Woman Galbraith, Jean
- Botanist, Conservationist, Gardener and Writer
Written by Meredith Fletcher, Independent Scholar
Jean Galbraith (1906 to 1999) was born at Tyers in Gippsland, Victoria. Her education at the Tyers School was disrupted by childhood illnesses but she read widely and developed an early interest in writing. Her parents fostered her love of nature and she explored the bush near her home, learning about Australian flora and experimenting with growing wildflowers in the Galbraith garden. She had an intensely spiritual upbringing and her faith endured throughout her life.
Jean left school at 14, unwilling to leave the home and environment that she considered 'the very fabric of my being' to complete her education in Melbourne. Her three brothers finished their secondary and tertiary education in Melbourne. She gained her training as a botanist from mentors in the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria, particularly through her detailed correspondence with prominent botanist H.B. Williamson. Charles Barrett and Donald Macdonald, journalists and nature writers, mentored her writing.
Through her innovative writing for diverse readerships, Jean Galbraith became a leader in promoting native flora,. Her writing career began in 1925 when, at 19, she was commissioned to write articles for home gardeners on growing native plants. She turned garden writing into nature writing and her lyrical, evocative writing - very different from that of her contemporaries - inspired gardeners of the 1920s and 1930s to grow native plants. Throughout her nearly seventy years of garden writing, where she wrote about all aspects of garden-making, she remained an indefatigable champion of Australian flora, ignoring fashions in plants, and writing about what she loved. She also used her garden writing as a platform for conservation, alerting readers to the fast disappearing bush during years of rampant development.
Her botanical writing was even more influential in introducing Australians to their native flora. When Wildflowers of Victoria appeared in 1950, it was the first accessible field guide published on Victorian flora. Able to combine botanical knowledge with evocative description, her writing skills made her field guides easy for lay readers to understand. They were dubbed 'glove box Bibles' and helped Australians in temperate zones to know their flora - and to protect it. She also wrote about native flora in stories published in the Victorian School Paper and the New South Wales School Magazine. Rarely didactic, they were stories about children exploring nature.
Jean Galbraith would not have considered herself a leader. She endorsed the role of the daughter at home, and cared for her parents and other members of her family suffering from illnesses that included rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. She was often unable to leave the house and put her botanical work on hold for years. But she carved her career from these circumstances, writing about her garden and landscapes when she was housebound, recycling themes for different readerships. Her motivation was to share her knowledge and love of beauty. Her readers - in their thousands - were her 'followers', inspired by writing that helped countless Australians to see, understand and value their own landscapes and native flora.
- Galbraith, Jean, Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of South East Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, 1977. Details
- Galbraith, Jean, Garden in a Valley, Five Mile Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1985. Details
- Latreille, Anne, Kindred Spirits: a Botanical Correspondence, Letters by Jean Galbraith, Drawings by Joan Law Smith, Australian Garden History, Melbourne, Victoria, 1999. Details
- Fletcher, Meredith, 'Becoming 'Correa': Jean Galbraith and Australian Native Flowers', Latrobe Journal, vol. 84, December 2009, pp. 11 - 22. Details