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Ellis Andrew Stones (1895–1975)

by Anne Latreille

This article was published:

Ellis Andrew Stones (1895-1975), garden designer, was born on 1 October 1895 at Wodonga, Victoria, only son and second of four children of Thomas James Stones, customs officer, and his wife Hannah May, née Downs, both Victorian born. Ellis grew up at Essendon, Melbourne. He attended Moonee Ponds West State School and served an apprenticeship to a carpenter with the Victorian Railways. Five ft 6 ins (168 cm) tall, with clear blue eyes and an infectious grin, he kept fit by boxing, and by playing cricket and football. He was energetic and modest, and had a strong artistic bent.

On 3 September 1914 Stones enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 7th Battalion. During the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 he was wounded in the left leg. Invalided home, he was discharged from the A.I.F. on 27 March 1916. After serving (1917-20) in the Australian Military Forces, he resumed work as a carpenter. His sunny nature helped him to endure hard physical labour despite constant pain from his shattered leg. At St John's Presbyterian Church, Essendon, on 14 March 1922 he married Olive Munro Doyle; they were to have a son (d.1923) and three daughters.

In 1923 Stones's health broke down and he moved to a sheep station near Trangie, New South Wales, to recuperate. His sojourn in the outback reinforced his appreciation of the Australian landscape and was to influence his work in garden design. He later wrote that he wanted to make gardens that reminded people of nature and to bring a flavour of nature to the cities. From the mid-1920s he earned a living as a builder at Avenel, Victoria, and first worked with stone when he constructed two fireplaces. The Depression forced him to return to Melbourne, where he supported his family by doing odd jobs and patching flyscreens.

'Rocky' built a stone wall for Edna Walling in 1935. Recognizing his ability—which she called 'a rare thing this gift for placing stones'—she suggested that he abandon carpentry to work for her. She gave him a free hand to create walls, outcrops, pools and paths in her gardens at some of Melbourne's finest homes. Their best collaboration was seen in a free-form swimming pool and outcrop, built in 1939-40 for Edith Hughes-Jones at Olinda. Stones soon had the confidence to undertake commissions on his own and established a following in the Ivanhoe-Heidelberg district, where he had settled in 1934.

Rejected for the A.I.F. in World War II, Stones worked as a carpenter in northern Australia with the Civil Constructional Corps before resuming his practice in 1944. Walling continued to give him jobs, and his own clients included (Sir) Russell Grimwade and Clive Disher. His relaxed style was characterized by rock-work which his contemporaries described as 'transcendental', and by a desire to relate house and garden. Like the American Thomas Church, he saw gardens as outdoor living places for people (he always included spots where children could play). He did much of his own construction work. His artist's eye and intuitive sense of space meant that he had no need to draw plans.

At the age of 70 Stones was appointed landscape architect to Merchant Builders Pty Ltd, a project-home company, through which he made the concept of landscape design more widely accessible. The firm named Elliston, a subdivision at Rosanna, after him. Appearances on television (1969-73), a column in the Australian Home Beautiful (1970-75) and his best-selling book, Australian Garden Design (1971), added to his reputation. He began designing landscapes for playgrounds, parks and other public spaces. Although he had given up construction in the mid-1960s, he continued to work long hours, often finishing with a free evening address to a community group. In the 1960s he was a popular lecturer in landscape design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and an adviser to the Town and Country Planning Board.

Stones supported the establishment of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (affiliate 1967, fellow 1975). A passionate conservationist, he campaigned against the pollution of the River Yarra. On 5 April 1975 he worked at Rosanna, landscaping Salt Creek. 'Oh, I've had a good day', he told Olive, 'There's a boy on the job who really understands what I'm talking about'. Stones died that evening at Ivanhoe and was cremated with Methodist forms; his wife and their daughters survived him. The Victorian chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects posthumously awarded him its Robin Boyd environmental medal for 1975. A prize for students of landscape architecture at the University of Melbourne was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Latreille, The Natural Garden (Melb, 1990), and for bibliography.

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Citation details

Anne Latreille, 'Stones, Ellis Andrew (1895–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rocky

1 October, 1895
Wodonga, Victoria, Australia


5 April, 1975 (aged 79)
Ivanhoe, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.

Military Service
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