Victor Crittenden OAM

Victor Crittenden OAM

Interview Recordings

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Interview Transcript

Victor Crittenden OAM interviewed on 20 October 2010 by Roslyn Burge

Narrative Transcript

Victor Crittenden OAM interviewed on 20 October 2010 by Roslyn Burge



Victor Crittenden OAM was treasurer, later president (chair) of the ACT, Monaro and Riverina Branch of Australian Garden History Society. Trained as a teacher, later in economics and as a librarian, Victor worked in Toronto University, University of New England in Armidale and from 1968, the University of Canberra. Here he set up a library. An interest in restoring an old house in Armidale led to restoring its garden and buying garden books. He joined the English Garden History Society. This led to collecting early Australian garden books and he published the first bibliography of these in 1986. He became all enthusiastic about Garden History Societies … and when it was suggested by a group of people in Melbourne that they should form a Garden History Society, you couldn’t hold me back. I said, “Well, I’ve got to go down to Melbourne for that meeting.”

Away on sabbatical leave when Richard Ratcliffe formed a branch of the Australian Garden History Society in Canberra, Victor was determined to play a part … so I immediately got onto Richard and he said, “Oh, we need a treasurer.” I said, “Okay. I must become involved”, so I joined the committee … I was never very good at being treasurer, but I usually found at the end that I had to put in some of my own money to make the books balance.

On retiring in 1986 Victor expanded his publishing company, Mulini Press, focusing on colonial and garden history people and subjects.

On collecting garden books: Oh, yes. I started my garden book collection when I was in Armidale and the first garden history type book I bought was Mrs Rolf Boldrewood’s book on ‘The Garden in Australia’. She wrote her book in the 1890s and this was a little book I bought. [‘The Flower Garden in Australia’, 1893] So I started my collection of gardening books at that particular stage … I bought a copy of the first Australian gardening book … It was published in Sydney in 1836, Thomas Shepherd’s book called ‘The Horticulture of New South Wales’ and it was the first book about—it was about vegetables, of course—about gardening. It was the first gardening book published in Australia and I’d looked around for that for ages and it never appeared … Not only that, but I then bought the second gardening book which was also by Thomas Shepherd and it was called of all things ‘Landscape Gardening in Australia’ and it was published in 1836 in Sydney. Great excitement.

… And I know when I started doing my bibliography of Australian gardening books … someone at the National Library asked me what I was doing … They said, “What? What a crazy subject to be doing.” And I said, “Well, now, I don’t think it’s crazy. I think they’re a very important part of Australian publishing, Australian literature and therefore we should have a bibliography of them and they should be studied.” As I said, they were among the first books published in Australia. Almanacs were the first books that were usually published in the very early days in Australia, but gardening books followed very quickly …

Victor was very excited when he saw that a famous Tasmanian book collector was holding an auction in Hobart and Thomas Shepherd’s book was listed in the catalogue. As he couldn’t get there he phoned a Melbourne bookseller and asked him to bid for it on his behalf. The bookseller asked him what was his top price. Victor’s reply was— “No, I haven’t got one. I want it no matter what the price is.” When the bookseller phoned Victor to tell him he had bought it for him … I was just so excited, I didn’t ask the price. Oh, I did finally get around to saying, “Yes, how much am I up for?” And he said, “Oh, it was five hundred and something dollars.” I said, “Oh. Alright. Okay, that’s fine.” It wasn’t until I got the book that I found out the original owner of it. It was owned by the famous painter … who painted a painting of his garden in Tasmania.

Oh, not Glover?

Glover, that’s right. Yes, John Glover and his signature is in the front of the book and the painting, of course, of his garden is in the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Victor Crittenden OAM