Edna Walling – A Big Hill Experience


Landscape designer Edna Walling was a complex, talented and prodigious designer who devoted her life to her profession. Her far-sighted approach is as relevant today as at the peak of her career 70 years ago.

Edna Walling made landscape drawing into an art form. Her plans are now treasured works of art, just as her few remaining gardens are highly valued.

After completing a course in horticulture at Burnley College in 1917, Walling commenced work as a jobbing gardener. In 1921 she purchased three acres of land at Mooroolbark and built her first home from local and second hand materials. This home was named Sonning after Gertrude Jekyll’s Deanery Garden of the same name, which she had visited in England.


In 1922 Walling purchased a further 18 acres of land adjacent to Sonning. The houses she built became the village of Bickleigh Vale. Between the 1920s and 1960s Walling’s commissions included designing the lily pond for Coombe Cottage, Dame Nellie Melba’s residence in Coldstream, Vic.; Durrol for Mrs Stanley Allen, Mount Macedon, Vic.; and the Cruden Farm garden for Mrs Keith Murdoch (now Dame Elisabeth), Langwarrin, Vic. She also undertook commissions in Hobart, Tasmania, and designed villages at Port Pirie, South Australia (never completed) and Mount Kembla, New South Wales, for Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd.



During this period Walling wrote four books: Gardens in Australia (1943), Cottage and Garden in Australia (1947), A Gardener’s Log (1948) and The Australian Roadside (1952). She wrote articles for The Australian Women’s Mirror,The Australian Home Builder and The Australian Home Beautiful. In a letter held by the State Library of Victoria’s Edna Walling Collection (La Trobe Australian Manuscripts), Walling declines an invitation to join the Australian Society of Authors by saying:

‘Actually, you know, I am not a writer. I merely made a record of the work I had done, which the Oxford University Press published. I also wrote The Australian Roadside as my contribution to conservation work of this country… The books were only achieved through the great help of my teacher friend, Miss Lorna Fielden, without whose assistance I doubt if they would ever have seen the light of day. And so, much as I appreciate the honour you have bestowed on me I don’t really think I have any right to be counted amongst the illustrious names appearing in your Society’

Walling’s ABC Radio talks include On Making a Garden (1941), Improving the Farm and Curing Erosion and The Farmers’ Friends (1951). In 1967, Walling moved to a cottage – ‘Bendles’ – at Buderim, Queensland. She died there in 1973.

  • © Copyright The Australian Women’s Register 2012


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Photo Caption: View of the drive leading up to East Point, Edna Walling’s property in Lorne, Victoria. The caption on verso reads: The drive for the baby Austin, but the plumbers made it with their load of spouting!

A holiday spent by the sea in the vicinity of Lorne awakened her interest in the possession of a sea-side house. On a delightful hillside over looking the ocean she acquired sixteen acres – not for a “gardener’s garden” but as a means of enjoying all intimacy with native trees and shrubs.

She built a house with stones dug from the steep [slope] assisted by friends who were interested in the project. A colossal task for a woman: handling boulders for steps and stairs and then for the impregnable walls. A wonderful achievement. Though baffling at times, the problems were solved with patience and perspicacity – as photographs will reveal.

Perhaps in the dim future she might create another village – this time by the sea… However as time passed she found she had insufficient time to safeguard this priceless bush hillside, so she decided to present it to the Bird Observer’s Organization.


In her own words:

To tell the truth, it was a grey suited wallaby that made me change my mind about that part of “Big Hill” on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria where I had bought sixteen acres of land with a view to one day creating a village by the sea. As a matter of fact, I thought it was a young man in a grey flannel suit! I was sprawled out on the grassy ground just above the narrow track up to the Chalet, half asleep and sat up sharply at the sound of “footsteps” and was confronted with this “young man” in his grey flannel suit! I blinked and came to my senses.

wallaby_39098837“Gosh!” I thought. “It’s a wallaby!” and he, I suppose, thought, “Gosh! It’s a human!” as he bounded up the hill.

“That settles it.” I thought, going in search of Twid. She was busy with her pick on the excavation for the sitting room.

“I say! We are not going to make a village. We will give it to the wallabies.”

“Yes, I saw him. Wasn’t he a beauty!”

Then followed much soul-searching, choosing the safest and best organisation to hand it to. To our great relief, the Bird Obsevers’ Club accepted.

We went down to spend a last weekend and to collect our belongings. It was quite a job and we eventually had to leave before removing all the old junk. I was not happy about leaving someone else the job of clearing up. However, we need not have worried. Within the week, a bush fire swept up the hill and burnt up the little place leaving only the stone walls, stairways and paving built with so much joy.

Alistair Smith helped build Walling’s home at Lorne. He recalls:

Ed [Walling] came over to our house at times. My father was just preparing to put in a large window of the view – the view was of the whole estuary of Grassy Creek, the lighthouse and Cinema Point and the surf rolling below.

Anyway, my father had always had this dream after the war – that he was going to have this window…Edna Walling came in and said, “You’re not putting the window where the view is, looking out to sea!” My father sort of, you know – [thought] “This lady is crazy – I’ve been waiting all these years to try and get that.” “If you put that view there all the time and in that room you’ll kill it because you won’t see it.” [Walling said] The point being that something that is always there – after a while you won’t see it… and she said “You should wander to the studio or bedroom to experience the view, don’t kill it.” However, no one would believe that. But we didn’t see it [the view] after we put it in because she was right.

She always put things a certain way, with a smile on her face, with a twinkle in her eye and with a sense of humour, she didn’t push her ideas. She always put the point across in an easy going way without being pushy or forceful.

…she introduced me to Mozart music coming from the trees… always had Mozart music floating in amongst the trees.



Photo Caption: View of the drive leading up to East Point, Edna Walling’s property in Lorne, Victoria. The caption on verso reads: The drive for the baby Austin, but the plumbers made it with their load of spouting!


Book Cover

If you would like to learn more about this interesting woman this a great read:

The Unusual Life of Edna Walling

A biography

Sara Hardy

AUD $32.95


© Edna Walling Collection, La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria

Source: Unpublished Manuscript: “The Happiest Days Of My Life” P.28



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