When I first moved to Mortdale in 1993 I attended an evening class in Bonsai at Peakhurst High School being run by Terry McKenna. Ross Miller was also in the class and from these lessons I was introduced to the IBS. I have been a committee member and the Vice President of the club for a number of years. I originally thought I would join the club to get access to Bonsai materials (this was pre Southside Bonsai Nursery) but once I got involved in the club via digs, trips, shows and weekend workshops I felt I wanted to be a bit more active.
What do you do outside of Bonsai?
Currently I am on a house husband sabbatical and it has really helped me to give back to the local community and spend time with the family. Previously I worked for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service for 19 years. I had many laboratory and managerial roles in my time with the Blood Service and our team motto was transfuse into others as you would have them transfuse into thee (I translated it from the Latin for you). I originally started a Bachelor of Rural Science degree at the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale in 1987 and then changed to the Bachelor of Science degree, this change was partially planned for when I first went to university as I was unsure if I wanted to follow my agricultural interests or scientific pursuits.
Tell us a little more about yourself?
I got married to my UNE sweetheart Tina in my hometown of Albury in 1993. We have one child, Andrew Jnr (AJ) who was born in June 2002. I like to garden, play golf and obviously Bonsai in my spare time. I also try to travel at least once a year and have been overseas to England, France, Spain, Scotland, Wales, NZ, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal.
What made you want to get started in Bonsai?
I was at university in Armidale in a fairly sterile white dormitory room and I had no plants. Up until this time I had been surrounded by plants and gardens via my family’s love of gardening. I wanted an indoor plant but only had room for a small one. It was at this time that I discovered bonsai. When I started my first bonsai I was cash-starved and time-rich so I started firstly by attacking my Dads toolbox and Mums kitchen when I returned home on holidays. My first plant was a Juniper of some kind and it looked more like a Xmas tree then a bonsai. It was planted over a small rock which looked like a volcano with the plant perched fairly well in the centre on top of the rock. It was in a cheap K-Mart Chinese style bonsai pot. I was very fond of it and managed to keep it alive indoors in a sunny bathroom for 4 years until I attended my first lot of lessons and it died during the restyling.
What is the best part of Bonsai for you?
The relaxation. I remember pre AJ when I would be doing quite long hours at work, three hours daily commuting and including very demanding on call organ donation work. When I would get home a quick hour with the plants was all I needed to recharge. I could also lose a whole weekend just immersed with my plants. The relaxation is still the best part but now days I get to recharge just a little less and if I get a few hours a week that is a bonus.
What inspires you in Bonsai?
Learning new techniques, teaching others and watching my trees and designs develop over time.
What makes you blood boil in Bonsai?
Any politics or factions over such insignificant things in the scheme of life such as soils/gravels and hiding the secrets of success. The Bonsai world should be one of sharing the appreciation of our art and horticultural successes and not one of status building. Fortunately I don’t have my blood boil very often and find the nurturing nature of IBS to our members helps to dispel such evils.
If there’s only one thing you could change about your Bonsai, what would it be?
Weeds, weeds, weeds. With such little time to spend with my bonsai a weed free world would be great.
What’s your favourite…
Book? ‘A Fortunate Life’ by AB Facey. It is a real Australian classic that I read when I was younger to the soundtrack of the Dire Straights CD ‘Money for Nothing’. It is set back during the tough Australian period of the early to late 1900’s.
Film? Highlander and the soundtrack from Queen, ‘A Kind of Magic’ is just awesome.
Song? Anything by Cold Chisel or Jimmy Barnes, but would probably be Flame Trees.
City? Pokara (in Nepal) although technically not a city, for technicality sake it would be Udaipur in India but only just over Kathmandu (Nepal), Siam Reap (Cambodia) and Chang Mai (Thailand). In Australia it would have to be Perth.
Country? After Australia it would be Nepal. I spent the most invigorating month of my life trekking and exploring this area and will be back with AJ when he gets a little older (Hopefully in 2015!).
Plant? I really love our big sprawling figs with their aerial roots and majestic grace. No particular variety but the local Port Jackson’s probably come out on top due to being exposed to them so often. They are also very forgiving trees and fairly pest free.
Bonsai? Probably a Sargeants Juniper which I started pre 2000 when Hiro Saito was out here for a tour of demonstrations and workshops. I went to our IBS workshop night at the South Hurstville School all prepared with two plants and six sketches of possibilities from the two specimens. When I sat down to discuss the tree with Hiro it was a great experience. His feedback/discussion was almost like a critique and I was amazed to see how I saw these two trees in the future to how he saw them. What was even better was that he really liked two of my sketches with only minimal changes suggested. We only got to work on one tree that night but he was a very good teacher and I learnt a lot that night. He also asked me up on stage during his major demonstration that next weekend to help sketch possible options from the materiel he was presented to demonstrate on. Of course this tree has the best of pots now to support its status in my collection thanks to Pat the Potter (and it is weed free).
What are you currently planning on for your Bonsai?
I Am trying to experiment a bit more on long term projects- rock over rocks or other items, root expressions such as platting to form trunks etc. I tried to commission a temple carving from limestone/lava rock but in the end had to settle on a pre-carved soapstone panel from Siam Reap. It was a design I concocted from my visit to the temple ruins of Cambodia. I am growing some figs over the temple to resemble the local situation of the forest enveloping the temples. Some of you may remember the scene as depicted in the film ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider’ or others from pictures of the Angkor Wat ruins. It has been a five year project and is close to being shown as the roots have sufficiently grown over the temple and I am starting to work more on the style and branches. I also pre-trained suitable trees for the three years for this undertaking, getting the roots long and some girth to the truck so it could be split over the panel.
If you could be a Bonsai in life what plant and style would you chose?
I would probably like to be a fig. They can grow in the most unforgiving of places and still be able to thrive. They are tough, tenacious, have a certain charm in a gnarled way and grow old gracefully. They can be very nurturing for others to grow under and are unconcerned about most things that a lot of other trees would find unbearable. They are a very stable tree and once they set down roots somewhere they are happy to stay and take the good with the bad. The informal upright style with a natural twist and not a regimented Japanese styling would be how I would like to be developed and styled.