Women In Horticulture

The first Women's Day in 1909, in the US, was part of a growing global movement to gain women basic legal rights, employment opportunities, and suffrage. The event quickly spread to other nations, some creating it a public holiday; and the UN endorsed it internationally in 1975.

Women around the world continue to this day to fight for respect, safety, and fair opportunities in life.


Edith Cowan memorial clock Turn over a $50 and you'll see Edith Cowan, the first woman elected to Australian parliament, aged 59.


She founded the Children's Protection Society, and was one of the first female Justices of the Peace.


Her memorial clock at the entrance to King's Park Botanic Garden in Perth was our country's first civic monument to an Australian woman.


To mark International Women's Day on March 8th,
we remember some of the significant Australian women who have worked in horticulture and agriculture. And there are many working today, helping to create a cleaner, greener, healthier planet for us all.


Dr Sophie Ducker - underwater botanist

Sophie Ducker was a distinguished marine botanist and founding member of the Australasian Society for Phycology (Algae) and Aquatic Botany.

Born in Germany, her family left at the outbreak of WWII, and moved to Tehran, Persia; around five years later they were forced to move again, and fled to Australia where they settled. Dr Ducker bequeathed her extensive library of around 1200 mainly botanical books to the University of Melbourne, where it now forms the Ducker Collection.



Ilma Stone - observant botanist

Ilma Stone was a botanist who specialised in mosses and liverworts.

She collected them, researched them, lectured on them, and wrote about them. Stone published more than 70 scientific papers during her career, 11 of these after the age of eighty.


Stone graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1933 with a degree in Science. Noted for keen observation and discovery of often small and overlooked moss species, Stone is credited with significantly increasing knowledge of mosses in Australia, especially those in Queensland.



prickly pear

Dr Jean White-Haney - destructive botanist

Jean White-Haney was Officer-In-Charge of the government's Board of Advice on Prickly Pear Destruction, helping develop biological and chemical control methods for the persistent cactus. She ran their new experimental station from 1912 until 1916 when WWI made it difficult to continue work and the station closed.

In 1909 White was the second woman in Australia to be awarded a Doctorate of Science. Thirteen botany papers bearing her name were published between 1907 and 1911. White went on to marry and raise a family, but continued her work on invasive weeds ; her last scientific research was into Noogoora and Bathurst burrs. She moved to California in 1930 and is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery.



Jean Galbraith - protective botanist

Jean Galbraith, botanist, gardener, writer of children's books, donated the first wildflower sanctuary in Victoria, established by the Native Plants Preservation Society in 1936, in the LaTrobe Valley.

Galbraith lived her whole life in Gippsland, at her family's cottage, where the garden provided material for her first articles on native flowers. Galbraith was widely published from a young age, and for 50 years she contributed to The Garden Lover, the Victorian Naturalist, and The Age.


Self-taught, she became a highly respected botanist, and an influential gardener. In 1970 Galbraith was awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion.
The Wellington mint bush Prostanthera galbraithiae was named for Galbraith as co-discover of the species, and advocate for its protection. The rare aniseed boronia, Boronia galbraithiae, was named posthumously in her honour.



fern fossil

Dr Isabel Clifton Cookson - fossil-botanist

Isabel Cookson's research on palaeobotany and fossil spores, and her scientific papers on fossil plants, helped to shape theories of early plant evolution.

In 1930 Cookson was appointed lecturer in botany at the University of Melbourne, where she worked on fossil spores, pollen and phytoplankton, and the usefulness of plant microfossils for oil exploration and coal deposits.


In 1949 CSIRO established a pollen research unit under Dr Cookson's leadership; and in 1952 she was appointed a research fellow in botany. Cookson produced 86 scientific papers, 30 of these published after her 'retirement'.
Since 1976 the Botanical Society of America has awarded the Isabel Cookson Award to the best paper on palaeobotany. The genus Cooksonia , an extinct genus forming the link between mosses and plants, is named in her honour, as is Cookson Place, Banks, Canberra.



Edna Margaret Walling - designing botanist

Edna Walling was one of Australia's most influential landscape designers, though she was born in Yorkshire, grew up in Devon, UK and spent her teenage years in New Zealand.

In 1914 she moved with her family to Melbourne, studied for a government certificate in horticulture, and worked as a jobbing gardener. In the 1920s Walling started her own garden design practice, developing her interest in Arts & Crafts architecture.


