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Caulfield, Harold William (1918–1994)

by Ray Steward

This article was published online in 2020

Harold Caulfield, 1982 [detail]

Harold Caulfield, 1982 [detail]

Brisbane City Council, 25228

Harold William Caulfield (1918–1994), horticulturist and curator of botanic gardens, was born on 18 July 1918 at Cheltenham, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents George Harold Caulfield, gas works employee, and his wife Lucy Vera, née Upston. Educated at Mordialloc-Chelsea High School, Harold worked in a plant nursery before moving to Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens as an assistant propagator. On 5 June 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force for service in World War II. The army recorded that he was five feet six inches (168 cm) tall and had blue eyes and fair hair. He served with the 2/11th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, in the Middle East (1941–42)—where the unit saw action (June–July 1941) in the Syrian campaign—the Northern Territory (1943–44), and New Guinea (1944–45). Back in Australia, on 17 May 1945 at St Matthew’s Church of England, Marryatville, Adelaide, he married Pauline Rackett. In November 1944 he had been promoted to sergeant and on 11 December 1945 he was discharged from the AIF in Melbourne, where he resumed his civilian position.

 While on military service, Caulfield had occupied his spare time studying in their natural habitats plants used in horticulture. In 1950 Noel Lothian, the director of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, engaged him as propagator. Caulfield made extensive tours of South Australia and the Northern Territory, collecting plant specimens and seeds and producing a supply of new plants for the garden’s collection of Australian flora.

On 15 October 1956 the Brisbane City Council (BCC) appointed Caulfield curator of the Brisbane (later Brisbane City) Botanic Gardens; a residence on the site came with the job. Under his leadership, the small zoo in the grounds was demolished and the animals dispersed (1958); a native flora section was planted under the riverside avenue of Bunya pines (1960); demonstration plots of lawn grasses and hedges suitable for growing in south-east Queensland were established in the centre garden (1963); and a major landscape development, designed by Harry Oakman and featuring a lake, waterfall, and associated plantings, continued during the 1960s.

In 1969 the BCC began planning for the establishment of new botanic gardens at a site that was larger and not subject to flooding. The next year Caulfield was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study botanic gardens in the United States of America, Britain, and Singapore. His analysis of overseas trends together with his local knowledge assisted the management team in the council’s parks department to develop a plan that made provision for an administration building, library, technical office, auditorium, and large depot with space for offices and machinery. The Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha opened in 1976 and he became its second curator in 1980.

One of Caulfield’s responsibilities was for the BCC’s horticultural display at the Royal National Show, Brisbane (the ‘Ekka’), at which he was often on hand to offer information and encouragement to participants and the public. A fellow (1982) of the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation and a foundation member (1968) of its Queensland branch, he helped organise and run several State and national conferences and also presented a number of papers devoted to the management of botanic gardens. He was active in the Queensland Council of Garden Clubs (QCGC), which endowed a pergola at Mt Coot-tha in his honour (1983) and made him a life member (1987).

Acknowledged as the authority on gardening for Brisbane and surrounding districts, Caulfield freely advised householders, nurserypersons, and local governments. His example inspired a large increase in the number of specialty horticultural associations, including the Society for Growing Australian Plants, Queensland region, of which he was first president (1957–62). He wrote (1976–90) a regular column for the Brisbane Courier-Mail, gave radio talks on Australian Broadcasting Commission stations and station 4BH, lectured to and corresponded with garden clubs, and served as a judge of the annual garden competitions run by the Courier-Mail and the Toowoomba Chronicle.

Caulfield was a serious man who believed that, if children were taught to cultivate and study plants, they would grow up to be less aggressive and to have a better appreciation of nature. Having been in poor health for some years, on 28 October 1982 he retired to Runcorn, where he and his wife set up a fine suburban garden, and from where he continued his community work. In 1992 he was appointed AM. He died on 30 August 1994 at Greenslopes and, following a Uniting Church funeral, was cremated. His wife and their son and daughter survived him. The QCGC published a selection of his talks, What Is a Garden? (1995), and a collection of his newspaper articles, Clippings & Leaves (1996).

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Brisbane City Archives. BOTANIC GARDENS. City Botanic Gardens and Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha. Curators’ Files Relating to 1895–2014, Box 1
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Botanic Gardens Founder.’ 31 August 1994, 11
  • Guerassimoff, Judithann. ‘Out to Lunch: Harold Caulfield.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 26 December 1990, 33
  • McKinnon, Ross, comp. An Historic Overview of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens 1828–2014. Toowong, Qld: Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha, 2014
  • Steward, Ray. ‘Botanic Gardens Blossomed under Curator.’ Australian, 12 September 1994, 12
  • Wintringham, Barbara, and Ray Steward. ‘Beginnings of Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha.’ Unpublished typescript, 2017. Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens Library

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ray Steward, 'Caulfield, Harold William (1918–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/caulfield-harold-william-29609/text36488, published online 2020, accessed online 10 May 2021.

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