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Walker, William Alexander George (1889–1969)

by Margaret Tassell and Barbara Valentine

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

William Alexander George Walker (1889-1969), orchardist and nurseryman, was born on New Year's Day 1889 at Prospect, near Launceston, Tasmania, fourth of eight children of Frank Walker, a seedsman and florist who came from England, and his wife Anne Fortune, née Bryans. Frank had established (1876) a nursery at Launceston, and in 1902 acquired 50 acres (20 ha) at Lalla, 17 miles (27 km) north-east of the city, where he planted fruit trees. Educated at Scotch College, Launceston, Will began work at his father's orchard, and helped to develop and manage both it and the nursery. In 1908 they sent their first shipment of apples to England and Germany. On 22 March 1913 at St Stephen's Hall, Underwood, Walker married with Anglican rites Mary Orr (d.1968).

At the nursery the Walkers grew large quantities of trees to supply the expanding fruit-growing industry in Tasmania, and for export to mainland States and overseas. Will worked hard to improve the quality of his apples. One of his selections in the 1920s produced the famous Lalla Red Delicious apple. Lalla apples have since been extensively grown in Tasmania, throughout Australia, and in other countries including the United States of America, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. Walker introduced many new varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers into Tasmania, and produced pears, peaches, plums, strawberries, cherries and tomatoes for sale. He propagated and sold garden plants: ericas, rhododendrons, azaleas, roses, Japanese maples and other ornamental trees. The forty-eight pear trees he trained to arch over the driveway at Lalla became a well-known tourist attraction.

Although Walker left Lalla in 1925 to help run the family's florist business at Launceston, he continued to supervise activities at the orchard. Successful at fruit shows, he won (1936) a Hogg silver medal, presented by the Royal Horticultural Society, London, for an exhibit of apples packed for market. He was a director of Ash Plantations Ltd, formed in 1933 to supply timber from English ash trees for the manufacture of tennis racquets at Launceston. His nursery supplied the young trees for the company's plantation at Hollybank, in the Underwood district. The business failed due to the slow growth of the trees.

In 1937 Walker developed a new apple orchard and nursery at Cormiston, in the West Tamar district. His apple-case label retained the Lalla brand name. Around this time he and (Sir) Ivan Holyman of Australian National Airways Pty Ltd pioneered transport by air of fresh strawberries to the mainland and South East Asian markets. Walker profitably exported cymbidium orchids to the United States of America, entailing visits there in 1948 and 1953.

Tall, well built and fit, Walker had been a sprinter in his youth. He was a quiet, shy man who enjoyed his work and liked to create beautiful gardens. Advising freely on the cultivation of plants and on landscaping, he also gave exotic trees and shrubs to numerous institutions. From 1935 his firm, F. Walker & Sons, donated 8500 young trees that were planted along the Midland Highway (between Launceston and Hobart) to commemorate Tasmanian pioneers. An authority on rhododendrons, he was a founding member and benefactor of the Tasmanian Rhododendron Trust, which developed the gardens at the Punch Bowl Reserve at Launceston in 1962.

Walker was an active member of the Launceston Rotary Club, and at one time was involved with the Boy Scouts' Association. He supported the Northern Tasmanian Home for Boys, and was a life member of the Society for the Care of Crippled Children. His hobby was photography. He died on 7 September 1969 at Launceston and was cremated. His four sons and two daughters, all of whom were engaged in horticulture, survived him. The garden at Lalla, leased by his family to the Tasmanian government, was named the W. A. G. Walker Rhododendron Reserve in 1982.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Journal of Agriculture, vol 40, no 4, Nov 1969
  • Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 1 Feb 1909
  • Examiner (Launceston), 8 Sept 1969, 30 Sept 1976, 8 Nov 1982
  • Walker family file, Tassell papers (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Tassell and Barbara Valentine, 'Walker, William Alexander George (1889–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walker-william-alexander-george-11939/text21395, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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