As Australia's first female land developer, Walling created a community called Bickleigh Vale, modelled on English villages of her childhood. Only people willing to accept her cottage and garden designs were allowed to buy subdivisions of the land.
Walling was an accomplished watercolour artist, which helped her show clients the look of the finished gardens she intended to create. About a quarter of Walling's garden designs survive and many are held in the State Library of Victoria.


Her many commissions include Coombe Cottage, Dame Nellie Melba's residence; Rock Lodge garden in Frankston; and Cruden Farm garden for Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.

Walling's preference was for low walls, wide paths and strong structures softened with greenery. In later years she drew inspiration from the Australian bush, concentrating on native plants, and becoming interested in the conservation of roadside vegetation.


She was a prolific writer and photographer, with a regular column in The Australian Home Beautiful, articles in national magazines and newspapers, and several books on landscape design.
In 1967, a design commission moved her to Buderim QLD, where she was joined by her companion and editor Lorna Fielden. Walling died there in 1973, and Lorna in 1977; they are buried side by side under two trees, and there is a memorial garden.



lomandra hystrix

Dr Joyce Winifred Vickery MBE - forensic feminist botanist

Joyce Vickery was a taxonomist who became well known for forensic botany. Asked by NSW Police to identify plant fragments in a kidnap -murder case, her analysis of crime scene plant matter and soil helped convict the perpetrator.


In 1936 Vickery was offered the position of assistant botanist at the National Herbarium, but refused because she would not be paid the same as a man with her qualifications. After negotiations which increased the pay offered, she accepted the post and became the Herbarium's first female researcher.


She worked on plant taxonomy, primarily Gramineae grasses, and she received her doctorate in 1959 for her work on Poa grasses. In 1937 Vickery and Lilian Ross Fraser co-discovered native grass Lomandra hystrix.

Dr Vickery was awarded the MBE in 1962, and retired from the herbarium in 1968. She continued to research actively and was involved in several conservation projects until her death in 1979. The Linnean Society of NSW posthumously renamed a grant fund in her honour in recognition of her annual contribution, a substantial donation from her estate, and her continued support for the Society.



Dr Lillian Ross Fraser - fungal botanist

Lillian Ross Fraser's work identifying several highly destructive diseases such as smut, sooty mould and root rot was hugely beneficial to the Australian citrus, avocado and apple industries.

In 1940 Dr Fraser was the first woman to be employed as assistant plant pathologist at the NSW Department of Agriculture; where she was the first to identify phytophthora. She also importantly established which citrus species were resistant to the fungus.


For this, she became the first woman accepted into the Fellowship of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science. In 1960 she was appointed Senior Biologist at NSW Department of Agriculture; then Chief Biologist of the NSW Biological and Chemical Research Institute.




Dr Nancy Tyson Burbidge AM - well-remembered botanist

Nancy Tyson Burbidge was an Australian botanist, conservationist and herbarium curator.

Born in Yorkshire, her family immigrated to Western Australia in 1913; and she started work as assistant agronomist at Waite Agricultural Research Institute Adelaide. Burbidge was then appointed to the new position of systematic botanist at CSIRO, in 1946, and was responsible for laying the foundations of what became the National Australian Herbarium.


Dr Burbidge edited Australasian Herbarium News, published the Dictionary of Australian Plant Genera , and completed studies of Nicotiana, Sesbania and Helichrysum. Many of her publications included her own drawings. She directed the Flora of Australia series project for five years; and wrote over 50 papers on phytogeography (the geographic distribution of plants), ecology, botanical history and Australian plants.

Burbidge was awarded the Clarke Medal for her achievements in taxonomic botany and ecology; and was made a member of the Order of Australia.


A founding member and two-time president of the National Parks Association of ACT, she lobbied for the establishment of national parks there, including Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and Namadgi National Park.


Burbidge is commemorated in many ways: with Acacia burbidgeae , Burbidge's wattle; the dedication of the Australian Plant Name Index; the Nancy T. Burbidge medal presented annually by the Australian Systematic Botanists Society for outstanding contribution to taxonomic and systematic botanical work; a commemorative altar-frontal at St Michael's Anglican Church, Mount Pleasant, WA , decorated with banksias and honey-eaters; the Nancy T. Burbidge Memorial amphitheatre at Australian National Botanic Gardens Canberra; and above all, Mount Burbidge, a peak in Namadgi, named in her honour.