and are in great demand.

In 1932, in response to a request from the Royal Agricultural Society, it was agreed that the WA Horticultural Council would conduct the horticultural section of the Perth Royal Show and this continued until 1999, with the exception of War time when The Royal Show was suspended from 1940 to 1944 due to military personnel utilising the showgrounds but Council went ahead and ran a two day competitive spring show in 1940 “embracing all classes of flowers and pot plants including decorative work” at Perth Town Hall as a patriotic effort with all proceeds going to war funds via the Red Cross Society. The following year a one day event took place and then a break until October 1945 when the RAS coordinated a “Victory Show” returning to Claremont with the usual exhibits and Council’s assistance with running the horticultural exhibits.

There is a long history of Council organising and supporting public flower shows and seminars to enable affiliated groups to promote their genera and organisations, which of course continues today with two plant fairs each year. In the early days, Council was a strong participant in Garden Week supporting the Nursery & Garden Industry of WA, representing the professional side of horticulture. Societies were located in a huge marquee until numbers dropped, costs increased and an ageing membership found the 6 day event too onerous. The Perth Garden Festival organisers continue to invite garden groups to participate in their annual event at McCallum Park.

Discussions on the publication of a horticultural journal were on the agenda from the first meeting in January 1932 and amazingly a sixteen page monthly publication called “The West Australian Gardener” appeared in June 1932 at a cost of 6 pence (5c) (annual rate six shillings posted payable to the publisher at the time which was Paterson’s). It continued through the War years of 1939 to 1945.

Sadly the first magazine is no longer in the archives but we have the second edition, July 1932, which includes a photograph of the members of Council taken at Government House, along with still familiar titles of articles – “A Monthly Guide to Seed Sowing & Planting”, an editorial, minutes of Council, RAS and affiliated society meetings, articles on insects & pests, gladioli, leaf mould, glasshouse rambles, lecture on roses, bulbs for planting, trellis for camouflaging, dahlias, chrysanthemums, carnations, answers to questions, “boys and girls” and directory of members.  During the War years, there were various “political” articles written on the War effort and the need to support.

As early as January 1940 difficulties in publishing WAG due to War conditions and increasing costs and reduced revenue from advertising, required a consensus to continue, which it did. In June 1942 it was necessary to reduce the size of the magazine to A5 and a poorer quality paper due to restrictions but smaller print type “ensured there would be no less reading matter.” In January 1941 Council agreed to subsidise the magazine for the first time as costs overcame income. The first bad debt of $2.25 was written off on 31 May 1973 when Swan Florists went into liquidation.

The advertising rates in 1932 were given as one page 3 pounds ($6) and a quarter page 1 pound ($2). Seventeen, mainly half to small advertisements, appeared in the second issue and sadly lack of advertising has been the reason the magazine folded at times although optimism won through with various relaunches. It appeared it closed in the late 1950s but more research needed to confirm this.

There was a lot of enthusiasm when a WAG sub-committee was formed in August 1969 with the intention of relaunching the magazine and thanks to Ken May (LM) and others, a quarterly magazine appeared on 1 December that year (20c a copy and 26 affiliated societies were recorded.) “In 1998 the circulation of 1,200 copies made it the fourth largest circulating gardening publication in Australia” and it still failed and closed in September of that year. The magazine was relaunched in 2002 and five years later it closed with a print run of 1,500 with the summer 2006 issue.

There have been a large rollover of editors and publishers, some only lasting one issue before being replaced. Often the publisher was also expected to source advertising, which was often their payment for printing the magazine and sourcing subscriptions, a percentage of subscriptions being returned to Council, which we live on today.

Minutes show two scholarships were granted in March 1990 to Bentley College of TAFE for pre-apprentice horticultural students and one $500 scholarship to Murdoch University for a student who had completed his/her first year in the Diploma of Horticulture course. Records also show that the South-East Metropolitan College in Bentley which became Curtin University requested Council’s approval to change their long standing annual sponsorship of $100 to the Best Second Year Student in the Bachelor of Business (Horticulture) degree. The sponsorships were dropped when recipient organisations failed to apply and Council took on a major project of establishing a botanic garden.

Council’s optimism in its activities were evident when it leased the Rothman’s Building as a permanent administration base on the Claremont showgrounds. The cost of leasing the building used for two days a week could not be justified and a decision was made to run Council from a home office when the last administrator Ralph Hall was unable to continue due to ill health in 1999.

Since 1932, affiliated members had been encouraged to nominate two delegates from each society (one primary with voting powers) with the intention of attending quarterly Council meetings and participating in the running of the organisation. The main aims to “promote, encourage and assist the development of horticultural resources of the state, to encourage, promote and sanction the development of affiliated societies and to secure the interests of all matters affecting amateur horticulture in WA”, continue today.

Meetings moved from the Soldier’s Institute Building in Perth in 1931 to the Royal Agricultural Society boardroom a short time later and at times the boardroom held over 60 delegates attending monthly meetings. With the end of our lease arrangement with the RAS, Council moved the now quarterly meetings to the Subiaco Community Centre until the room became unavailable, necessitating another move to our current location in the Shenton Park Community Centre.

A further link to the Royal Agricultural Society was Ron Bartlett, an employee who became very involved in Council’s activities, as Council paid RAS for his time fulfilling secretarial duties until his retirement on 24 February 2000. Ron’s commitment to Council was acknowledged with a well deserved Life Membership but sadly he died a short time later.

Life Members, Past Presidents and West Australian Garden Medal recipients have been recognised on shields updated and archived in South Perth.

A full review of WAHC operations (Development Review) took place in 1999 following a survey of members with a committee looking at all aspects of the organisation and its future. Many of the outcomes have been introduced (for instance the web page, replacement logo and Garden Cuttings) although the proposed Joseph Banks Botanical Gardens was dropped as it relied on suitable land, a large sum of money and concerns were already being expressed on water restrictions and climate change but most importantly it would rely on an ageing membership to maintain the site. There were already three groups calling themselves “botanic parks” and it became an impossible dream that greatly disappointed the sub-committee who had worked hard on producing a very good concept plan.

We leave this abridged report on the history of Council with a current membership of fifty-one and plenty of optimism that we can continue the work created in December 1931 from a group of keen gardeners who had the vision to promote and encourage amateur horticulture and its many benefits to the people of WA through their various organisations. Long may we all prosper.

Jillian Plester

Executive Officer

The Western Australian Horticultural Council Inc.

6 May 2022