Towards International Women’s Day

I’ve just found a snippet I wrote for the Staff Newsletter at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney in 1998…

‘The Other Sex – Towards International Women’s Day’

Despite the amount of gardening and botanical research carried out by women, their roles and influences are not shared in recorded history as well as the efforts of men. Historically this is partly due to exclusion, and partly a case of not being recorded.

In the official history of Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, from 1670 to 1970 women’s recorded contributions to Edinburgh are a temporary job, an artist, and a visit by the Queen. In England it was not until 1891 that the first women were accepted into horticultural colleges. Kew Gardens admitted women gardeners in 1898, decreeing that they must wear breeches, and on the way to and from work overcoats as well to disguise their sexual identity.

Sydney Botanic Gardens owes its procurement, the laying out of Mrs Macquaries Road to Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of the Governor. Australia owes to her influence the foundation of its oldest scientific organisation, its very first street trees and, until recently, the Wishing Tree (a Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria heterophylla) its most famous tree.

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Mt Tomah Botanic Garden, in the Blue Mountains, owes its initiation in 1970, to Mrs Effie Brunet, who transferred her land to the state government for $1.

Sydney Botanic Gardens’ first recorded customer was Mrs Emily Morriset, who requested plants to grow on Norfolk Island (ca 1828-31). The earliest book I could find in the botanic library written by a woman is ‘A Flower Hunter in Queensland and New Zealand’ by Mrs Rowan, published in 1898. She travelled alone. For some reason she felt that her husband was better left at home…

Miss Sarah Hynes started work as second in charge of the National Herbarium of NSW in 1900, but on being found guilty of insubordination in 1910, she was fined and transferred to another Department. The evil Miss Hynes had apparently thrown away a basketful of labels.

In 1901 Miss Margaret Flockton, appointed as an artist at $1.20 a day (ten shillings), also collected plants. In her spare time, (remembering that then the working week was six days), she tutored the Director’s daughter, Mary Maiden. Margaret appears to have the most detailed record for any of our women employees up to the Second World War.

But other women stand out further still. Appointed as an Assistant Botanist in 1936, Miss Joyce Vickery, MSc, became the first woman ever to be appointed to a professional position in the NSW Public Service.

Our first recorded women trade staff were the cleaners, Mrs Miller, Mrs Cole and Mrs Kain of 1906. It was not until 1975 that Ruth Murray became the first ever woman horticultural apprentice, ending an embarrassing 74 year head- start by the scientific division.

Look for the Staff Notices detailing Royal Botanic Gardens activities for International Women’s Day, which is on Friday 8th March 1998.

International Men’s Day starts on 9th March 1998 ending on 7th March 1999.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Acting Horticultural Development Officer


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