Rushall Park Superintendent Richard Weller loved getting his hands dirty

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Rushall Park Superintendent Richard Weller loved getting his hands dirty

April 27, 2019

Composting isn’t new. Decades before rotating compost bins, organic farming and the landfill crisis hit the headlines, there were people, lots of them, who recognised the value of turning food scraps into nourishment for their gardens. And the Old Colonists’ Richard Weller was ahead of the pack in many respects because he could see that improving and nourishing the soil would lead to increased food production and beautiful flower gardens.

Richard H T Weller was the Secretary/Superintendent of the Old Colonists’ at Rushall Park in North Fitzroy in the 1940s. He had a particular interest in gardens and composting, in fact he was one of the early and prominent members of the Victorian Compost Society, which began in 1945. The Society began at a time when composting was ‘taking off’ amongst gardening groups and enthusiasts in Australia.

In 1946 it was reported in the OCAV book of minutes that compost bins had been built  “to enable all garden waste to be conserved and made into compost, instead of being burned. Compost making is being continued, and the Council expects better results next year, as more ground will be treated.”
Mr Weller built 12 brick and timber bins and he favoured the Indore composting method, named after the Northern Indian town in which it developed.

On February 22 1947 the Victorian Compost Society members visited the ‘Homes’ and gave a demonstration of composting. Later that year in July 1947 a group of visitors from the Living Soil Association of Tasmania (LSAT) came to Rushall Park where Mr Weller gave a demonstration of the art/use and benefits of the compost as he pointed out the garden beds where the soil had been enriched by the compost and others beds which had not received the same attention. LSAT was an influential movement in Tasmania where it pioneered organic food and farming. No doubt much information was gleaned and shared during the visit.

Rebecca Jones in her 2010 book, Green Harvest: A history of organic farming and gardening in Australia(CSIROPublishing), said the Old Colonists’ became a ‘showpiece and demonstration site’ for the Victorian Compost Society Indore methods. She said the Society members considered themselves experts on the “connection of compost-raised plants and animals to human health”.

The author also points out Mr Weller’s interest in, and experimentation with, ‘night soil’ in the composting. However, despite his enthusiasm for human manure, which was shared by many others at the time, the practice was condemned because it was considered a health risk to people.

Mr Weller might have been riding high on the success of his composting in 1947, but things went awry for him the following year. In 1948 it was recorded in the OCAV minutes that Mr Weller had been supplying compost to his son for use on his farm to grow vegetables. The vegetables were then sold to residents in the Old Colonists’ village. This wasn’t considered appropriate behaviour.

Mr Weller was 80 when he died in 1893 and is buried at the Box Hill Cemetery. His legacy lives on at OCAV, which boasts some of the loveliest gardens in the area.

It was also Mr Weller, who in 1956 suggested a 13-acre site be purchased in the Diamond Valley for the establishment of a rest home. It would become Liscombe House , OCAV’s aged care facility.

"I love the fact that Rushall Park residents and volunteers are so active – contributing to life in the village. The sense of the community is strong which is why I put my name on the waiting list" - Maggie Birkett.

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