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Tribute to Peter Cundall

Thu 12th May 2022

Peter Cundall hosted ABC television show Gardening Australia for 18 years and was also a  much loved horticulturist, conservationist and author.

Early Life

Born in Manchester, England on 1 April 1927, Cundall was born very poor. He was one of six children, and sadly lost two of his brothers when he was young. With an alcoholic father who abused his mother, Cundall created a vegetable garden to feed his family and avoided alcohol his entire life. Leaving school at just 12 years of age, he kept a thirst for knowledge and very much enjoyed reading.

Cundall joined the British Army's Parachute Regiment and toured various countries in post-war Europe as well as the Middle East from 1959. During his travels he saw many public and private parks as well as gardens and continued to educate himself about landscaping and climate conditions.

In 1946 while stationed in Sankt Paul im Lavanttal in south east Asia, he was arrested following the disappearance of a beautiful girl who had earlier enticed him across the border. He was sentenced without trial for four years but was released into Italy after 6 months in solitary confinement thanks to help from the British government.

After leaving the British Army, Cundall emigrated to Australia and enlisted in the Australian Army in 1950. Believing he was moving into a non-combat role, he was posted instead to Korea as a machine gunner for a year and a half. During this time he found joy studying garden design and rock garden construction and visited bonsai nurseries regularly.

Political Life

A Federal Senate candidate for Tasmania for the Communist Party of Australia in the 1961 election, Cundall also supported many environmental groups, often speaking at rally events. A chairman of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, he battled to stop the Franklin Dam build and Bell Bay Pulp Mill construction.

Gardening Life

Leaving the Australian Army in 1956, Cundall finally found peace in Tasmania where he started his own gardening and landscaping business. Specialising in designing and constructing gardens in schools, hospitals, universities, private homes - even hotels and shopping centres, he also became a member of the Organic Gardening and Farming Society. Cundall was in his element on a gardening talkback show in Launceston and in 1969 began presenting on the ABC.

In a world-first, the show which focused on garden design and construction, was originally called It's Growing and then Landscape and finally Gardening Australia - the longest-running garden show on Australian television still today.

In 1974 Cundall travelled the world to study organic gardening and landscaping as well as children's playground design. After 18 years of broadcasting, he announced his retirement with his last episode being filmed at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

"It's the sheer joy of seeing things grow and helping them to grow, even harvesting the stuff that you've grown yourself, no matter how old you are" - Peter Cundall.


Final Years

Following his retirement, Cundall had a garden column in the Mercury and Weekly Times newspapers in Tasmania and was also a popular writer with ABC Organic Gardener Magazine.

In 2018, Cundall was diagnosed with glaucoma and because he was to lose his eyesight was forced to retire in the same year. Thankfully audiences were fortunate to still absorb his knowledge on ABC radio for another year. Cundall retired in 2019 which marked a 50 year career in radio.

Named Australian Humanist of the Year in 2006, Cundall was also awarded the Order of Australia medal in 2007 "For service to the environment, particularly the protection of wilderness areas in Tasmania, and to horticulture as a presenter of gardening programs on television and radio.". He was also awarded the Tasmania State Recipient Australian of the Year award in 2009.

Cundall passed away on 5 December 2021, aged 94.

"Old gardeners never die; they just very slowly turn into the most magnificent compost. But what a marvellous, active brew it is!" - Peter Cundall

Rest in peace, Peter Cundall, your love of nature will always be remembered and your passion for gardening forever admired.

By Kirsten Jakubenko