African Violet Society of Queensland (Inc.)

HISTORY of the AFRICAN VIOLET SOCIETY OF QUEENSLAND Inc.

As the result of an article published in the Courier Mail about Mrs Edna Rigg and her African Violets, plus a photograph taken in her bushhouse, thirteen people met on the 28th February 1966 at the Canberra Hotel (now demolished) to talk about their plants. At first the idea was for just a friendly meeting of African Violet  growers, but soon the idea of forming an official Group came up for consideration. It was agreed upon and Mrs. Rigg became the first President and Mrs. Ena Finch the first Secretary/ Treasurer of what was to be called the African Violet Society of Queensland. It was decided to meet once a month and charge one dollar per annum for Membership. Messages were read out at this first meeting from Dr. Sydney Crawcour, President of the African Violet Society of Australia and Mrs Thornton, Editor of “News and Views”. Future meetings would be held on the third Tuesday evenings of each month at Anzac House on Wickham Terrace.

Acquiring new varieties, especially named varieties, was by no meanseasy in the early years. However, we are told that just before the first meeting Mrs. Rigg had received a dozen leaves which she had ordered from Harry Jackson’s Nursery in Melbourne. Harry’s interest in African Violets came about through his friendship with Dr. Sydney Crawcour, the founder of the African Violet Society of Australia, and he began to import from America. Among Edna’s leaves were the varieties Lillian Jarrett, Persian Blue, Delph Imperialand Double Black Cherry. Another source of supply was Bunker’s Wholesale Nursery at Redland Bay, and Mr. Bunker came to the first meeting with a large plant of Chanticleer from which leaves were distributed. Ena Fitch recalls that she was one of the lucky recipients.

It was decided to place a notice in the Queensland Garden Magazine and also make contact with the Retail Nurserymen’s Association. More people came along and joined the Society, Monthly Competitions were held, and Mr. S. B. Watkins who became Patron of the Society, judged the entries and spoke to the members on the Other Gesneriads. His speciality was the Sinningia speciosa (florist gloxinia) which he grew to perfection. Other judges were Nurserymen Messrs. Bunker, Dellow & Catlan and after paying the four dollar affiliation fee to the Royal Horticultural Society of Queensland, the Society was able to call on them for Judges when necessary. The Society was visited by Mr. Britter,  President of the African Violet Society of Australia (Melbourne), and after judging the entries he addressed the meeting and congratulated members on the standard of their plants.

In May 1967 the first Constitution was drawn up and after some discussion it was accepted and copies made available to all members. Thirty members attended the meeting in March 1968 when the first Newsletter was produced for the benefit of people unable to attend the meetings, and for the exchange of information and news. At this time the Office Bearers were President Mr. Ben Fitch, Secretary Ena Fitch and Beryl Brown Treasurer. After the purchase of fifty cents worth of paper, one foolscap sheet was produced by Ena Fitch and typed up bydaughter-in-law Karen. About this time it was decided to hold a Competition over a twelve month period and give a trophy to be called the “Edna Rigg Memorial Trophy” to honour the late Mrs. Edna Rigg the Founder and first President. Plantlets of Lillian Jarrett were supplied for the Competition by Mr. Bunker and sold for 25c each. Mr. Bunker later opened his Nursery for a field day when members were able to purchase new varieties.

At the time of the Society’s founding in 1966, Mrs. Rigg was already subscribing to the African Violet Society of America and receiving the Magazine, and these were very informative and helpful, though some of the items mentioned in the magazine were not available in Australia and had to be substituted. Members decided that the Society would subscribe to the magazine and Mrs. Iris Webb donated the money for the first year’s affiliation fee. John Moule gave money to purchase back numbers of the 1967 editions of the magazine and Mrs. Jean Milnebecame the first Librarian. It was also decided to affiliate with the American Gesneriad Society International and at the March meeting the suggestion to have Trading Table was put forward and this was accepted.

The membership grew steadily and members were very active putting on Displays, taking part in the Red Cross Chelsea Flower Show in the City Hall, the Y.W.C.A. as well as many Garden Clubs, Schools, Church Groups and other venues. Lots of people seemingly had never seen so many different lovely varieties. To show these plants to good effect, four three-tiered stands were made by Messrs. Fitch, Rigg and Chopping. The stands are still in use today. A vote of thanks to these gentlemen was recorded. A visit was paid to Dellow’s Gold Coast Nursery and later a display was staged by them at the Mt. Gravatt Shopping Centre. Ena Fitch remembers purchasing a plant of Ruffled Queen.

