Museum of Brisbane

Sunday Stories | Nuts for Brisbane

The Brisbane City Botanic Gardens are home to many rare and unusual species of plants. Described by The Queensland Heritage Register as “the most significant, non-aboriginal cultural landscape in Queensland with a continuous horticultural history” the gardens have existed without any significant land loss or change in use since 1828.

Many of the plants featured were planted early in the garden’s history, including a very special tree planted by Walter Hill, the first official curator of the City Botanic Gardens.

Walter Hill Macadamia

Walter was appointed curator in 1855, shortly after the existing garden (previously used to grow food for convicts) was declared a botanic reserve. The horticulturalist was provided nine acres, £500 for purchasing plants and a house and garden on the reserve, which he inhabited until his retirement.

With the land and money, Walter organised the garden into 34 separate, purpose-built areas that featured a selection of native and rare plants. Walter’s rapid progress in transforming the garden was recognised by the local newspaper, the Moreton Bay Courier, who published an article in the Spring of 1856 encouraging visitation to the newly established gardens and walkways.

In 1859 Walter became Queensland’s first Colonial Botanist, enabling him to further his interest in through an active experimental planting program. Walter acclimatised and introduced plants and trees of economic importance from all over the world to Queensland, including mango, pawpaw, ginger, tamarind, arrowroot, cotton, and mahogany.

Walter is also credited with establishing the first non-Indigenous cultivation and commercial planting of the macadamia tree in Australia. In 1858, following its removal from Queensland bushland near Gympie, Walter planted the tree in Brisbane’s City Botanic Gardens for commercial trials, which proved successful.

The commercialisation of the macadamia nut became Australia’s first plant industry, with this tree providing some of the original seed stock. Native to South-East Queensland and Northern New South Wales, macadamias now represent about 70% of trees grown in orchards around the world and contribute to a thriving global industry.

Due to this significance, the tree planted by Walter now sits on the National Trust Register and is heritage listed. When it was last measured in 2014, the tree stood 17 metres high and 1 metre wide, providing a large leafy canopy for visitors to enjoy in the garden today.


Image 1 and 2: Walter Hill Macadamia at Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Image 3: Director Botanic Gardens and Colonial Botanist – 1855 to 1881, 21 February 1855, courtesy Brisbane City Council.