Eileen J Croxford

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Eileen Jessie Croxford (1912 - 2006)

The below poem was written for Eileen as she was seen as the "Wildflower Woman"

Insert Wildflower Woman Poem

Eileen's passion for gardening came from her father. Eileen said "He used to grow beautiful vegetables and the most beautiful chrysanthemums you ever saw." Eileen always had a garden. It wasn't until her 40th birthday she open up a business from home in Albany called the Garden Florist. She grew all her own plants and cut flowers for her customers bouquets and orders.

The early days

Eileen was born on December 11, 1912 in the city of Plymouth in England's south. Her father, William Cross, was a Royal Navy quartermaster for 25 years and her mother Mary Annie (Dixon), worked as a maid. Eileen, who has a younger sister, Peggy, recalled that from her early days at school she always wanted to to speak to the school gardener about flowers.

When Eileen was 11, the family boards the Orient steamship, Sophocles, at Southhampton on New Year's Eve 1923 and after more than 2 months at sea, berthed at Albany on March 7, 1924. They continued their journey by train and arrived at their Group Settlement Scheme allotment of land at Parry Inlet. (Parryville), 26km west of Denmark.

"We just lived in these shacks - no floor, no doors, no windows"

There the Settlers cleared karri forest and swampland. This also ended Eileen's formal schooling because she has to do her bit on the land. Her father had the foresight to bring a set of British Encyclopedia, copies of People of all Nations and a fairly complete set of classic literature from England, all of which she devoured in what spare time she had.

The family grew rapidly with Pat, Mary, Yvonne, and Rona arriving - this putting strain on William's small navy pension, the land producing little income. When school arrived in the district, Eileen was 14 and, instead of becoming a student herself, she was asked to help teach the "youngies", despite her own limited education.

Around 1930 she met Harry "Sparrow" Tysoe, one of nine brothers, Harry built road and bridges and his work took him all across the state. When he was home, Eileen remembered: "We attended dances and got up to all sorts of "devilment", though that "devilment" would not worth a mention in these modern times." In the 1932 the paid married and had three sons, Derek, Bernard and Tony.

At the outbreak of World War II, Harry enlisted with the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion and went to war. Eileen moved into Denmark with family, including new daughter Hazel. In 1942 Singapore fell and Harry was captured and died of Beri-Beri. It was in 1943 that tragedy struck as Bernard, aged 10, was killed by a falling branch. Eileen decided to move the family to Albany later that year so she could have the support of family and to enable the children to attend school.

New beginnings

Eileen met Cliff Croxford during the war and wrote to him when he was transferred to Darwin. On his return (1945) they lived together at Serpentine Road, Albany with Eileen's children and Cliff's two children Neville and Delores. A few years later tragedy struck again and Neville died coming home from getting his motorcycle licence. As Cliff had lost sight in one eye during the ward he was discharged from the Navy and was appointed groundsman at the Albany airport on his return from Darwin. The job included handling the planes, machines, placing oil lamps at the edges of the runway for night flying, and manually attending to the constant red warning light on Mt Wilyung, which was three kilometres away.[1] During this time Eileen studied and completed correspondence courses in floristry nursery practice, gardening, booking, drawing and many hand crafts.

Gardening in Albany

Shifting out to their new self build home (early 1950's) in Spencer Park Albany, built "with a penny in each corner", Eileen develop their garden and grew plants and cut flowers preparing for her florist business for the Albany community. On her 40th birthday she open up a business from home in Albany called the Garden Florist and later changed the name to Spence Park Florist. On April 12 1954, Cliff and Eileen decided to drive up to Perth to get married.

In April 1961 Cliff took the job at the Albany airport as the senior grounds man and Eileen continued her florist business. It was during this time Eileen connect with the local native plants as the runway was lined on both sides by wildflowers. She bought magazines to learn more and soon was on her way to becoming an expert of floral wildflower arrangements, gardening with WA plants and botanically.

    "When I shifted to the Albany airport in 1961 I had to have a garden there, so I thought I will have a wild flower garden because I can remember the airport before it really was a proper airport and it was just a field of flowers - it was beautiful. So I used to go over to the back of the airport, very carefully remove little plants and plant them in the beds. They all died, so I decided I had to do it properly: I had to really learn about these flowers so I could grow them" 

Exploring WA States Flora

Eileen and Cliff became a formidable team exploring the state of Western Australia's flora. They became the experts in native flora, especially Eileen. With her trusty old magnifying glass, Eileen started collecting and naming the hundreds of wild plants that grow in the South-West.

In 1963 Cliff and and Eileen met Dr John S. Beard. Eileen asked Dr Beard,

  ‘Will you help me with these names?’ He helped a bit and then said, "Eileen you must not stop doing this - there are no plans in this government to do any research in the Albany region until 1995. Because you are so interested in wildflowers, how about you convene a meeting to form an Albany branch of the West Australian Wildflower Society’."

Dr John S.Beard encouraged Eileen to continue collecting 'as the country was rapidly being cleared for agriculture" and also suggested she establish a local branch of the Wildflower Society.[2] Eileen did call a meeting that same year and 40 people turned up and this kick-started the local herbarium. Eileen held the position as the co-ordinator. at the herbarium and was the inaugural President of the Albany branch of the Wildflower Society of West Australia. The community established the first Wildflower Show in Albany. Over the years Eileen held committee positions of active member of Albany branch serving as President, Vice-President,Treasurer/Sec and Branch Delegate [3]

At the herbarium going on no clear instructions or experience the community collected, press and recorded the best they could. At first we used to meet sometimes in each others garages and each others houses and continue pressing and so forth. It was like topsy it just grew. Although she had not been formally trained, the rigour of her method of collecting and recording gave the collection a scientific integrity that led to a partnership with the State Herbarium. 1964

Eileen and Cliff with the Wildflower Society community held exploration event to areas across the south-west region. This connection was supported and embraced by her daughter Hazel and her family. Many family holidays ad trips include weekend jaunts with 5 grandchildren in tow.

