Australia's oldest grapevine?
Article | Updated 2 months ago
You’ve probably heard the term ‘heritage buildings’, but what about ‘heritage plants’? On the site of the New Museum we have grapevines that are part of WAs heritage. They are being meticulously cared for while construction is taking place.
For the past 48 years they have been looked after by one of the Museum’s long-term volunteers – although Ian Cameron never officially signed up as a volunteer.
Ian Cameron was working for the Department of Agriculture in the late 1960s when he and his colleague Bill Jameson received a call from the WA Museum.
The Museum wanted someone from the Department to see if they could settle a dispute. At the time construction was about to start on the Francis Street building and two grapevines on the site needed to be pruned as part of the works.
The Museum’s gardener was not convinced that the vines would survive such a pruning. So Ian and Bill came to the Museum to provide advice.
On inspection Ian suspected the vines were planted sometime in the 1850s or 1860s and he was intrigued to see if they were the oldest grapevines in Australia.
He was confident he could prune the vines and ensure they survived.He cut them back and since then has been returned to look after them. The vines not only survived but have thrived under Ian’s care, sometimes producing 200 bunches of grapes per year! Well into his retirement Ian has kept the heritage vines growing beautifully.
He regularly attends the museum site to prune and check the vines.
Four times a year Ian arrives at Perth Museum to with his secateurs in hand.
He was first called in to the Museum as a Department of Agriculture employee.
He had experience in working with grapevines of this variety and was asked to help settle an argument about whether or not the vines could be cut back.
The Old Gaol circa 1890s. This image clearly shows the grapevines fully grown, Ian suggests the grapevines must have been around 50 years old in this photo.
The Francis Street museum building. It was the construction of this building that prompted museum staff to call the Department of Agriculture about the grapevines in the late 1960s.
The grapevines are an important aspect of the Museum site. Signage about the grapevines explaining it's history was installed at the site.
Ian removes the vine's fruit before it is fully grown...
...this way the vines has a better chance of flourishing as it's energy isn't going in to making sure the fruit grows.
Full fruit on a vine this age is rare.
Ian's passion for the grapevines is truly infectious, he has made grapevine champions out New Museum Project staff.
The Museum certainly hopes he keeps his promise to keep looking after the vines.
In 2016 Ian came to the Perth site to conduct his seasonal prune. This time he had an audience of Museum staff watching and talking to him as he worked. He shared his story and his passion for our grapevines with us.
2018 will be Ian’s 50th year of caring for the grapevines. He will continue to care for the vines while the site is being developed. The grapevines will be a part of the New Museum landscaping and we look forward to sharing a bunch of grapes with Ian after the New Museum opens in 2020.