Broken Hill and Margaret Morris

The continued story of the Broken Hill regeneration area
By Peter Ardill
Albert Morris (1886-1939) is correctly credited with being the instigator of the Broken Hill regeneration area project (1936-58), a re-vegetation initiative that established a belt of naturally regenerated indigenous flora around Broken Hill. However, new research demonstrates that Margaret Morris (1887-1957), spouse of Albert, played a far more significant role in the project than previously thought.
Margaret was a 1920 founding member of the Barrier Field Naturalists Club (BFN), a natural science organisation that strongly lobbied for the establishment of the regeneration area in the 1930s. With tutelage from Albert, she developed into a competent amateur botanist and was undoubtedly involved, during the 1920s and 1930s, with the collection of plants for Albert’s herbarium, which eventually consisted of 7000 mostly arid-zone flora specimens, and is now predominantly housed in the State Herbarium of South Australia. She worked with Albert in the c1930 establishment of an extensive plantation of trees in Broken Hill, a pioneering landscaping undertaking for that dry and dusty city.
Following the commencement of the regeneration area project in 1936, it is very likely that Margaret was active with the botanical aspects of the work, collecting native seed, propagating plants and contributing to the management of the project’s plant nursery as well as the Morris home nursery. With the death of Albert in 1939 due to illness, she seamlessly continued with these roles, her knowledge and skills playing a crucial role in maintaining the momentum of the project.
Margaret studied and surveyed the botanical recovery of the indigenous flora in the regeneration reserves. In October, 1939, the Australian Journal of Science published her timely article, “Plant Regeneration in the Broken Hill District”, an early example of Australian environmental repair reporting which recorded the development stages of the regeneration project and its significant botanical success. She also assisted University of Sydney academics with their 1939-40 study of the recovery of the indigenous flora in the regeneration reserves.
Margaret wrote articles for the local and inter-state print media of c1940 in which she extolled the various benefits of the regeneration area. She noted the amenity advantages for local residents, as sand no longer smothered their homes. Tourists visited the city, as the restored landscape was now covered in a carpet of brilliantly flowering flora during spring and summer, instead of bare sand. She acknowledged all the people who had contributed to the development of the project, emphasising its community connections and outcomes.
Finally, she expounded on the actual botanical success of the various regeneration reserves and emphasised the importance of utilising a natural regeneration technique and the local flora in the reserves, predicting that they would withstand the fierce drought of 1940…and they did!

A talented and yet modest person who spoke little of her own achievements and, like Albert, led by example, persuasion and logical arguments. Margaret’s role in the development of the Broken Hill regeneration area project, one of the first of its kind in the world, was significant, especially during the middle stages of its development. In partnership with her restoration colleagues, her continual verification of the project contributed strongly to its resumption after the Second World War and ultimate completion in 1958.

References and further reading:
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