by Joanne Priestley
George Rimington arrived from England in 1871 and in 1877, established the Parkhill nursery in Kew, Melbourne. George, his five sons, and grandsons expanded the business over the years to include several other nursery sites to supply their retail outlets. They were considered the biggest nursery operation in the Southern Hemisphere. In one year, Rimington’s nursery propagated over one million Brunniana Cypress. The family was also the first to successfully import rhododendrons from the mountain slopes of India in the 1870s.[i]
The supply nurseries were located at Clarinda, Mount Dandenong and in 1935, Toolangi.[ii]
The Toolangi nursery site (Lot 3) of 48 hectares was first owned by W. H. Badham in 1903[iii] and at some stage was a tobacco farm.[iv] It was situated on Chum Creek Road, approximately a kilometre south of the Chum Creek Road and Myers Creek Road junction. An adjoining site (Lot 3b) of 26 hectares was purchased on 16 August 1937[v] but remained as a buffer to the native bush. The original access track to the nursery was entered from a sharp corner and up a steep drive, so a properly graded road was soon established.[vi]
By 1940, the nursery had 16 hectares under cultivation and was growing deciduous fruit and ornamental trees, Rhododendrons, azaleas, and conifers. The conifers were initially grown from cuttings (actual slivers off the trunk) and grown at Toolangi for five years before being of saleable size.[vii] Additionally, during the war years of 1939 to 1945, the nursery was required to produce vegetables, mainly for seed supply.
At its peak, the nursery employed 14 people. Mr Phil Watson was the first manager. Mr Jack Taylor then managed the nursery before handing over to Mr Joe Mullins until succeeded by Mr Frank Priestley. Frank had worked at the nursery since 1941 and was manager until 1975. Frank’s father, Charles Priestley, started soon after 1935 and one of Frank’s brothers, John Priestley, also worked there for a few years.[viii] Other locals included Herbert (Bert) Biggs prior to World War 22 and Bob Pockett from 1948-50. Several houses were built to accommodate the Manager and workers and by 1950 there were five on site. The first resident worker was Mr Bill Wickham, but the longest residents were the Church family who lived in the original house on the property, from 1941 for 18 years.[ix]
In 1937 and 1938 Rimington’s Nurseries had its own cricket team that played in the local competition.[x] Mr Bill Wickham was the captain and matches were played in a paddock behind the Toolangi House Hotel.[xi]
After 40 years of employment opportunities for the men and women of Toolangi, the local nursery site closed on 23 July 1975. The company of Rimington’s nurseries went into voluntary liquidation after 98 years of continuous production and on 8 April 1978, the 197 acres in Toolangi was advertised for sale.[xii]
The Rimington’s nursery site was purchased by the Chumlangi Co-operative Housing Group. Members of the original Chumlangi Co-operative still reside on the site in 2021.
[ii] Letter and information given to Chumlangi Coop members G. & N. Skewes 2014, from David Rimington (DOB 1956), son of Neil Rimington.
[iii] Map Data, Woodbourne Angelsey circa 1940, Chumlangi Coop members G. & N. Skewes, from David Rimington 2014.
[iv] http://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu/archive/466 (Herbert Biggs).
[v] Map Data, Woodbourne Angelsey circa 1940, Chumlangi Coop members G. & N. Skewes, from David Rimington 2014.
[vi] http://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu/archive/466 (Herbert Biggs).
[vii] Letter and information given to Chumlangi Coop members G. & N. Skewes 2014, from David Rimington (DOB 1956), son of Neil Rimington.
[viii] Rimingtons Nursery, Toolangi: A Brief History, R.J. Pockett, Toolangi, February 1987.
[ix] Rimingtons Nursery, Toolangi: A Brief History, R.J. Pockett, Toolangi, February 1987.
[x] Trove: The Argus, 13 October 1937, page 14, ‘Other Districts’.
[xi] http://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu/archive/466 (Herbert Biggs).
[xii] The Age from Melbourne on 8 April 1978, www.newspapers.com.