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Plant Focus

Six oak cultivars originally described by Jef Van Meulder in 2014.

The Oaks of Anlaby: the Forgotten Oak Treasures of South Australia’s Barossa Valley

by Charlie Buttigieg

Originally published in Oak News & Notes, Vol. 19, No. 1

Present day Anlaby is the oldest continuing merino sheep stud farm on mainland Australia. It is currently 200 hectares in size. It is located about 100 kilometers/60 miles north of Adelaide in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. Founded in 1839 by Frederick Hansborough Dutton (1812-1890), in its early history the property extended to 65,000 hectares. Anlaby was continuously owned by the Dutton family until the last portions of the property were sold by a descendant in early 1978.

Quercus ilex specimens in Anlaby, South Australia

The Anlaby Heritage Tree Project (my study of the heritage tree collection at Anlaby) began in 2012. It resulted in 620 heritage tree specimens being registered by the National Trust of South Australia under 60 heritage registrations. Anlaby currently is the largest collection of National Trust registered heritage trees in one location under private ownership in Australia.

The 620 specimens include Australian natives and exotic tree specimens from around the world. Some trees were sourced from Australian and overseas nurseries, but many were wild-sourced. The Dutton family were passionate tree collectors. This passion began as soon as the property was founded in the early 19th century and continued into the 20th century. The gardens in their heyday were noted nationally and internationally.

Of the 60 heritage registrations, 19 registrations cover oak specimens. These 19 registrations in turn cover 64 oak specimens. However the diversity of oak taxa is minimal – currently eight are the predominant taxa used repeatedly throughout the property. Most date from the 19th century. These include Quercus canariensis Willd., Q. canariensis × Q. robur L., Q. cerris L., Q. ilex L., Q. ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis (Kotschy) Hedge & Yalt., Q. robur, Q. suber L. and Q. ×coutinhoi Samp.

Holm oak carriageway
The Holm Oak Carriageway

The harsh environment of Anlaby oscillates between years of drought and flood. The Dutton family, their Station Managers and Head Gardeners planted and tested many oak species over a great period of time. The existing oaks, after decades of neglect, floods, droughts, storms, and weather extremes, have proven their durability, adaptability, and basic toughness. These proven oaks of Anlaby are indeed a testament to oak survival.

There are many heritage planting styles of trees on the property. Solitary specimen plantings, windbreaks, avenues, main carriageways, auxiliary carriageways, memorial plantings, and many other such planting styles can be seen throughout the property. Anlaby has oaks planted in several styles and as specimen oaks in the outer pastoral land to create an “English-style” landscape. Many of the specimens planted in the outer pastoral land created agricultural microclimates for the merino sheep under the harsh conditions.

Some notable examples of the oaks of Anlaby include:

The Oak Carriageway is one of three attempts to create avenue-like tree plantings leading to the main residence from the surrounding countryside. The existence of this Oak Carriageway is due to the foresight and pioneering work of Henry T. Morris, third Station Manager (from 1865 to 1890) and Australian Representative of Frederick Hansborough Dutton. It was planted between 1865 and 1870. Originally 44 oak specimens were planted. The pattern of planting included 11 Q. robur on the south end of the planting, 29 Q. canariensis in the middle of the planting and 4 Q. canariensis × robur on the north end of the planting. Unfortunately 10 Q. canariensis specimens have died in the middle of the planting. Currently there are 19 Q. canariensis specimens still living and in excellent health, along with the 11 Q. robur and 4 Q. canariensis × robur.  This Carriageway is planted with two rows of oaks on a north-south axis leading towards the main residence. It is 256 meters long. 

Quercus robur end of the Oak Carriageway in Autumn 2014 

he World War One Memorial Oaks were three Q. canariensis planted in 1918 to commemorate the three farm workers from Anlaby that went to the First World War and lost their lives. (See International Oaks, No. 25, pp. 93-102.)

The WW1 Memorial Oaks, Quercus canariensis

A Q. ×coutinhoi in an outer paddock was planted c.1900 as part of the “English-style” planting scheme of the outer pastoral land surrounding the main homestead. This specimen was Australia’s first officially identified and verified mature example of this hybrid. (See International Oaks, No. 25, pp. 35-42.)

Quercus ×coutinhoi with John David Morphett for scale 

One specimen of Q. ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis stands in the main garden. In June 1879, Mr. George Cunnack, a tanner from Castlemaine, Victoria, had two Wardian cases (sealed protective containers for plants) made up in London and sent to Smyrna, Turkey. J.H. Maiden, a former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, recorded that acorns and twenty rooted seedlings of valonia oak were collected and sent to Mr. Cunnack in Castlemaine. The imported acorns grew successfully in 1880. They were distributed “here and there,”[1] including the Macedon State Nursery in Victoria. They grew so well at Mr. Cunnack’s tannery in Castlemaine that within 13 years the trees produced valonia, the dried acorn cups used in tanning leather. By 1893, the new source of acorns was further distributed both in Victoria and interstate. The largest numbers went to Ballarat, Victoria, but many also went to New South Wales. There are 14 of the original trees still growing on the original site of Mr. Cunnack’s Tannery at Winter’s Flat, Castlemaine. There are also 24 specimens planted in a grid pattern at Glenaroua Homestead, near Broadford, Victoria. This was the former property of Michaelis, Hallenstine & Co., a Melbourne tannery, from 1880 to 1890. This is the largest known planting in Victoria. The specimen at Anlaby was planted c.1900 when the garden was managed by Thomas Leslie, Henry Dutton’s Head Gardener from 1890 to 1917. Before his employment by Henry Dutton, Thomas Leslie worked for many large private gardens and nurseries in Melbourne’s inner and eastern suburbs. He became well connected with Melbourne’s horticultural elite and nurseries. It is possible and plausible that these connections gave him access to this new oak species when it was available in Victoria.

Valonia oak (Quercus ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis)

The Holm Oak Carriageway (an auxiliary carriageway to the homestead). Originally nine specimens of Q. ilex were planted. Currently there are eight living specimens. One specimen died in 2012 after having its roots severed while an underground water pipe was fixed. These specimens are located on the west side of the English Oak Carriageway into the main garden and residence.

Numerous specimen plantings of Q. ilex are found within the main garden and in the old plantation area located behind the main garden. These specimens are located southeast of the main residence and east of the water tower/garden folly. Two notable specimens are located southeast of the main residence and east of the garden folly in the old plantation area. They were planted c.1890-1910. The western specimen is 15.8 meters tall with a canopy spread of 17 x 14.5 meters.

q. ilex
Quercus ilex

Q. cerris is also found in the old plantation area behind the main garden. This species has proven to be a real performer in the hot dry conditions on the property. The specimens in these outer areas were planted c.1890-1900.

Quercus cerris

These few examples indicate the extensive use and understanding in the 19th century pastoral world of the potential for selected oaks to thrive in harsh landscapes. Their survival in the long term provided protective microclimates for merino sheep. These old oak plantings in South Australia’s pastoral heartland were forgotten and neglected for a long time. Currently, dried herbarium specimens from selected Anlaby oaks are on the way to Portugal to be examined by oak taxonomists to see whether the species I have identified are in fact  hybrids or species other than what we in Australia recognize. This is a new chapter in the research on the oaks of Anlaby. Any new identification will lead onto different pathways of research and new oak stories will emerge.

Quercus ×coutinhoi acorns

Photos ©Charlie Buttigieg

[1] J.H. Maiden, The Valonia Oak, Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, 1899. 10: 611 - 617.