Eileen and Cliff was awarded Life Membership in 1987 by the Wildflower Society of Western Australia.

Cliff died in 1990 and Eileen carried on her work alone, giving hundreds of lectures and talks.

Albany Regional Herbarium

It wasn’t until late 1978, with the urging of botanist Dr Arthur Weston, that the Albany Regional Herbarium began operating. Then in 1979 Eileen was visited by leading field botanist in the British Isles, Mary McCallum-Webster where Mary asked, "Would I mind if she collected grasses for us?" Mary saw what we were doing and Mary said, "You are doing it all wrong lassie. You can’t have these bits of cardboard and things like this." Mary experience of collecting, pressing, mounting, and recording native plants transformed the Albany regional collection.

With her list from Mary, Eileen visited the Albany Advertiser and pick up the correct paper, cardboards and materials. Today there are over 17,000 specimens in the collection and there is still an awful lot of land we haven’t collected off. Eileen was the Herbarium’s Coordinator until 1998, when she was 86 and contributed about 8355 specimens to the collection and 2 plants named after her. Melaleuca croxfordiae[4] and Chamelaucium croxfordiae (now Chamelaucium sp. Dryandra)[5] In March 2011 it was recorded that Eileen has 8640 specimens lodged in the WA Herbarium, which is an extraordinary contribution as an individual botanist and volunteer. [6] This is over half of the regional herbarium's collection. Eileen also ## species still unnamed that she collected.

Eileen J Croxford is the top female botanical collector in the West Australia. (2011)

Eileen always thought it a bit strange that they manage to do it with very little botanical knowledge, that we were just keen on doing it. Eileen was a self taught person and very deadly serious in everything she did. The Herbarium community were all just ordinary people, not botanists, nor plant qualified people. Eileen said "We just happened to be put on the right track and had enough brains to go ahead and keep on the right track. We have all learnt lots."[7]

Over the years many botanists and very good speakers came to Albany and provided input, they shared with us various things and attended created courses at the Albany Summer School. Donations were given to buy a botanical microscope so that the detail on the plants which are required in identify them. When interviewed Eileen stated "The people who built it (the Albany Regional Herbarium) up must be very proud of that achievement" <ref.South Coast Stories - Eileen Croxford. A conversation with Eileen Croxford. Wildflower Motivator.</ref>

Today the Albany Regional Herbarium has been used as a regional centre for plant identification and information for over 30 years, assisting with community conservation and environmental projects. [8]s.

Native Flora Value

It was nothing unusual to see Eileen drive her car around Albany, just as it was no surprise to see her attend dozens of meetings of botanists and those who loved WA flora. It did surprise some that she was still doing it a 92. Eileen was self taught but was a leading authority on wildflowers, writing articles, giving lectures, travelling across the state of WA and collecting species. Eileen was a persistent and persuasive lobbyist of local and state governments to have local natives used in the plantings long main roads and the like. For years she had her own spot of 6AV Albany radio and wrote a regular column for the Albany Advertiser.

   "Forget the dollar sign because our native flora is still one of the most valuable assets this country has"

Eileen established many local reserves including

   * Albany Botanic Site
   * Cape Howe National Park
   * Mount Martin Botanical Park, in which her own hilltop, Mt Eileen, is the highest point.

In 1992 Eileen was awarded the Albany Citizen of the Year. This was followed in 1993 with the Quiet Achiever Award, a Parliamentary Medallion of the Western Australia Parliament. 1997/8 received the CALM Volunteers Appreciation Certificate.[9] In 2005 She was awarded the Australian Plants Award by the Australian Native Plants Society.[10]

It was mentioned in a book "Bessie's Brolly - A celebration of women and environment in Western Australia" 2002 (Department of Environmental Protection) it is remarked that "Less publicity was given to the other ardent women conversations. Apart from "Shirley de la Hunty, there was Gloria Butcher, Barbara Churchward, Judy Hamersley, Joanna Seasbrook, Eileen Croxford, Ray Poynter, Dawn Atwell and many other who are still active in various parts of the State.[11]


References

  1. http://aviationcollection.org/Albany%20History/The%20history%20of%20aviation%20in%20the%20Albany%20region.pdf
  2. SGAP: The story of Arthur Swaby and the Society of Growing Australian Plants
  3. https://www.anbg.gov.au/biography/croxford-eileen.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca_croxfordiae
  5. https://florabase.dpaw.wa.gov.au/search/current/14354
  6. A botanical journey. The story of the West Australian Herbarium. by Roger Underwood Department of Environment and Conservation. Page 190
  7. South Coast Stories - Eileen Croxford. A converstation with Eileen Croxford. Wildflower Motivator.
  8. http://www.nrm.wa.gov.au/projects/14023.aspx
  9. SGAP: The story of Arthur Swaby and the Society of Growing Australian Plants
  10. The West Australia Classifieds. The West Obituaries by Len Findley. 15/02/2006
  11. 2002 "Bessie's Brolly - A celebration of women and environment in Western Australia" 2002 (Department of Environmental Protection) Chapter authored by Rica Erickson 17 page