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Percy Joseph Parry (1901–1986)

by Beverley Kingston

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PARRY FAMILY: William Henry (1855-1936), wheelwright, Henry Griffith (1886-1971), nurseryman, orchardist and quarry manager, and Percy Joseph (1901-1986), nurseryman, were father and sons. William was born on 17 March 1855 at Lower Mangrove, near Gosford, New South Wales, one of ten children of Griffith William Parry, farmer and carpenter, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Watkins. Describing himself as a carpenter, William married Frances Alice Miller at St Luke's Church of England, Burwood, Sydney, on 8 April 1885. They had twelve children. Although he moved around the colony to work as an engine driver, by 1890 William had returned to Gosford and established a wheelwright's shop in Erina Street. Something of an entrepreneur, he had previously built an assembly hall with 'a marvellous floor for dancing' near the corner of Mann and Erina streets. The first Gosford Wildflower Show was held there in September 1885, with ferns, staghorns, palms, rock lilies, waratahs and native roses wrenched from the soil with their roots or cut from the bush to produce 'the finest display of wildflowers and ferns ever exhibited in the colony'.

With Parry family encouragement, the Gosford wildflower show became an institution. In 1890 its main attractions were two bangalow palms, one with a (dead) diamond python curled round its trunk, the other graced by a (live) native bear (koala) with a bow of red ribbon round its neck. Following the Parrys' example, similar shows became popular as fund raisers in and around Sydney in the late nineteenth century, but they did considerable damage in the bush, especially near Gosford because so much of the material came from there, leading to the New South Wales Wild Flowers and Native Plants Act of 1927, which banned the indiscriminate picking and sale of wildflowers. William began acquiring citrus orchards, and was described as a farmer when he died on 1 January 1936 at Erina Street. He was buried in Bradys Gully cemetery, Gosford. Five sons and four daughters survived him.

Henry, the eldest son, was born on 22 January 1886 at Ulmarra on the Clarence River but grew up at Gosford. There he involved himself in the rising citrus industry and established a wholesale and retail fruit shop, with refreshment rooms attached, at the corner of Mann and Erina streets, near his father's wheelwright shop. His sisters Lena, Ethel and Bella were involved as staff members. With his brother Charles he also established a nursery behind the fruit shop providing, among other things, citrus trees, especially oranges, for the expanding local industry. By 1905 Henry had selected land at Kariong, an area noted for its wildflowers, to secure supplies from the existing Christmas bush for the Sydney cut flower market. On 2 June 1928 at Christ Church, Gosford, Henry married 25-year-old Amy Elizabeth, daughter of George Margin, a cordial manufacturer.

Henry became general manager of Gosford Quarries in 1926, and installed the latest machinery. Building and monumental stone was quarried at sites in and around Gosford, mainly for shipment to Sydney. The company came to employ about 100 men. He continued as managing director after his brother-in-law A. K. Margin succeeded him as manager in 1966. Henry was prominent in local branches of such organizations as the St John Ambulance Association, the Girl Guides Association and in the orchid society and the garden club. He died on 12 December 1971 in the district hospital, Gosford, and was buried in the Anglican cemetery, Point Clare. His wife and their daughter survived him. Henry Parry Drive, which by the 1990s curled through new Gosford suburbs, was formerly an access road to a quarry site closed in 1975.

William's eighth child, Percy had been born on 12 October 1901 at Gosford. Having worked before and after school with his brother Henry in the nursery at Gosford and on the land at Kariong, he became interested in breeding native plants and shrubs. In 1925 he bought the Kariong land, now known as Floralands, from Henry and began a programme to preserve the native flora by propagation and cultivation. He claimed a 95 per cent success rate with the waratah seeds he collected and planted, and he began to grow waratahs, Christmas bush with consistent colour, Christmas bells, eriostemon and other native species that would flower reliably and sustainably for commercial purposes. On 30 October 1929 at Christ Church, Gosford, he married Olive Kari Olsen, a public school teacher. They had seven children and Olive became a partner in his work at Floralands. In 1942-44 Percy served part time in the Volunteer Defence Corps.

As a result of pressure from conservation groups, in the 1940s it was proposed to ban the picking and selling of all wildflowers. Percy wrote to J. J. Cahill, the responsible minister, and after an examination of the work at Floralands in 1945 a system of licensing the sale of native flowers as recommended by Parry was introduced. He then had 113 acres (45.7 ha), four acres (1.6 ha) devoted entirely to Christmas bush, and approximately a thousand mature waratah plants, each of which produced up to forty blooms a year. By the 1960s when the Society for Growing Australian Plants was established, Parry's years of observation and experiment became an invaluable resource for the society. Olive was an early office-holder. They were generous with seeds and plants to those interested in cultivating Australian native plants, and displays were regularly packed and dispatched as requested in Australia and from overseas. The waratahs and pink bottlebrush (a Parry hybrid) that decorated the dining room in 1968 when the Australian parliament entertained President Lyndon B. Johnson came from Floralands.

Percy and Olive were both appointed O.A.M. on Australia Day 1981 for their service to the preservation and cultivation of native flora. Percy died on 25 May 1986 at his home at Kariong, and was buried in the Anglican cemetery, Point Clare. His wife (d.1987), three sons and three daughters survived him. Floralands has since been consumed by a housing estate, with not a Christmas bush nor a waratah anywhere in sight.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Dundon, The Third Old Gosford and District in Pictures (Gosford, NSW, 1980)
  • P. Nixon, The Waratah (Syd, 1987)
  • Agnes Fagan’s Diary 1885 (Gosford, NSW, 1991)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 28 Feb 1945, p 2184
  • Native Plants for New South Wales, vol 21, no 3, June/July 1986, p 3
  • Gosford Star, 15 Dec 1971, p 18
  • Town and Country Journal, 27 Sept 1890, p 40.

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Parry, Percy Joseph (1901–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 October, 1901
Gosford, New South Wales, Australia


25 May, 1986 (aged 84)
Kariong, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.