In the early days members were experimenting with potting mixes, and after reading in the News and Views about the Cornell Mix developed by the Cornell University of California, Mrs. Jean Milne spoke to the members about her experiments. Mr. Norm Catlan addressed the meeting and offered to make up the mix for members at a cost of 75c. per half bushel bag and also offered to obtain pots and other supplies for sale to members with a percentage of the money from the sales going towards the purchase of books for the library. Seventeen dollars which came from the sales of 1000 plastic pots donated by a Queensland firm was also used for this purpose.

It was decided in 1970 to hold day meetings at member’s homes. The first of these was held at the home of Mrs Iris Webb. Iris grew beautiful plants. Twelve people came to this first meeting, and as time went on the numbers grew too many for private homes and it was decided to hold meetings at the Mt. Coot-tha Auditorium where attendance continued to grow. The venue for our night meetings also changed a number of times after Anzac House - to the Senior Citizens Centre in the Valley, then to the 15th Battalion Hall in Vulture St., back to the Senior Citizens Centre and finally to the Mt. Coot-tha Gardens Auditorium (night meetings have been discontinued).

Our First Show, which was held in the R.S.L. Hall in Toowong in 1973, proved very successful. This first year was just a display and sales venture, and was held in conjunction with the Queensland Council of Gardens. The next year we “went it alone” and put on our own very first competitive Show, and this also, in spite of some trepidation on the part of a few of our members, was a success beyond all our expectations. The crowds around our Sales Tables had to be seen to be believed. A donation from our Show’s takings each year is given tocharity and nowadays our contribution goes to the Cotton Wool Babies (D.E.B.R.A.A. Qld)

In the late sixties and early seventies Hansen’s Nursery at Cleveland, while already growing many African Violets was better known for its huge range of Caladiums. After the death of Mrs. Hansen Snr., daughter-in-law Janet became increasingly interested in African Violets and began importing from the U.S.A. Janet put on displays at our Shows and members were able to purchase plants and leaves of the latest varieties. The Nursery later was given over almost entirely to African Violets.

Our Society has held membership in the Gesneriad Council of Australia and New Zealand since its beginnings. At a committee meeting in May 1977 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Norris, George and Dulcie Ludinski gave a report on their visit to the Canberra Forum which recommended the formation of a co-ordinated body to be called the “Saintpaulia Council of Australasia” (later changed), and outlined its aims and purposes. After discussion it was decided that Qeensland would affiliate. One of the Council's earliest meetings was held in Brisbane at Mt. Coot-tha in 1978 and again later in 1983 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Norris.

In the year 1984, after a talk on the Other Gesneriads at a night meeting, members expressed much interest, and it was decided to start a Gesneriad Study Group. The first meeting was held at the home of Mrs B Gardner who is well qualified to lead the discussions. The membership subscribes to the “Gloxinian” and meetings continue to be held at the homes of the various members.

Workshops were (and still are) also held at the residence of Mrs. Dulcie Whitaker, with the assistance of other experienced growers, to help new (and not so new members) with the growing of African Violets. All phases of culture are demonstrated and discussed, including the stepsto growing Show Plants. Dulcie has always done a very good job of promoting the Society.

Though we had much earlier discussed the merits of becoming Incorporated it was not until 1986 that we actually did so. At our Annual Shows Gesneriad Council Judges are invited to Judge and we have our own Judges to judge our monthly meetings. Our hybridisers past and present are Ena Fitch, Dulcie Whitaker, Joan Bell, Dorothy Rutherford and Dulcie Ludinski. Hybridising to date has been chiefly of Saintpaulia with some sinningia and we are at present making more crosses with sinningia. The earliest Violet crosses were made by Ena Fitch and  Ena’s Moonwind and Windsong are still being grown today. Ena was first to win a Queen of the Show in 1974 with Costa Brava.

This history long as it may seem, only scratches the surface. Lots of people of long standing contributed to the Society’s history, not only in growing and showing but in their terms of office and serving in a number of ways. We would very much like to honour them for what they have done by naming names and detailing their service, but there are so many people involved, it would be impossible to do so.

FOUNDATION MEMBERS: (one only of which is still with us)
Edna Rigg; P. M. Rigg; E. Fitch; B. Fitch; E. Roan; E. Low Choy; F. Low Choy; M.E. Cassidy; H. Devine; M. Rabbits.

(Thank you to the unknown author of this History )